Miami Beach improvements to inject $400 million windfall
By Victor Cruz
Construction projects worth $400 million are being speeded up as part of 15 initiatives proposed by Miami Beach officials to help replace missing revenue from a sagging tourism industry, said Christina Cuervo, assistant city manager.
The projects, she said, were approved a year ago and have gone through the design phase.
The city commission took the untraditional approach of approving $100 million in projects all at once in September, as opposed to reviewing them piecemeal, said City Manager Jorge Gonzalez.
"Now we can go directly into the bidding process with all those projects at once." he said.
Another $300 million in projects, yet to gain final approval, will likely take place during the next three years, he said.
The capital improvement projects being hurried are primarily street improvements, upgrades to public safety and an array of park and beach enhancements, Mr. Gonzalez said.
"The city is doing a lot," she said. "It has been very proactive in creating an economic stimulus package for local businesses, the hotel & visitor industry and residents."
The city has been hit hard by aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorism, which had a domino effect on travel and the tourism industry. Hotel occupancy rates have fallen to 40% of last year, but seem to be creeping back up, Mr. Gonzalez said.
"Taken by themselves, I can't predict, what all of these efforts will do for the economy, but combined with what the state does and federal government can do we will start to see some impact. We are not offering bailout packages, but we can provide some relief until businesses can get into the better part of the season in winter and they have some cash flow," Mr. Gonzalez said.
The Miami Beach Hispanic Community One-Stop Career Center at Sixth Street and Meridian Avenue will see a $1.3 million renovation of its facilities as one of the expedited projects, said Margarita Cepeda, executive director of Unidad/Miami Beach Hispanic Community Center. The center is an unemployment and social service facility that offers everything from re-training opportunities to fax services. It has received an increase in calls - "about 75% more than what we used to get" - since Sept. 11, Ms. Cepeda said.
The initiatives, many of which were approved Oct. 17, came out of an Oct. 3 economic roundtable during which representatives of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, the One-Stop Center and other groups presented concerns and possible solutions, Ms. Cuervo said.
According to city documents other related initiatives include:
nAdding $250,000 to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau marketing campaign coffers, $100,000 of which comes from the city while $150,000 comes from the Miami Beach Visitors and Convention Authority.
nThe deferment of payments or fees for occupational licenses and sidewalk cafes and the abatement of delinquency payments until Dec. 1, granting the city manager authority to extend the deferments for another 90 days. Typically these fees are paid on Oct. 1.
nThe first hour of parking in city garages will be free until Dec. 1 and the city manager has the option to extend the measure for 30 more days.
nParking meter cards will be discounted 20% through Dec. 1 with the city manager having the option to extend this offer for another 90 days.
nElectrowave shuttle buses can be ridden free until 9 p.m. through Dec. 1.
nThe city will pay pop group 'N Sync's production fees and eliminate ticket charges that typically cover them for a Lummus Park concert on Veterans Day. Proceeds will be split between charitable organizations for New York City fire and police departments and residents displaced by the events of Sept. 11.
City building and fire departments involved with the permits will work extra hours to help expedite the construction-permitting process.