TOLL HIKE UNFAIR? Miami-Dade County commissioners raised questions last week over the fairness of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority's recent toll increase. Natacha Seijas said the 25-cent toll hike for non-SunPass users on the county's four toll roads discriminates against residents who can't afford to spend $50 upfront to use SunPass. The system's electronic transponder costs $25, and users must buy a minimum of $25 in prepaid tolls to activate the device. The toll increase for non-SunPass users began March 7.
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CENTER STALL: The University of Miami and California think tank RAND Corp. have not announced an agreement to reopen the Dante B. Fascell North-South Center. On March 1, UM Executive Vice President and Provost Luis Glaser said a deal was due by mid-March to restructure the 20-year-old center the university shut down in December with the firing of its 13 staffers. In November, when the partnership was announced, the two groups cited a "self-imposed deadline" to hammer out the center's organization by February. Last week, both entities said there was "no news."
ARENA AUCTION: As of Tuesday night, parking lot magnate Hank Sopher, would-be buyer of Miami Arena, hadn't signed off on a purchase agreement, according to Miami City Attorney Alex Vilarello. Even if he does, the city plans to put the property up for auction in case anyone wants to pay more than $25 million for the facility Mayor Manny Diaz dubbed a "white elephant."
ROUND TWO: An appeal of a building permit that would allow Wyndham Grand Bay to build a 20-story residential tower next to its hotel on Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove is to return before the Miami City Commission today (3/25). Residents of the nearby Ritz-Carlton condominiums protested the project, and their attorney, Anthony J. O'Donnell Jr., raised questions last month about the city's use of floor-area ratio bonuses that prompted a legal review of a city code allowing bonuses to developers. Results of the review are due during a 3 p.m. planning and zoning hearing at City Hall. No agreement has been worked out between the buildings, Mr. O'Donnell said Tuesday. "I couldn't legally compromise."
SHHHHHHH! To reduce noise, the City of Miami proposes prohibiting construction before 6 a.m. and after 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Saturdays and at all times Sundays and holidays. Construction workers and vehicles would be restricted to arriving onsite within 30 minutes of the allowed start times. Dredging and land filling would be barred before 7:30 a.m. and after 6 p.m. every day. Special permits could be authorized. The rules would not apply after a natural disaster. Fines would be $100 for first offense, $250 for the second and $500 thereafter. The ordinance is due a final reading before city commissioners today (3/25).
PARKLAND PURCHASE: More property may be sold to the City of Miami as it works to piece together a park in Little Haiti. A hearing today (3/25) at City Hall will air the city's pending purchase of a vacant lot at 207 NE 59th St. and a single-story office building at 5911 NE Second Ave. for $411,000 from CBI Holding Corp. Another hearing will weigh city purchase of property in the 5900 block of Northeast Second Avenue for $550,000 from Olga Felix and Ann Marie Lourde-Lacroix. The land includes a two-story structure with three retail bays and four apartments plus a rear efficiency and an auto-repair garage, according to city documents.
LUCKY LOBBYIST: The City of Miami will consider tapping Ronald Book as its state government lobbyist with an agreement to pay him $440,000 for one year and options for four more one-year renewals. In its search for a lobbyist, the city sent a request for qualifications to 35 firms and the opening was posted on the city's Web site. Two proposals were sent, and a committee ranked Mr. Book over attorney Lisa B. Hogan.
ORANGE BOWL CRUNCH: An additional $500,000 might be needed to repair the Orange Bowl in time for the University of Miami's football season. Consultants Bliss & Nyitray call for repairing 15 of 40 supports on the north side that are deteriorating and replacing four ramps that lead from the ground to the concession concourse due to "severe damage," according to city documents. Miami commissioners are to consider the expenditure at today's (3/25) meeting, increasing allocated construction costs from $1.9 million to $2.4 million. In July, the city deemed repairs an emergency, and Miami-based Professional General Contractors Inc. was awarded the job after commissioners waived the bid process.
EVERGLADES ON THE BAY: A two-tower project to replace the Everglades Hotel is to go before the Miami City Commission today (3/25) for a major-use special permit. Cabi Downtown LLC - owned by Elias, Abraham and Jacob Cababie - could build 870 residential units, 65,549 square feet of retail and 1,146 parking spaces at 244 Biscayne Blvd. with approval. The city's planning advisory board recommended approval in an 8-0 vote Feb. 18.
STILL FLYING HIGH: The country's top bond-rating agencies gave good marks to Miami International Airport last week despite uncertain times in the aviation industry. Moody's reaffirmed the airport's A1 rating but improved its outlook to stable from negative. Standard and Poor's gave another A- rating and a stable outlook, and Fitch kept its A rating with a negative outlook. The airport's bond rating came under review last week because it is looking to issue $400 million in bonds to help fund a $4.8 billion expansion program. A bond rating influences the interest rate that must be paid on bonds.
TUNING IN: Two of the county's transportation planning organizations are taking steps to increase public information. The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority taped its first meeting Tuesday to be aired on local cable television. The Metropolitan Planning Organization has launched a Web site with an interactive map where residents can pick a location and see proposed or existing construction. The Web site can be accessed at www.miamidade.gov by selecting the My Neighborhoods link.
LATITUDE FOR LATITUDE: Demolition of a riverfront boat-storage warehouse last week made way for a 44-story residential building expected to open in late 2006. The development, Latitude on the River, is several blocks from Brickell Avenue on the banks of the Miami River at 614 SW Second Ave. It is one of 16 developments along the river.
GROWING IN DORAL: Coral Gables-based Commercebank opened a Doral branch this month at 8726 NW 26th St. The bank opened its first Doral operation in 2002. The latest addition is its seventh branch in Miami-Dade County. Commercebank also has offices in Broward County and New York along with loan offices in Tampa and Houston.
FUN CITY: Miami is the best city to meet someone new but, inexplicably, the worst for friendliness, according to a survey of nearly a half-million America Online members who were asked about the 25 most popular travel destinations. Miami rated second for a sexy getaway and third for the best barhopping and clubs but near the bottom of the list for cultural sites and museums.
COUNTY'S TENANT: The Miami Performing Arts Center Trust pays Miami-Dade County $4,448.53 a month in rent for its 2,800 square feet of office space at 1444 Biscayne Blvd. That comes to almost $1.60 per square foot a month, $19.20 a year. The building is privately owned, but Miami-Dade County rents 8,383 square feet there and sublets a third of it to the arts center trust.
CORRECTION: Miami Today incorrectly reported last week the status of two Colonial Bank acquisitions. Colonial BancGroup completed purchase of Palm Beach National Bank & Trust Co. in September and expects to complete acquisition of Premier Community Bank of South Florida by summer.