Economic report shows $4 billion in cargo rolls down the Miami River
By Victor Cruz
The Miami River Commission, a group that serves as the voice for various business and environmental interests associated with the Miami River, released its first economic report in a decade.
Created in 1998 by the state legislature to improve the river, the commission's report cites a substantial increase in economic activity along the river.
More than a year in the making, the report draws from information gathered from surveys of 50% of businesses located along the river last year, said the writers.
According to the findings, with an estimated $4 billion in cargo passing through the body of water, the Miami River vies with Tampa as Florida's fourth-largest port. It now serves 100 ports of call, up from 62 in 1991, and the river's $1.3 billion in assessed property values pour $20 million in taxes into city and county coffers.
"Not only do you have the economic engine of the shipping industry, you have hotels and restaurants putting a lot of money into the economy," says Brett Bibeau, assistant managing director. "You have 2,142 hotel rooms right on the river."
According to the report, there are 1,200 marine-related jobs along the Miami River, up from 300 in 1991. The report also anticipates trade with the Caribbean will increase along the river as a result of the 1999 Caribbean Basin Trade Initiative and the area's unique qualities.
Without a director or a union, the river is not a true port, Mr. Bibeau said. With a depth of only 13 feet the river is considered a shallow draft port. While the river port cannot handle the huge boats that dock at the Port of Miami, it is especially suited to capture Caribbean trade which often requires smaller boats to get in and out of their similarly shallow depth ports.
"It gives us a niche market," Mr. Bibeau said.
The report arrived on the heels of the City of Miami's choosing a riverfront site for the proposed Marlin's baseball stadium. The timing couldn't be better, Mr. Bibeau said.
"You have 100,000 people coming into the downtown area everyday who disappear after 5:00 p.m." he said. "A stadium would mean some of those people would stick around and serve as an economic engine for the downtown portion of the river."
According to Mr. Bibeau the key to fulfilling the economic potential of the river is getting private developers interested in the area. He said that is happening more and more.
Since the riverfront site was chosen for the Marlin's stadium, he said, the commssion has received six calls from restauranteurs interested in setting up shop along the river.
And, Mr. Bibeau said there are already six restaurants operating along the River.
Part of getting developers interested in this project includes the creation of the Miami Riverwalk, a network of trails that will connect the various neighborhoods along the river.
Already two private developers have incorporated in their designs, plans for contributing to the riverwalk at their own expense, said Bibeau. But even though parts of the walkway haven been constructed, there are still empty patches.
"The Florida Department of Transportation approved $1,260,000 for a riverwalk in front of the proposed baseball stadium. And an additional $900,000 of Florida Department of Transport money for the walkway in front of Lummus Park becomes available July.
The economic study was conceived by commission chairperson Robert L. Parks, carried out by an economic and development subcommittee of the MRC consisting of about a dozen members and was prepared by Florida International University economist, J. Kenneth Lipner.
Miami-Dade County Executive Assistant County Manger George Burgess says the Miami River area is also ripe for consideration as a Tax Increment Financing District, wherein tax revenues over a certain cap within the designated district could be used for redevelopment within the zone. "The River has the right ingredients," Mr Burgess said.
The commission, Mr. Bibeau said, is currently mulling over the possibilities for taking this avenue. He would not elaborate on what sort of projects the commissioners were looking into.