BATTLING TAKEOVER: Mayor Carlos Alvarez on Tuesday set the stage for what could be a protracted legal fight after the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development took over Miami-Dade County's long-troubled housing agency. He vowed at a news conference to seek a stay to prevent the takeover and, if needed, to continue the battle beyond that. The feds' intervention in the agency, whose wasting of money and failure to complete projects was chronicled in a Miami Herald series, was long-anticipated. The federal agency, whose game plan for cleaning up the mess is not immediately clear, has not set a date for relinquishing control.
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LAST RESORT: Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Orlando Cabrera said his agency's offer of partnership was "rebuffed" by local officials who claimed to be making progress. "A takeover has always been our last resort," he said. The federal agency has appointed Donald J. LaVoy, a senior public housing official, to oversee day-to-day operations of the county agency. The federal agency now has possession of seven public housing authorities, including two in Riviera Beach and Sarasota.
PUTTING OUT THE FIRE: After last month settling with property owners with $15.5 million in retribution for 10 years' worth of illegally paid fire-rescue fees, Miami has also recovered the full $3.5 million paid out in a botched 2004 settlement — with $250,000 in interest, all to benefit the fire department, which funded the first faulty payout. Commissioners last month also eliminated the remaining legal fee from residents' tax bills, something Miami-Dade County was able to change on its Truth in Millage notice at the last minute to aid the city in avoiding misunderstandings, City Manager Pete Hernandez said.
TUNNEL TROUBLE: Miami commissioners sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board last week voted to deny redevelopment funds to Miami-Dade County's port tunnel project unless the agency is guaranteed to fully recoup the $50 million. Because a recoup cannot be promised — "not even the county can count on recovering its own investment," Mr. Hernandez said — city staffers are left to scramble for another source for the money they committed to the county, as redevelopment dollars were their only option. Mr. Hernandez said that if commissioners vote after this month's recess to support a tunnel, he would ask them as an agency board to reconsider contributing the money.
MIAMI ARCHITECT HIRED: A Miami architect will design three residential projects planned by developer Urbanice. Architectural firm Martin Design was hired to design 45-unit El Colonial in Little Havana, 98-unit Puerto Nuevo in the Health District and 57-unit Aqua Briza in downtown Miami. Prices at all three complexes begin at about $200,000.
SUSTAINABLE CITY: Miami is to join the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives — Local Governments for Sustainability and to become a partner in its Cities for Climate Protection campaign after a vote by city commissioners last week. The campaign assists cities in adopting policies and implementing quantifiable measures to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and enhance urban livability and sustainability, according to the group's Web site, http://www.iclei.org.
BETTER BOARD: Miami commissioners last week shut down the city's Parks Advisory Board after prolonged inaction due to lack of quorum at meetings. Commissioners are to see in September an ordinance creating a new board and plan to appoint new members immediately. "We really need people really interested in parks to start meeting," Commissioner Tomás Regalado said, as commissioners approved a parks master plan in May. The city's Planning Advisory Board required upon approving the plan that parks staff report biannually to the Parks Advisory Board as to how the plan has been implemented, how much money has been collected in impact fees and how it has been spent.
POLICE INCREASE: Miami is enjoying "extreme success right now in our recruitment of police officers," City Manager Pete Hernandez said, with about 750 applicants. Because "we don't want to compromise quality," he said, many are to be screened out. He credits the success in part to recent settlement of the police union's long-debated contract.
REGARDS TO BROADWAY: The Carnival Center for the Performing Arts has joined Elephant Eye Theatrical to create musicals for Broadway. The musicals are to play Broadway and stages around the world, including Carnival Center. Elephant Eye has four projects in advanced stages of development, including "The Addams Family," "Bruce Lee: Journey to the West," and "Saved."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: More than 85 restaurants are participating in Miami Spice, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's summer promotion that began Aug. 1 and runs through Sept. 30. In its sixth year, Miami Spice offers three-course meals at top restaurants for $22 at lunch, $35 at dinner. The bureau boasts Miami Spice as its largest summer promotion, serving over 50,000 meals last summer. Details: www.ilovemiamispice.com.
PRICES RISE: The Consumer Price Index for Miami and Fort Lauderdale rose 4.4% from June 2006 to June 2007, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average cost of housing jumped 6.7%, far above the national 3.4% rise. Food and beverage rose 4.2% locally, 4% nationally. Transportation costs, which rose 2.1% in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, rose 0.9% nationally. Peter Thompson, an economics professor at Florida International University, saw no cause for alarm in the local increase. "That number is a little higher than other cities," he said, "but it's fully accounted for by the increase in average rent here."
HEALING TOUCH: The Miami Beach Community Health Center on Saturday opened a medical facility at the Center for Haitian Studies, Health and Human Services, 8260 NE Second Ave. The center offers medical services including pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, geriatrics, internal medicine, family medicine and immune support programs. The center will serve all patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT: The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has set its Washington Initiative advocacy program for Sept. 25-27. Program participants will meet with members of Congress about transportation, trade, immigration, workforce housing and health care. The program will include a reception. Details: (305) 577-5471.
TEACHING BUSINESS: Chamber South will host weekly business skills workshops at noon Fridays starting in September to educate small businesses about networking and marketing, chamber officials say. Workshops in the chamber's Conference Center, 6410 SW 80th St., South Miami, cost $15 for members, $20 for non-members. Details: www.chambersouth.com.
THE ROAD TO SALES: Developers of Regatta 2, a 115-unit waterfront condo complex in the North Beach section of Miami Beach, got 20 reservations for units during an international promotional tour. The partnership of G&D Developers and the Weintraub Companies spent part of the summer traveling to cities such as Toronto, London and Madrid to find buyers for the project at 6644 Indian Creek Drive. Studios, one- to three-bedroom units and penthouses range from $270,000 to $1.56 million. Details: www.regatta2.com.
BEACH TOWER RISES: Construction of one of two towers at Miami Beach oceanfront condo Caribbean topped off at 19 stories and renovations of the existing 35-condo tower have reached the sixth floor. Christa Development Corp. and Bluerock Real Estate spent $10 million to renovate the former Caribbean Hotel at 3737 Collins Ave. Several of the 103 condos remain, starting at $1 million. Work is to be completed next summer.
TV COMPANY PICKS DORAL: A television production company is moving into office and warehouse space at the MICC Business Park in Doral. International production firm CaribeVision is leasing 6,500 square feet at 2090 NW 79th Ave. from Moreno Properties. Commercial broker ComReal Miami represented Caribevision.
TAX TANGO: While state legislators have maintained that Miami's inclusion on a list of cities exempt from a requirement of steep tax cuts was an oversight, City Manager Pete Hernandez said "it wasn't a gaffe." As required by the state, the city did cut its millage 12%, he said, leading to $31 million saved by taxpayers. He would expect, he said that the city would cut about 10% of the funds that the county does. With Miami-Dade County cutting about $222 million, he said, "I'm cutting more [proportionally] than the county." To reduce the additional 9% required of most cities would cost Miami an added $22 million, he said, for a total of $53 million in cuts. "If I get to that point I will be impacting filled positions," he said. Now, "I can reduce the $31 million without impacting a filled position. I can eliminate a lot of vacancies that were funded that were not filled."
TRIMMING THROUGH TRASH: One way Miami could trim its budget without adversely affecting staff or residents, Mr. Hernandez said, is through reducing large trash item pickups from once a week to monthly. "I think we can have less service with better results," he said. "It would be a lot easier for us to enforce illegal dumping if we do the pick up once a month." However, he said, the plan would require educating residents about the new pick-up dates.
SEEKING SPORTS VENUES: The Miami-Dade Sports Commission formed a committee late last month to oversee sports facilities and pursue new opportunities for all sports. The Sports Facility Development Committee comprises five commission board members, including Florida International University Athletic Director Pete Garcia. County commissioners created the sports commission in 2003 to promote and secure sporting events to generate an economic impact for the county. Details: www.miamisports.org.
ON ARTS CENTER BOARD: Jorge Plasencia, who has supervised the day-to-day business affairs of Gloria Estefan, Shakira and other artists, has joined the board of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts Center Trust. He is chairman and CEO of República, a Miami branding, advertising, communications and entertainment company. He formerly was vice president of the Univision Radio Network and Estefan Enterprises Inc., a global entertainment, media and hospitality company based in Miami Beach. He was appointed to the board by Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro.
COMMANDING PRESENCE: Miami's position as the crossroads for the Americas has made it ideal for the past 10 years as headquarters for the US Southern Command, Adm. James G. Stavridis, who commands the military hub of 2,500 persons, told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Board of Governors and Trustees lunch last week. He did not refer to the future site of the command here or the ongoing search for a developer but said that in his travels around the nation, he has found no international city like Miami, which he said prides itself as being the business gateway to the Americas. "This is the academic center for the study of this region," he said as he told the 300 lunch guests "why this community connects for us at a pragmatic level."
LOW-FUND FARE: Budget airline Allegiant Air is to establish a new base at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, with the first non-stop flight Nov. 14. Allegiant flies into smaller cities around the nation, including Biloxi, MS, and Toledo, OH. Allegiant plans to launch 12 markets from Fort Lauderdale, 11 of which are already served by the low-fare carrier. The first route will be announced and available for purchase today (8/9). The remaining 11 are to be announced this year.