GLIMMER OF HOPE: Pending South Florida single-family home sales in January nearly doubled January 2008 totals, from 992 to 1,980, tabulations by Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell show. The figure measures how many contracts have been signed to buy previously owned homes. The report sharply contrasts with one the National Association of Realtors released Tuesday that those who agreed to purchase an existing home decreased 7.7% nationally in January. "This is a breath of fresh air in turbulent times," analyst Michael Y. Cannon, executive director of Integra Realty Resources, said of the area figures. "Prices are still rolling back, but the volume of sales has increased." The Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell tabulations are from data provided by several South Florida associations.
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NOT SO SURPRISING: Mr. Cannon said the data confirm his recent claim that the housing industry bottomed out in mid-2008. "On a month-to-month basis starting in August, [the number of] transactions in South Florida for used housing became positive," he said. "Prior to that we were in negative [home-sale volumes] month-to-month." And while prices have yet to rise, Mr. Cannon said that as more supply comes off the market, housing prices will begin to return to pre-2004 levels.
TILE DISTRICT: Doral has created a zoning overlay to establish part of the city as a Tile District. Councilman Robert Van Name, who was city representative during an urban study with Florida Atlantic University, has been appointed liaison between the city and the Tile District's property owners. "We all saw that this place was evolving into a specialty-trade" hub, he said. "We want to create the only area [in Miami-Dade] people can come to for architectural goods and services." The district is to run along Northwest 79th Avenue between 25th and 41st streets and be bounded by 87th Avenue and the Palmetto Expressway. While the plans are still in infancy, he said they would include area aesthetic improvements funded by public-private partnerships.
RISING TIDE: Deep Impact Boats, a Miami-based, custom-sport-boat manufacturer, has opened its first retail location in Key Largo in the midst of the recession. The move, according to Deep Impact's Director of Sales Richie Powers, will pick up the slack left after another dealer canceled its contract with the company. "This will allow us to pick up on what the old dealer had accomplished," he said. "It gives us the ability to sell [boats] out of the factory and to make special deals with other dealers and brokers." The company has about 40 employees and produces 20-35 boats a year, each costing $200,000 to $500,000.
GIVE AND TAKE: Like other US cities, Miami is awaiting federal economic stimulus funds for transportation and housing projects. But unlike other cities, it is still waiting for the federal government to pay $9.5 million for cleanup expenses from the 2005 hurricane season. The Finance Department said the city has yet to receive any of the funds from the Federal Highway Administration or the related Federal Emergency Management Agency and is unsure when the funds should become available. The reimbursement is for money paid to contractors to pick up debris and clear destruction left by hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.
ON THE SAME PAGE: City Manager Pete Hernandez said he is OK with Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's demand that the Marlins cover overruns above the estimated $94 million to build parking for a Marlins stadium. At the Feb. 13 meeting on stadium agreements, Marlins President David Samson refused to accept Mr. Sarnoff's request for the team to pay cost overruns on the garages. Mr. Sarnoff had suggested the city and team share any overruns between $94 million and $100 million and the team cover everything above $100 million.
STILL THE SAME: The future of the Marlins stadium is once again in the hands of the city commissioners Friday, when they are scheduled for a second vote on several agreements for stadium financing. Mr. Hernandez said if the stadium deal is approved, construction of the garages wouldn't begin until next February. Mr. Sarnoff said he is also not backing down from his demand to have the city and county get pro-rata shares of profits if the Marlins are sold within 10 years of a stadium opening. "I have yet to bend on that," he said.
HALF CENT SHIFT: Revenue from the half-cent surtax residents agreed to impose to fund new transportation projects exclusively can also be used now for transit operations and maintenance after Miami-Dade commissioners agreed Tuesday to alter the voter-approved program. The county is to set aside at least 10% for capital expansions, which the surtax was meant to fund, but the rest is free game for operations needs. Proponents said the change was necessary to keep the existing system on track. Opponents argued the county was delivering the bait-and-switch some voters feared. "As a government, we need to abide by our word even if it hurts," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said. Rebeca Sosa agreed. Legislation sponsor Barbara Jordan said mingling the surtax revenue with the general transit budget is critical to keep existing productive bus routes from being cut and noted also that the federal government has told the county not to expect funding for new projects until it can support existing systems. "They have said pretty much that we have to make some hard decisions," she said. Katy Sorenson called Tuesday's decision difficult but necessary. "It's not with great joy that I support this item, but I support it because I think it's the right thing to do and the smart thing to do."
SATISFIED: Resident satisfaction with county government is growing in Miami-Dade, according to a resident survey conducted late last year by Kansas-based ETC Institute. "The results are in, and they are quite impressive," Mayor Carlos Alvarez said at a commission meeting Tuesday. The county improved in 93 of 102 examined areas since the last resident survey, he said. He called the survey "a fair and impartial indicator that we are making a difference in the eyes of our residents." ETC Vice President Christopher Tatham called the results "exceptional." Added County Manager George Burgess, "this is statistically valid — this isn't anecdotal."
PRINTING FOR A PURPOSE: PrintFarm, a full-service printer at 3511 NW 74th Ave. in Doral, is offering reduced printing rates and free press time to local nonprofits. "Printing is part of almost all nonprofit organizations' budgets," said PrintFarm CEO Albert Alvarez in a press release. "We want to offer some relief where it will make a difference." The company has asked interested local nonprofits to submit a brief request describing their project and how it will help the community to email@example.com by March 16. PrintFarm will contact chosen organizations by March 31.
JUDGMENT DAY: The Coral Gables City Commission will meet at 9 a.m. Monday at City Hall to interview the final three candidates for the vacant city manager job. Public Affairs Manager Maria Rosa Higgins Fallon said Joe Rasco, director of intergovernmental affairs for Miami-Dade County; Patrick Salerno, former Sunrise city manager; and Larry Spring, chief financial officer for the City of Miami, will be individually interviewed for 75 minutes. Afterward, commissioners are to meet to decide who is to receive the job. Ms. Higgins Fallon said the yearly pay is $150,000 to $225,000. The meeting will be live on Coral Gables Television, Channel 77, and online at www.coralgables.com.
STRICTER GIVEAWAYS: A move to impose tighter restrictions on handing or leasing Miami-Dade County-owned property to non-profits narrowly escaped death at a commission meeting Tuesday. Several commissioners resisted Katy Sorenson's proposal to require a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority before turning over land to non-profits. State law requires such a super-majority vote if the county wants to buy property for more than its appraised value "and yet if we give land away… we can just do it with a simple majority," she said. Several of her colleagues, including Bruno Barreiro and Audrey Edmonson, argued that "majority rules." Others, such as Barbara Jordan, said they had "philosophical differences when it comes to non-profits." Rather than let the measure die, Ms. Sorenson moved to defer the item to allow time for tweaks.
ECONOMIC ADVICE: To adapt to difficult economic conditions, Miami-Dade may want to consider money-saving measures such as allowing county employees to work a reduced business week, advised Kenneth Lipner, now-retired Florida International University economics faculty member and current member of the county's Social and Economic Development Council. "Therefore, you wouldn't have a reduction in employees and essentially spread the budget and the jobs around to more people," he told commissioners at a meeting Tuesday. He suggested also accelerating capital spending and offering hometown benefit to local workers and small businesses. "Lower inflation may be a positive impact to the economic downturn," he added, allowing the county to get more done for less money — "greater bang for the buck, so to speak."
COUNTERS CONFERENCE: The Association for Financial Professionals will hold its 2012 conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The convention, to take place that October, attracts 6,000 attendees and books over 5,000 rooms on peak with an estimated economic impact topping $10 million, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
CORRECTION: A photo last week was incorrectly labeled state Rep. Julio Robaina. This is his photo.
CORRECTION: A Feb. 26 information box contained outdated details on the legislative goals of Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development entity. Here are the agency's legislative priorities for the 2009 session: Continue funding Enterprise Florida at $11.7 million; continue funding the Economic Development Toolkit Quick Action Closing Fund at $45 million; continue funding the Economic Development Transportation Fund at $10 million; continue Funding Florida's Rural Areas at $6 million; protect Florida's Defense Industry with funding of $2.4 million; create a Research and Development Tax Credit; create a Florida Research Commercialization matching grant program, a New Markets Development program — Fast Track Stimulus for Small Business, Rural Economic Development — Rural Catalyst Project; provide sale tax refunds on business machinery and equipment used in Enterprise Zones.
CORRECTION: Because of incorrect information provided by Zakarin Public Relations, an item published in the Feb. 26 "Last Word" column incorrectly reported that Smith & Wollensky will be opening an open space area in South Pointe Park called Smith's Pavilions. Park approval of the open area is still pending.
CORRECTION: Home Financing Center was incorrectly called Home Loan Center in last week's front page profile photo caption.
PUSHING INTO KENDALL: TotalBank has opened its second Kendall branch in the London Square shopping center at 13400 SW 120th St. in West Kendall. The office, headed by Lilliam Delgado, will offer personal banking, business banking, safe-box services, and personal and business loans. TotalBank has 15 branches throughout Miami-Dade with more than $2 billion in assets.
BEACH GRANTS: The Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority (VCA) awarded $230,000 in Tourism Advancement Grants to five projects "in accordance with the VCA's goal of stimulating awareness of Miami Beach as a unique year-round tourist destination through supporting the implementation of outstanding initiatives and events." Grants went to Film Life's 13th annual American Black Film Festival, Miami Beach September Sports Series, Miami Salsa Congress, POW WOW 2009 and SwimShow 2010. Details: www.miamibeachvca.com.
DOT COM DATABASE: Offering a building-by-building look at the local condo market, new Miami-based Web site CondoReports.com provides information on nearly 2,000 area condominium buildings — serving all players involved in condo transactions, President Adam Cappel says. The site offers pricing, sales, listings, foreclosure, ownership and other information, including analysis such as year-over-year and quarter-by-quarter comparisons. CondoReports.com allows buyers, sellers and owners to understand sale and listing activity building by building, among other trends, and offers professionals a resource for market research. "Particularly in markets like these, it is vital to arm yourself with the best information possible," Mr. Cappel said. Basic reports are free, as is the site's newsletter. For $9.99 to start, users can upgrade for expanded information.