NO TAX HIKE: The five-cent local option gas tax levied on motor fuel is to remain five cents. Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday put the brakes on a move to tack on two more pennies. Transit, Infrastructure & Roads Committee Chair Barbara Jordan sponsored the measure, which died in a 7-5 vote with no discussion. An up-or-down vote with no discussion is standard for measures on first reading. Ms. Jordan may have seen the no votes coming. Commissioners showed little support during an informal vote when she pitched the idea in September.
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CHUGGING ALONG: A move to secure a fixed revenue stream for Tri-Rail, South Florida's financially troubled commuter rail system, is making progress. Fort Lauderdale state Sen. Chris Smith was able to tack an amendment on to a bill for a proposed Central Florida commuter rail system during a Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee hearing this week. He's proposing levying an added $2 local-option rental car surcharge to support regional transportation authorities — including South Florida's, which operates Tri-Rail. Voters would need to OK the charge. If the measure for Central Florida's SunRail passes the full Senate with the amendment intact, it would be a win for the local commuter rail. Without a dedicated revenue source, officials say Tri-Rail could be forced to nearly halve its weekday service and eliminate weekend trains.
HAVE SURTAX, WILL TRAVEL: Up to $3,000 in Miami-Dade transit sales surtax funds is to pay for Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust member Marilyn Smith to travel to a bus rapid transit conference in Seattle May 3-6. County commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday to reimburse the trip's cost. When voters approved the half-cent surtax in 2002, the intent was proceeds would fund only new transit projects. Commissioners changed the rules last month, agreeing to allow most proceeds from the surtax to contribute to transit operations and maintenance rather than exclusively new projects.
YES TO FEE: The legal opinion requested by Miami's Auditor General Victor Igwe confirms that the city under a state statute can charge a parking surcharge for metered parking revenues. "The parking spaces are subject to the parking surcharge," City Attorney Julie Bru wrote. But she said the administration made a policy decision not to apply the fee on metered spaces and that is why no revenues are collected as the auditor found. The city charges a 15% surcharge on revenues at all parking facilities. The Miami Parking Authority, which runs the city's metered parking system, generates nearly $10 million in on-street parking revenues yearly.
BRICKELL PARK DEMANDS: The Brickell Homeowners Association and Brickell Area Association sent a letter to City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff Tuesday asking him to support their demand that Related Group keep its promise and complete renovations on Brickell Park. The park sits just south of the developer's recently-completed Icon Brickell property. The associations are asking Related to place signage at both park entrances and furniture such as benches for the public. Related has already completed park landscaping, irrigation and lighting. Without the signs, the park will continue to appear to be the private front lawn of the Icon property, the associations say.
PROJECT CHANGES OK'D: Miami's Planning Advisory Board approved last week a request from Civica Towers' developer to make significant changes to its project, removing a hotel component and adding more office space, retail and parking. Miami Hotel Investments is to ask the board to increase the office space from 390,827 square feet to 551,452, the retail square footage from 14,655 to 16,988 and parking by 583 spaces for the twin-tower, mixed-use project to rise in Miami's Civic Center at 1050 NW 14th St. A final approval is to come from the city commission next month.
LICENSED TO LEASE: Blanca Commercial Real Estate, launched last month by former Cushman & Wakefield executive Tere Blanca, has been tapped as exclusive leasing agent for 1450 Brickell. The 35-story Brickell office tower by local developer Rilea Group is now under construction and set to open next January. Blanca Commercial Executive Vice President Danet Linares formerly handled leasing for the Brickell Financial Centre, a competing office tower rising down the avenue on the 600 block.
INVESTIGATION ESCALATING: A Miami-Dade commissioner wants to get to the bottom of the broken escalators on the north Metromover loop. Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz is asking the county attorney's office to "investigate the facts and occurrences surrounding the replacement of escalators on the north loop of the Metromover and to determine the viability of any legal action to recover the costs incurred in the replacement of those escalators," his proposed legislation says. Transportation, Infrastructure & Roads Committee members approved the measure unanimously last week. Several escalators along the loop — at least nine toward the end of last year — were out of operation at once, some for more than a year. Transit officials at the time said repairs were time consuming and corrosion found in the escalator system required in-depth analysis.
KEEPING WATCH: The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development arm, now receives business tax receipt revenue once directed toward the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust after convincing commissioners last year the money was always meant to stay with the council. This resolved a years-long debate — but one commissioner still wants to keep an eye on it. Audrey Edmonson is asking for quarterly reports from the commission auditor on the council's use of the portion of the tax once given to the trust. In agreeing to direct the revenue back to the Beacon Council, the commission asked it be used "for similar purposes in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods." Housing & Community Development Committee members supported her request at a meeting last week.
CHARTERING RE-SEGREGATION?: Don't look for Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson to look fondly on allowing charter schools to be used to ensure schools can accommodate growth caused by new residential development. In a discussion Tuesday of a county proposal to allow charter schools to serve as development "concurrency" tools, she characterized the school board-sanctioned but privately run charter schools as a way to thwart desegregation. "Some are serving to re-segregate our schools," she said. "I would hate to see this re-segregation by development patterns and charter schools." She said the state Legislature needs to address the issue of letting charter schools serve as a way to meet growth concurrency rules for developers.
PRESSURE TO AGREE: Under the county's proposal, the school board would have the discretion to let charter schools serve to meet development concurrency rules. The school board would be responsible for developing criteria under which the charter school option could be used. The agreement is among a broad set of policies on public schools facilities planning the county and school board must develop and submit to the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the state's local government planning agency. The county and school board are under state pressure to promptly agree to concurrency and facilities planning policies or face minimum sanctions of $33 million, mostly from the withholding of 5% of state grants funding for roads, bridges, and water and sewer systems, according to county documents.
TRANSFORMATION: The 79th annual International Newsmedia Marketing Association World Congress meets May 13-15 in Miami to ask how newsmedia companies today derive value from media assets while simultaneously transforming the business model. Key themes to be discussed include innovation and transformation, alternative business models, what is to happen to advertising, the new value of audiences and newspapers that are growing, according to worldcongress.inma.org.
MUSEUM HONORS CARNIVAL: The Miami Art Museum honored one of its major donors, Carnival Corp., Tuesday with the second annual MAM Corporate Honor. Howard S. Frank, vice chairman and chief operating officer, accepted the award at the museum's annual corporate luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel.
WANING WORK: Greater Miami's leisure and hospitality industry saw a 2.9% drop in average employment in March — a decrease of about 3,000 jobs from March 2008. For the first quarter, employment fell 2.2%, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
STILL WAITING: The OXXO Care Cleaners drop-off station in Mary Brickell Village is still held up for permitting, a spokeswoman said, and should be open in two months. The two-employee, 600-square-foot shop was supposed to open by early December. The shop, on Southwest Ninth Street, is a satellite location; cleaning will take place off-site.
GOIN' GREEN: While OXXO hasn't yet made it to Mary Brickell, it still is making its presence felt in Miami as a sponsor of Miami Goin' Green, an event to take place Saturday at Bayfront Park. According to a news release, exhibitors and sponsors will line the open promenades ofthe park, and two open stages are to showcase live performances and seminars. A Family Fun Zone is to feature family-oriented events including physical challenges for children to help promote healthy living.
ENVIRONMENTAL HONOR: Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade clerk of courts and a longtime environmentalist, has been recognized for his green efforts and advocacy. He last week received the University of Miami's first Reitmeister-Abess Center Environmental Stewardship Award. The honor is to be presented annually to someone who has contributed to conservation. Mr. Ruvin travels the country to speak on environmental topics and can even be found on the Internet, rapping to increase awareness of global warming and climate change.
MERTZ TO MANAGE W: Albert L. Mertz has been named manager of the W South Beach, set to open this summer on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Most recently, he was regional director and general manager of the Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach. At the same time, he oversaw operations, financial planning, sales and marketing, and owner and investor relations for The Standard Hotel in Miami Beach. From 2006 to 2008, he was hotel manager of the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, leading daily operations and overseeing liaisons with owners. He also has been hotel manager of the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. He earned a bachelor's degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Houston's Conrad Hilton School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He obtained a graduate certificate from the MBA program at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
BIKE THE GROVE: Shoppers and diners will soon have alternative parking in Coconut Grove. Two new bicycle racks are to be unveiled in the Grove's business district Sunday as part of Bike the Grove, a project by participants in the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Miami program. The group late last month unveiled a custom rack in Peacock Park designed by local artist David "Lebo" LeBatard. The two new racks — meant to help ease traffic and parking congestion, as well as encourage an environmentally friendly and active lifestyle — are to be unveiled during the City of Miami's Bike Miami Day April 26.
AIRPORT ART: The Miami-Dade Aviation Department's Fine Arts and Cultural Affairs Division is to unveil April 30 a new program, Hand Made, expand the range of rotating art exhibits at Miami International Airport. The first exhibition is Siesta, a collection of hand-woven products featuring ceremonial hammocks and bags by the Wayuu people from the La Guajira region in northern Colombia, according to a news release. Siesta is to be on display from April 30 through Oct. 31 in the South Terminal Gallery on the fourth level mezzanine of Terminal J.
AIRPORT ASSISTANTS: The Miami-Dade Aviation Department was to recognize its airport ambassadors at Miami International Airport with service awards and announce the first Volunteer of the Year at a gala at the Miami International Airport Hotel this week, which is National Volunteer Week. The Airport Ambassador Program, started in 1996, allows volunteers 16 and older to assist passengers at Miami International at information counters and designated areas. They volunteer a minimum of four hours per week and are eligible for airline tickets, airport discounts and student community service hours.
PET DOCTORS: Brickell Animal Hospital, 130 SW Eighth St., is set to open by mid-May, said owner Jack Karson. The full-service veterinary office is to offer services including full wellness care, surgery, bathing and digital radiography under Drs. Nancy Wilber and Jon Rappaport. It's under the umbrella of Pet Medical Centers, which has eight other animal hospitals in South Florida, including two in Miami Beach, Mr. Karson said. "The Brickell area is just a very underserved area when it comes to veterinary care," he said. "People really don't want to drive across the causeway to take their dog to the vet." The Brickell hospital's Web site, www.brickell.vetsuite.com, is to come online soon.
FIRM OPENS DOWNTOWN: Law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler has opened a downtown Miami office at 100 SE Second St., suite 3300, led by Richard C. Wolfe, a former partner at Wolfe and Goldstein PA and the former city attorney for Hallandale Beach. The office will house four attorneys who will focus on commercial litigation as well as entertainment and government law.
NEW HOME, SAME GOAL: Conni Gordon has founded The Conni Gordon Arts Foundation at 720 NE 69th St. She said she's spent 70 years "dedicated to helping people improve their self-esteem through art, creative thinking and public speaking." The foundation will also seek to help children, adults and military veterans enhance their creativity and apply to new careers. Details: www.connigordon.org.
AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE: Miami commission Chair Joe Sanchez, with backing of the commission, has urged Congress to support President Barack Obama's goals of making health care more affordable and available to all. The health care reform resolution calls for insurance companies, employers and state governments to support the change, which aims to give medical care access to millions who are now uninsured. "It is important that we send a message to Washington," he said, "as the administration, the House and the Senate is anticipating on passing the health care plan in Washington."
MAKING THE GRADE: Barry University's Physician Assistant Program has received accreditation until 2016 from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.The program began in 1997, received full accreditation in 1999 and now admits students from the West Coast of Florida through an online partnership with St. Petersburg College.