Downtown authority to still push development initiatives
By Risa Polansky
Economic development initiatives are moving forward full force at Miami's Downtown Development Authority despite a recent refocus on services, the agency's head of economic development says.
"Our economic development activities have not slowed," said Davon Barbour, economic development manager.
Still, he conceded, the board has reallocated $75,000 worth of projects from his department's programming budget toward services.
Taken to the chopping block: a proposed $60,000 retail recruitment effort and $15,000 contribution to the creation of a Retail Skill Center in partnership with Miami Dade College and the Beacon Council.
He now operates with $440,000. The authority's total budget is about $4 million, with about $1.9 million designated for personnel expenses and $257,000 for rent.
Despite the cuts, "We're still very active in retail recruitment," Mr. Barbour said. "It's a daily effort for us."
The authority, established in 1965, had traditionally focused its efforts on development.
Under Chairman Joe Sanchez, also a Miami commissioner, the board has recently shifted services to its top priority.
"The development has been addressed," he said last month.
Safe, clean and attractive has become his mantra for downtown.
The board embraced the change, creating a street-cleaning team and ambassador program and pushing for amenities such as more trashcans on downtown streets.
The authority has proposed to the city an anti-panhandling ordinance and a master plan for the area, both still in the works.
Board members have said the new focus has not pushed development efforts to the side, some asserting that a clean and safe downtown will attract businesses in and of itself.
Through it all, the economic development team has continued in its efforts, Mr. Barbour said.
Staffers have worked with Miami administrators to streamline the city's retail permitting process, "the No. 1 issue affecting the brokers," he said.
His department is working to update its market research and preparing for its major recruitment push at the International Conference of Shopping Centers retail tradeshow.
The economic programming budget provides for a $150,000 business façade improvement effort and $135,000 shutter replacement initiative.
About $155,000 is set aside for research and consulting.
"It's business as usual," Mr. Barbour said. "It's been great, hasn't slowed down at all."