ALMOST UP TO BAT: Marlins ballpark contracts once expected to come up for county commission votes today (1/22) are to be heard instead 1 p.m. Feb. 13 at a special meeting. "That is the intent right now, unless something changes," Commission Chair Dennis Moss said Tuesday. He continues to stress that commissioners should receive the yet-to-be-seen documents — several agreements that would cement the long-planned deal for a $515 million, retractable-roof stadium — at least two weeks in advance of a vote to allow time for review and questions. County Manager George Burgess said the same in a Jan. 14 memo he e-mailed to commissioners Jan. 16. He pledged to provide the proposed agreements "at least two weeks prior" to a meeting. "Once distributed," Mr. Burgess wrote, "we will meet with each commissioner to discuss the documents and the stadium deal, and respond to any questions you might have."
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ROUNDING THE BASES: One baseball project is rounding the bases: a youth baseball academy set to go up on Hialeah land once considered for the Marlins ballpark. Major League Baseball and Hialeah officials this month announced plans for the youth training complex, to include fields, batting cages, grandstands, a clubhouse and office space for training young players as well as aspiring umpires, groundskeepers, stadium managers and other baseball professionals. County Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz is proposing today (1/22) a resolution "expressing unequivocal support" for the project. Whether the academy is built could hinge on approval of a Marlins stadium. "If a stadium is not built, it could put a chilling effect on moving forward with both of these," Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, said earlier this month.
LIGHTING THE MATCH: Miami-Dade commissioners are to consider today (1/22) hiring a consultant to study and structure a proposed fee meant to prevent an impending financial fire in the county fire department. The county would pay $799,591 for the two-year contract with Government Services Group, down from the more than $1 million administrators proposed last month. Commissioners balked at the original cost and sent staffers back to negotiate with the company. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, former City of Miami manager and fire chief, resisted the idea of a fire fee altogether, pointing out that when Miami imposed one, "the city was in a financial crisis." The county department isn't yet — Miami-Dade Fire Rescue could face budget shortfalls beginning in 2010, Chief Herminio Lorenzo said at the December meeting. Administrators are proposing the fee as a preventative measure. Proceeds would be used only for fire suppression services — not emergency medical services — to keep the fee legal and avoid years of litigation the city dealt with.
REDUCED RENT: The World Trade Center Miami could today (1/22) see its rent at the Port of Miami cut by $5 a square foot should county commissioners agree. A five-year lease signed in 2004 charged the trade center $17 a square foot for its 3,411 square feet, which increased to $20 a foot later that year and $25 in 2007. "The WTC's relationship with the port has strengthened and subsequently proven to be fruitful over the past several years," county documents say. "The WTC has assisted the port in its trade development activities and both parties seek to continue these joint marketing efforts." In that vein, the port is recommending cutting the center's rent back to $20 a foot "as an incentive." The 2004 agreement doesn't expire until June, but that lease would be tossed should commissioners OK the new five-year deal, which would increase rent 3% annually.
BOLD BONDING: Despite uncertain financial markets, Miami-Dade commissioners are to be asked today (1/22) to authorize up to $600 million in aviation revenue bonds, potentially in multiple traunches. But the county is taking precautionary measures. The bonds are to fund capital improvements at airport properties countywide, including Miami International, Opa-locka and Kendall-Tamiami. Principal and interest are to be paid with aviation revenues. "Based on current market conditions, debt service is estimated to be $54 million per annum for approximately 32 years," county documents say. Projections are based on a "true interest cost" of 8%, "which is higher than usual; however, this is being done as a precautionary measure resulting from the current volatility and uncertainty in the municipal bond market," the documents say. Still, "it is anticipated that market conditions would have improved and the true interest cost would be more favorable by the time the Series 2009 Bonds are all priced."
BUSINESS BOOST: Local small and mid-size businesses could get a boost from Miami-Dade County should commissioners today (1/22) vote to develop a bailout loan plan for businesses "substantially affected by the current recession." The proposed legislation requires businesses to pay the county back over time "and/or when economic conditions improve." In developing the program, the county would define the nature of the gap funding, set loan caps and identify how to ensure repayments.
BAYFRONT MAKEOVER: The Miami City Commission has made an agreement with the Bayfront Park Management Trust to spend $1.6 million to renovate Bayfront Park, including extensive landscaping, light fixtures and new benches. The Bayfront Park baywalk improvements are to stretch from Chopin Plaza to about Northeast Third Street. The trust is completing the designs and the city is to handle construction, set to begin in summer.
DOWNTOWN PUSH: Downtown Development Authority officials met with Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez this month to discuss transit and infrastructure. Alyce Robertson, executive director, said the mayor was receptive to making pedestrian-friendly improvements downtown and getting Metromover escalators working properly. She said the authority is reaching out to multiple entities to make roadway repairs because some downtown streets are maintained by the county, some by the city and others by the state. Board member Neisen Kasdin, who participated in the meeting, said he emphasized the importance of investing in transit initiatives to connect downtown, where population continues to grow.
BARREIRO ON BOARD: The downtown authority is getting a new county representative to lobby downtown issues at the county level. County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro was appointed to the post and is to begin serving as soon as the Miami City Commission confirms his appointment. The authority's board seats a city, a county and a state cabinet representative. The city's board appointment is board Chairman Joe Sanchez; the current state representative is attorney Neisen Kasdin. With the board looking to strengthen its partnership with the county, Mr. Barreiro could be key.
BIG EXPECTATIONS: Mr. Barreiro, as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county board responsible for guiding transportation planning and approving projects for the county, could help the development authority with its transit priorities. But Mr. Barreiro may not be much help to the authority's desire to reinstate a Metromover fare. In 2002, he was one of the main supporters of a free people-mover with the argument that revenues barely exceeded collection costs. Better attendance could help, too. County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson attended only three general board meetings during her one-year tenure as the county's rep.
THE SEARCH CONTINUES: Florida International University's Presidential Search Committee last week selected Washington, DC-based Greenwood/Asher Associates Inc. to help find a replacement for Modesto A. Maidique. The firm, which specializes in recruiting higher-education executives, will be paid $98,000 to compile a list of potential candidates to be presented to the board. "We have not met with the [presidential search] committee yet," said firm President/CEO Jan Greenwood. "All meetings will be publicly announced and reviewed in the sunshine." According to a memo from Board of Trustees Chairman David Parker, the committee's Request for Proposals for a search firm elicited 12 responses, four of which were invited to campus to make presentations before the final selection was made.
NOT SO JOLLY HOLIDAY: Last month's holiday shopping yielded disappointing results, the Florida Retail Federation's head says. "Historically the last decade, Florida has enjoyed a very robust retail environment," said Rick McAllister, president and chief executive officer. "The past two holiday shopping periods in Florida had been substantially below the previous eight years" because of consumer spending shifts, and "this year most retailing segments had a decline from last year — and last year was not a good year." The trend is reflective of "the hesitancy or the inability" of consumers to spend at the old pace. "A lot of it, frankly, is fear," he said. He predicts the rough patch will last until late 2010 or "maybe even longer… most retailers are expecting the next 24 months to be a down period."
BOOST FROM ABROAD: International passenger arrivals at Miami International Airport increased 1.8% in November over November 2007, helping to offset a 3.4% drop in domestic arrivals. While international arrivals increased 11,606, there were 25,763 fewer domestic passengers. Officials say they're "hopeful" passenger traffic will hold this year despite difficult economics. "Right now we're just minimally up in the positive range as far as total passenger traffic," said Max Fajardo, deputy county aviation director. "The reality is that airlines are cutting back. We've been lucky in the sense that international carriers have (increased their presence). We hope to hold that line here in the coming year — that's being hopeful. The industry indicators don't support that." Aviation Department spokesman Marc Henderson said there are no specific projections yet for 2009 for passenger traffic.
HASKINS RETURNS: Former Miami chief financial officer and temporary city commissioner Linda Haskins is back. Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones appointed her to the Finance Committee, the body that participates in the capital program and recommends to the commission what projects to debt finance and the structure of such debt. She was hastily appointed District 2 commissioner after Johnny Winton was suspended for an altercation with Miami-Dade Police at Miami International Airport in May 2006. Ms. Haskins lost her seat to Marc Sarnoff in the general election that year. She was criticized for handing $25,000 in bonuses to her staff before exiting City Hall.
NEW LEADER: The Miami Beach Convention Center has a new general manager. Robert Balsam Jr., a 30-year public-assembly facility management veteran, comes to Miami after most recently serving as assistant general manager at the Duke Energy (Convention) Center in Cincinnati. He joined Global Spectrum — which operates the Miami Beach center along with three other South Florida facilities — in 2007. His short-term goal at the center: "to increase short-term bookings," he said. "It's what the industry is going to be going to soon." Because of the struggling economy, many organizations are unsure of their budgetary futures, so the trend is going to become booking "closer and tighter" dates, he said. At the Miami Beach center, "we're getting some good, positive feedback on wanting to book within a 24-month period."
HEADED NORTH: The North Bay Village City Commission on Friday selected Matthew Schwartz as city manager. Although he has already secured the position, the former urban-development director of developer Crosswinds Florida, director of Miami's Downtown Development Authority and co-chair of Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Committee on Affordable Housing, said he is waiting to get to work as the city irons details of his contract. As cities and towns across the country look forward to potential public-works program from the new Obama administration, he already has a wish list growing inside his head. "The island hasn't reached its potential yet," he said. "There's a major concern to beautify the islands and to continue offering and improving services."