Written by Miami Today on March 12, 2009
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DELAYED AGAIN: The South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center is expected to be performance-ready in January 2010 — nearly two years late. The $38.8 million construction job has been mired in delays, with completion dates pushed back almost monthly. With a new cast of characters brought in by contractor OHL Group, which bought out former contractor the Tower Group. "The good news is that we have a reliable, realistic schedule from the contractor, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to report that to you before," Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring told county commissioners at a Recreation, Culture and Tourism Committee meeting Monday. Now that a path is set, he said he hopes to bear better news in future updates. "I’m hoping I’ll be able to report to you over the coming months on solutions as opposed to problems." PAYING PERFORMERS: At the committee meeting, commissioners agreed without discussion to give Mr. Spring’s department power to over the next two years contract and pay performers and artists at the South Dade center for up to $1.25 million total. No performance or exhibition can exceed $60,000.The full commission must still approve the measure, and it’s contingent also on approval of the department’s annual budget. SEEKING SAVINGS: If the pay of all Miami-Dade employees making above $125,000 were cut 3%, the county would save $3.17 million in payroll next fiscal year, including fringe benefits, according to a Monday memo from County Manager George Burgess. His analysis comes at the request of some commissioners who last month asked him to look into across-the-board pay cuts at the top. If employees covered by a bargaining unit were excluded from the 3% trim, savings would total $2.59 million. The county is also looking at cost of living adjustments or employee furloughs in negotiating labor agreements, the memo says. Every percentage point of cost of living adjustment not incurred would save about $24 million, a savings that could recur. A furlough would save, on a one-time basis, $7.45 million per day. Keeping cost of living increases low, Mr. Burgess wrote, "is far more beneficial to our efforts to keep critical services in place." HERALD SPACE LEASED: The Miami Herald is leasing 50,000 square feet on its sixth floor to Brown Mackie College. The 10-year bayfront lease is valued at $18 million to $20 million, based on current rates downtown. The college offers degrees in business, computer, health and legal fields at more than 15 locations throughout the US. The lease benefits the struggling Miami Herald by offsetting occupancy costs. Cushman & Wakefield of Florida represented Pennsylvania-based Education Management Corp. and Continental Real Estate the Herald’s parent company, McClatchy. LOWERED EXPECTATIONS: The continuing recession pulled bed tax collection down about 17% in January — almost $1.4 million less than was collected in January 2007, according to numbers provided by Miami-Dade County. The taxes are politically important now as a proposed Marlins stadium relies heavily on public funding drawn from the bed tax. If the bed taxes do not rise at a consistent rate over the next few decades, it could put county and city general funds at risk to pay the difference. On Feb. 13 at a Miami City Commission meeting, County Manager George Burgess said that under assumption of negative growth over the next four years and growth afterward, the county would have a reserve of $45 million to cover any future shortfalls. This $45 million would be generated over the first 15 years. He said it’s not a "rational assumption" to think tourist taxes will decline for a 10-year period, and that bed taxes have always bounced back after declines, citing 9/11. "We saw a bed tax drop a heck of a lot more rapidly, dramatically than this after 9/11," he said. "Those numbers dropped 17%… that is precipitous. That is not what we’re talking about here even under this kind of economic climate." CONTINUED PAIN: The 2% Tourist Development Tax (TDT) and 1% Professional Sports Tax (PST) — both not collected on Miami Beach — plummeted almost 22%, while the Convention Development Tax (CDT) — collected on the Beach — fell about 14%. William D. Talbert III, head of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Monday he expects the TDT to fall 14%-16% through the balance of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. At a February county commission meeting, he said he expected a 12% falloff for the same time period. The dropoff came in a month where the destination hosted both the Orange Bowl and college football’s BCS National Championship Game. Mr. Talbert could not be reached. MISLABELED: What was labeled a "financing plan" in documents presented to Miami-Dade and Miami commissioners before a scheduled Feb. 13 vote on a Marlins stadium is now being called a "scenario." County Manager George Burgess, who made the distinction to the Miami Herald in a Tuesday article, did not make himself available to Miami Today Tuesday. He has not met repeated interview requests since late January. County spokesman Victoria Mallette said via e-mail that "The document titled "financing plan’ is a scenario — not something carved in stone. It is a hypothetical scenario of performance." Commissioner Carlos Gimenez at a committee meeting Tuesday blasted the administration for presenting a scenario in financing plan’s clothing. "I find that explanation to be unacceptable, and if something is labeled a financial plan, then I’d want all the exceptions attached to that financial plan, all the caveats or all the wiggle room attached to it, to be clearly explained… If it’s merely a scenario, it should say scenario." RESILIANT DESTINATION: Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz, who was not present at that point in the meeting, said in an interview he was unaware of the financing plan vs. scenario confusion. He did say, however, that he believes in Miami-Dade as a "resilient" destination and has faith that rapidly waning tourism numbers will one day shoot back up, as Mr. Burgess counts on in the financing scenario. "I think that the mayor and the manager and the people have put together a pretty decent projection in the long run," Mr. Diaz said. Despite recent bed tax revenue drops, including one of 22% for January, he said he still believes in the Marlins project as a job generator, though he noted it’s important also to keep an eye on economic factors before approving a deal. "I think we need to look at all sides of an issue, and right now my goal is to keep food on families’ tables by making sure they have jobs." MORE SCENARIOS?: The county stadium vote has been rescheduled for March 23. Ms. Mallette said it’s possible commissioners may receive new financing scenarios at some point. "Our financial planners continue to analyze the economy and markets as it relates to all county investments, not just the proposed stadium. … More scenarios are possible, but it’s important that it’s made clear that they are merely scenarios," she said. "We don’t have a crystal ball. We’re not trying to predict the future, just using the best information we have to lay out possible options." She noted also that the proposed deal allows all parties to pull out by July 1. "Our timeline doesn’t end on the 19th [when the city is set to vote] or 23rd." PARKING PROMISES: Bonds issued to build Marlins’ stadium parking in Little Havana would not require dipping into Miami’s general fund, City Manager Pete Hernandez pledged to an Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency workshop last week. To finance parking, Miami is counting on bed taxes. At a Feb. 13 meeting to vote on the ballpark that ended in a deadlock, Mr. Hernandez cited revenues other than game-day parking receipts as possible sources to cover any cost overruns. Such revenues would come from a parking surcharge for off-season events, 50% of revenues from any advertising in the garages and from retail leasing, he said. Agreements call for the city to provide 5,500 to 6,000 parking spaces. CFO’S PLEDGE: Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring, also at last week’s meeting, said he will take a conservative approach to finance construction of the ballpark’s four garages at an estimated $94 million, a figure that in recent months Mr. Hernandez has conceded could rise by 10% to 15%. WALK FOR CHANGE: The Brickell Area Association is following the Downtown Development Authority’s example and leaving its eighth-floor offices at 777 Brickell Ave. to take a first-hand look at street-level issues. The association is asking Brickell’s workers and condo dwellers to put on walking shoes and participate in its first walkabout March 17 to help address needed repairs and improvements. Attendees are to meet in the 777 Brickell Ave. lobby at 4 p.m. Under review are sidewalk repairs, street lighting, drainage improvements, traffic management and pedestrian safety. The association is copying the walkabout from the downtown authority — which members have openly criticized for not investing enough in Brickell, which generates more than half of the authority’s tax revenues. PAYING PAC: Omni’s Community Redevelopment Agency has scheduled its next payment of $6.4 million to pay off the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ construction loans for March 31. Under a city-county agreement on massive projects in the pipeline, the redevelopment agency was assigned to pay down construction bonds used to build the performing arts center, now one of the district’s jewels. Close to half the Omni district’s $14.5 million budget — slated to redevelop the area by eliminating slums and blight — is spent annually to pay off the performing arts center’s debt. SPECIAL COUNSEL: The Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency has approved paying Holland & Knight $125,000 for specialized legal services. Marc Sarnoff, an attorney and vice chairman of the agency’s board — made up of the five city commissioners — voted no, saying the firm is charging $290 an hour. He said other firms would charge about $250. Holland & Knight has serviced the agency since 2007 in real estate matters and cases of potential conflict of interest. Executive Director Jim Villacorta said the agency budgeted $125,000 this year for special legal expenses, adding that outside counsel is needed to tackle some "complicated" real estate contracts and agreements. PRIVATIZED: Murray A. Greenberg, former Miami-Dade County attorney and current adjunct law professor at several universities, has jumped into the private sector. He’s joined law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson as of counsel in the Land Use, Environment and Government Affairs Department. He teaches courses in state and local government, state and local taxation and election law at the University of Miami School of Law, Florida International University and St. Thomas University School of Law. He serves also as special counsel to the Miami-Dade County School Board. ROLLNICK IN CHARGE: Veteran real estate lawyer Neil S. Rollnick is new partner-in-charge at law firm Adorno & Yoss’ Miami office. He will maintain his role as chair of the firm’s national real estate department. The 40-year lawyer joined the firm in 2002 after the merger of his former firm, Rollnick & Linden, with Adorno & Yoss. He will oversee the Miami office’s day-to-day operations and external marketing and communications. "I am convinced that as much as the firm continues to grow on a national level, the importance of the Miami office in the overall national strategy is especially critical," he said in a press statement. RECOVERY SOON?: The US economy could begin to see "a modest recovery" in the middle of this year, said Dennis P. Lockhart, president and chief financial officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, at the March 4 Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Trustee Luncheon. He spoke about real estate but did not delve into specifics about the local market. Instead, he was cautiously optimistic. "I take some comfort in signs of improvement in strained credit markets, particularly in capital markets where the Fed has provided support," he said. Another positive came with a caveat. "The only property type currently withstanding downward pressure is warehouse," he said. "This seems to be, perversely, at least partly because of the backup of inventories resulting from weak consumer spending and adverse retail and manufacturing conditions." MAYBE NOT…: To temper his somewhat rosy outlook, however, Mr. Lockhart said "uncertainty remains unusually high, and one has to be mindful of very real downside risks, including a further deterioration in real estate." Nationally, he pointed out, gross domestic product contracted by 6.2% in the fourth quarter of 2008, unemployment claims have been worse than expected while consumer and banks’ investment spending have also plummeted. In Miami, he said, housing prices have fallen 41% since December 2006, which is worse than the average of 27% in 20 major metropolitan areas from their peak in the second quarter of 2006. BIRD CALLS: The economy took flight when Dennis P. Lockhart, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, spoke to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce last week. "I couldn’t pass up a speaking engagement at a place called Parrot Jungle," he told lunch guests. "I had a little time this morning so I went down to see the parrots and one immediately engaged me with "Bailout! Bailout!" At the end of lunch, chamber chair Carlos Fernandez-Guzman, a senior executive VP with BankUnited, said, "I do want to thank the Advocacy committee for training the parrot." BALLET BAILOUT: The Miami City Ballet has received two gifts totaling $950,000, $450,000 from Kirk Foundation President R. Kirk Landon, who was appointed to the ballet’s board of governors, and an anonymous $500,000. They "will go toward this season’s expenses," said spokesperson Nicolle Ugarriza. "We still need to raise more in donations to end [the year] in the black."