PENDING STINK: While the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency board met last week, the Miami commissioners who make up the board declined to talk about a city hall proposal to use redevelopment funds as Miami's $50-million share of the proposed Port of Miami tunnel project. However, said Commissioner Tomás Regalado, "I'm going to make a stink" on June 25. He called plans on the part of city administration and the redevelopment agency's executive director to use the funds "backroom deals" and said "for a government to promise anything, there has got to be a vote. They have been talking forever, but there's never been a vote."
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GETTING GREENER: Through its EcoZone program, EcoMedia, a City of Miami public-private partner in its green initiatives, Thursday provided another $225,000 in funds and in-kind support toward further greening the city. This brought its funding to $1 million during the last four years "at no cost to taxpayers," said Paul Polizzotto, EcoMedia CEO. This payout is to support increasing the city's tree canopy; installing solar panels on the roof of City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive; converting an old firehouse into a green building and resource center; and removing abandoned boats from the bay.
DIRTY LAUNDRY? AIR IT!: Miami commissioners last Thursday chastised City Manager Pete Hernandez for not televising meetings of the Civil Service Board, which hears personnel issues and reviews personnel policies. The manager said the meetings' content can be of a "personal nature" that would serve as a "soap opera" on television, distracting city staffers from doing their jobs. Commissioner Tomás Regalado said "it is important we understand the peoples' right to know — it's about what's going on in the city." People are free to attend the meetings, Mr. Hernandez argued, but Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones jumped in to side with Mr. Regalado. "I understand the feeling of not wanting to air our dirty laundry," she said, but "I think it's important to have it aired."
AFFORDABLE AND ACCESSIBLE: Miami commissioners last Thursday authorized City Manager Pete Hernandez to increase the household income limits of people buying houses from developers building affordable housing from 80% to 120% of the area income. This raises the maximum income to about $50,000, said Barbara Gomez, director of the city's Department of Community Development. The action comes after criticism of commissioners for paying for what they thought was workforce housing that instead was sold to flippers.
BLAZING ON: The City of Miami presented its oral argument last week to the Third District Court of Appeals in the ongoing fire fee case. The city falsely awarded $7 million to a handful of citizens forced to pay the fee, later found illegal, and has filed motions seeking break orders for the properties of two people who have not returned the money, said Julie Bru, deputy city attorney. "The parties are continuing to discuss settlement" and "settlement negotiations are confidential," she wrote in an e-mail.
THREATENING TAXES: With property tax revamps hanging in the balance until the special legislative session in June, City of Miami lobbyist Ron Book, after returning from Tallahassee, said at a commission meeting last week that, if he were a city manager, he'd be drafting two budgets — one with a 10% reduction in ad valorem revenue from last year and one with a 15% reduction. "It's going to happen," he said. "It's just a question of what the number is." Commissioner Tomás Regalado said senators he's spoken to predict more than a 15% hit.
READY FOR ANYTHING: Miami CFO Larry Spring assured city commissioners "we are doing everything we can to be prepared" for any outcome of the special property tax session in Tallahassee. Cutbacks could be up to $180 million, he said, and the city's budget team has done a five-year analysis on "every proposal" suggested during the regular legislative session. The team, he said, will prepare two or three formal budget scenarios. "We are being very, very proactive," he said. City staffers are brainstorming solutions that "will save our taxpayers but won't have that draconian impact we're hearing a lot about." Commissioner Joe Sanchez asked for a workshop between commissioners and administrations once the special session's outcome becomes clearer.
MARKETING MOVES: The Omni and Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency board directed agency director Jim Villacorta last week to negotiate a contract with Creative Ideas and former local television reporter Ed O'Dell, who applied jointly, to begin marketing services for the agencies. Commissioner Tomás Regalado, who sits on the board with the other city commissioners, recommended the group partly because of its video experience, advising, "My proposal to the board members is we should start working on a historic documentary about the CRA."
GIVE AND TAKE: Miami commissioners voted last week to establish a process to exempt from ad valorem taxes improvements to architecturally and historically significant structures. The lost funds would be a "drop in the bucket in terms of the city's ad valorem tax revenues," said Ellen Uguccioni, historic preservation planner. "This is a good thing for the city," Commissioner Joe Sanchez agreed. "It's no giveaway." Breaks for residents like these are necessary, he said "if we want to restore the treasures we have in the city."
TIME TO TALK: Commissioner Joe Sanchez hopes to schedule a separate commission meeting and hearing regarding proposed city growth-management blueprint Miami 21 rather than address it during a regularly scheduled meeting, he said at a commission meeting last week. "It's a very complicated issue," he said. "Miami 21 is going to require a special meeting." City Manager Pete Hernandez concurred, but commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Michelle Spence-Jones, whose districts have been undergoing the zoning rewrite process, warned it may take more than one day-long session. "You're essentially rebuilding the city of Miami," Mr. Sarnoff said. "People have a lot of concerns."
PARKS PAUSE: Due to lack of quorum at many recent meetings of the Parks Advisory Board, and therefore a lack of board action, Miami commissioners voted last week to sunset the board, with plans to draft an ordinance reestablishing the board with new parameters, most likely including fewer members. The original board called for 19. A functional board is crucial right now, said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, as the city moves forward with Miami 21, its proposed blueprint for growth, and with its proposed Parks Master Plan.
VETOED VETO: Miami Mayor Manny Diaz denied Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's plea to veto recent commission action allowing for the go-ahead of a high-density residential project on Mercy Hospital land in Coconut Grove. "The power of the veto is one which I take very seriously. I have never nor will I ever use this power for political expediency, political retribution against a commissioner or for any other purpose not in the public interest," Mayor Diaz wrote in an e-mail. He also reminded Mr. Sarnoff "the fact is, you chaired a meeting where a unanimous Cocoanut Grove Council voted in favor of the project," to which Mr. Sarnoff responded, also via e-mail, that, as chair at the time, he was not a voting member of the board.
STILL CHUGGING: Study of the 85-mile South Florida East Coast Corridor will continue, a Florida Department of Transportation representative reported at a Miami City Commission meeting last week. Service in the corridor is to begin in 2015 at the earliest, as accommodating passengers on the now strictly freight railway would require added infrastructure. Transit-oriented development might surround stations that may be created in the corridor as the project progresses.
STRANDED OR CHEATED? Miami-Dade County could soon add complaints about taxicabs to its 311 telephone information service, offering a quick resource for fares stranded by no-show taxis or cheated out of correct change. The Government Operations and Environment Committee on Tuesday asked the county to look into feasibility of the service. Officials of Miami-Dade's 311 system, which provides a way for residents to get information on local government services, are working to add services in hopes of becoming a one-stop shop for customer inquiries. "We feel that this is do-able," Judi Zito, director of the Government Information Center, said of adding taxicab complaints.
CRUISE UPTICK: Cruise passenger traffic the first four months of the year rose 4.3% from the same period last year, according to the Port of Miami. Jennifer de la Cruz, a spokeswoman for Carnival Cruises, said any increase in Carnival's numbers is directly related to having capacity to accommodate more passengers. "We fill ships quite consistently," she said. "So higher numbers mean increased capacity from either an extra ship, a larger ship, a different cruise schedule or the like."
FACE-LIFT: The Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium has shortened its name and redesigned its logo in anticipation of a new building in Museum Park on Biscayne Boulevard. The museum has been renamed the Miami Science Museum, or MiSci (pronounced my-sigh). The changes are intended to build excitement for the new $275 million facility. The updated museum is to include an aquarium, atrium, energy center, exhibits, laboratories, planetarium, interactive learning components, theater and wildlife center.
FIVE-PACK: RodBlu investments Tuesday sealed a $45 million deal to buy five Florida hotels, two of which included the Ramada Inn Dadeland and the Hampton Inn on Brickell Avenue. The others were the Hampton Inn in Florida City and a Hampton Inn and Country Inn & Suites in Vero Beach. The purchase was a joint venture between Rodblu and The Carlyle Group.
FOUR SEASONS REPLACEMENT: Ten-year Four Seasons veteran Ricardo Acevedo replaced Ignacio Gomez as general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel, 1435 Brickell Ave., effective May 7. Mr. Acevedo was transferred as a general manager from Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore to the Brickell Avenue property. Hotel spokesman Eveliny Bastos-Klein said Mr. Acevedo's responsibilities include overseeing all of the departments and day-to-day operations. "He is really like the president of our little town," Ms. Bastos-Klein said.
ARCHITECT TO SPEAK: Miami Dade College's North Campus is to host a discussion with veteran architect Alfred Browning Parker at the college's Lehman Theater. Mr. Parker, known for spearheading a movement for regional-themed building designs in the middle of the 20th century, is to discuss ideas for sustainable building at 7 p.m. May 24. His Miami-Dade County projects include the Royal Road and Graham Miller homes in Coconut Grove and a home in Gables Estates. The Lehman Theater is at 11380 NW 27 Ave. Details: www.mdc.edu
PARKING TALKS PROGRESS: Potential buyers of a two-acre parcel next to the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts remain committed to reaching a deal with Miami-Dade County to provide 1,600 parking spaces for center patrons. Maefield Holdings, which is partnering with Miami developer Terra Group to build the City Square mixed-use complex on the site, now owned by the Miami Herald's parent company, is close to wrapping up negotiations with county officials for the parking spaces, said David Martin, director and COO of Terra Group. The City Square complex — currently in the planning stages — is to include 641,104 square feet of retail, two residential towers and 4,052 parking spaces.
DESIGN DISTRICT PROJECT: RPC Holdings, developer of Paramount Bay, a 47-story waterfront mixed-use complex in Miami's Design District, says it is set to begin constructing the 346-unit residential portion within 30 days. When complete in the second quarter of 2009, the complex is to feature a pool and deck and a residents-only movie theater as well as a 6,000-square-foot fitness center, project officials say. Prices for the residences at 2066 N. Bayshore Drive range from $850,000 to over $6 million. www.paramountbay.com
MDC GETS GRANT: Miami Dade College has received a $150,000 endowment from global telecommunications giant AT&T to create a scholarship fund for students studying computer information technology or digital media. Students applying for scholarships will compete in a county-wide high school competition, with award decisions to be made by a faculty committee based. College officials will seek a matching endowment from the state. Details: www.mdc.edu
GABLES MARQUIS OPENS: The developer of Gables Marquis, a 20-story residential project in Miami, this month got a temporary occupancy permit that allows residents to move in. EB Developers Inc. built 177 residences and eight 3-story town homes with a 331-space garage at 3202 SW 22nd St. just outside of Coral Gables. Residence prices begin in the $360,000s. Workers finished the project in 20 months and stayed within budget, project officials say. Details: www.ebdevelopers.com
LIVING COSTS RISE: Consumer price increases in South Florida are outpacing the national average, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday. Prices in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area rose 3.3% in the year ended April 30, the bureau reported, while the increase of prices for all US urban consumers was 2.6%. As prices rise faster here, they have made the area more costly to live in than the national average. Goods that would have cost $100 in 1984 now cost $208.92 here, the bureau reported, versus a national average $206.67.
CORRECTION: Miguel Southwell, not Tony Ojeda, commented on African tourism in a May 10 article.
CORRECTION: A May 10 headline should have said Miami-Dade County commissioners accepted, not adopted, the South Dade Watershed plan.
CORRECTION: The May 10 article "Legislature grants $5 million to river dredging project" should have reported that the Miami River is the fourth-busiest seaport in the state in terms of cargo value.