WALLET WAR: With a special election set for next Tuesday, both sides in the strong-mayor battle went on spending sprees this week in last-ditch efforts to carry the day. A spokesman for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez' political action committee said his group would shell out $400,000 on a TV and radio advertising blitz in the final days of the campaign. A PAC formed by the 13 county commissioners to fight Mr. Alvarez' plan to gain broad new executive powers will spend about half that on radio only, according to campaign manager Jeff Garcia, who concedes his team may be facing an uphill battle.
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JUST SAY NO: Two prominent organizations for government professionals, the International City County Management Association and the Florida City and County Management Association, weighed in this week against Mayor Alvarez' push to win sweeping new executive powers. Martha Perego, ethics director for the 8,200-member international group, says the proposed amendment to the county charter that takes away all authority held by the professional county manager and gives it to a politician is a "really bad idea that opens the door to really bad government." Florida chapter president Lee R. Feldman agreed. Mr. Feldman, a former North Miami city manager who now runs Palm Bay, says the strong-mayor proposal actually takes away accountability. "A mayor is held accountable only once — when he runs for reelection after four years," Mr. Feldman said. "A professional manager is held accountable every day because he can be fired for his mistakes." Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess is a member of both groups.
Ms. Perego and Mr. Feldman said he had nothing to do with either group's decision to take a stand in the special election.
HATS TOSSED: The Miami Beach mayoral race may be getting crowded. Commissioner Saul Gross reportedly may announce his candidacy this week, joining fellow commissioners Mattie Bower and Simon Cruz. But at least one commissioner wants to leave the Beach for work in Tallahassee. Richard Steinberg has declared as a Democratic candidate for the Florida House of Representatives even though the election is 21 months away. Mayor David Dermer, prohibited by law from seeking a fourth term in the largely ceremonial position, has no plans for higher office. "God bless the people who go to Tallahassee. I'm very, very fortunate to have held the job I have."
DECO DOGS: A quartet of Miami Beach commissioners turned out Saturday for the annual Arf Deco Dog Parade, part of the city's Art Deco Weekend. Commissioners Bower, Cruz, Gross and Jerry Libbin were on hand, accompanied by canine companions or squiring dogs needing homes. Stealing the show was William D. Talbert III, president & CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau who couldn't seem to walk more than a couple of steps without being besieged by onlookers who wanted to pet or be photographed with Freckles, his new King Cavalier Charles Spaniel puppy.
DECO KING: At least one group of visitors for Art Deco Weekend got a tour with George Neary, perhaps the most knowledgeable Miami Art Deco expert around. He's the former executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, the organization that paved the way for preservation of the now top-drawer district. Mr. Neary's talk traced the area from its heyday to its decline and its eventual rebirth. He said the Art Deco hotels much be renovated every few years or risk falling into public disfavor because "America is a cyclical society."
MONKEY BUSINESS: MetroZoo's request to use $18 million in General Obligation Bond Revenue 10 years ahead of schedule was given the OK by the county commission's Infrastructure and Land Use Committee on Tuesday. If approved by the entire commission Jan. 25, the money would be used to build a $48 million Amazon exhibit that's designed and ready to be built. Capital improvements director Roger Hernstadt says moving up the project's construction gives the county great bang for its buck because construction costs will rise over the next decade.
WOLF WHISTLE: The county commission's land-use committee Tuesday gave Florida International University's Wolfsonian Art Museum approval to spread $10 million in Building Better Communities bonds earmarked to improve exhibits at one building to two other sites. Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz dropped objections to the plan after county staffers assured him the scope of the project wasn't being enlarged. Improving art facilities at three buildings instead of one makes better use of the cash, staffers said.
SURF JOINS TURF: Mary Brickell Village's second white-table restaurant is open. The Oceanaire Seafood Room opened Tuesday, marking the upscale restaurant chain's debut in Florida and joining P.F. Chang's in offering full-scale dining. The 300-seat restaurant at 900 S. Miami Ave. is designed to look like a 1930s luxury ocean liner and offers a menu featuring 10-15 species of fresh seafood daily, in the $15-$35 price range. Details: (305) 372-8862 or www.theoceanaire.com.
CHEF CALL: A casting crew from the Bravo reality show "Top Chef" will audition candidates noon-4 p.m. Sunday at Johnson & Wales University's Florida Campus, 1701 NE 127th St., North Miami. Crews will return in March to film 13 episodes. The show seeks trained and self-taught professional chefs to compete for $100,000. With 1.2 million viewers, "Top Chef" is the No. 1 food series on cable television, according to Bravo. Details: www.bravotv.com/casting.
TRAVEL SPOT: A crew from The Travel Channel's "Not Your Average Travel Guide" is to be here Friday through Thursday (1/24). The series takes the viewer on a tour of the world's most interesting destinations and features local people who showcase unique locations.
DAILY DOUBLE: Miami International Airport offers 24-hour valet parking at the Dolphin Garage across from Concourse B/C for folks who have more money than time. Daily fees for the new service, which rolled out about two weeks ago, are $30, double the standard long-term parking rate. Using one of the120 new valet spaces for three hours or less costs $18, compared to the standard $10. Folks who use valet parking
can call an attendant the moment their flight arrives — and their car will be waiting curbside when they're ready to leave the airport. Time is money, after all.
ELEPHANT MAN: Miami-Dade County commission chairman Bruno A. Barreiro has a penchant for pachyderms — and not just because he's a Republican. The District 5 representative has crammed his new office in the Stephen P. Clark Center with dozens and dozens of tusked totems in every shape, size, color and material. There are elephants everywhere — on the desk, the tables, the shelves and in bookcases. That's odd. But it gets odder: Every single elephant's back is turned to the door. "I'm told that brings good luck," explains Mr. Barreiro, who took over as commission boss about two weeks ago. "Right now, I think I need all the luck I can get."
NEW YEAR'S CA-CHING: Miami was second to Oahu, HW, in hotel occupancy for the early January, according to Smith Travel Research. Oahu got top slot at 83.4%, compared to 74.5% for Miami. Miami ranked third in daily room rates at $193.63 per room, behind Oahu's $210.54 and New York's $213.40. Miami's rates were up 12.6% from a year earlier. The Dec. 31-Jan. 6 comparisons were reported by Smith Travel based on its survey of 25 top destinations.
SHUTTLE ON HOLD: Brochures are printed but details are still being worked out for a shuttle bus service that would run between Miami Beach and the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, according to Michael Aller, the city's tourism and convention director and chief of protocol. The shuttle, which would stop at Lincoln Road and Meridian Avenue, would cost $1.50 each way. No start date has been set. Details: (305) 673-7400.
BAY ACCESS: Miami Beach's Design Review Board is to discuss two condo developments that oppose the panel's demand that they remove fences blocking the public from walkways along Biscayne Bay behind their properties. The cases involve the Flamingo South Beach, 1500 West Ave., and Waverly Condominiums, 1330 West Ave. Attorneys for the Flamingo say city officials knew when they granted permission for the bay walk 10 years ago that the access way would be private, and the Waverly is asking for a rehearing on the board's decision that its fence is illegal. The meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 6 at the Miami Beach Planning Department, 1700 Convention Center Dr., Second Floor. Details: (305) 673-7550.
WHAT IS DOWNTOWN? Miami's Downtown Development Authority has requested proposals for a public-relations or marketing firm to plan and execute a multiphase marketing campaign for downtown that would include branding, advertising, Web site and collateral development, special event management and television and radio production. Phase I is "identity development for downtown Miami and the Miami DDA." Copies of the request can be picked up at the DDA office, 200 S. Biscayne Blvd., Suite 2929, or downloaded from the authority's Web site. Proposals are due by 5 p.m. Feb. 5. Details: www.miamidda.com.
HERE COME THE URBANITES: The Downtown Development Authority seeks the marketing campaign because "there is over $13 billion of real estate investment underway in downtown Miami," according to the request for proposals. "The surge in residential development has catalyzed the market to support new retail, dining, and entertainment." About 37,000 people live downtown — which the authority says encompasses the central business district, Brickell, Park West, and the media and entertainment district — but this number "will grow substantially in the next 10 years," the request says. Among goals of the marketing program: to "increase awareness of downtown Miami and its assets, motivate usage of and loyalty to downtown Miami, build a synergistic corporate identity and downtown brand, and to build productive relationships and partnerships."
FREEBIE: Miami-Dade residents who earn less than $39,000 a year can have their 2006 federal income tax return prepared for free between 10 am and 4 pm Jan. 27 during a financial seminar in the county's Stephen P. Clark Center. Sponsored by Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Commercebank, Washington Mutual, BankUnited, The Prosperity Campaign and other organizations, the seminar also offers instruction in credit, career and fiscal management. To qualify for the free tax-return service, residents must present bank-account numbers, W2 forms, Social Security cards, photo identification and an Internal Revenue Service 1099 form. Details: (305) 375-1545.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: BankAtlantic President Jarett Levan has been named the bank's CEO and president of parent company BankAtlantic Bancorp, succeeding his father, Alan, who will remain chairman of both. Jarrett Levan also will continue in his present role. He said the bank will open 24 branches this year after opening 15 last year. It opened 197,000 core deposit accounts in the first three quarters of last year, a 25% jump from a year earlier. Jarrett Levan attributes BankAtlantic's success to its initiative to be "Florida's most convenient bank." He said "priorities don't change" and he will continue leading the bank in "providing convenience and providing what we call "wow' customer service."
PROMISING PROSPECT: An unidentified company is working with the Beacon Council as it considers expanding its global headquarters to North Miami and creating 75 direct jobs paying about $40,000 annually, according to an agency press release. The financial-services company has applied for a $450,000 tax rebate from the state and county. Its officials also are considering Illinois and Georgia as potential locations. The company is proposing a $16 million capital investment.
GET-TOGETHER: Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is exploring a merger of the city's Code Enforcement and Neighborhood Enhancement Team to make it easier for residents to report neighborhood problems. He said he met with Code Enforcement officials last week to learn more about how the department operates and plans to research the idea further before initiating a commission discussion. Officials separated the departments in 2003 so NET staffers could focus on educating residents while Code Enforcement officers deal with code violations, said NET Director David Rosemond.
CAMPAIGN FOR HOUSING: Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones is to hold a press conference Tuesday to challenge city leaders to step up efforts to address a housing crisis in Liberty City. She plans to announce the city's commitment to identify resources to restore vacant properties and to build low-income rentals and affordable and workforce housing on vacant lots in the area. The press conference is set for 10:30 a.m. at 1405 NW 60th St.
HONG KONG MISSION: The Association of Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Florida returned this week from its second business mission to Hong Kong. The association sent 46 delegates from different countries to meet with business counterparts in Hong Kong that have a strong presence in mainland China, said president Lita Haeger. Based on the success of the association's first two trips to Hong Kong, she said, she plans an annual mission to the Far East.
HONORING DR. KING: To honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones formed a partnership with a non-profit to beautify MLK Boulevard (Northwest 62nd Street) by landscaping the gateway to the boulevard. The spruce-up initiative is an ongoing job-training program for local residents interested in a career in landscaping. The recent improvements are part of the MLK Reclaim the Dream Initiative, started four years ago by the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. to improve streets and business facades on MLK Boulevard. Details: (305) 250-5394.
BURGEONING BRANCHES: Ocean View Int'l Realty, which says it is the second largest independently owned Realty company in South Florida, this month opened its 19th office in Miramar. It also has offices in Brickell, Doral, North Miami and Miami Beach. The new location, 14465 Miramar Parkway, also houses Ocean View Bancorp, which provides mortgage services to South Florida customers. More than 1,800 agents serve the firm, which owners and founders Armando and Yolanda Diaz say should have 24 offices by 2008. The firm plans to open its 20th office in Key Largo this month.
BEACHY KEEN: Diane Lieberman announced this week the opening of new headquarters for her high-end real estate company, South Beach Investment Realty, at 1680 Meridian Ave. in Miami Beach. The 100-agent company, which has offices on Biscayne Boulevard and Collins Avenue, specializes in selling Miami-Dade County condominiums, waterfront homes, luxury properties and real estate investments.
CORRECTION: The Jan. 4 article "City sells 18 acres in two deals at Homestead Commerce Park" should have stated that Homestead Commerce Group LLC hopes to build a movie-production studio on 10 acres of Park of Commerce land.