Miami slices $159 million, 3,000-plus jobs from wish list of project; Miami Beach gets late invite to submit
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Miami's 435-item wish list of job-creating projects that seeks federal funding has had a few alterations since its debut in December, cutting $159 million in spending and losing 3,000-plus jobs.
Changes to the list: 15 duplicated projects were deleted, $48 million in new ready-to-go projects were included and a new "energy" category with several of Mayor Manny Diaz's green initiatives was added.
In the fall, the US Conference of Mayors asked cities to list shovel-ready projects that could be completed in two years from start to finish, said Elena Temple, Conference of Mayors spokeswoman. Cities were asked to include how much financial investment the projects would need and the jobs they would create.
Miami's up-to-date list includes an assortment of infrastructure projects, improvements to city parks and local schools, and several Miami International Airport projects totaling $3.2 billion that would create an estimated 52,000 jobs.
Mayor Diaz, who also serves as president of the Conference of Mayors, said the mayors' action was in response to President-elect Obama's statement that he wanted a recovery plan in place that would create or save 3 million jobs.
Mr. Diaz said the mayors are sending President-elect Obama's economic and transition teams and the congressional leadership updated lists of their economic recovery plan. The original lists also went to those teams.
"This is something that will be ongoing," Mayor Diaz said. "We'll continue to stay in touch with them."
The city added two new projects.
One is $20 million to make technology upgrades that would improve services and better link departments, a plan approved by the city commission last month. This project would create 20 posts, city officials say.
Miami is also asking for $28 million to build a municipal broadband network that would offer high-speed Internet citywide and create about 500 jobs.
Among projects for which Miami appeared to be asking double the funding were $94 million to build parking garages for a planned Marlins Stadium; $20 million to build a community, aquatic and sports complex at Gibson Park, and $3 million to correct compliance issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act at 24 city parks.
Since the mid-December request, all the duplicate requests were removed from Miami's list, the Conference of Mayors Web site shows.
But why did the city's previous request list a dozen-plus items twice?
Miami's Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring, who collaborated in compiling the list, said the double listing of projects "may have been a clerical problem at the conference" or a "typo."
Ms. Temple, spokeswoman to the Conference of Mayors, said: "We have published exactly what was sent to us from each of the cities."
Each city was asked to submit its own information electronically via a link it was provided, she said. "Miami had a large submission, so our staff helped with the data entry."
Mr. Spring said department directors from transportation, community development, capital improvement programs, information technology and public safety also contributed to the list.
He said the city selected projects that could quickly go through procurement and be completed in two to three years. "Some of these projects are already in the pipeline. It's a matter of awarding the projects."
In the new section created for energy-related projects, Miami asked for funds to buy 200 hybrid cars at $22,000 apiece, totaling $4.4 million and yielding two jobs.
The city is also asking for $30 million to install solar panels citywide that would require the work of 600 persons and $1 million to install energy solar panels and a "green" roof at City Hall.
Minor updates made to the list were the swapping of some projects from their original category.
For example, the request to build a $4 million heliport facility for Watson Island was removed from the list of street/road projects and added to the airport category.
The Conference of Mayors released the first report of ready-to-go projects in November. Since then, two other installments were released, the most recent in mid-December.
Mr. Spring said Miami's list grew by about $700 million from the first to the second report.
"What better way to stimulate the economy," he said, than by creating jobs in local industries, especially construction and improving infrastructure.
Applying for the federal emergency funding could eliminate a large debt for the city that would otherwise be paid by taxpayers, he said.
"I am not expecting them to take the list and say all is approved," he said.
The federal government will decide which types of projects it wants to move forward, he said. The government will create rules and regulations and cities whose projects are selected are to obey by those rules, he said.
Mayor Diaz hopes to organize a meeting with President-elect Obama after he settles into the White House.
In the meantime, the Conference of Mayors is to meet in Washington Jan. 16, where it plans to "spread out" and work with all the delegations and incoming cabinet designates, he said. "We are telling everybody this is what we can do."
Mr. Diaz referenced a book titled "The New Deal in South Florida" to explain how these projects mirror local projects that came out of the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era recovery plan.
The book explores how communities such as Coral Gables, Miami Beach and Miami were greatly transformed by the New Deal.
Mr. Diaz — who has been criticized by national media for Miami's list of 400-plus items while other big cities made more conservative requests — said these projects could have the same positive impact those in the New Deal did, "when there are people who criticize some of these projects and they are no different than the New Deal projects locally."
"These are projects people want and have gone through the public process," he said, "and can be built right away and will last for a very long time."
Meanwhile, Miami Beach officials say they were not approached by the US Conference of Mayors to submit a list of public works and infrastructure projects for possible economic stimulus funding until this Tuesday.
Hilda Fernandez, assistant city manager, said the city is working with the congressional leadership to compile a list of 25-plus projects to be considered for the federal government's stimulus plan.
But it wasn't until now, more than a month after many cities submitted their requests to the Conference of Mayors, that Miami-Dade County's tourism magnet was approached to participate.
Miami Beach is one of the largest tourism destinations in the region, attracting millions of visitors every year to its popular beaches, entertainment and cultural options.
Kevin Crowder, director of Miami Beach's economic development division, said the city has identified about 25 projects for which it has set aside $160 million but still needs $157 million in additional funding.
Projects in the pipeline: a new pump station for the South Pointe area to cost $18 million, $23 million for upgrades to the drinking water and drainage systems, $5 million for seawall upgrades and $4 million in road resurfacing projects.
The city now plans to submit its final list of projects to both the Conference of Mayors and its lobbyists in Washington, DC, for possible inclusion in the federal government's economic recovery plan.
"As more information comes out of DC, we'll keep refining that list," Mr. Crowder said.
He said the city is also asking the federal government to open the bond markets for local governments "to get money moving in the economy outside of infrastructure projects."