FLEXIBLE COUNTY: Miami-Dade County employees could begin working flexible schedules to save tax dollars, ease a tight budget, reduce commuting costs and cut traffic congestion. Commissioners last week agreed to study a plan that could include a four-day work week of 10-hour days to allow county buildings to close an extra day a week; having employees work staggered 10-hour days four days a week to let buildings remain open; or flexible work day start and end times. The study is to decide which employees would benefit from such schedules and which buildings and facilities would work best. It's also to estimate savings. Documents stipulate the county would reserve the right to revert to a traditional schedule "should budget conditions improve, gasoline prices decrease or other conditions indicate that a return to traditional work schedules would be advantageous to the county."
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ART ANALYSIS: Miami-Dade County is to study its own Art in Public Places program after recent scrutiny, including a scathing audit this year. No new art in public places contracts are to be issued until a report is submitted as a result of this summer's planned analysis. "It's been many years since the commission has reviewed the policy and funding of the art in public places," said Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who introduced the measure Tuesday. The audit revealed that former program officials undervalued the county's 630-piece, $28.2 million collection by $11.9 million and overstated the number of pieces by 74. The audit also said that 87 items valued at $94,780, missing since 1999, couldn't be found. The program is funded in part by 1.5% of all money designated for new county buildings and expansion projects. Ms. Seijas said she doesn't want a consultant conducting the new study, calling Michael Spring, the county's director of cultural affairs, "the best of the best." He began overseeing the art program last year. With Mr. Spring at the helm, Ms. Seijas said, "It seems like an excellent time to review."
KICK-STARTING CONSTRUCTION: To help revive the dragging construction industry here, some Miami-Dade public works projects could be accelerated. The county's Budget and Finance committee agreed Tuesday to allow Mayor Carlos Alvarez or a designee to identify long-term public works projects whose completion could be accelerated. The commission is to then vote on modified contracts that would shorten construction timelines. Also on Tuesday, the Governmental Operations and Environment Committee approved a measure expediting projects to help stimulate the economy.
BUDGET BATTLE BREWS: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez's proposal to raise one county tax rate that applies to all property owners while lowering others that apply only to some — resulting in an even overall rate — may not fly with the commission. It will require that nine of 13 commissioners OK it in September, and thus far two have committed to voting no: Carlos A. Gimenez and Rebeca Sosa. "You're going to need a backup plan," Mr. Gimenez warned administrators Tuesday. They have one, said Budget Director Jennifer Glazer-Moon. She reminded commissioners that County Manager George M. Burgess has identified $90 million in potential savings should it be needed. It could be, Mr. Gimenez said. "I'm telling you right now, I'm one against," he said "If four more join me, we've got an issue with this budget."
GO TO THE FLOW: With the SkyLift Balloon on its way out of Bayfront Park, the Mildred and Claude Pepper Fountain is on its way back in. Balloon operators defaulted on more than $100,000 in payments to the Bayfront Park Management Trust but did pay before beginning operations a $67,500 deposit earmarked for restoring the $3.25 million fountain the balloon sits — soon to be sat — on. The trust has begun seeking a contractor to fix the fountain, said Executive Director Tim Schmand, but it may not come back full force. Fossil fuel restrictions could mean pulling back on the fountain's spray and having more water run over its sides instead to decrease evaporation. The fountain was completed in 1990, two years late and three quarters of a million dollars over budget. Operating costs far overshot what the trust was able to pay, and visions of computerized spray configurations dwindled to a trickle even before the balloon operators set up shop.
TUNNEL BONDS: Up to $980 million in industrial development transportation revenue bonding is to back the planned Port of Miami tunnel after Miami-Dade commissioners agreed last week to allow the county's Industrial Development Authority to issue the bonds. Neither the authority nor the county has any liability to pay them — it's to be solely the responsibility of Miami Access Tunnel, the team chosen to build the $1 billion-plus state and county project. That plan has hit bumps, with the concessionaire reassessing its financing due to financial market changes, but state officials say the project is moving forward.
RECORD AND CHALLENGE: Miami-Dade collected a record $3.9 million in convention development taxes in May, up from $3.7 million in the same period last year — up 5%. Miami-Dade and the City of Miami plan to use some of the revenues to build a Marlins stadium should plans move forward. Auto magnate Norman Braman is to challenge them in court this week. Also, commissioners have missed a July 1 deadline to approve construction, non-relocation, assurance and management agreements. Chairman Bruno A. Barreiro said last month he plans to hold the agreements until after the court hearing, which would still allow an April 2011 completion date be met. "The administration has said they don't want to see it stalled forever," he said. "It will affect the schedule if we continue to push it much further down. But the beginning of July, I think they're comfortable with."
MORE VISITOR GROWTH: The record $3.9 million in Convention Development Tax collections — 3% on hotel stays — is used in part to support and maintain public facilities such as existing convention centers, arenas and auditoriums. This isn't the only growth in the hospitality industry — Greater Miami also saw a 1.8% increase in room occupancy and room rates over the first five months of the year from the same period in 2007. William D. Talbert III, CEO and president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said occupancy and room rates will "generally" increase along with the tax collections. "What it means is that Miami continues to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world," he said, due in part to "innovative marketing programs" such as Miami Spa Month and Miami Spice.
SHANGHAI JOB: Chris Gandolfo, who oversaw construction of the hotel Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key and condominium towers Jade in Brickell was promoted Tuesday to assistant director of parent company Swire Properties Ltd. Mr. Gandolfo, whose been with Swire 10 years, is to oversee the company's Dazhongli project in the Nanjing District of Shanghai, one of five mega mixed-use projects Swire has underway in mainland China. The 4-million-square-foot Dazhongli project is to feature high-end shopping, an office tower and three hotels. Mr. Gandolfo is to move with his family in August and begin duties in Shanghai in September.
ORIENT EXPRESS TO SOBE: Miami-based Related Group and Bermuda-based Oriented Express Hotels Ltd. announced Tuesday an equal partnership to develop a hotel with 28 luxury residences at an unspecified site south of Fifth Street on South Beach and projects in Cartagena, Colombia, and Panama City, Panama. All are to open within three years. The South Beach property would be Oriented Express's eighth in the US.
KAGOSHIMA VISITS: Miami will welcome an 11-member delegation from its Kagoshima, Japan, sister city including Mayor Hiroyuki Mori July 23. As South Florida becomes a pivotal point between Asia and the Americas, city officials hope the visit will strengthen partnership and foster new opportunities. "The two mayors share a common interest on green issues and also plan to explore business relationships with Miami cruise lines and their ports," said Isabel de Quesada, executive director of City of Miami Mayor's International Council. Delegates represent Kagoshima's city counsel, chamber of commerce and the international affairs division. The five-day visit includes a proclamation presentation at City Hall with the city commission and visits to the Port of Miami, Japanese Garden and Key West. "The idea (of the visit) is to further the economic, political, and cultural ties between the city and Kagoshima," she said. Details: www.miami.us.emb-japan.go.jp/kagoshima.html.
DOWNTOWN DOWN: Miami's Downtown Development Authority got initial approval from its board for a reduced 2008-2009 budget, $5.6 million compared to last year's $7 million, said Meredith J. Nation, interim deputy director. "We are making efforts to trim our budget by reducing costs, administrative expenses and using the best practices," she said. Most of the money is to go to enhancing services such as the Ambassador program, a group that assists with safety and hospitality services, and the enhancement team, which helps with landscaping and keeping streets clean. The board is to review and vote on the final budget proposal July 18, she said. Then, on Sept.11, the budget goes to the City Commission for final OK.
TAXING DOWNTOWN: The Miami Downtown Development Authority voted to keep its millage rate at a half mil, the same as last year, on properties within its district, which includes central business district, media entertainment district, Brickell and Park West, said Meredith J. Nation, interim deputy director. The authority's tax collection is its primary revenue, she said. The rate now awaits approval of the city commission, which is to discuss the item July 24. "We are optimistic the commission will see that the DDA is committed to getting money out to the streets and making positive changes," Ms. Nation said, "and we are hopeful they will maintain the current millage rate."
OFF TO IRAQ: Lettie J. Bien, director of marketing and business development for Investor Solutions Inc., returns to Iraq this month on an assignment for the Department of Defense. "I have been asked to provide an assessment of a very particular aspect of the reconstruction efforts," she said, "along with some recommendations for the way ahead." Ms. Bien, a retired Army Reserve colonel, served previously in Iraq as US senior advisor to the Iraq Ministry of Industry & Minerals. The attorney and Miami native said she looks forward to returning to Iraq to assess the progress made and benchmarks met in the country and expects to be there a couple of weeks.
BACK TO BANKING: The International Bank of Miami on Tuesday appointed Alan G. Randolph executive vice president of Business Developmen to develop new strategic partnerships in South Florida and help the Coral Gables-based bank expand its customer base. He had been president of Ocean Drive Media Group in Miami Beach following an earlier banking career at Mellon Financial Corp. and before that at SunTrust.
CLEARING LAND: Demolition of the abandoned "glass buildings" on Camillus House's Northwest Seventh Avenue property began Monday. The demolition is to clear the way to build a new 3.1-acre campus. The City of Miami commissioned BG Group of Boca Raton to handle demolition. The company will use an excavator to tear down a block-long series of connected concrete buildings that formerly housed a glass factory, and also will remove all debris from the buildings, the foundations and the asphalt parking areas to the north and south on the property. Campus construction, to begin in October and wrap up in 2010, will feature multiple buildings, including 340 beds for persons who will receive a wide range of social services and clinical treatment.
SAFETY FIRST: Foreclosed homes should be brought up to Miami-Dade County code before they're put on the market, Commissioner Natacha Seijas said Tuesday. She plans to introduce an initiative requiring it. While exploring properties in her district, she said, she not only noticed Realtors putting the burden of bringing properties up to code onto new buyers, but she also tripped and fell. "It's very, very, very dangerous," she said. "Some of these (properties) are completely and absolutely un-taken care of."
COURTHOUSE COMING: Construction drawings of Miami-Dade County's planned Juvenile Courthouse — a project long in the works — are to be completed by year's end and the development is to be put out to bid by April 2009, Wendy Norris, county General Services Administration director, told the Budget and Finance Committee Tuesday. The committee agreed to convert bonds meant to fund the project from auction rate to variable rate in light of recent bond market tumult. But besides that, asked Commissioner Carlos A. Gimenez, where's the project? "We've been paying interest, and we don't have a building," he said. The courthouse faced various delays, Ms. Norris said, including when officials considered building a Marlins ballpark on the downtown Miami site. The most recent plan is to build it instead at the old Orange Bowl.
NEW MARQUEE: The Bayfront Park Management Trust has hired Ad Systems Inc. to buy, install, operate and maintain the park's new marquee. Tim Schmand, trust executive director, said the company is in the process of obtaining required permits. The step to follow is for Ad Systems to get the sponsors and create the signage.