ANOTHER BREAK: General Growth Properties, a mega shopping mall owner that operates Bayside Marketplace and Coral Gables' Merrick Park, last week got an extension until February on $900 million in mortgage loans. In December, General Growth also got a break from the City of Miami, which cut funds due for unpaid rent of Bayside's parking garage by $700,000. A city arbitration request with the American Arbitration Association resulted in a $500,000 settlement, payable in $100,000 installments from 2009 to 2013. Considered the nation's second-largest mall owner, General Growth owns 200-plus malls in 44 states.
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GLITTERING JOB GROWTH: Employment in education and health services has hit a record level in Miami-Dade even as most employment categories have been declining. In November, the most recent data, 158,600 people held education or health services jobs here, topping October's prior record of 157,100, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the past 12 months, 4.1% more people in Miami-Dade have found work in those sectors, continuing an annual job growth trend that began in 2002. In the past decade, the county has added 37,200 jobs in the sector.
PREPARING FOR TAKEOFF: Seven firms, some local, some national, are vying to partner with the Carrie Meek Foundation to develop two parcels of land at the county's Opa-locka Executive Airport, foundation Executive Director Anthony Williams says. "Each of them has a slightly different twist" on what to do with the properties, most based on a mixed-use office and warehouse concept, he said. A committee is to review the proposals. The plan is to over nine years develop the 121 acres to boost the area economy and create from 1,500 to 3,000 jobs, Mr. Williams said. The first phase is to begin within two years, with expectations to develop the first 20 acres within four years.
FOUR-DAY WORK WEEK: Miami-Dade's Building Code Compliance Office is to operate on a new four-day work week as part of a pilot program. Employees will work four days a week for 10 hours a day. But the Permitting and Inspection Center will still operate Monday through Friday. The department office itself will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday beginning Monday (1/5). Details: (305) 375-2901.
PAUSE FOR THE PRESIDENT: Miami-Dade County's first full commission meeting of 2009 is set for Jan. 22, a Thursday. The meetings are normally held Tuesdays, but new Chairman Dennis Moss did not want the meeting to conflict with President Elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. However, commissioners are to spend the week before in public committee meetings, where new legislation gets its initial in-depth airing.
MORE CASH FOR MOVERS: Metromover users should enjoy a more pleasant ride in 2009. Miami-Dade Transit Director Harpal Kapoor attended the Downtown Development Authority's December meeting to deliver the news that all escalators should be working in January and some stations are to get fresh paint and other aesthetic enhancements. Alyce Robertson, the authority's executive director, said the transit department spends about $8 million in mover maintenance every year but allocates zero dollars for this cost in its tight budget.
AT YOUR SERVICE: Mr. Kapoor said Miami-Dade Transit is also focusing on improving customer relations and aligning its services with available technology — for example, sending text messages to customers informing them of Metromover and train arrival times and out-of-service escalators. He vowed to continue meeting monthly with the downtown authority to discuss issues affecting transit there.
MUSEUM SITES SHOVEL-READY: Environmental tests show Bicentennial Park downtown is ready for construction, Miami officials say. The city plans to redevelop the land as Museum Park, a 32-acre complex to house three museums and a signature park. The bayfront parcel, once site of the Port of Miami and oil storage tanks, is clear for development after initial soil and environmental tests, said Ola Aluko, capital improvements director. He said the assessments were handed to the Miami Art Museum and the Miami Museum of Science so they can do added environmental tests. The museum leases, approved by the city commission in December, hold the city responsible for up to $2 million to solve any environmental-related issues.
WHITE GLOVE TEST: To crackdown on what Coral Gables officials are calling a "serious issue," code enforcement officers will next month sweep the city on the lookout for dirty roofs and other aesthetic violations. Exterior structures sporting excessive mildew or scaling paint could mean a $250 fine. The city plans to spend January informing residents and business owners that it's their responsibility to keep their property — walls, roofs, walkways and driveways — in good condition as per city code. Violators next month are to receive citations and a deadline to shape up. If the problem lingers, they'll be asked to pay up.
POLISH PROSPECTS: The Polish government this spring is to send a business mission to Miami-Dade. Marcin Korolec, Polish undersecretary of state at the Ministry of the Economy, is to lead the delegation. The visit, March 30 to April 1, is to include matchmaking sessions with local companies, though business sectors have yet to be decided. Those details should be ironed out by mid-February, said Maria Dreyfus-Ulvert, trade development specialist with Miami-Dade's Jay Malina International Trade Consortium. The consortium visited Poland in May and invited officials to Miami.
MORE MADOFF SUPPORT: Locally based Adorno & Yoss has created a team dedicated to advising clients affected by Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. "We have formed a team of lawyers that are extremely expertised in securities, in tax and in insolvency issues," said partner Jan Douglas Atlas, who heads the team. The group of lawyers can help "by focusing the clients on the appropriate avenues and remedies" for recovery — which may be third parties, he said. "We think the issues are obviously in terms of the investment advice they [Madoff victims] received." The firm joins others, such as law firm Holland & Knight and accounting firm Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra, in creating specialized groups to handle Madoff scandal fallout.
THE LIFE OF WHITMAN: The Historical Museum of Southern Florida and Bal Harbour Shops operators William, Stanley and Dudley Whitman will open the Whitman Family Museum to the public Jan. 10 on the third floor of the Bal Harbour Shops, 9701 Collins Ave. in Bal Harbour. The museum's collection spans 100 years of the family's history and includes many of their innovations such as a patented underwater camera case that was used in the 1952 documentary "The Sea Around Us." While there is an admission charge of $10, the money is to be donated to the historical museum. "The thought behind the admission is a price point that the Whitman family and the museum agreed upon," said historical museum External-Relations Manager Victoria Cervantes. "It's a fundraiser for HMSF in Dudley and Stanley Whitman's name."
LUXURY MERGER: SOL Sotheby's, in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and the Stewart de la Vega Group have merged to form One Sotheby's International Realty, based at 1537 San Remo Drive in Coral Gables. Mayi de la Vega has been named president and chief executive officer. She was most recently part owner of the Stewart de la Vega Group. The firm will market about $500 million of real estate throughout Miami-Dade and Broward county markets.
LIQUOR-SERVING DISTRICTS: Miami Commissioners provisionally approved two zoning changes in December that seek to create cultural districts in Overtown and Little Haiti. The Osun's Village Cultural district, to run along Northwest Seventh Avenue from 53rd to 63rd streets, allows up to 15 liquor-selling businesses to set up contiguously. The same code amendment allows creation of the Lemon City/Little Haiti French Creole Cultural Arts and Entertainment district, bounded by Northeast Second Avenue from 53rd to 63rd streets, which would allow up to 20 businesses to serve alcoholic beverages.
SARNOFF'S WORRY: Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is concerned that the cultural district measures did not specify a number of restaurants and bars, so each district could end up with 15 and 20 bars, respectively. "What's intended by the commission may not be what you are getting. What you are going to get is people selling alcohol close to each other," he said. Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who represents the district, agreed and said adjustments would be made before a final vote. "The idea is to attract different types of individuals to the area, so that things we've invested in the area can begin to flourish," she said. In July, the commission approved a similar cultural district in Wynwood, allowing up to 25 liquor licenses.
FIXING FILMING: Work is under way to protect private homes while also maintaining the number of locations for filming, according to Robert Parente, director of City of Miami Mayor's Office of Film and Cultural Affairs. Although filming on private property isn't allowed, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy doesn't work with projects such as Reality TV. "The film industry is growing," he said. "It's a great, clean industry, and we're just going to have to find a good balance between commercial activity and residential property."
SAFE HARBOR: Boaters looking to moor their vessels have a new option under way — a soon-to-be-built municipal mooring facility at Dinner Key, steps from Miami's City Hall at 3400 Pan American Drive. Applications for moorings should be submitted to the marina or through the city's marinas Web site starting Jan. 5. In the mooring area, boats will be tied to a buoy without an anchor, an environmental approach to protect marine wildlife. The city has budgeted $800,000 to construct the facility, which is to harbor transient and long-term sail and motor vessels up to 40 feet long. It's to open in June. Details: www.miami-marinas.com.
GREENING OUT AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Miami commissioners have authorized a cooperation agreement with Enterprise Community Partners to promote green building in affordable housing. Maryland-based Enterprise promotes building affordable housing following environmentally sustainable criteria. City officials passed several measures in 2008 to help build a more sustainable city. Robert Ruano, Miami's director of sustainable initiatives, said the goal is to make all new housing projects in the city environmentally responsible.
GSA INKS LEASE: Procacci Development signed the US General Services Administration to 27,306 square feet of Class A warehouse and flex space at Crossroads at Dolphin Commerce Center, 11230 NW 20th St. The 49-acre center in Doral encompasses 730,000 square feet with four office buildings and three warehouse/flex buildings that are hurricane-proof and equipped with generators capable of running for 14 days.
LINCOLN TO LOUVRE: Miami artist Romero Britto is part of an exhibit at the Louvre in Paris, France, as part of a Brazilian delegation. Mr. Britto's featured painting, "Journey," premiered Dec. 11 in the Salon Nationale Des Beaux-Arts 2008, in the Carrousel du Louvre, Salle le Notre, Louvre Museum, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. Mr. Britto, a native of Brazil, has a gallery on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
NEWS RELEASE WRITING GUIDE: Non-profits in need of guidance to improve news releases have a place to go: www.newsreleaseworkshop.org, a new Web site created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The site offers step-by-step instructions to creating a clear and useful release, as well as tips and a list of things to avoid. Users can also post their own tips and ideas.