DIGGING INTO TUNNEL: A contract to dig and operate a truck tunnel linking the Port of Miami with Watson Island "is anticipated by Oct. 31," the quarterback for the project is telling Miami-Dade County commissioners in a terse memo this week. Gus Pego, secretary of District 6 for the Florida Department of Transportation, who's heading the negotiations with concessionaire Miami Access Tunnel Consortium on the billion-dollar project. He'd wanted to sign the deal earlier to cap rising labor and material costs, and in June said he hoped to finish the deal in September. The state is to pay $457 million toward construction, Miami-Dade County $402 million and the City of Miami $88 million. His memo to commissioners says the county's letter of credit for its portion of the contract has expired and must be replaced to move forward. Talks on the deal, he said, continue weekly.
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
of the news. Here are highlights from the most current edition.
SECOND CHANCE: As bus routes get the ax in the county's transit budget crunch, routes being lopped off should go out for bidding by private sector operators who think they could make a go of what county transit operators couldn't, says Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe A. Martinez. He's asking fellow commissioners to order Mayor Carlos Alvarez to send dying routes out for bid to give them second life.
WHEN, OH WHEN: On the county's busiest bus routes, meanwhile, passengers waiting in shelters might soon learn exactly when a bus would arrive instead of sitting and stewing. Commissioner Martinez is asking his peers to order the administration to study real-time notification of waiting passengers via electronic displays that use global positioning system data sent from buses and also announce aloud when buses will arrive. Citing Broward County Transit's use of such a system and similar programs elsewhere, he's asking that the study be completed within 60 days. The displays, his resolution says, could increase ridership.
BUDGET BOOM: Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency tax increment is ballooning, with a 21% increase in property values. The Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency's budget of $5.7 million for 2008 is rising to $7 million next year. The same for the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, whose $12 million budget is growing to $14.5 million. Jim Villacorta, executive director of the both, said the rise in property values within their boundaries is a product of the redevelopment and improvement projects taking place.
MEETING NUISANCE: Miami's Community Redevelopment Agencies meeting last week had a few interruptions. First, Chairwoman Michelle Spence-Jones had to ask the audience several times to quiet down. The one air conditioning vent inside the Ice Palace Film Studios at 59 NW 14th St., which donated space for the meeting, didn't seem to cool enough, so some used their agendas as fans. But the vent was powerful enough to knock down, repeatedly, the posters presented by speakers at the podium. Jim Villacorta, the agencies' executive director, said because his office space is small he schedules meetings at varied locations within the three redevelopment areas.
GROVE VOTE: A date for Coconut Grove businesses to vote on a proposed self-taxing business improvement district is still unknown. David Collins, executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee, said he has met several times with the Miami City Clerk's Office to develop the ballot. He said although the starting date is unknown, the election period is to be four to six weeks and must end by Oct. 31. Approval of the district, close to two years in the making, requires a majority of affected property owners. The district incorporates 254 businesses belonging to 105 owners, so it will take 128 "yes" votes for a green light, he said.
PROTESTOR NOISE: Results from July noise studies at downtown sites where protestors congregate show they're making noise. Professional Service Industries Inc., a nationwide testing firm, did the studies. With no demonstrators, noise levels at the Wachovia Financial Center hit up to 80 decibels and at the Helm Bank building about 70. With protestors on-site, noise hit 90 to 120 decibels. The report says demonstrators use "megaphone, whistles and plastic drums." The testing firm reviewed the city's noise standards, which state "no person shall create any loud or boisterous noise which may annoy persons on any street or sidewalk or in any building adjacent thereof." It recommends that the city evaluate whether noise levels violate city code, as the code doesn't specify sound levels, and survey businesses downtown.
KNIGHT CENTER HOLD: Miami has clicked pause on negotiations with Hyatt Equities, the Chicago-based management offices of the Hyatt Regency downtown, as it prepares to put up for bid the complex's north portion. "No further conversations with Hyatt at this time," said Lori Billberry, city public facilities director. She said the city is concentrating on an invitation to bid for the north side assets, to be presented to the city commission for approval this month. Those assets include the garage north of the I-95 ramp, the land beneath the Bank of America office tower and its ground-floor retail. Talks with the hotel had involved leasing the Hyatt added conference space now occupied by the University of Miami and the performing venue adjacent to the hotel to redevelop it into new conference rooms. Hyatt Equities did not return calls.
MARKETING MOVE: American Airlines is joining with county economic and tourism entities to promote the county as a destination for businesses and visitors, county commissioners were told last week. Though Miami-Dade's economy does have bright spots, tourism among them, "there is no question that we've been experiencing some weakening in our economy," said Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development arm. "In order to be proactive, we developed a very new, unique marketing campaign." The $2 million initiative — $500,000 of which is funded by American Airlines, the rest a joint venture between the Beacon Council, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Port of Miami and Miami International Airport — is to be rolled out in New York as well as international points such as Argentina, France and Italy. It's to target industries such as life science, aviation, fashion, financial services and tourism. Said Peter Dolara, the airline's senior vice president for Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean, "We think this is great for Miami and great for all our business."
ADDED TOOL FOR TRUST: The 15-member body that approves spending of the half percent slice of Miami-Dade County's sales tax that's meant to add transportation infrastructure would get added clout if a measure being presented by Carlos Gimenez wins approval from fellow county commissioners. He's proposing that members of the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust "shall be deemed trustees and shall have a fiduciary duty to the residents of Miami-Dade County as to the reasonable use of the Charter County Transit Surtax funds." Some observers have complained that the commission now pulls the strings and the trust is more a rubber stamp for its actions than a fiduciary body, as voters were promised when they approved the tax. The commission recently approved allowing the trust to hire its own director and retain consultants.
FILM NO-NO: A Miami Beach home is to be featured on the upcoming Home & Garden Television series "My Big Amazing Renovation." But the show was filmed here illegally, says Graham Winick, Miami Beach's film and event production manager. No one pulled a city permit for the year-long shoot, he said upon hearing of the show for the first time from a reporter. Supervising Producer Sherry Sellers of Denver-based High Noon Entertainment said no permit was needed because the show was filmed wholly on private property: the owner's land and boat. But "it is required" in Miami Beach, Mr. Winick said. He added in an e-mail, "I find it rather disgraceful for a network as respectable as theirs to put themselves in such a position, either by their own doing, or by their contracted producers."
FASHIONABLY LATE: With Hurricane Ike's path uncertain last week, the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development arm, rescheduled its launch event for its Fashion and Lifestyle Initiative. The event, once set for Sept. 9, is to be at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel Miami, 1435 Brickell Ave. Even those who'd RSVP'd for the original date should RSVP again to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Beacon's annual meeting and lifestyle auction is planned for 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, 1200 Anastasia Ave. Bruce Mosler, president and chief executive officer of Cushman & Wakefield, is to deliver the keynote address on the state of the US real estate market. Details: (305) 579-1382.
FRIENDLY LATIN SKIES: Latin American Air Transport Association announced that within its member airlines overall Latin America traffic remained strong with a 9.6% growth in July from July 2007 and an 11.8% growth during the first seven months of the year, as well as a 10.6% increase in capacity. Passengers carried from January through July increased 7.3% from the same period in 2007, reaching 67.3 million. During the period, traffic rose 11.8% and capacity 10.6%. Association members operate more than 800 aircraft and employ more than 70,000 in more than 20 countries.
FARES IN FLUX: A Miami-Dade commissioner plans to ask on Sept. 16 that his colleagues reconsider a vote last week to approve a 50-cent fare hike for Metrorail and Metrobus. Carlos Gimenez voted for the increase but would like now to discuss it further and revote. The decision should wait until after an intended transportation summit with the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust and residents, he says. At a budget hearing last week, Commissioner Katy Sorenson said she's heard no residents complain about raising fares. What they're afraid of is losing routes, she said. County Manager George Burgess said more than 10 million miles of service could be cut without the added revenue. "There's a significant difference in the service with or without the increase."
UNIFIED FIRE: Miami-Dade voters are to have the chance in November to decide whether to unify county fire service, banning municipalities from starting their own fire departments. Those with existing municipal departments — Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne — would be allowed to operate as usual but could not begin providing their services to neighboring areas. Many came before the commission to protest, insisting residents have the chance to decide for themselves who would provide their safety services. Commissioner Dennis Moss, who proposed the measure, pointed out that residents will have the chance to vote on his proposal. All 12 fellow commissioners backed him.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANIMALS: Animals in Miami-Dade could soon be getting their 15 minutes of fame. Again. Following the 2004 reality series "Miami Animal Cops," plans are in the works for "Animal Cops Miami," a new reality series featuring the county's Animal Services Department. And the animals are to benefit. Production company Anglia Productions is to donate $50,000 to the county's Animal Services Trust Fund each year the contract is in place. Commissioners agreed last week to go ahead with the deal.
CASINO CLASSES: Despite dissent from two commissioners, Miami-Dade County is to consider collaborating with Miami Dade College to offer job training and certification programs for casino-related positions. The idea — sparked by a referendum vote this year to allow Las Vegas-style slots at three sites here — comes from Commissioner Dorrin Rolle. Eight of 10 of his colleagues on the dais last week agreed to direct the administration to study the feasibility, costs and benefits of the potential partnership. Katy Sorenson and Natacha Seijas voted no.
HURRICANES LINGER: Beasley Broadcast Media, owner of WQAM Sports Radio 560, has renewed its contract with University of Miami athletics for English-language radio rights in the South Florida market until the 2012-2013 athletic season. WQAM has covered UM sports since 1999, broadcasting men's football, basketball and baseball events as well as the "Hurricane Hotline," which airs throughout the sports season.
GREEN PEDICABS: Go Green Pedicabs are pedaling into downtown Miami and nearby areas. The company, owned by Carlos Lastres, offers free rides for office workers, residents and tourists looking to move quickly and greenly, as they release zero emissions. The pedicabs are stationed at Bayfront Park. Areas of service include downtown, Brickell and Coconut Grove. Service is free, tips are welcomed. Pick-ups can be scheduled online. The 10 open-air taxis, which look like tricycles, are cruising downtown taking passengers to their destinations. Details: www.gogreenpedis.com.
VALUES UP: The annual report of the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser's Office shows commercial property values staying stable during the real estate crisis. City of Miami commercial values grew 4.2%. Coral Gables' commercial values rose 2.3% from last year to this. Other municipalities' commercial values grew too, such as Doral at 7.3% and Aventura at 0.8%.