PORT BOOMS: Port of Miami cruise traffic has jumped 9.6% in 2008, though the fourth quarter may bring a receding tide of passengers. Passenger totals rose about 277,000 in the first nine months. In September alone, passenger traffic increased 19% from September 2007. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau says sustained growth is due in part to the variety of cruise options the port offers. However, despite this growth, Miami-based Royal Caribbean expects fourth quarter yields to fall 4% to 5%, according to an earnings announcement. Also, Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines announced at the end of October that it was no longer going to station a ship in Europe due to economic conditions.
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STILL DIGGING: State officials and contractors continue to plug away at a contract for a $1 billion-plus Port of Miami Tunnel, says Gus Pego, District 6 secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation. A list of details that need ironing out is still in play, he said, but "every time we meet, we're knocking things off the list." A monthly report to Miami-Dade County's Transit Committee that was to be presented to commissioners this week says the state and concessionaire "reached agreement on the major contractual terms regarding the project." Those terms, however, are not final, he said, and he could not share them. "We're still marching toward a contractual close," he said. Transit Committee Chair Dorrin Rolle last month pressed for more concrete progress reports.
COSTLY ADVICE: In a win for the many entities now struggling after investing in collateralized mortgage-backed obligation and collateralized debt obligation securities, now-defunct Delaware-based National Heritage Life Insurance Co., which operated in Florida, scored this week a $27 million settlement from investment adviser Bear Stearns & Co. An Orlando Circuit Court judge ruled that Bear Stearns misrepresented facts regarding the investments, said Miami-based attorney Tom Equels, who represented the receiver in court. "The [Bear Stearns] advice was fraud due to the fact that it was essentially in certain respects a misrepresentation," he said. He called the decision "a clear signal that courts will not tolerate investment advisers or broker dealers misrepresenting the nature of securities to investors, whether they be individuals or institutional investors." Now, advisers and sellers have a duty to make clear the ins and outs of investments, he said. It's "not a buyer-beware playing field anymore."
AWAITING RESPONSE: Miami as of Tuesday had yet to file a response to a court motion by auto dealer Norman Braman seeking financial details and comment from city officials regarding cost projections for a garage at the planned Marlins ballpark site, Braman attorney Bob Martinez said. The city had estimates that the garage could cost tens of millions more than officials said in court but never made it known, Mr. Braman's motion says. City Manager Pete Hernandez said last week that "the city provided all available information to them when they asked for information, period."
ANTIGUA DIRECT: American Airlines has recommenced its daily non-stop service from Miami to Antigua after 10 years, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. It's the only nonstop service currently scheduled between Miami and the eastern Caribbean island.The Nov. 2 re-introduction means an extra 58,000 seats for visitors to come to Miami from the Caribbean market, according to the bureau.
GETTING THERE: Construction on the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center is 81% complete, Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring told commissioners at a Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting last week. It's set to be done Feb. 24, more than a year after the original completion date, an accompanying report says. "My staff and I are managing this job aggressively and insisting on quality," he said. He assured commissioners also that "the contractor has brought in an entirely new team" to finish the project. Regardless, he added, "we are within budget for the job, and the time delays for the job are at the contractor's risk."
BUILD NOW, PAY LATER: The county's track records with arts centers — the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts downtown came in years late and tens of millions over budget, and the South Dade center is to be a year late — has sparked confidence in commissioners that another planned center will be finished late enough to allow time to figure out how to pay to run it. Assistant County Manager Alex Muñoz told commissioners that there's funding in place to build a cultural center in Westchester, but no money to operate it once built. When commissioners learned it would probably take until 2013 to finish the center, some suggested the county move ahead anyway and figure out operations funding later. "It just seems to me that this is a project that's so far out in terms of the completion time that we should be able to move on it," Dennis Moss said, adding later that "you're talking about four years out, and knowing the issues we've had for some of the cultural centers, it may be a little bit longer than that." Javier Souto said he agreed "wholeheartedly," noting that residents voted to build the center. "We need to move on" with the plans, he said.
ZOOBILANT: Miami Metrozoo's 27-acre, $50 million Amazon & Beyond exhibit is to open in early December, and "it is guaranteed to be a very exciting, very educational and very attractive activity," Commissioner Moss said at the cultural affairs committee meeting. Jack Kardys, county park and recreation director, said "Disney World, Busch Gardens, they've got nothing on what we're opening there. This is the most spectacular thing that ever happened in any park that we operate."
TEAM PLAYER: Miami-Dade Finance Director Rachel Baum, a 32-year employee who was set to retire in June, says she intends to remain on staff through year's end to help navigate tumultuous financial markets. For months she's helped orchestrate moves to protect county investments, often greeted by questions from commissioners but usually paired with praise for her years of work.
DIAMONDS IN GABLES: Eight Coral Gables-based businesses or members of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce were honored last week as the chamber for the 12th time presented its Diamond Awards for excellence in business. New were the multi-national award and the minority-owned business award, presented to TotalBank and Lopez & Partners accounting, respectively. Other winners: Go Green award, Perkins & Will architects; Diamond in the Rough, Bank of Coral Gables; non-profit, Hands on Miami; small business, kabookaboo Marketing; mid-size business, Sharff, Wittmer, Kurtz & Jackson accountants; and large business, U.S. Century Bank. Montica Jewelry sponsored the event.
FOLLOW CODE: Should a proposed Miami-Dade County measure receive final commission approval, no residence — including single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes and duplexes — would be able to be sold until the person named as the purchaser on the certificate of title obtained a certificate of use from the county. The certificate would serve to determine that the residence complies with building and zoning codes, according to legislation that got an initial OK at a Governmental Operations and Environment Committee meeting Monday.
RENTAL MECCA: Construction of the Miami Intermodal Center's 3.4-million-square-foot Rental Car Center is about 47% complete. All rental car companies operating inside Miami International Airport — and many near the airport — are to operate from the center beginning in spring 2010. Each of the four levels is 14 acres, expandable to 20. Proponents have compared the center to a shopping mall for rental cars.
MEDICAL CLINICS ALLOWED: Miami commissioners OK'd a zoning change to allow medical and dental clinics and offices along and near Biscayne Boulevard from Northeast 17th Terrace to Northeast 37th Street. Medical professionals would need Class II special permits to open offices up to 4,000 square feet per practice in the district.
HOMEWOOD HERE: Homewood Suites, a Hilton brand, has opened its newest hotel: Miami — Airport West. Boca Raton-based Economos Properties is managing the 124-suite facility. The hotel at 3590 NW 74th Ave. near Miami International Airport offers studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom suites, as well as an executive business center and a "24-hour on-site pantry," according to a news release.
BUDGET AWARD: The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada for the fourth year in a row awarded Miami-Dade County's Office of Strategic Business Management its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. Mayor Carlos Alvarez praised staffers at a commission meeting. "It's always a challenge to prepare the budget," he said. "It hasn't gotten any easier in the last two years" in light of state property tax reform, he said, but told staff "you excelled" last year.
CORRECTION: A Nov. 6 Residential Real Estate article should have reported that Bernard Wolfson, president of Hospitality Operations Inc., bought the 30 SW 12th St. site to build a Hampton Inn Hotel in late 2007. The property's previous owner had obtained city approval to build a condominium at the site. Mr. Wolfson owns two Hampton Inns in Miami and two in Broward. Also, a photo accompanying the story was incorrectly identified as showing the site on which the Hampton Inn is to be built.
CORRECTION: The Nov. 6 issue incorrectly listed the performance "In The Continuum" at GableStage at The Biltmore. The show is no longer running.