Written by Miami Today on December 25, 2008
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BURN NOTICE STAYS: The City of Miami agreed to extend the lease to Burn Notice, the popular USA Network cable show going into its third season. The future of the police drama’s filming was uncertain last month after the city realized the series, with filming studios in the Coconut Grove Expo Center, would clash with the city’s plans to demolish the building in the summer. Robert Parente, Miami’s director of film, arts and entertainment, said the lease was extended two months to finish discussions for a longer lease that would allow producers ample time to film the third season’s 16 episodes; each one takes about a week to shoot. He said he expects Burn Notice to film through September.
MORE PARKS COMING: City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff continues his quest to transform vacant properties in District 2, which includes downtown and Brickell, into parks. Sites in discussion include the Lerner site, a vacant lot on Flagler Street where a former Lerner’s store stood, and the Millennium site on the Miami River. Last week, longtime Miami developer Tibor Hollo agreed to a three-year lease with the city for the use of a prime bayfront parcel at 1201 Brickell Bay Drive, where he hopes to build a luxury hotel and residential tower once the real estate market recoups. The temporary park is to be known as Villa Magna Park, the name of Mr. Hollo’s project. He preferred that name to the originally proposed "Hollo Park."
IT’S OFFICIAL: The Miami Mart Airport Hotel has joined the Hilton family of hotels and re-opened Thursday (12/18) as the Doubletree Miami Mart Airport Hotel & Exhibition Center. The hotel had been running as an independent since it cut ties with Sheraton on June 26. Management said the hotel wanted to better highlight its 150,000 square feet of conference space. The hotel is managed by Davidson Hotel Co. Doubletree is an upscale brand in the Hilton chain.
STILL GROWING: The leisure and hospitality industry in Miami-Dade continues to report strong employment despite the recession. From January through November, an average of 104,800 people were employed in the industry compared to 103,400 during the same period in 2007 — up 1.4%.Historically, the employment figures for the first 11 months of 2008 have exceeded levels for the preceding seven years for the same time frame, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
MOVING ON: Dade Community Foundation President Ruth Shack has announced she will leave the foundation once a replacement is found. "There is no incident that brought me to this decision," she said. "I’ve had three successful careers and am now looking forward to a fourth." Ms. Shack, who served three terms as a Miami-Dade County commissioner and was once a candidate for county mayor, said the process for replacing her has not yet begun. The foundation, a grant-writing community endowment, was formed in 1967 and held nearly $170 million at the end of 2007.
TRULY INTERNATIONAL: Florida International University broke ground last week on the future site of its School of International and Public Affairs. The program, which falls under the College of Arts and Sciences, is to begin in January 2009. Construction has been split into two parts. Part one, budgeted at $23 million, is expected to be done by the end of 2010. Part two, budgeted at $28 million, is to be complete by 2014. The project will be funded by a combination of Public Education Capital Outlay money and private gifts and will seek to hire 30 new faculty members each year for the next five years.
NAMING RIGHTS: Florida International University’s Arena has been renamed the U.S. Century Bank Arena after an undisclosed amount was donated. The arena, at 11200 SW Eighth St., will host an official dedication and unveiling Jan. 4 with President Modesto A. Maidique and the bank’s directors. The 6,000-seat venue, built in 1986, has hosted presidential debates, graduation and convocation ceremonies and is the men’s and women’s basketball teams’ home court.
ANOTHER SHOT: In the wake of a harsh audit, the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust — founded in 1983 to address socio-economic disparity in the local black community — could be restructured or even dismantled. Taking swift action only weeks after the county released the audit, Miami-Dade commissioners voted to oust all of the organization’s trustees and name an oversight board to mull options for remedies. It is to consider scenarios that include re-organizing the trust or shutting it down and potentially replacing it with a body with similar goals. "This oversight board is not set up to be the trust — just as a board to come up with some ideas in an emergency situation," Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said. She asked that the group be given three months to find new members. This time around, "we need to have a board that is qualified."
DIRECTING RUTGERS ART: Suzanne Delehanty, who directed the Miami Art Museum from its 1995 inception to 2005 and now runs a Brickell-based independent arts consulting service, on Jan. 1 becomes director-elect of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. She is to commute between Miami and the museum until April 1, when she assumes full directorship. In Miami, she transformed the non-collecting Center for the Fine Arts into the Miami Art Museum and began a collection. She has been a member of the host committee for Art Basel/Miami Beach since 2000.
EL PRESIDENTE: Miguel Southwell, deputy director of business retention and development for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, has been elected president of the Latin American and Caribbean region of Airports Council International, a worldwide association of airports.As association president, he’ll represent the region’s 66 members that operate 260 airports in 37 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.Mr. Southwell is to serve the two-year term already having served on the regional board of the council and on its World Governing Board for the past six years.
LABOR FORCE, UNEMPLOYMENT SHRINK: With fewer people in the labor force, Miami-Dade saw a drop in unemployment between October and November of six-tenths of a percentage point. The current 5.5% unemployment is up 1.8 percentage points from a year ago, however. The November unemployment rate hadn’t been this high in Miami-Dade since 2003, according to a South Florida Workforce report. Construction jobs have dropped 17 percentage points in the past year. Sectors such as government and food services have seen growth since this time in 2007. Miami-Dade continues to hold below state and national unemployment levels. Florida’s unemployment rate sits now at 7.3%, the US’s at 6.5%.
FRAUD CRACKDOWN: In just more than a year, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s Mortgage Fraud Task Force has made more than 100 arrests — about 30 of them within the last four months. The program teams law enforcement officials, prosecutors, business professionals, elected officials and others in Florida’s first public-private attempt to battle mortgage fraud. In its first year, it’s drawn state and national attention — the US House of Representatives voted to establish a Nationwide Mortgage Fraud Task Force modeled after Miami-Dade’s.
NEW CITY ROLE: Miami has appointed Madeline Valdes acting director of the public facilities department, which oversees the city-owned Knight Center complex and several marinas. She had worked under former director Lori Billberry, who retired in October. She has over 21 years in property management, property acquisition and sales, property development and leasing. Ms. Valdes is to act as director while the city recruits a permanent appointee.
DUMP DUMPING: To combat illegal dumping in Miami-Dade agricultural areas, commissioners agreed to create an Illegal Dumping in the Agricultural Area Task Force. To avoid fees or drives to a trash transfer station, "people dump in agricultural areas because it’s isolated and rural," sponsor and Commission Chair-Elect Dennis Moss said. "It’s just easier to discard it." The problem has become prevalent, he said. "You’ll see part of cars and just everything." The new task force of impacted property owners and representatives from county departments and organizations such as the Farm Bureau and Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida is to brainstorm ideas for deterring illegal dumping as well as for reporting and collecting debris. Property owners may agree to self-impose a fee for pickup, Mr. Moss said. "The idea would be to have this task force to take a look at it and consider a number of different items."
LAW TWEAKING WANTED: A question of whether a Downtown Development Authority board member’s role as manager of a major project that sought Miami Commission approval was a conflict of interest led to a few others. Authority Executive Director Alyce Robertson asked Miami-Dade County’s Commission of Ethics and Public Trust for its opinion. She is concerned this question could surface again as among the authority’s directors are developers, attorneys and downtown business owners. City Commissioner Tomás Regalado raised the question of a possible conflict in October when the commission was to approve a development agreement and zoning for the 25-acre mega Miami Worldcenter. Nitin Motwani, project representative, sits on the authority’s board, as do project attorney Neisen Kasdin and owner of department store La Epoca Tony Alonso, who owns warehouses at the project’s site.
SEEKING AMENDMENT: The authority board is to weigh a resolution asking the City Attorney’s Office to tweak city code, allowing members to be stakeholders with direct interests in downtown Miami businesses and projects. Deputy City Attorney Maria Chiaro determined in Mr. Motwani’s case that he was not doing business directly with the city because he is an "agent" who represents the developer.
FAIR SHARE: Miami commissioners approved a resolution demanding that Miami’s state lobbyists advocate for South Florida to get a bigger slice of state funding. The commission is asking the Legislature to issue state funds according to the region’s population. "We want our fair share (of funds) coming back to the city," said Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, resolution proponent. Each year the city has to slash its budget because state and federal governments continue to reduce funds for local governments, city officials say.
KENDALL KONNECTION: Miami-Dade Expressway Authority has opened its new State Road 874/Don Shula Expressway ramp northbound from Kendall Drive, allowing drivers to connect with the Palmetto Expressway. Officials expect the $32 million project to alleviate some rush hour traffic on Kendall Drive and Southwest 87th Avenue. The ramp was finished ahead of schedule — in less than 20 months — and on budget. Reconstruction of the Shula is to continue from Kendall to the Turnpike, including additional lanes, a wider Killian Parkway exit ramp and new sound barrier walls. Work is expected to conclude in fall 2011.
MORE JOBS, BETTER ROADWAYS: The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority has awarded $184 million in construction contracts during the past four months, translating to 2,658 local jobs, according to a study by Miami-based Washington Economics Group.
Details: Yvette Holt, (786) 552-0000.
LAWYER RESIGNS FROM DDA: Miami Downtown Development Authority lost a member last week. Board member Jay Solowsky resigned to help the City Attorney’s Office fight a lawsuit that seeks to dismantle the development authority. Mr. Solowsky is to represent the board in the lawsuit. City Attorney Julie Bru, who attended the authority’s monthly meeting, said Mr. Solowsky’s expertise and broad knowledge of the board’s operations would make him a strong asset to the legal team.
THE LAWSUIT: Filed by Milan Investment Group and led by hair salon owner Gustavo Molina, the suit claims the board’s formation was unconstitutional from inception, that it doesn’t have the power to levy taxes without voter approval and that the board’s boundaries have been expanded illegally. "This lawsuit seeks to disrupt the mission of this authority and divert scarce resources available in the district and put them in the pockets of attorneys."
CRA’s STIMULUS PLAN: At this month’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, Commissioner Tomás Regalado asked the agency to develop a stimulus plan for businesses in the district. Jim Villacorta, agency executive director, said he is working on a plan for area businesses to apply for $5,000 grants. Mr. Villacorta is working on criteria for those area establishments wishing to apply. He said he is looking at the redevelopment agency’s budget to see how much can be allocated to the stimulus plan but hopes to issue about 10 grants for each of the agency’s three districts.
BE A WATCHDOG: The City of Miami Civilian Investigative Panel has extended its volunteer application deadline to Friday. The oversight panel is charged with overseeing the City of Miami Police Department. It’s comprised of 13 members — and commissioners want them diverse. In recent months, they disbanded the board to build a more diverse panel with greater minority representation, including Hispanics and Haitians. Applicants must be either permanent city residents, own real property or work or maintain a business in the city. Convicted felons and current or former city police officers are not eligible. Applications and resumes must be postmarked no later than 5 p.m. Dec. 26. Send to Shirley E. Richardson, executive director, Civilian Investigative Panel, 155 S Miami Ave. PH-1B, Miami 33130. Applications and details: www.miamigov.com/cip.
SAVING THE STADIUM: The Dade Heritage Trust and Friends of Marine Stadium are to host a seminar, "The future of Miami Marine Stadium," 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at the City of Miami Rowing Club, 3601 Rickenbacker Causeway. The event is to include water tours of the Marine Stadium by Chinese Dragon Boat. Proponents are working to preserve the stadium from planned redevelopment on Virginia Key. The City of Miami’s Historic Environmental and Preservation Board in October designated the Marine Stadium historic.
NEW YEAR, NEW CHAIR: Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss officially took his place as commission chair in an inauguration ceremony last week. He pledged to begin new initiatives within his first 90 days, including defining an expanded vice chairman role. José "Pepe" Diaz is new vice chair. The team, to serve for two years, succeeds former Chairman Bruno Barreiro and Vice Chair Barbara Jordan.
END OF AN ERA: As the Miami-Dade commission changes guard, the director of media in the chairman’s office is retiring. After 30 years in the public sector, media-relations veteran Hernando Vergara is heading to Medellín, Colombia, to retire. He’s worked in communications for Miami-Dade Transit, Miami-Dade’s fire department, Miami-Dade Emergency Management, Miami International Airport, the Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas, the Miami-Dade Public Library System and the County Manager’s communications department. He leaves for Colombia today (12/25).
CRUISE COLLECTION: Former Executive Director of Libraries at Florida International University Laurence Miller has donated his collection of cruise-ship-industry promotional materials to the Wolfsonian Museum. The gift includes deck plans, advertisements, announcements, newsletters, schedules, postcards, luggage labels and company stationery from the 1950s to the 2000s. "It is an extraordinarily rich collection, and is the perfect complement to our existing holdings," said Chief Librarian Francis Luca. The Wolfsonian now houses similar material from the 1930s and earlier. Mr. Luca said the work is available to the public by appointment and online, as each item is cataloged.
EAT AND RIDE: A move to allow food and beverage consumption on transit station platforms in Miami-Dade got the nod from the county’s Transit Committee, potentially paving the way for a pilot vending machine program to pour extra revenue into the financially ailing transit department. County staffers in a memo noted the measure could require beefing up janitorial services should machines add to debris at stations. A report says three local stations that already have vending machines don’t report increased debris — or much added revenue. "The machines were provided more as an amenity for riders than as a substantial revenue source." The report says Chicago Transit generated $282,000 last year from soda machines. Tri-Rail made $90,000 from food and beverage machines last year.
NEAR MISS: The vending machine item narrowly escaped when sponsor Dorrin Rolle asked that it be withdrawn, citing a struggle with county administration to put it together. He deferred it in October after not receiving a report on time. "I don’t know why it came back," he said. Commissioner Katy Sorenson pointed out, though, that "after all the analysis, it seems like maybe it’s a feasible option." Others agreed. "I just got beat up so much on this thing that I just gave up," Mr. Rolle said as he agreed to withdraw his withdrawal. The committee then unanimously approved, prompting comment from Mr. Rolle: after "all that labor, I finally had a chance to birth a child."
PAY UP: Miami-Dade is working to ensure departments are paid for their services. Permit fees established by departments, including building, planning and zoning and public works, entitle applicants to an initial plan review and a "rework" if plans are disapproved. If that happens a second time, the county charges a fee for the additional review — and continues to for subsequent re-reviews. Until October, the county collected those fees once the permit was issued. But that meant that, if a project was abandoned, the county would never be paid. The new policy is that fees are due when services are rendered. All outstanding rework fees must be paid prior to resubmitting plans for another review.
PORT PROMOTIONS: The Port of Miami, aided by Miami-Dade Transit, is to launch a seaport terminal advertising pilot program pending commission approval of rates. The county Transit Committee OK’d it with no discussion. The port sought private partners in an advertising program early this year but got no responses due to a $700,000 minimum annual guarantee that documents say "was too high for any firm to be profitable without the availability of outdoor advertising." So the port decided instead to team up with the transit department, which is to help find vendors, publicize ad opportunities, manage installation of ads and more. The partnership is "ideal," documents say, because transit "already has in-house staff with experience in the implementation of a similar program for its facilities and fleet." The port would retain net revenues after paying transit for its time. The program would set varying rates for ads in different areas of the port. "Terminal domination," or, "saturating a selected passenger terminal with customized advertising opportunities in various sizes, quantities and locations," the documents say, would cost $95,000 a year.
TRAFFIC RELIEF: Miami’s Police Department has deployed more eyes in the urban core. Public service aides now direct traffic, assist officers and respond to accidents, alleviating congestion at major intersections during morning and afternoon peak hours. Four units are handling traffic clogging, parking issues and out-of-norm incidents in the downtown business district, said police Commander Raimundo Socorro. The aides are in addition to the police bike unit and regular officers who patrol downtown. So far, "vast improvements" can be reported, he said. "Just the mere presence of the aides has helped immensely. People avoid blocking traffic and are more cautious about driving safely."
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