NCL HERE TO STAY: Norwegian Cruise Line is to remain at the Port of Miami for the next 10 years and pay $98 million in port fees during that time, according to a berthing agreement Miami-Dade commissioners OK'd Tuesday. The agreement gives the cruise line priority access to two large-ship berths at Terminals B and C. The port is to invest $10 million in terminal upgrades, including a new gangway and general improvements to improve guests' experience.
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FEE POSSIBILITY: Without committing to charging a fee for fire suppression services in Miami-Dade's fire rescue district, commissioners agreed Tuesday to leave the option open and advertise for hearings the state requires before imposing such a fee. The commission must still vote whether to hire a consultant to study and structure a fee, then later whether to officially charge one. Carlos Gimenez, a former Miami city manager and fire chief, said he won't support a fee because the county fire department is not in a financial crisis. Katy Sorenson countered that "I don't think we should wait for a crisis to do planning." Rebeca Sosa said the county needs to consider funding options outside of property taxes because "we don't know what next year is going to look like."
ELECTION UPSET: Pedro J. Garcia, making his first run for office, upended former state senate president and veteran Miami-Dade politician Gwen Margolis on Tuesday to become the county's first elected property appraiser. Mr. Garcia operates Exclusive Realty Corp., 7059 SW 47th St., and is a state-certified general real estate appraiser. Ms. Margolis, also a former county commission chair, had been far in front in a four-candidate field in the general election but did not have a majority and faced Mr. Garcia, the second-place finisher, in the runoff. He now becomes one of only four officials elected countywide in Miami-Dade. Others are the mayor, clerk of courts and state attorney.
AIR RIGHTS HOW MUCH?: Miami commissioners are looking at setting a fee for developers wanting to use the city's air rights. Until now, the city's code allowed property owners to build a passageway above streets, alleys and easements without requiring any public benefits. Since the 1940s, Miami has approved 20 overpasses and underpasses. Commissioners passed an amendment to the code requiring property owners to identify public benefits of allowing them to use the space above and below the rights-of-way. Chairman Joe Sanchez said this was a money-raising opportunity for the city. He asked the administration to set a fee formula for builders wishing to use city-owned air rights.
NOT ON THE COMPANY'S DIME: Miami-Dade commissioners won't be backing a move in the Florida Legislature to require employers to give workers two hours of paid time off to vote. Miami-Dade grants its workers a paid hour to vote. If all of the county's nearly 30,000 workers take the hour, the cost to the county is about $850,000. The extra hour contemplated by legislators would increase that amount significantly, county officials say. "I never met anyone who didn't take the time off," Commissioner Joe A. Martinez said Tuesday of county employees. Commissioner Natacha Seijas said there may have been a time when the voting leave law would have been needed, but not today. Not with "early voting seven days a week and absentee balloting," she said. Florida is one of 18 states that does not require companies to give workers paid time off to vote, though state law protects workers who leave their jobs to vote from discharge.
RECOVERY ON MAINSTREET: The nation's US Conference of Mayors led by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz asked for the second time that the incoming Obama administration act on a recovery plan for Main Street during its first 100 days in office. The conference released a second report highlighting how hundreds of the nation's major cities have infrastructure projects ready to go if federal funding was available. About 400 cities reported a combined 11,300-plus infrastructure projects costing about $73 billion that could generate 840,000 new jobs.
MIAMI'S LENGTHY LIST: Miami's run-on list of projects includes improvements to roads, schools, parks and Miami International Airport at a total cost of $3.4 billion to yield about 55,000 jobs. By contrast, Seattle asked for only one project, funding to build a ferry dock, according to The Washington Post. Miami's other wish list items included $94 million for a Marlins stadium parking garage, another $150 million for Metromover extension to the future stadium and $70 million to build Museum Park, a world-class park planned at Bicentennial Park. But to make room for the park's design the city needs $100 million more to relocate the Bicentennial Park sewer & water treatment plant. The mayor, who took over as president of the conference this year, did not respond to interview requests.
MONEY FOR PARKS: New additions and improvements to city parks, an area Mr. Diaz has prioritized in his seven years in office, accounted for about 50-plus project requests. For example, Miami wants $15 million for a community center with tennis courts and daycare at Moore Park at Northwest 36th Street, $10 million to renovate Bayfront Park and $20 million to build an aquatic, sports and fitness complex at Gibson Park in Overtown.
MIAMI PUSHES ECONOMIC STIMULUS: As Mr. Diaz lined up in Washington to get federal financing for the US Conference of Mayors' wish list, in Miami last week the city commission approved a measure he sponsored to expedite awarding professional service and construction contracts for capital improvement projects to stimulate the local economy. Commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado said they were concerned the measure delegated too much power to City Manager Pete Hernandez, as it would allow him to review, reject and award such contracts without commission input. But Mr. Hernandez said projects deemed "expensive" or "controversial" would still require green light from the commission. Commissioners Regalado and Joe Sanchez also asked the administration to study how many jobs these projects would create.
HOLLO PARK: City commissioners applauded Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's efforts to negotiate an agreement with longtime Miami developer Tibor Hollo to build a temporary park on a bayfront parcel in Brickell known as Villa Magna. Mr. Hollo, chairman of Florida East Coast Realty, agreed to a 3-year lease with the city and has committed to build pathways and install benches in the future park, while the city is to cover insurance and landscaping costs. Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez commended Mr. Sarnoff for the idea and jokingly gave out his office's phone number so that interested developers in his district would give him a call to proffer a similar deal. On Wednesday (12/17), Mr. Hollo and city officials were to unveil plans for the temporary Hollo Park on the vacant parcel at 1201 Brickell Bay Drive.
NEW DIRECTORS: Miami-Dade's Finance Department and Office of Community and Economic Development each have a new leader after Miami-Dade commissioners approved Mayor Carlos Alvarez's appointments Tuesday. Carter Hammer, former chief financial officer of Palm Beach County's Clerk and Comptroller's Office, is to replace 32-year veteran Rachel Baum as finance director. "Stepping into Rachel's shoes will certainly be a challenge," he said. "However, my education and past experience will serve the county well." Shalley Jones Horn, most recently Florida director for community development with Fannie Mae, is to take over as head of the community and economic development office. Commissioner Barbara Jordan said Ms. Horn would be the fourth department director in about two years, "but I know that you're up to the challenge." Ms. Horn, a Miamian, affirmed it and said "I am homegrown and I look forward to being able to work in communities that I grew up in."
MORE INDEPENDENCE: Continuing a recent streak of granting the Miami-Dade Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust the independence its name suggests, commissioners on the county's Transit Committee last week agreed to allow the trust to make recommendations on transit contracts before a commission vote. Now, the trust — which is charged with overseeing spending of the county's half-cent transportation surtax — weighs in on contracts after commission decisions. "It's something we've been wrestling with for years now," trust member Lt. Col. Tony Colmenares said. Commissioners in recent months have also agreed to allow the trust to hire its own executive director — an ongoing process.
SOME SAY NOT ENOUGH: Trust members had one qualm with the Transit Committee's decision to allow first review of contracts. Now, the trust sees contracts after the commission, but it takes a two-thirds commission vote to override trust recommendations. Should the new measure pass at the full commission, the trust would have its say on transit deals first, but commissioners could accept, change or reject its recommendation with a simple majority. Trust members asked that be bumped to two-thirds, but commissioners did not amend the measure. They did, though, tweak it to require that the trust recommend on contracts within 45 days to avoid holdups. "I welcome the opportunity to make changes to further the CITT's efforts to be truly independent," Commissioner Sally Heyman said. "My biggest concern is not to have time delays for these contracts."
METRORAIL CONTRACTOR: Companies with roles in building Miami International Airport's South and North Terminals and the long-delayed South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center are in line to build the Miami Intermodal Center-Earlington Heights Connector Metrorail Extension. The county's Transit Committee OK'd the more than $360 million contract with Odebrecht-Tower-Community Joint Venture last week. Commissioner Sally Heyman lamented what she called the county's inclination to "pick someone we're comfortable with, keep giving them big projects." She demanded assurances the county would be protected in the deal. Assistant County Attorney Bruce Libhaber assured her a performance bond is in place, the contractor would be assessed liquidated damages for any day of delay and the county will make progress payments rather than paying upfront or on the back end. "It sounds like we've progressed from a lot of problems in the past that have haunted us," Ms. Heyman said. The contract passed unanimously in committee but awaits a commission vote next month.
THEY'RE BACK: Two former Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors who left the realty firm two years ago to open a Real Living Properties franchise are rejoining EWM along with their six agents. When the Realtors left to run their own business, "it seemed like a great idea — we didn't know the market was going to turn the way it did," said former Real Living owner Jennifer McCloskey. "We now realize the right thing to do is go back to EWM." Ms. McCloskey is to work in Coral Gables and former partner Tom Grimshaw in Key Biscayne.
STILL COMING: Passenger arrivals at Miami International Airport have stayed up despite economic uncertainty. Arrivals for the first 10 months of 2008 are up 0.9% over the same time period in 2007. International passenger arrivals increased 3.6%, offsetting a decrease of 1.5% in domestic passenger arrivals from January through October.
MORE GATES: Two new gates at Miami International Airport's North Terminal — D29 and D30 — have been completed ahead of schedule and give the airport increased capacity for the holiday and winter tourism seasons. Parsons-Odebrecht Joint Venture has now completed four gates for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department this year. The company is to finish seven more by July 2009. Construction on the $2.85 billion North Terminal is to wrap up by 2011.
MOVING UP: Miami-Dade moved up four notches in October to 13th in Smith Travel Research's Top 25 Markets for hotel occupancy, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. The October ranking climbed from 21st in 2006 and 17th in 2007. Also, Miami-Dade's October room occupancy of 66% in 2008 is higher than the US overall at 62.1% and Florida at 55.8%. This also reflects that Miami-Dade had the smallest occupancy decline in October, down 2.2%, compared to the US, down 6.6%, and Florida, down 6.4%.
AIRPORT AMBIANCE: American Airlines has reopened the Flagship Lounge in Concourse E at Miami International Airport. The lounge, forced to close in 2002 amid in the post-Sept. 11 slump, offers café-style food, complimentary Internet and a relaxing environment for American's first-class customers and frequent-fliers. While the luxury lounge's reopening seems a strange move during a recession, American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said the decision comes as a result of a 3.6% increase in travel to Latin America during 2008. "We've been successful along our international routes," he said. "At this point this [reopening the lounge] also makes economic sense because the Miami hub is in the process of getting a new terminal."
SOMETHING TO DRINK TO: Foodies and wine aficionados feeling today's economic pinch can indulge at a discount next year. In preparation for the Feb. 19-Feb. 22 festival, Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival is offering discounted tickets for all available festival events — 10% off your ticket order by 5 p.m. Dec 19. The festival benefits the Teaching Restaurant and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center at Florida International University. Details: (877) 762-3933 or www.sobewineandfoodfest.com.
EPIC OPENING: Downtown Miami's newest boutique hotel, the EPIC, opened Monday. It's at 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way on the Miami River just north of Brickell Bridge. EPIC offers 411 rooms and suites that all feature private balconies. Other amenities include a 13,752-square-foot wrap-around pool deck with private cabanas, a spa and fitness center, a waterfront lounge, 11,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and a private marina, according to a news release. The hotel is managed by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Details: www.epichotel.com.
ELEVATED EATING: Area 31, a Mediterranean-inspired seafood restaurant, also opened Monday on the 16th floor of the EPIC. The restaurant brings together Head Chef John Critchley, sommelier Ashley Wines and mixologist Jacques Bezuindenhout to create a menu offering raw and prepared Atlantic seafood, a diverse wine list and one-of-a-kind cocktails.
TAXICAB COMPROMISE: After much debate over whether to issue 35 new taxicab medallions by lottery, Miami-Dade commissioners decided that, in this economy, the system won't be able to absorb that many more cabs. A "good cabbie" gets seven to 10 jobs daily, said Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association. "Every cab you're putting out there is seven to 10 jobs per day per cab that somebody doesn't have." Commissioners decided instead to allow 25 new medallions and to restrict five of them to underserved areas in the northern part of the county and five to underserved areas in the south. The other 15 cabs must be wheel-chair accessible.
BUILDING BREAK: Miami-Dade builders forced to delay projects because of the troubled economy may not need fear losing their permits as they wait out market turmoil. Commissioners at a Governmental Operations and Environment Committee OK'd allowing builders holding permits issued after Jan. 1, 2007, to seek a temporary stop-work order to allow the site remain dormant — but secured — without the worry of having a permit revoked. To qualify, builders must demonstrate "economic hardship," such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, absence of credit or slow sales. "It gives people a break during economic times," sponsor Commissioner Katy Sorenson said. Truly Burton, Miami-Dade government affairs director for the Builders Association of South Florida, told commissioners the measure "will provide very much needed relief for a pretty dead building industry." The full commission is to consider the measure Jan. 20.