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Written by on April 9, 2009

FYI

Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead

of the news. Here are highlights from the most current edition.

   PUTTING HEADS TOGETHER: Tapped by Miami-Dade commission Chair Dennis Moss to develop a business recovery plan during the recession, Vice Chair José "Pepe" Diaz is working to form a think tank of business leaders to brainstorm and make recommendations to the county as to how to boost employment and remain competitive. "I am studying the different business entities. I am trying to detail what are the different levels of commerce that are important to South Florida and to Miami-Dade County, especially to Miami-Dade County — what are the most innovative, efficient and out-of-the-box type businesses that could be developed to help us in the future, or existing businesses that we need to improve on," Mr. Diaz said. The committee — still in its formative stages — is to "look at opportunities for Miami-Dade County to stay to par and moving forward instead of losing employment. Employment to us is the No. 1 thing right now." He hopes to have "at least the skeleton" of the group set by month’s end.

   OLYMPICS HERE?: Miami-Dade could one day host the summer Olympics should a new idea by Commission Chair Dennis Moss pan out. He’s proposing an "Olympic Exploratory Committee Advisory Board" to study how the county could compete to host the summer games some day. The group would be charged to explore and recommend to the commission feasibility and methodology for bidding to host the games, his proposed legislation says. His measure notes that hosting the Olympics requires much planning: the International Olympic Committee announced in June 2008 the shortlist for the 2016 games, which includes Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid. The county’s Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee is to consider his measure April 13.

   ALL THE PRETTY HORSES: Also at the Monday meeting, commissioners are to consider establishing a "Sister Equestrian Center" program between Miami-Dade’s Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center in Tropical Park and the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts in Jerez, Spain. District Commissioner Javier Souto is proposing the measure. His legislation notes that in 2001, the commission created a "Sister Equestrian Center Work Group" to collaborate with the Spanish school and that the school "has offered Miami-Dade County a unique opportunity for an equestrian arts program exchange."

   JUST CRUISIN’: Cruise passenger traffic in February at the Port of Miami hit a record 398,000 passengers, up 3.3% over February 2008. Year-to-date numbers show 819,477 passengers, 5.1% above 2008. Sustained growth is due in part to arrival of new, larger vessels and the variety of cruise options offered, says the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

   INCLUDING INCLUSION: The Florida Marlins must comply with Miami-Dade’s Small Business Enterprise program in awarding service agreements for operating the team’s recently approved ballpark, with a minimum participation of 15% of the value of all service agreements. County commissioners tacked on the requirement as an amendment in approving the deal for the stadium late last month. Last week, Miami city attorneys advised the county the change qualified as "substantial" and would require city commission approval. Because county commissioners agreed to only "non-substantial" amendments, the item was nearly thrown out. But after a Monday meeting, the city reversed its position, County Attorney R.A. Cuevas Jr. told county commissioners Tuesday. The news relieved Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who said "it was critical that local businesses had an opportunity to participate in the operations and maintenance."

   BOND AWAY: Miami-Dade is set to play ball in the bond markets after commissioners agreed Tuesday to allow the administration to issue up to $563 million in bonds to finance a stadium for the soon-to-be Miami Marlins. The same commissioners who voted against the stadium’s financing plan last month — Carlos Gimenez, Katy Sorenson, Sally Heyman and Joe Martinez — voted against the five pieces of legislation authorizing administrators to hit the bond markets. The legislation sets interest rate caps at 7.5% for non-taxable bed tax-backed bonds and 8% for taxable. For general obligation bonds, the cap is 6.25%. Hired financial adviser Sergio Masvidal said each basis point change — a hundredth of a percentage point — could mean a difference of $500,000. "That can go to your benefit or to your detriment" depending on interest rates, he told commissioners. Should the county encounter trouble in the unstable bond markets, whether it be high interest rates, inability to sell the bonds or any other issues, it could walk away from the deal before June 1 or July 1. June 1 would mean an up-to $4 million exposure for the county, July 1 a $7 million exposure.

   GENERAL FUNDS ON THE BENCH: Stadium financing critics used Tuesday’s meeting as another chance to voice concerns about the deal — namely, putting general funds on the bench as a secondary pledge to bonds backed by tourist taxes. County Manager George Burgess repeated his mantra that the secondary pledge is "required to strengthen the creditworthiness of the financing." The county often uses non-ad valorem revenues as the secondary pledge on special obligation bonds and has never had to access them, he said. At the ballpark vote last month, he listed 17 current and past issues. Still, Commissioner Joe Martinez said Tuesday, "the economy is not what it was… the possibility exists." The need to use non ad valorem revenues as a backup "to me that means for the bond buyers we have to sweeten the pot to make these bonds more attractive because the source of funds may be questionable," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said. And at what interest rate would the county have to tap into general funds to make the financing scheme work?, he asked. Answered Mr. Burgess, "we have to know that it works without dipping into anything, or we just have to walk. We have to watch this one like a hawk."

   MPO NO SHOWS: Miami-Dade County commissioners must make the Metropolitan Planning Organization a priority, chided commission and planning organization Chair Dennis Moss at a commission meeting Tuesday. "These MPO meetings are extremely important, and attendance is important," he said. His comments came after a planning organization meeting last month from which eight of 13 commissioners — who make up the bulk of the 22-member board of local elected officials — were absent. At the meeting dominated by municipal leaders, the majority of the board voted to oppose Miami-Dade County diverting 5% of municipalities’ federal stimulus rations to cover administrative costs. The only votes supporting the county charge came from county commissioners Katy Sorenson, Sally Heyman and Javier Souto. Bruno Barreiro and Natacha Seijas sided with the cities. Mr. Moss himself was also a no show — but only because he was tied up on the committee searching for a new Jackson Health System head, he said. The question of the administrative fee will ultimately be decided in separate agreements between the county and municipalities.

   THINKER: Pat Morris, a 1993 founder of Hands On Miami and its president and chief executive officer since 2003, has left the service organization to join local think tank and product incubator Think Factory as a principal. He says he looks forward to his role working on the cause-related marketing and corporate social responsibility side of the business, "and after 15 years of building a legacy at Hands On Miami, it was a good time to make a transition." Founder Ritchie Lucas, who describes Think Factory as "an incubator of great thinkers and thought leaders," lauded Mr. Morris’ work in the community and said "the opportunity to have him come on board with us was once in a lifetime." Leila Chang Ripich as of late last month is the new president and chief executive officer of Hands On Miami.

   JUNGLE BAILOUT: Miami commissioners approved a $2.4 million subsidy to help Jungle Island theme park stay open. The city is deferring 48 months of rent totaling $1.6 million and lending park owners $800,000 to pay off unpaid taxes. Since some of the taxes are owed to the city, it should get back 33% of the loan, about $264,000, in taxes. The park would have to begin repaying the loan in July in $16,667 monthly installments for 48 months, the resolution states. Half the $1.6 million deferred rent also must be repaid once Jungle Island owners pay off a $25 million loan — which the city has been covering 80% of and the county 20%. The park must pay the loan’s remaining balance by 2020.

   LOAN SUPERVISED: City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff requested that the legal department take any necessary measure to make sure the $800,000 loan is spent in paying off the due taxes. To meet his request, City Attorney Julie Bru made the loan subject to an escrow agreement with details on how the money will be spent.

   WAIVING BIDS: Bayfront Park Management Trust asked Miami commissioners last week to waive bidding for improvements at Bayfront Park’s amphitheater, managed by Live Nation. Tim Schmand, trust executive director, said a waiver would let Live Nation’s contractor, Virginia-based HITT Contracting, use $500,000 to add restrooms and install a generator, site lighting and a fire alarm system to get the amphitheater ready to re-open this summer.

   SECURING LOCAL JOBS: Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones supported the waiver with the condition that Live Nation’s appointed contractor hire local workers. Steven Brodie, of Live Nation, said he anticipates more than 100 Miami-based workers from 10 trades will work on improvements. When the amphitheater opens Aug. 15 under the giant concert promoter’s new management, he said, it will have about 425 part-time employees, mostly from the area. Mr. Schmand agreed to report to the commission whether the local workforce promise is kept.

   NEW DEAL, SAME REQUEST: Ms. Spence-Jones also pushed for local jobs in a similar exchange last month when approving a waiver of bids — the standard process by which governments contract for goods and services — for infrastructure work around a Florida Marlins’ 37,000-seat ballpark in Little Havana. She requested the city and county add goals to agree to hire local workers and small businesses to work at the stadium. The waiver was handed to the Marlins’ handpicked construction company, Hunt/Moss.

   ELECTION REJECTION: The Miami City Commission rejected Miami-Dade County Elections Department’s request to move the municipal runoff to Nov. 24, three weeks after the Nov. 3 general election. The runoff was initially due Nov. 17, but the elections office wanted more time to count ballots because it will use paper-based voting, said Chief Deputy Supervisor of Elections Tara Smith. She added that Veterans Day is Nov. 11, giving voters less time to turn in absentee ballots. Miami is to elect a new mayor and fill two commissioner seats. Since Miami, Miami Beach and Hialeah hold elections the same day to share costs, all must decide on a runoff date. Miami was the first decide, sticking with Nov. 17.

   DIFFERENCE OF OPINION: As they often do on the dais, Miami commissioners Tomás Regalado and Joe Sanchez, both candidates for mayor, differed on a later runoff. Mr. Sanchez said although he supports anything to increase voter turnout, a later date could interfere with residents’ Thanksgiving plans. Mr. Regalado said he was more concerned about whether the elections department would have enough time to count the ballots in two weeks, adding: "Elections are about voters, not candidates." But Michelle Spence-Jones and Marc Sarnoff, who faced runoffs in their runs for the commission, agreed that waiting three weeks was a lot to ask for. Mr. Sarnoff said his runoff in 2006 came in two weeks and turnout was one of the highest in city history.

   CHANGE OF GUARD: The Brickell Homeowners Association elected a new president at its annual meeting, replacing its founding president. Claudia Bruce, a realtor associate with Brickell Investment Realty, takes T. Sinclair Jacobs’ place as he becomes chairman. Lawrence Imber, a Coral Gables dentist, will serve as vice president. Gloria Konsler, executive administrator of the Brickell Area Association, will continue to serve as the association’s secretary, and Ernesto Cuesta, chairman and CEO of the Enterprises Group Corp., will serve as treasurer.

   MIAMI 21 DELAY: City Manager Pete Hernandez failed to get commissioners to agree on a special meeting date to review Miami’s proposed zoning code, Miami 21. When he set a date at the end of last week’s meeting, Commissioner Angel Gonzalez said he couldn’t make it. Chair Joe Sanchez said the date was unlikely to work and wondered if commissioners were notified in advance. "Did you consult with all the commissioners as to the date availability? So I don’t think we are going to have it on the 21st," he said before adjourning the meeting. Luciana Gonzalez, project manager for Miami 21, said Tuesday a date has yet to be set. A commission vote on Miami 21 is highly awaited as the last step before the long-debated zoning blueprint is adopted.

   CITY, COUNTY HUDDLE: Miami officials plan to meet with Miami-Dade’s Environmental Resource Management Director Carlos Espinosa this week to discuss how the department can streamline fees it charges Miami businesses, said Orlando Toledo, Miami’s senior director of building, planning, and zoning. The county department is responsible for regulating and managing residential and commercial activities countywide that affect the environment. Mr. Toledo said he will meet with Mr. Espinosa directly to deal with issues that he previously was addressing with Carlos Hernandez, chief of planning review services, and Frank Lezcano at the department. City commissioners expect a report on progress of talks with the environmental management department. They cite concerns about the burden of excessive fees on Miami’s small and mid-size businesses in this tough economy.

   BE A PART OF ART: Los Angeles-based artist Fritz Haeg is looking to collaborate with a Miami resident to organize and host a series of gatherings during his exhibit "Convention" at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The entire content of the chosen person’s living room will be relocated, in the same arrangement, to the museum, where social gatherings will be held throughout the 3½-month exhibition. Those interested may visit www.mocanomi.org or www.fritzhaeg.com.

   GABLES BRANCH: The Latin Builders Association, largest Hispanic construction trade organization in the US, ispHHopened new offices at 4110 Laguna St. in Coral Gables.

   GAY PRIDE: On April 18, Miami Beach is to produce the first "Gay Pride Festival" — an initiative ofMiami Beach Mayor Matti Bower and the Mayor’s Gay Business Development Council. The one-day festival is to take place on Ocean Drive. Festivities will include a parade, a business expo, community booths, live entertainment and more. The Gay Pride Parade is to be on Ocean Drive between Fifth and 15th streets from noon to 6 p.m. Details: www.miamibeachgaypride.com.

   NONPROFIT EXCELLENCE: Accion USA and the Education Fund-Ocean Bank Center for Educational Materials received the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards recognizing nonprofit innovative excellence, the Novo Awards, at the chamber’s monthly luncheon last week. Accion USA makes micro-loans to low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs who can’t get bank credit for their small businesses. The Ocean Bank Center solicits used equipment and excess inventory from businesses and has given them to more than 14,500 teachers for classroom use.

   HIGH MARKS: BusinessWeek has again ranked Florida International University’s Landon Undergraduate School of Business among the top 100 undergraduate business programs. The school was ranked 15th among public two-year programs, 55th among all public universities and 98th overall. The college has appeared on the list in twice in the past three years.

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