Groups seeking easier downtown retail permitting
By Catherine Lackner
Because they say slow permitting may keep prestigious national tenants out of Miami, the Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Miami Partnership —representing property owners and residents — and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce have launched a group to "lay out a road map that creates a more business-friendly climate."
The aim is to have a development authority staffer available to walk retailers and restaurateurs through what authority members call long, cumbersome permitting.
"This issue has been well documented," said Dana Nottingham, authority executive director. "These players have options — they don't have to come here."
For now, the work group has spoken with city officials and recommended ways to speed permitting.
"We had a good exchange with people from the building department," Gary Ressler, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber's CBD subcommittee, told the authority board. "It was a productive first step. But I feel strongly that we have a long way to go.
"The impression we were left with is that there's a resistance to modifying the process," he said. Building department officials think the problems "are more a perception than a reality. But it's not a perception — it's a reality."
"From the complaints I've heard, it's a nightmare," said Joe Sanchez, city commissioner and authority chairman. "The need for simplicity has to be addressed. People have to be held accountable."
"We're getting ready to have significant restaurants opening here," said board member Loretta Cockrum. "We need to demonstrate that we're at least as efficient as other places in which they do business."
"We consider this an urgent matter," said Davon Barbour, authority economic development manager. "We have national tenants who want to expand, and there's a lack of simplicity in the process. It needs to be handled from the top down.
"A number of national and international restaurants and retail businesses have expressed interest in entering the market," Mr. Barbour wrote in a recent memo. "However, based upon experiences of colleagues and competitors, these same businesses remain hesitant to move forward."
"According to the rumor mill, in the City of Miami the permitting process can take eight, 10 or 12 months," agreed board member Jose Goyanes.
"Each day that a new business is delayed in opening," Mr. Barbour's memo continues, "it results in direct loss of sales tax revenue for the city and county. Additionally, job growth could be hindered."
Miami-Dade County recently revamped its permitting so that plans can proceed through all reviews before an application must be re-submitted. In the city, construction documents are returned and must be filed again after a few items needing correction are noted, creating delays.
"I was part of the county's process," said board member Jeffrey Bercow. "They improved it, from plan approval to certificate of occupancy. The DDA needs to take the lead in this. There are ways to streamline the process."
Mr. Ressler said he and other work group members may seek to meet with City Manager Pete Hernandez "to take it a step further. The permitting process should be predictable and easy to understand."