ALL SYSTEMS GO: Miami city commissioners last week decided to make an agreement with the Miami-Dade County School Board to construct a $37.5 million international police training facility, police college and law enforcement high school downtown. They asked also that Miami residents get preference in a competitive process to enter the school. Because the city-owned site "was being considered for a baseball site" for a Florida Marlins stadium, the project had been stalled, City Manager Pete Hernandez said. Plans for the police facility can now advance because the stadium concept is "no longer viable," he said. City and county officials hope Major League Baseball will consider the Orange Bowl site.
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BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: After accusations several months ago that a company contracted to work for the City of Miami wrote part of its own selection paperwork, commissioners last week voted to require city employees to write all invitations for bids, request for letters of interest, request for proposals, request for qualifications and any other "source selection" material. "It's a shame that we have to pass this ordinance after the fact," Commissioner Joe Sanchez said. The ordinance is designed to "enhance best practice" after the incident "gave the city a black eye."
A SIGN OF GROWTH: Regional parks in Miami are to now allow commercial sponsorship messages as part of their identification signage after a vote by city commissioners last week. The messages may not stand alone and may only appear on a park's principal identification sign without taking up more than 25% of its area. Any revenue gleaned from the sponsorship is to support the parks.
EARLY VOTING: After a city commission vote last week, Miami residents are to have the opportunity to chime in early on the Nov. 6 municipal election. Early voting locations, including Miami City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive, and area libraries, are to be open Oct. 29-Nov. 4. Commissioners Marc Sarnoff, Angel González and Tomás Regalado are up for reelection and face opposition from, respectively: Ray Cantillo, a consultant, and Ellen Brickley, a meat processor; Mike Suarez, a bail bondsman; and Evaristo Marina, who ran unsuccessfully for Miami mayor in 2005.
MULLING MIAMI 21: Miami 21, the city's proposed zoning code and blueprint for growth, is still stalled in the planning stages. The city recently completed a series of meetings with residents to glean suggestions for the plan but didn't see at last week's commission meeting any legislation enabling the plan to advance. Such legislation has been delayed until a to-be-determined date.
TO THE MAX: Miami commissioners last week gave final approval to the Max Miami project planned for the city's entertainment district. The 31-story, mixed-use powerhouse of recording studios, condos and hotel rooms planned for 1600 NE First Ave. is to be an epicenter catering to the production industry, developer Jordi Verite said.
PROPERTY APPRAISER NAMED: Marcus Saiz de la Mora, a 23-year county veteran who has been Miami-Dade County's interim property appraiser since the first of the year, has been named to the permanent post. Mr. Saiz de la Mora rose through the ranks at the Property Appraisal Department, holding several positions there. At Tuesday's county commission meeting, Mayor Carlos Alvarez said he has watched Mr. Saiz de la Mora in action and called him "a man of integrity" who "knows his job." Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz drew laughter when he pointed out that he has known Mr. Saiz de la Mora since high school. "Based on that recommendation, I'd like to deny this appointment," Commissioner Joe Martinez joked.
NEW TOLL RATES: Miami-Dade County has set new toll rates on the Rickenbacker and Venetian causeways beginning Oct. 15. A two-axle vehicle jumps from $1.25 to $1.50 on the Rickenbacker and from $1 to $1.50 on the Venetian. Proceeds fund capital improvements on bridges, roads and shorelines on both causeways. Details: (305) 854-2468.
TOLL INITIATIVES: Florida's Turnpike Enterprise and national rental car companies are cashing in on two no-transponder toll initiatives. American Traffic Solutions and Rent A Toll, which provide toll payment programs to rental car companies nationwide, will provide the technology to spot and scan license plates on rental cars passing through SunPass-Only lanes and to collect tolls electronically. Car renters will be able to choose from a selection of pre-paid toll options depending on the rental car company. Avis, Budget and Hertz have already signed up. Dollar and Thrifty have chosen Rental A Toll's Pass24, a pre-paid service where customers pay a one-time fee of $5.95 daily or $27.95 weekly for unlimited use of tolls.
HIGH COST OF MANATEES: A proposal to spend as much as $700,000 over two years to create a 14-member Miami-Dade County Manatee Protection Plan Review Committee drew some questions from Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, who went so far as to call the idea "kind of like a ripoff." Even green-friendly Katy Sorenson questioned the figure and, citing praise the county's manatee policies have received, asked why the county wanted to fix what she felt wasn't broken. "I just think it's way too much," Mr. Martinez said.
MANATEE RESEARCH NEEDED: Carlos Espinosa, the county's director of Environmental Resources Management, said the actual cost would likely be less. He explained that the last manatee report was completed 12 years ago and that a university or research facility will need to be contracted for an updated year-long study of everything from boating destination patterns to manatee death rates to waterfront development trends. Commissioners voted 8 to 3 to approve the funding, which will come from the Biscayne Bay Environmental Enhancement Trust Fund. Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Crist is urging the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to delay downgrading the endangered status of the manatee. He says a better way to count manatees needs to be found before deciding on a status change.
CORRECTION: In the Dining Out column published Sept. 27, Richard Langhorne of CB Richard Ellis said he meant to say Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Coral Gables is among his favorite establishments for enjoyment of a wine selection.
CORRECTION: A Sept. 27 story on the pending deal for a new cruise line headquarters at the Port of Miami should have reported the value of the deal as $160 million.
CORRECTION: In last week's overview of upcoming office projects, Merrick Point in Coral Gables should have been described as an 85,000-square-foot office condominium.
CORRECTION: An FYI last week should have said that the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency pays $14,000 in monthly rent for its offices.
FEDS, COUNTY SETTLE: Miami-Dade County commissioners postured and gnashed their teeth at Tuesday's (10/2) commission meeting but voted unanimously to approve a mediated work plan with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Department, which over the county's objection took charge of the scandal- plagued Miami-Dade Housing Agency this summer. The work plan intends to improve the projects and programs within the agency, focusing on governance, organization and staffing, financial controls, and program management. Under the agreement, HUD will continue oversight of the agency, an arrangement which will be reviewed nine months after the plan goes into effect.
MIDTOWN MODIFICATION: Miami commissioners tabled last week a measure that would have removed the residential component requirement from the definition of mixed-use buildings in the Midtown Miami special district. If passed, the ordinance would define a mixed-use building in the area as a combination of residential, retail, office and/or live-work uses, allowing for retail/office combinations.