EQUINE EQUITY: Miami-Dade is to work toward establishing a Sister Equestrian Center program between the county's Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center in Tropical Park and the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts in Jerez, Spain, after commissioners OK'd a proposal Tuesday. Natacha Seijas asked that the county spend no money on the endeavor. Parks Director Jack Kardys assured her the intent is the program be "revenue neutral." Good, Ms. Seijas said, because she's seen the Spanish show, which features "very, very expensive" horses. "So they can pay for it," she said, "because Jerez is a place that makes a lot of money, because that's where all that wine comes from." The county "could use some of that," Mr. Kardys said, prompting laughs. "The wine?" Ms. Seijas asked. No, Mr. Kardys said, "the money."
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ARTS TASK FORCE: A proposal to form a task force on the performing and visual arts in Miami-Dade County is to come before commissioners for the first time at a Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee meeting Monday. Rebeca Sosa is proposing the measure to address economic challenges facing local arts groups and to strategize for their future. If passed, the 19-member group would hold public meetings with all not-for-profit arts programs in the county. To assess sustainability of the programs, it would consider the fiscal viability of funding the organizations, occupancy rates of existing arts facilities and whether the county is overbuilding arts facilities. The task force would look at concepts such as consolidating the organizations. They'd have 150 days to recommend a plan to commissioners.
FASHIONABLY KENDALL: Luxury discounter Loehmann's is to open a 25,699-square-foot store in spring 2010 at The Palms at Town and Country, 8268 Mills Drive in Kendall. The retailer will join Kohls, Nordstrom Rack, 24 Hour Fitness and others in the 400,000-square-foot open-air retail area. The Palms at Town and Country, being developed by Flagler Development Group, is to house 700,000 square feet of Mediterranean-themed retail as well as a 133,000-square-foot professional arts center when completed in fall 2012.
DOLPHIN MALL OPENINGS: Bustling Dolphin Mall in Doral is opening several new stores, broadening retail offerings. Coming this summer is Nike-owned footwear store Converse and youth brand Hurley, which is opening its first independent location in Florida. Swarovski is bringing its crystal creations to the mall this summer with a boutique. This month, a 6,200-square-foot Ann Taylor LOFT — a division that offers a trendier fashion line for women — opened the company's first LOFT outlet in South Florida. And in the fall, newcomer A'GACI is to bring fashions for teens to its 20,000-square-foot space in time for the holiday season.
SLOWER SAILING: Cruise passenger traffic at the Port of Miami in March was down 7.9% from March 2008, a decline that may be due in part to the impact of the global recession, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. However, the port managed a 0.2% increase in cruise passenger traffic for the first quarter.
FALTERING FREIGHT: Miami International Airport continued to feel significant drops in air freight tonnage in March. International cargo fell 23.15% and domestic cargo dropped 25.73% for an overall decrease of 23.48% from March 2008. Cargo business plunged 24.5% in January and February. In 2008, international cargo at the airport fell 4% while total cargo dropped 6%. Despite this, Miami was still tops in the US.
REPORT RIFT: When Miami-Dade commissioners last year agreed to move business tax receipt revenue from the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust back to the Beacon Council — where the council said the money always rightfully belonged — they asked it be used "for similar purposes in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods." That's hard to measure, council CEO Frank Nero wrote May 1 in response to Commissioner Audrey Edmonson's Tuesday measure seeking quarterly reports from the commission auditor on council use of the part of the tax once given to the trust. The council is charged with marketing the whole county, disadvantaged neighborhoods included. "Accordingly, a specific dollar for dollar accountability for those dollars is very difficult, as they are not used to support specific areas, but support the marketing of the entire county to businesses worldwide," Mr. Nero wrote. The letter angered some commissioners. "To me it was very disrespectful for Mr. Nero to send a letter basically indicating that they're putting it [the money] to use in their general budget," Commissioner Barbara Jordan said.
STILL PARTNERS: Mr. Nero also wrote in the letter that "the Beacon Council is committed to working with the commission auditor and will of course provide any data requested to the best of our ability." He noted that the council provides monthly reports on key performance indicators. Still, commissioners agreed they have stipulated from the start they want reports on the specific chunk of business tax receipt revenue. If the council can't follow mandates, the county should consider taking the money back, Ms. Jordan said. Commission Chair Dennis Moss asked that the county write to the council outlining concerns. In a statement after the Tuesday discussion, Mr. Nero committed to the reports and reiterated that "we will be meeting with the commission auditor, county audit management team and county staff to develop a format as was requested today."
ECONOMY BY DISTRICT: After Miami-Dade commissioners at a committee meeting last month questioned the relevance of a proposed district-by-district economic study, sponsor Audrey Edmonson at a full commission meeting Tuesday tweaked her proposal to make the study more feasible. Some had noted that the area median income information she originally requested would probably be skewed because each district is made up of areas of varying wealth. Ms. Edmonson removed the "area median income" element and expanded the request to call for a study by district, and also "where possible by smaller geographic areas within each district such as zip code or other suitable area." The commission agreed. A report is due in 60 days.
OLYMPIC VISION: Miami-Dade Commission Chair Dennis Moss is quite the visionary, Commissioner Natacha Seijas said Tuesday in considering his proposal to create an "Olympic Exploratory Committee Advisory Board." His idea is to study how the county could compete to host the summer games someday. "When?" Ms. Seijas asked incredulously. He acknowledged the process takes years — Chicago is in the running now for the 2016 games. "So you're talking about something that's going to be beyond all of us in here, I'm quite sure," Mr. Moss said. "But in order to be able to pursue these kinds of events, you have to start early, and it takes a long time." The earliest date he named was 2020. "I'll be 92," Ms. Seijas said, laughing and adding later that "nobody can ever say that you don't have vision."
ADDITIONS: Other commissioners added their two cents to the Olympic proposal. Consider a regional bid to host the games, Joe Martinez advised. Broward and Palm Beach have amenities to offer, such as an aquatic center and polo fields, he said. Also, "I don't know how much tourist tax dollars we're going to have" to add infrastructure in preparing for the Olympics. He referenced a planned Marlins stadium, set to be paid for over the next few decades largely with tourist tax revenues. Carlos Gimenez also had a thought on the Olympics: "Maybe the first step we need to do is host the Pan American games," he said. Mr. Moss agreed to incorporate both ideas.
BIG PAY TO PROTECT: A City of Miami list released this week of top earners included sergeant-at-arms to the mayor Fernando Acosta, who ranked second in city government, making $294,387 in 2008. He retired from the police force this year, which explains his large payout, said police spokesman Delrish Moss. Mr. Moss added that his pay included accumulated sick and vacation time and other earnings for that pay period. But Mr. Acosta is still at work, keeping his post as sergeant-at-arms to Mayor Manny Diaz. "He was brought back as a temp to continue sergeant-at-arms duties and his salary is $130,450.74," said city spokeswoman Kelly Penton. Mr. Moss said the police department eliminated that position, reducing the city to three sergeants-at-arms.
STIMULATING RESTORATION: Miami-Dade is getting a hunk of the $250 million federal stimulus allocation to the Jacksonville-based Army Corps of Engineers for civil works. Approved projects include $354,000 for Virginia Beach Key ecosystem restoration and about $95.9 million for Everglades restorations. Economists estimate Army Corps stimulus-funded projects are to keep 57,400 construction jobs filled, with 64,000 more people supplying and supporting the construction. Many contracts for the projects are to be competitively bid. Information on the contracts will be available on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. Details: www.fbo.gov.
REPORTS RETURN: The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is back on the Miami-Dade Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee agenda after being missing for months. In approving a bailout to the downtown arts center in 2007, county commissioners mandated center officials provide a status report during monthly committee meetings. Chair Javier Souto addressed the omission last month after a call from a Miami Today reporter. He said he didn't know why the reports had been missing but asked at the April meeting that the center resume monthly reporting "for the good of the order." The arts center report that officials are expected to deliver Monday includes budget updates and a rundown of recent successful shows, such as "Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 50th Anniversary Celebration," as well as a preview of upcoming performances, including the return of hit "Celia: The Life & Music of Celia Cruz," which drew more than 20,000 patrons last summer.
POW WOW PEP: In preparation for Pow Wow May 16-20, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is hosting a Pow Wow Pep Rally from 6:30-9:30 p.m. May 11 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Hall D with food, drinks and music. Attendees must be at least 21 years old and live in Miami Beach or work in hospitality service.
FEE FIGHT: Florida's workman's compensation rules returned to their former status quo last week when the state Senate voted 22-16 to reinstate a fee schedule for claimants' attorneys in compensation cases. Lawmakers feared huge run-ups in premiums after a late 2008 state Supreme Court decision overturned a 2003 workman's comp rule change. The change had been credited with reducing by about 60% the premiums businesses pay for workers compensation insurance. If signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, the bill will take effect July 1, negating a 6.4% rate increase that took effect April 1 as well as any further increases.
AT ISSUE: Supporters of the Senate bill, such as Collier County Republican Garret Richter, said it would help cut business expenses and promote job growth throughout the state. Meanwhile, those on the other side, such as Margate Democrat Jeremy Ring, said the change allowed insurance companies to spend as much as they wanted while claimants' attorneys were forced to keep to a fee schedule.
GROVE GOES CRAZY: Starting today, Grovites can have crazy fun with pianos. Netherlands-based dueling piano bar Crazy Pianos is opening its first US location in Coconut Grove's CocoWalk. The piano bar, restaurant and entertainment venue is making its American debut in the open-air shopping center at 3015 Grand Ave. at a 7,000-square-foot site previously occupied by Café Tu Tu Tango. The company has hired a staff of 150, including up-and-coming entertainers from around the world who sing and play the piano while engaging the audience by taking song requests. Crazy Pianos plans additional locations in New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco and abroad in London, Dubai and Paris.
YOUR PIECE OF THE PIE: Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP has formed an Economic Stimulus Practice Team, comprised of attorneys from the firm's government relations group, to help clients secure contracts from Florida's portion of the $800 billion stimulus package. Albert E. Dotson, practice group leader of the firm's Land-Use and Government-Relations Group, will lead the team.
KICKIN' IT FOR KIDS: Commissioner Dorrin Rolle along with the Miami-Dade Sports Commission will host international soccer stars and former head coach of the Haitian National Team Wagneau Eloi during the first "World Charity Soccer" event. The week-long event will "help the less fortunate kids throughout Miami-Dade County," said Mr. Rolle's spokesperson Bernice Fidelia. The festival, which kicks off May 8, will include free soccer clinics, a concert and an all-star game pitting Europe's best players against the elite of Caribbean soccer. Details: (305) 694-2779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CASE CLOSED: Miami Commissioner Angel Gonzalez will pay a $2,500 fine under a settlement with Miami-Dade's Commission on Ethics and Public Trust for failing to fully report rental income from four properties he owns. He received about $3,800 monthly in rent since 2005 that he didn't include on annual financial disclosures from 2005 to 2007. The settlement with the ethics commission — a 1996-created independent agency with advisory and quasi-judicial powers that seeks to empower the community and bolster public trust — commits him to pay the $2,500 fine and file amended financial disclosures.