Miami Downtown Development Authority's interim leadership looks for accountability
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
While the Miami Downtown Development Authority decides if and when it will begin searching for a new executive director, the agency's interim leadership is moving full-speed ahead planning for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
In its fifth month, the temporary leadership hopes to implement some of the old leadership's vision of bringing big businesses to downtown while pursuing its own hands-on approach to beautify the business district and make it more pedestrian-friendly.
Alyce Robertson, interim director for the redevelopment authority, said she hopes to put the agency's staff work plan — which sets the course of action for each department in the upcoming year — in place by the beginning of October.
"We are getting staff to put on paper what they are doing because it holds them accountable," she said. "They are clear they will be evaluated based on their achievements."
The press for accountability stems from the authority's turbulent past as the former executive director, Dana Nottingham, resigned after an audit revealed mismanagement and inefficiency under his leadership, which was marked by ideas that often never evolved into initiatives or concrete results.
Ms. Robertson said she has tightened the belt by cutting four staff positions to increase efficiency in the agency.
"We are trying to do more with less," she said, which gains importance this year as tax revenues are expected to decrease.
She plans a more "quantifiable" employee evaluation process for the staff of 14. "I am going to be held accountable to what I accomplish, and I can't do anything without good staff."
Board member Jay Solowsky recently conducted a study on the feasibility of relocating and determined the agency's not-so-favorable lease terms has it chained to 6,447 square feet at Wachovia Financial Center, 200 S. Biscayne Blvd., where it pays $21,000 monthly in rent and other expenses. That verdict dashed the wishes of some city officials who wanted the agency to move into a street-level location.
For 2009, the agency is receiving $4.8 million in taxes compared to last year's $5.4 million, according to tax collection documents.
Of the agency's projected $8.87 million budget for next year, $1.3 million is to cover operating expenses including staff salaries and operational costs.
The authority plans to spend some of its budget funds to promote a more "walkable downtown," allocating about $2.08 million for capital, urban design and transportation improvements.
Ms. Robertson said strengthening the authority's partnership with the county's transit department is a first step.
"Certainly there are enough challenges and our budget cannot change all the woes of downtown, but we can make it more walkable," she said.
The authority also looks to team up with the Beacon Council to bring more corporate businesses to downtown and retaining the ones that already call the area home.
Marketing is another muscle the authority wants to flex this upcoming year and hopes to spend $965,000 to promote its four districts: Central Business, Brickell, Media Entertainment and Park West.
It plans to expand the distribution of "DWNTWNR," a glossy brochure about lifestyles in downtown, to get area workforce, new residents and visitors to rediscover downtown.
The agency also is working with the county to revamp its Web site as it looks to provide mouse-clickers with a more user-friendly site and put more information at their fingertips about downtown businesses and available authority services.
It hopes to increase its support as a sponsor to high-quality events that can enhance downtown's day and night life, including having a more participatory role in the sponsorship of big-ticket events such as the annual Miami International Film Festival and Miami Book Fair International, Ms. Robertson said.
Plans for a winter concert series also are under way, and the agency awaits Knight Foundation approval for a three-year, $150,000 grant it would match to bring musical events to venues in downtown, she said. The authority is in talks with Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus to partner in the series.
The authority also is spending $968,000 to expand some of its community enhancement and service-oriented programs into more of its districts.
It is to continue offering the façade program to help businesses repair and beautify storefronts and the shutter replacement program, which supplies participating retailers with free see-through plastic shutters.
Both programs are to continue in the central business district as it looks to engage the participation of more property owners.
To meet the needs of Brickellites, who contribute more tax dollars than any of the four districts, the agency has set aside $1 million to make improvements on Brickell Avenue. It is to spend $300,000 to improve crosswalks and the remaining $700,000 on landscaping including running irrigation systems and improving landscaping, Ms. Robertson said.
The agency is allocating $175,000 to expand the ambassadors program into Brickell starting in October when uniformed teams are to begin assisting tourists, residents and business owners in the area.
The authority budgeted $165,000 more to send a new handyman team to fix minor maintenance problems in Brickell.
The Omni Community Redevelopment Agency also has agreed to pay $155,000 to have the ambassadors program and downtown enhancement team's services extended into the entertainment district.
"We are not going to solve all the needs in downtown without partnership," Ms. Robertson said.