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WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

A Singular Voice in an Evolving City

WWW.MIAMITODAYNEWS.COM $4.00

TRANSPORTATION

Area’s first diverging diamond interchanges due on 836, pg. 9 WATER PRESSURE WORK MAINLY DONE: Installation of a water main along Southwest 152nd Street between 112th and 137th avenues to improve water pressure is nearly finished. Miami-Dade County says work is wrapped up, with final road restoration being finished by late April. All eastbound lanes are now open. The last segment is pending between Southwest 112th and 117th avenues, which may bring temporary lane closures or detours, with most work continuing at night to minimize the impact on traffic.

New Metrorail cars pass tests, ready for on-line trials, pg. 15

The Achiever

By John Charles Robbins

OLD CITY CARS: The City of Sweetwater is benefitting from the generosity of the City Of Miami. The Miami City Commission has classified 13 Ford Crown Victoria police vehicles as surplus and is donating them to Sweetwater. The Department of General Services Administration decommissioned the vehicles, ranging from 2007 to 2008 models. The city’s resolution says Sweetwater’s Police Department has a fleet of police cars that are more than 15 years old and aren’t in any condition to provide professional law enforcement. Sweetwater is in a state of financial emergency and in dire need of replacing those cars. By donating the vehicles, Miami will assist in crime prevention not only in Sweetwater but in suppressing criminal elements in Miami-Dade County in general, the resolution reads. GAS GOING UP: Miami gasoline prices at the pump rose 2.5 cents a gallon during the past week to average $2.40, GasBuddy price tracking service reported Monday. AAA forecast at the same time a continual rising of the price to Memorial Day, when it said prices generally peak. Miami’s gasoline price was 13 cents a gallon higher than the national average of $2.27, GasBuddy said. The rise in prices put the cost per gallon here at 57.1 cents per gallon higher than the same date a year earlier. AAA said the rise in prices is caused by refinery maintenance, an increase in driving and the switch nationally to summer-blend fuels. MAINTAINING CIRCLES: Miami commissioners have approved a one-year renewal of an agreement with SFM Services Inc., which will provide for the continued city-wide maintenance and landscaping of traffic circles and associated traffic separators and triangle medians. The company will be paid up to $318,668 a year. The deal could include maintenance along MLK Boulevard, if needed, at the discretion of the Public Works Department. The city is working on a new agreement with a youth group, which was performing maintenance on MLK Boulevard, Butterfly Gardens and 62nd Street embankments of I-95.

Tibor Hollo

Photo by Cristina Sullivan

Building our tallest tower, with a bigger one to follow The profile is on Page 4

78-story tower to replace Brickell’s Burger King By John Charles Robbins

Tower’s developer seeks six waivers, pg. 23

From Burger King to a real whopper, a developer plans a 78-story mixed-use tower on a Brickell area corner that’s been serving up burgers and fries for years. On the southwest corner of Southwest Eighth Street and South Miami Avenue, City Center Properties LLC plans the 950-foot tower, to be called simply 18. It will host 392 luxury condos anchored by four floors of retail – 66,618 square feet of stores. The shape-shifting tower inspired by a flower bed comes from architects Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates Inc. The city’s Urban Development Review Board on Feb. 15 recommended approval and offered high praise for the design. The tower will replace a Burger King and other commercial buildings at 10 SW Eighth St., across from the sweeping Brickell City Centre’s condos, offices, hotels, restaurants and multi-level open-air shopping center. Ongoing construction of SLS Lux, Brickell Heights and Solitair Brickell also hugs the site. Steve Wernick, an attorney for the developer, called the site unique in the center of

Brickell and “the heart of growth and evolution in the city.” He also referred to the property as “the last corner” and “a key piece” to a booming Brickell. The slender tower rising from a podium will be consistent with the character of the evolving neighborhood, said Mr. Wernick. He said the project will be bright, vibrant and very pedestrian-oriented. “This is a very special site – very unique,” said architect Igor Reyes. While showing the review board a video of the project, Mr. Reyes said it will be “definitely a happening place.” The tower, Mr. Reyes said, has a bent, playful feeling. It’s built around a curve, he said, not unlike the growth of a flower. Total estimated floor area is 923,000 square feet. Parking to accommodate about 464 vehicles and 40 bicycles will be above the retail floors, said Mr. Reyes. While most garages employ the tight turn, spiral staircase-like entrance and exit ramps, he said, 18 is designed so vehicles travel a ramp on the outer edge of the podium or base

Agenda

2-flag hotel at 30 stories beside I-95

that brings them to the fifth floor after one 360-degree turn. “It is much more efficient,” Mr. Reyes said. This also helped inspire the podium’s façade, he explained, showing curves and fins of different shapes and sizes. It sets the stage for the tower, he said, and gives the impression of a “crumbling” plane “like the tower is crushing it from above.” In a letter to the city, Mr. Wernick described the property as an under-utilized one-story retail shopping plaza with surface parking abutting both Southwest Eighth Street and South Miami Avenue. Tenants included Burger King, La Sandwicherie and Chandi Liquors. “While the shopping plaza is active and has served the area for many years, the buildings do not engage the pedestrian or respond to the evolving urban form under Miami 21 [zoning code],” he wrote. “The property is one of the last remaining key redevelopment sites in the heart of what is quickly becoming the most dynamic, diverse and pedestrian and transit-oriented neighborhoods in all of South Florida,” he wrote. “The property is literally surrounded on all sides by new highrise projects, which are either currently under construction or recently completed.”

Promising to add shine to Brickell’s west side, a developer plans a 30-story, two-flag hotel. Valcan Investment LLC would build Embassy Suites/Home 2 Hotel at 1129 SW Third Ave. with 353 rooms and a 161-car parking pedestal. “We are very excited about this project and hope you share our enthusiasm,” lead architect Jean Francois Gervais of IDEAInternational Design told the city’s Urban Development Review Board Feb. 15. The hotel with two brands planned for an area in transformation parallel to I-95, he said, can “signal the entrance to Brickell.” Mr. Gervais said the main entrance will be off of Southwest Third Avenue. The structure will take up the entire corner. Board members accepted dual hotels sharing one tower but were concerned about the relationship with a 111,068-square-foot selfstorage building on the site’s north end. The board deferred action on the hotels to a special meeting for another project. Meanwhile, members asked the developer’s team to reconsider the space between the buildings and the proportion of the windows. “I have an issue with the existing building,” said board member Anthony Tzamtzis. The plan shows a narrow L-shaped passage between the buildings. Acting Chairman Dean Lewis questioned whether that gap would invite problems: “crime, vagrants, homeless?” Mr. Gervais said architects would consider the comments and reevaluate the site plan. Mr. Lewis said the façade shows compatibility between the two hotel flags but he criticized “extremely tiny windows,” a design he found more suited to a Nordic climate, and suggested that using such small windows means missing out on “all of these wonderful bay and ocean views.” Mr. Gervais didn’t share Mr. Lewis’s view. He said it won’t be a five-star hotel and suggested the board think of it as a businesstype hotel.

OFFICIALS ANALYZE FOUR EXPANSIONS OF METROMOVER ...

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VIEWPOINT: DULL TASK COULD CHANGE COUNTY’S PATH ...

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24 JET TO SOUTH AFRICA TO CREATE BUSINESS LINKAGES ...

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BANK BOARD TO DISCUSS SUCCESSOR TO US APPOINTEE ...

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MIAMI CAN TAKE SEA LEVELS LEAD, COMMISSION TOLD ...

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UBER, LYFT PAYING FINES; TAXI FEES AT PORTS TO DROP ...

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7-ACRE OMNI PARK COULD CHANGE HIGH-CRIME SECTOR ...

3

NEIGHBORS GET A VOICE IN BATTLING PARKING ISSUES ...

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MIAMI TODAY

TODAY’S NEWS

The Insider LET IT SHINE: Florida Power & Light Co. says it plans to unveil within weeks the sites of five of eight new universal solar power plants that it announced Monday it will build in Florida. The plants will vastly multiply the utility’s solar power capacity by adding nearly 600 megawatts to the present 335 megawatts at 11 solar installations. The new plants will add more than 2.5 million solar panels. “We have proven that it’s possible to cut emissions and deliver reliable service while keeping electric bills low for our customers,” said Eric Silagy, FPL’s president and CEO. The eight new plants will create enough energy to power Eric Silagy about 120,000 homes, the company said; present solar capacity can power about 60,000 homes. Three of the eight sites had already been announced, in Alachua, Putman and DeSoto counties. Completion of all eight sites is due by early 2018, FPL said. STAYING AT THE FAIR: The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition has extended the contract of North American Midway Entertainment, a specialist provider of rides, food and games, four more years through 2020. “This year we will debut our new high-speed roller coaster, the Bulletrain,” said Danny Huston, president of North American Midway Entertainment, which was founded in 2004 and has an inventory of more than 200 rides. “The Youth Fair promises to host another year of exciting midway entertainment... provided by the world’s largest mobile amusement company with Robert Hohenstein a strong record of safety,” said Robert Hohenstein, Youth Fair president and CEO. This year’s fair runs March 23-April 16 except for closed dates March 27 and 28 and April 3 and 4. SWIMMING UPSTREAM: At Friday’s meeting of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, authority board member Richard Lydecker said there may be progress in the authority’s protracted battle to reduce what it says are improper openings of the Brickell Avenue Bridge. The US Coast Guard has put the issue off, saying it merits more study. Mr. Lydecker, who is the managing partner of the Lydecker-Diaz law firm, said he spoke to Sen. Bill Nelson, “who agreed it was silly to study whether they should open the bridges during rush hour,” he reported. Richard Lydecker Mr. Nelson, in turn, spoke with “the head of the entire Coast Guard, who seemed to get it,” Mr. Lydecker said. “Hopefully, we will get the Coast Guard to follow its own rules,” which call for a lockdown during rush hours, except for vessel emergencies and some other circumstances. TROUBLED WATERS?: “You’d better not get pulled over in your boat, dude,” authority board member Jose Goyanes, who is the owner of Metro Beauty Center and Churchill’s Barbershop., told Mr. Lydecker. “You’re on a list now.” Mr. Lydecker has been a tireless fighter to limit bridge openings during rush hours, and donated his firm’s services to document the problem. Leisure craft, not the marine industry, prompted more openings of the Brickell Avenue Bridge, the research found. “When Richard gets a bigger boat, one that requires the bridge to open for him, he’ll change his mind,” quipped authority vice Jose Goyanes chair Neisen Kasdin, who is office-managing partner at Akerman LLP. POWER TO THE POTTIES: Since October, there have been 18,800 visits to the authority-supported public restroom in Bayfront Park, and users have been mostly tourists, Mr. Goyanes said. “We should get a Yelp review for that bathroom,” he quipped. Meanwhile, authority chair Ken Russell, who is a Miami commissioner, said he’d like the small network of public restrooms extended. The city originally paid for the bathrooms; the Downtown Development Authority uses its Downtown Enhancement Team to clean and monitor them. “Once people see that they are not magnets for the homeless, nor a solution for homelessness, I’d like to take it citywide, where we have bathrooms that are not cleaned and not manned,” Mr. Russell said. TAKING MATTERS INTO OWN HANDS: Frustrated that the City of Miami seems short-handed when it comes to code enforcement staff, the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) may hire its own code compliance officers, board members discussed this month. “We need to talk to building officials and put together a strategy,” said David Polinsky, a principal of 250 Wynwood who chairs the BID’s Planning & Zoning Committee. The BID already hires police officers during large events and for special details. BOLD IDEAS: As the BID’s annual retreat March 14 approaches, “I’d like to throw out some ideas for discussion purposes,” Mr. Polinsky said. Among them: ask Miami to eliminate zoning judgments based on the number of floors in a building, “which is an artificial distinction we inherited from Miami 21.” Doing away with height requirements but keeping a maximum of 123 feet would allow developers to create “a low-rise skyline, and do it with greater flexibility,” he added. Mr. Polinsky said he would also like the city to redefine parking requirements for mixed-use buildings, and said the BID should put together a spread sheet to see what number the city would approve. ANOTHER ASK: Mr. Polinsky also suggesting the BID ask the city to consider waiving its rule that parking garages be screened by façades. He said that’s probably not necessary in an arts-driven neighborhood in which cutting-edge design is encouraged, he said. He used as an example 1111 Lincoln Road, a Miami Beach parking garage that is visually striking and was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, an internationally known Swiss firm. It has no façade, conceded Joe Furst, BID chair and Goldman Properties managing director for Wynwood, but special accommodations were made to keep pipes encased in concrete so they wouldn’t be visible. “Some unscreened garages are quite ugly,” he said. “I’m just throwing things out there for consideration,” Mr. Polinksy told fellow board members. “I’d like to see us think more boldly as we face the next wave.” CORRECTION: A planned Loews Miami Beach Hotel food and beverage campaign is titled “Flavor Miami.”

WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

Officials analyze four expansions of successful Metromover system By Susan Danseyar

County transit officials are analyzing extensions for the Metromover and upgrades for all its systems toward accommodating increasing ridership. Director of Transportation and Public Works Alice Bravo said right now her department is evaluating various expansions, including one to the north for the Midtown area; the south to close the Brickell loop; the west for the Marlins Stadium area; and Miami Beach over the MacArthur Causeway to Fifth Street and Alton Road that would serve as a beach corridor. In the interim, Ms. Bravo said, the department is working on a procurement package to upgrade all Metromover systems such as computers and electronics. The free transportation service, also called the peoplemover, has all its original systems, which Ms. Bravo said limits the county’s ability to add any new vehicles. Metromover ridership is going up, she told the Feb. 16 Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting, rising over 4% from just a year ago. Chair Bruno Barreiro noted that’s the largest increase in ridership for the county’s mass transit system and “that will continue, so we have to make sure it’s adequate.” The latest statistics on the department’s website show Metromover’s

Bruno Barreiro: urban area boost.

November ridership at 841,679, up 1.6% from November 2015. In the same month, Metrobus ridership was 5,181,524, down 5.5% from November 2015, and Metrorail ridership was 1,734,267, down 1.6% from November 2015. Metromover’s ridership in October 2016, however, was down 9.4% from October 2015 and in September it was down 1.3% from September 2015, the county’s figures show. Mr. Barreiro placed the Metromover system’s expansion on the agenda as a discussion item, saying the Metromover is “near and dear to his heart” as well as to the county’s economy. “We have to make sure that our urban area really functions properly.” Committee members asked if the Metromover cars, once upgraded,

might be used in some way for the Strategic Miami Rapid Transit Area (SMART) plan, given how expensive the estimated cost is for six corridors. “For the SMART plan, we have to be smart about implementing it,” said Dennis Moss. “While I want to expand [the Metromover], I want to be mindful of the main line and that we must be creative about how to fund things.” Mr. Moss asked if the infrastructure in place now could be upgraded to go to Miami Beach, for example. “Would it be feasible to run at the speed necessary?” The pacing has to do with spacing of stations and the number of stops, Ms. Bravo said. Basically, she explained, it’s possible for the vehicles to travel at 30 miles per hour or more, so one could travel from Midtown to the Beach. However, Ms. Bravo said, what the department is particularly looking at now is how the trains would operate. For example, she said, if a person boards at Government Center and is going to Miami Beach, it might be better to skip some stops. Everything having to do with transportation is interrelated, Ms. Bravo agreed. The other municipalities and agencies such as Miami’s Downtown DevelopmentAuthority are focused on the SMART plan, as it all has to do with the county’s economy and future growth.

24 executives to jet to South Africa to create business, educational ties By Camila Cepero

Economic development agency Enterprise Florida is jetting off to South Africa this Friday, taking two dozen Florida company executives south and facilitating one-on-one meetings with potential foreign partners, all in the hopes of helping the businesses expand into the foreign economy. “The delegation of 24 executives participating in the trade mission represent 18 Florida institutions,” said Manny Mencia, Coral Gablesbased senior vice president of international trade and development for Enterprise Florida. “There are 16 companies that we will be matchmaking for, and two universities are on the trip to expand ties with South African universities.” The two universities represented are the University of Central Florida, based in Orlando, and Florida Polytechnic University, based in Lakeland. By matchmaking, Enterprise Florida sets up one-on-one meetings with South African companies and investors that have shown interest in the Florida company’s products. Two Miami businesses – industrial equipment supplier Eymaq and cosmetics company Concept II Cosmetics – will be part of the delegation. “It’s a pretty broad statewide delegation,” Mr. Mencia said. “Most of the program revolves around getting these companies individual appointments with potential clients through very straightforward matchmaking.”

The companies in the delegation hail from industries like aviation and aerospace, cosmetics, industrial equipment, environmental technology, food processing, IT, filling equipment for the food industry, sanitary equipment for food processing, safety equipment for industrial uses, proportional control for railroad and motor vehicles, and even a company that manufactures extracts and flavoring for food industries. “It’s a broad menu of companies,” Mr. Mencia said. The full trade mission agenda is Manny Mencia: statewide group. to include qualified business appointments, in-depth briefings and a wide range of networking events, the event brochure states. We want to hear from YOU! Enterprise Florida sees South Phone: (305) 358-2663 Africa’s economy as having a Staff Writers: low-entry threshold due to location options, logistics infrastructure, the Camila Cepero ccepero@miamitodaynews.com English language and benign legal processes. Susan Danseyar Additionally, South Africa is sdanseyar@miamitodaynews.com a business incubator for new-toJohn Charles Robbins market ideas, according to the jrobbins@miamitodaynews.com agency. As the middle class in Letters to Editor Africa grows, the agency said, editor@miamitodaynews.com business models launched in and from South Africa will find easier People Column acceptance in other sub-Saharan people@miamitodaynews.com African markets. Michael Lewis Participants will be able to intermlewis@miamitodaynews.com act with high-level government officials and business decision-makers in a variety of industry sectors. Like us: The trade mission is in line with Florida’s African Trade Expansion Miami Today Program, which fosters and proFollow us: motes bilateral trade opportunities @MiamiTodayNews in the African market for Florida businesses.


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MIAMI TODAY

VIEWPOINT

WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

Miami Today is an independent voice of the community, published weekly at 2000 S. Dixie Highway, Suite 100, Miami, Florida 33133. Telephone (305) 358-2663

Dull task may determine how well county meets our needs How well Miami-Dade County Hall meets needs of business and residents will soon rest on a task that few know about and even fewer care about: a charter review. Stop. Don’t turn the page. Nothing brings Michael Lewis more yawns than a charter review, which is a study of how to upgrade our equivalent of a constitution – the county’s rulebook. But little may be more important. Last week a committee began the process with a vote to set up a 15-member charter study. Few commissioners were happy – most love the status quo. But our charter requires a review every five years, and it’s time. Depending on how much leeway a review team gets in structure, membership, timing and funding, it could give voters the chance to decide on these game-changers: ■Should every home and business be in a city, town or village that decides issues ranging from traffic speed to zoning to local taxes and perhaps police and fire service, with a local mayor in charge instead of county commissioners who now play quasi-mayor for more than a third of county residents? Having cities and towns blanket the map was the aim when the county got a charter 60 years ago allowing Miami-Dade, not the state, to control its destiny. But commission-

ers dug in their heels and banned new cities for years. The commission still rules areas that don’t have local control. The biggest advantage of letting cities everywhere handle local issues is county hall would be freed to deal with the big picture. Commissioners not bogged down in potholes might have seen transportation and water and sewer disasters coming before they mushroomed. ■Should the mayor’s job be split to add a county manager? The roles merged in 2007, which forced the mayor to be both our bullypulpit political leader and a professional bureaucrat who takes commission orders right down to arcane reports. Fortunately, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who did not initiate the merger of jobs, is a former Miami city manager and administrator. But as the federal level proves, elected leaders rarely are detail-oriented bureaucrats who can run a staff of 25,000. Why take the long gamble that our next mayor will have the rarely combined skills of civic leader to rally the community and impartial administrator? ■Should commissioners be bound by term limits that will in 2020 push most of them out? Miami-Dade never had term limits. Citizen mistrust led to the new limits, which parallel state term limits that have knocked long-term institutional memory and experience out of the House and Senate. Commissioners detest term limits, which can end what otherwise could be life-long jobs. Should even the best be forced out? ■Should commissioners – all of whom are now voted on only in the district each represents – be elected by votes from

L etters Best courthouse solution is All Aboard Florida deal

to the

I’m no expert or a member of any of the expert-filled committees [studying a new or renovated civil courthouse for Miami-Dade County]. I’m just a Miami Today reader-for-life who thinks the simple solution is to strike a deal with All Aboard Florida, which is currently building the new downtown Miami Central Station for its new commuter train line. Part of the new station includes a mixed use twin-tower called 1 MiamiCentral totaling 1.8 million square feet. Why can’t a new courthouse be incorporated there? Think how convenient that would be for those who work there and for all of those jury pool people. Think about how many cars that would take off the road. All that takes is some creative financing and design Public-private deal to replace courthouse? with a give-and-take on both sides. ning alongside the airport). Otherwise, DC Copeland at grade will not work. All planned lines demonstrate a need. The emphasis should be on the southern and east-west lines, which would greatly diminish congestion The Metromover going to the Beach is and would address large population centers. a great idea. Doing Metrorail at grade on Fernando Cabrera busy streets is going to be a complete failure and kill all reliability in the Metrorail system, which is its greatest advantage in a traffic-choked city. Do you remember [then-Miami-Dade Thomas Lindhart County Mayor] Alex Penelas pushing the half-cent sales tax increase to pay for modernizing the transit system? Where did all that money go? Metrorail at grade will only work for Another boondoggle, like Marlins a small section running from the Miami Stadium. Intermodal Center to FIU (the part runMike Hassall

Metromover-Beach great

throughout the county while still representing their own areas? That change would restore a former structure that was less parochial yet had every voter represented by a single commissioner. ■Should we pay commissioners more to reflect full-time work instead of the $6,000 a year we pay now? In Florida’s other 66 counties, commissioners get a state-established scale, with each big-county commissioner paid nearly $100,000 a year; Miami-Dade alone has leeway to set its pay, and it’s been $6,000 for 60 years while pay in every other county rises annually. It’s not fair to expect 13 commissioners to work full time in a $6,000 job, yet somehow all do. But be honest: aren’t we begging for really big trouble by paying people who handle multi-billion spending just $6,000? A charter change could fix that in an instant. ■Should commissioners exit the business of procurement contracts? State and federal legislative bodies let professionals decide. We leave it to lobbyists beseeching commissioners. Talk about asking for trouble: after staff experts pick the best bid, why do commissioners often make very different decisions? These commissioners depend on campaign funds controlled by lobbyists who plead with them to overturn bid decisions. The conflict is clear. Those are just some issues for a charter review. And that’s precisely what worries some commissioners, who won’t like every proposal. Last week’s meeting showed that some want maximum control of charter review and wish it would go away. Fortunately for

E ditor

Light rail could be a boon to Miami Beach interests

It will either be a failure or a success. Whatever happens, we can’t keep going the way we are currently. The Beach route takes the light rail down Washington Avenue. To do this, all parking on the road will be eliminated. I estimate this to be no more than 300400 spots. Given all the vehicles this light rail should help to eliminate, the loss of parking shouldn’t be too dramatic. I’m not sure Washington Avenue business owners will agree – at first, anyway. Done right, a light rail, not ensnared in traffic all the time, and coupled with other infrastructure and amenity improvements, has the potential to make the city a worldclass destination while keeping its citizens happy and on the move. Personally, I hope future improvements include a major improvement to the Alton Road flyover (tear it down and rebuild) and a miracle solution for encroaching waters and eroding sands. Mark-Anthony Barnes

Raise gas tax to aid transit Where did half penny go? with partly elevated lines

Metrorail at grade wrong

voters, it can’t just go away. The charter that residents approved requires a review this year. In past years, commissioners reined in charter reviews by limiting study time, naming a review team shaped to do their bidding, limited topics to review, limited resources that a review team can use – and then, after all that control, left to the commission a decision of which proposals finally go to the voters. Such issues – including who will appoint the review team and topics it can study – surfaced last week. Some commissioners balked at cities and towns having an appointment. Others bristled that a state legislator might name someone. Expect more balking and bridling in the full commission. Amid lingering public concern, the county functions reasonably well despite these issues and others that a charter review could probe. We’re getting by. But we must surpass “reasonably well.” Why didn’t transportation top our agenda earlier? Or water issues? Why does the county continually overspend on contracts with fulfillment issues to follow? And why are we so parochial, impeding long-range thinking and action? Problems and opportunities are broader than just who we elect. Government structure can help create success. Central to such vital gains is the dullest of dull subjects, a charter review. The more room to roam a review team gets and the less commissioners tinker with findings, the better chance for long-term gains in Miami-Dade County.

Raise gasoline taxes and use the increment exclusively to build the transit system out at once and pay for it over 35-40 years. It has been almost 40 years that the original elevated Metrorail was built. I agree with those who believe that atgrade lines along medians will not work, however, partially elevated lines that fly

How to Write

Letters for publication may be sent to the Editor, Miami Today, 2000 S. Dixie Hwy, Suite 100, Miami, FL 33133 or e-mail to letters@miamitodaynews.com. Letters may be condensed for space.

over major intersections might work. The Northeast line to Aventura needs to be a partially elevated Metrorail line and not a separate commuter line. Metromover to South Beach is perfect. The Beach may eventually expand it to the north. We need to think big. Think about building the six lines system ASAP and plan to add to it over the next 100 years when Miami will be huge, really huge. Octavio Robles

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TODAY’S NEWS

WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

MIAMI TODAY

7

US Century Bank board to discuss chair to replace Acosta

By Susan Danseyar

Replacing Alex Acosta as board chair of Miami’s US Century Bank now that he has been nominated to become the nation’s labor secretary will not be easy, says one of his colleagues. “We have to make lemonade out of lemon,” according to Howard Feinglass, managing partner, director and principal of Priam Capital, who serves on the bank’s board with Mr. Acosta. “Alex has been terrific for US Century,” he said last week when the nomination was announced. “He cares so much and spends so much time. Alex brought in a lot of customers who knew they always had an advocate in him.” The bank, once in financial trouble, is now doing quite well, Mr. Feinglass said. “We saved it from going bankrupt, with a new investment team putting in $65 million in June of 2015 and another $7.5 million this past November.” It’s difficult to see Mr. Acosta leave, Mr. Feinglass said. However, he said he’s thrilled for his colleague. “Alex is a terrific person and will be terrific in whatever he does,” he said. “This is a man who’s incredibly honest and always does the right thing.” Aida Levitan, president and CEO of Levitan & Palencia, has served for 2½ years with Mr. Acosta on US Century’s board. She said she’s confident he will do an “outstanding job as the next labor secretary because of his integrity, expertise and leadership abilities.” Ms. Levitan said she’s very proud of Mr. Acosta both

‘This is still a process. We don’t technically have a vacancy yet.’ Aida Levitan

Photo by Marlene Quaroni

Alex Acosta, chairman of the board of US Century Bank, will leave a void as he will as FIU’s law dean.

as a fellow board member and a Cuban American. Bank officials all expressed pride when Mr. Acosta’s nomination was announced Feb. 16. “Alex is a brilliant leader with an exemplary reputation, and we know he will serve our country with honor,” said Luis de la Aguilera, CEO and president of US. Century Bank. “The US Century Bank family is very proud of him and his nomination for labor secretary.” Mr. Acosta joined US Century as chairman in 2013, and by all accounts guided its resurgence. His colleagues say he was instrumental in assembling a new board and

securing a recapitalization deal that helped the bank stay afloat and begin its change of course. “He has guided the resurgence of the bank,” Ms. Levitan said. “Alex secured new investors who helped us make a turnaround.” In December 2015, Mr. de la Aguilera said in a written statement, Mr. Acosta brought in a new executive management team that resulted in several positive milestones. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Financial Regulation terminated the consent order issued in June 2011 that had been hovering over the bank. Bauer Financial upgraded the bank to a

three-star rating, and last month the bank reported its first year of positive earnings since 2008. Ms. Levitan says she is confident US Century will find a qualified and wonderful board chair. “We work very well together and have a fantastic chemistry,” she said. “That’s why the bank is doing well and attracts good board members.” She said the board has not yet discussed the search for a new chair but will do so shortly. “This is still a process,” Ms. Levitan said of Mr. Acosta’s nomination. “We don’t technically have a vacancy yet.” When Miami Today named Mr. Acosta one of its Achievers for the

second time in May 2015, it was for his work as board chair at US Century Bank as well as dean of Florida International University’s law school. At the time of his profile interview, Mr. Acosta said his work at the law school fit in nicely with his position serving the bank. He spent many hours fundraising for FIU; making sure its law school was seen, heard and represented in the public eye; and – very important to him – meeting with students. In fact, just hours before Mr. Acosta was nominated as a member of President Trump’s cabinet, Ms. Levitan saw him at a restaurant in Coral Gables, sitting with young prospective lawyers. “He’s very devoted to mentoring law students and seeing them do well,” she said. “Everything Alex does is with intelligence, dedication and integrity.”

County is retiring website, building anew from ground up Miami-Dade County is retiring its web portal and building a new website from the ground up for what communications officials describe as a new customeroriented, service-driven site called beta. miamidade.gov. “We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish with the new beta site. It has been organized and developed with the customer as the main focus,” said Miami-Dade County Communications Director Inson Kim. The Communications Department reports the approach to building the new website was informed by web traffic analysis, public feedback and the 311 Contact

Center, which takes calls from customers with questions about non-emergency government services. The first phase of the project focused on analyzing more than 100 of the top county services. The results influenced the design of new content management templates, say officials, and helped identify knowledge gaps and determine priorities. “We have the information county residents are looking for and we know what people are calling about, so we used that knowledge to design a website that makes it easier for our customers to transact with the county,” said Information Architect Jaime Shycko.

The Communications Department advises browsing through the beta site. They report there’s a major change in the new format – information that people don’t need or want to see has been removed. Content has been reorganized and rewritten in plain language toward helping residents easily find and understand what they need to know about a particular service such as recycling, adopting a pet and paying a water bill. The Communications Department led the efforts to design beta.miamidade.gov, and the team also worked to ensure the new and improved pilot site is responsive to support all mobile devices and tablets.

Ross Report on Real Estate

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Another component of beta will be newly-designed marketing pages for major campaigns and initiatives. These visual pages are designed to help separate marketing content and images from pages focused on key services, giving the overall website a streamlined look and feel. The beta site, which was first introduced in 2016, is still in the early testing phase. The county is collaborating with civic partners and community groups to make sure the new site meets citizens’ expectations. The current site, miamidade.gov, will remain the primary source for county information until it is replaced by the new beta site.

SOUTHEAST OVERTOWN/PARK WEST COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY PLEASE ALL TAKE NOTICE that the Board of Commissioners Meeting of the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency (SEOPW CRA) is scheduled to take place on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 5:00 p.m., at Camillus House, 1603 NW 7th Avenue, Building B, Miami, Florida, 33136. All interested persons are invited to attend. For more information please contact the SEOPW CRA office at (305) 679-6800.

#25370

Clarence E. Woods III, Executive Director Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency

3 Tips for Buying a Home in a Fast-Paced Market

Hot real estate markets often requires aggressive offers with no hesitation. It’s important to move quickly or not only will you not end up in a bidding war, but you will miss the battle altogether. Here are three quick tips for buying a home in a fast-paced market. Use Instant Property Alerts Most real estate websites will allow you to set up alerts through text or email for properties you’re interested in. You will then be notified when a property fitting your criteria hits the market.

This may be the one key you need to ensure you see the home quickly and submit an offer before it’s gone.

a fast-paced market is with an aggressive offer. You want to make the seller choose your offer over the all the others. Shortening the length Hire a Fast Moving Agent of the inspection and financSome agents move faster than ing timeline will make your others when working with offer attractive to a seller. buyers. An agent working full time will almost always For professional advice move faster than a part time on all aspects of buying agent. Your agent needs to or selling real estate, be able to move aggressively please contact me at and as quickly as possible, so aross@miamirealestate.com you can beat out other buyers. or 305-960-2575, or come by the office at Be Ready to Get Aggres- 355 Alhambra Circle, sive The best way to win in 9th Floor, in Coral Gables.

www.miamirealestate.com


MIAMI TODAY

WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

9

Transportation

Area’s first diverging diamond interchanges due on Dolphin By Catherine Lackner

Work is steadily moving forward to make driving on area highways less time-consuming and safer. “Two major things right now are the diverging diamond interchanges and the work on the shoulders of 836 to prepare them for express buses,” said Yvette Holt, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX). Both are part of a State Road 836 modernization program that is expected to be completed in 2018, she added. Improvements to that roadway (also called the Dolphin Expressway) include adding a lane between Northwest 17th and 57th avenues and safety improvements along the corridor to eliminate exits on the left. Diverging diamond interchanges will be added to the intersections of Northwest 27th and 57th avenues. The interchanges, the first in South Florida, briefly shift traffic to the left and then back to the right, eliminating the need for left turns across oncoming traffic and helping prevent traffic conflicts, Ms. Holt said. “They also allow through traffic to keep moving,” she said. The new interchanges will be in place by this summer, she added. The intersection at Northwest 42nd Avenue (LeJeune Road) will also be rebuilt to eliminate a left exit and improve the traffic flow, she said. The Northwest 87th Avenue interchange will be decongested with the addition of lanes at Northwest 12th Street, along with

Diverging diamond interchanges shift traffic to the left and then back to the right, eliminating left turns.

an additional entrance and exits at Northwest 84th Avenue. Perhaps the most impactful for anyone who drives near the Health District is a $23 million joint venture between MDX and the Florida Department of Transportation aimed at eliminating a notorious and dangerous bottleneck. Eastbound motorists getting on State Road 836 at Northwest 12th or 17th avenues who want to drive north on I-95 now have to cross several lanes of traffic, as they enter on the extreme right and the I-95 entrance is on the extreme left. Then they face a backup as they approach the entrance to I-95 north. The joint venture will add a dedicated ramp on the right side of eastbound State Road 836 that will

lead directly to the northbound I-95 entrance. “These improvements will eliminate the need to weave through three lanes of traffic from Northwest 12th Avenue to go north on I-95,” said Mario Diaz, an MDX spokesperson. “As part of the 836 modernization, we’re also strengthening the inside shoulders,” Ms. Holt said. “When traffic is moving at speeds lower than 30 miles per hour, the buses can travel on the shoulder” from the new Dolphin Park & Ride facility to downtown Miami. MDX was the lead agency in the planning, design and construction of the park and ride station on 15 publicly owned acres north of Northwest 12th Street, just west of the Florida Turnpike.

The expressway authority will also extend State Road 874 to Southwest 128 Street. “This will provide a new entrance and exit to the expressway system for the region and help decongest the surrounding streets as motorist try to access the Florida Turnpike via Southwest 152nd Street and Southwest 120th Street,” Mr. Diaz said last year. In a move that will vex some drivers but aims to keep all safer, the Florida Department of Transportation has just completed installation of 16,565 new plastic poles separating the I-95 express lanes from the rest of traffic. The poles, which the agency says are stronger than their predecessors, are also placed closer together

“This will increase safety for our road users by better separating the lanes and will discourage the practice of lane diving (crashing through poles to get in or out of the express lanes),” said a transportation department release. In downtown Miami, the department is rehabilitating the bridge from I-95 northbound to Southeast Second Avenue. It will take roughly eight months, according to the transportation department’s website, and will include restoring damaged concrete on bridge columns and beams, cleaning and painting a concrete barrier wall, rehabilitating bridge joints and the bridge deck, and cleaning and painting the steel bridge structures. Improvements to Flagler Street from Southwest/Northwest 14th to 27th avenues are ongoing, with a scheduled completion date of November. New storm drains will be added, along with new lighting, traffic signals, sidewalks, pedestrian ramps, pavement markings and an exclusive bicycle lane. From Southwest/Northwest 27th to 75th avenues along Flagler Street, the transportation department will repave and restripe the roadway, rebuild pedestrian curb ramps, install warning lights at crosswalks and make minor storm water drainage improvements. On Southwest First Street from Sixth to 17th avenues, the department will add new storm drains, rebuild the roadway, install new lighting, traffic signals and pavement markings, create a shared use/bicycle lane, and build new sidewalks and pedestrian ramps.

Tri-Rail commuter trains due to roll downtown by year’s end By Catherine Lackner

With a bid controversy settled, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is on track to have Tri-Rail commuter trains steaming into downtown’s Miami Central station by year’s end. “We issued a contract this week for the maintenance of the corridor,” Bonnie Arnold, authority spokesperson, said last week. “We stand by the process.” The authority solicited bids to bundle services from four contracts that are expiring. The bid documents stated the proposals had to be non-conditional, meaning that they couldn’t take into account insurance and liability issues. “Five of the six bids contained conditions,” Mr. Arnold said. “The only bid that did not was Herzog’s. And, yes, it was the highest bid.” Herzog Transit Services’ $511 million proposal was ratified by the authority’s board of directors late last month. The other bidders protested the decision, along with Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees Tri-Rail’s state funding.

“It’s time to begin mobilizing” for Tri-Rail to run a few months after Brightline begins, said Bonnie Arnold.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s time to begin mobilizing,” Ms. Arnold said. “This needs to begin immediately.” All Aboard Florida has said its Brightline trains will begin service between Miami and West Palm Beach in August, and Tri-Rail will follow “within a couple of months,” she said. All Aboard Florida, a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, is building five

stations for its Brightline commuter trains and will allow Tri-rail to use them in South Florida. On Oct. 31, the last piece of the Tri-Rail project’s complicated financing fell into place when directors of the City of Miami’s Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to fund $17.5 million of the project. The agency had previously

pledged that amount, but concerns that it might be on the hook for a shortfall should revenue projections fail cast a cloud over the final agreement. Francis Suarez, agency board member and Miami city commissioner, urged fellow directors to OK the agreement, saying that having Tri-rail come into downtown is just as important as renovating public housing and

establishing a grocery store in a food desert, both of which the agency has accomplished. “We need to sign the document and move on, because this will be the catalyst for mass transit in Miami and Miami-Dade County,” he said. “This is part of the holistic revitalization of Overtown. With all respect to the lawyers, this deal has been over-lawyered. It has become the sum of all of our fears.” “We have been consistently reducing the amount” of money asked from public agencies, said Javier Fernandez, attorney for All Aboard Florida, at the October meeting. “We have the downside risk. Here you have a public agency [the regional transportation authority] without a profit motive. Its sole motive is to deliver the transit improvement.” “Context is important here,” said Vincent Signorelli, Florida East Coast Industries CEO. To allow the project to move forward and lock in construction costs, All Aboard Florida started construction without firm commitments from the agencies, he said. “It’s important to understand the leap of faith we took.”


TRANSPORTATION

WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

MIAMI TODAY

15

Uber and Lyft paying their fines as taxi fees at ports to fall

By Susan Danseyar

Uber and Lyft are now legal in MiamiDade but both still owe the county fines, of which $1.8 million has so far been collected. Transportation Chief Alice Bravo reported last week the final draft of the implementation order for transportation network companies (TNCs) to enter the seaport and airport will come before the county commission for approval next month. She said 14 TNCs have registered and are paying fees. The county charges them $2 to pick up a passenger at Miami International Airport and the seaport, Ms. Bravo said. MIA has been doing so since July, she said, and the seaport will soon start charges retroactive from October. Also, Ms. Bravo said, “We’ll reduce fees for taxis to level the playing field.” Committee Chair Bruno Barreiro said

he added to the Feb. 16 Transportation and Public Works agenda a discussion on the implementation order just for the record and conversation would likely be short. It was not. Taxi drivers have expressed frustration in the past with what they said is Mayor Carlos Giménez giving Uber and Lyft drivers a “free” ride and going easy on fines they amassed before the service was legal in Miami-Dade. Since operating here without permission, beginning in 2014, the transportation network companies have accumulated several million in fines. Mr. Barreiro explained at the start of the committee meeting that consideration of an implementation order and charges associated is pending. Part of the issue will be handled by the county’s legal team, he said, and the other by the county administration. Susan Freed of North Miami Beach asked commissioners to look at Senate Bill 340 and House Bill 221 and inform lobbyists

about them. “The state items would have no regulations at all about how many [TNC cars could pick up customers],” she said. “Look at fees being paid by cabs and Uber at other airports in the country. Miami-Dade has the lowest in the universe.” Ms. Freed also said a county ordinance requires taxi and limo operators to meet three times a year. “We have yet to be called to a meeting,” she said. “We request the county give us a date for one.” Jerry Moskowitz, of Coral Cab, said, “[Miami International Airport], one of the top in the US, is supposedly charging Uber $2 to pick up fares when our neighbor to the north is charging them $4.50.” Mr. Moskowitz said he’s concerned that until the ordinance takes effect, “we’re not on an even playing field because taxis are paying more, and that’s not fair to anyone.” Several other people from the industry complained of discrimination, unfairness

and even unprofessional behavior. One man held up a penny which he said represented what Uber and Lyft have paid to the county and then added, “Not even that much. We must have insurance; Uber does not. Limos pay for entering and picking up but Uber has not for 33 months. The county ignores this, and you are not doing your job.” A man who does business at Miami International Airport said he will be scheduling a meeting with Mr. Barreiro. “I understand the special interests of TNCs and billion-dollar companies that have come in,” he said. “You’ve mentioned fairness, and I understand creating new categories for companies and wanting to have competition.” However, along with almost everyone who spoke in opposition to the way cabs and limousines have been treated versus TNCs, he said unfairness is a big problem, particularly when it comes to paying fees.

First new Metrorail cars pass tests, ready for mainline trials By Susan Danseyar

The first two Metrorail cars that will replace Miami-Dade’s fleet have passed all scheduled tests and will be put on the mainline for final examination this May, says transit chief Alice Bravo. “They’re in excellent condition and now over a pit in the Medley facility,” she said last week. “The tests going on currently are all about electronics, water-testing, and then they’ll be taken to the Lehman Center in late March to run on tracks.” Ms Bravo told Miami Today the Transportation and Public Works Department will put the cars on Metrorail’s main line at night when other cars aren’t running to test for full operation. Based on the schedule set months ago, she estimates they’ll be ready for use at the end of 2017. “There are four in production at the Medley facility, and later in the month we’ll get two more shells to start the process,” Ms. Bravo said. “In a few months, we’ll be at the point of cranking out six cars a month.” In August, Miami Today toured the Hitachi facility, accompanied by Ms. Bravo. The customdesigned, 140,400-square-foot plant had opened in March. By late

Photo by Susan Danseyar

Ernest Matthews of the county’s Transportation and Public Works Department, who oversees the Metrorail cars work for the county, shows work in progress to department head Alice Bravo last August.

summer, the first three of 136 Metrorail cars were being assembled to replace Miami-Dade’s fleet. The warehouse is specialized for the sole purpose of train-car manufacturing and subassembly. Owned by Hitachi Rail US, a subsidiary of one of the leading

railway system suppliers, this is the Tokyo-based company’s first manufacturing facility in Miami and third in the US. The facility has features specifically for the assembly of heavyrail metro including concrete pits. They were designed with two

lines to accommodate work/ testing of eight cars simultaneously to avoid bottlenecks. When the cars arrive in Medley, they’re basically just metal shells. They’re made prior to that at DRS Sustainment Systems in West Plains, MO, which has primarily

defense contracts for military products and technologies for such uses as battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance. Workers at the facility get the shell and undertake the full assembly of all components: doors, electrical systems, wheel and axel assembly, install the rooftop HVAC and the under-frame equipment that takes the cars down the track. All cars will undergo a specified water pressure for a specified time at a large sloped pit with an enclosure containing 400 spray nozzles. Once tested and proven qualified to withstand the deluge of water Miami weather can bring, interior work begins. The new Metrorail cars will be roughly the size and length of those they’re replacing but with improved components, thanks to 40 years of subsequent technology. Riders won’t see a lot that’s different inside but engineers at the facility said they’ll certainly hear and feel vast improvements: disc breaks that are essentially silent (compared with the screeching sound of tread breaks), computerized control of systems for a smoother acceleration, reduced use of electricity and more reliability. All 136 cars are slated to be ready to run by 2019.

Carpooling app works at FIU, goes next to Jackson, airport By Camila Cepero

A new mobile application is helping students at Florida International University organize carpools by connecting them with other riders and drivers in need. The application will soon branch out to other hotspots like Jackson Health System and Miami International Airport. “We have gone from where students and faculty used to try to find a carpool by signing up either online or filling out a registration form, to an advanced state where they can just basically download an application and try to find a rider or drive instantaneously or schedule for some time in the future,” said James Udvardy, project director for South Florida Commuter Services. RideFlag is a carpool mobile application that provides on-demand carpooling as well as pre-scheduled carpool trips. RideFlag can verify dynamically that the vehicle arriving on campus is a carpool

vehicle and seamlessly issue a virtual carpool permit, allowing drivers to park at the reserved carpool parking spaces. Since launching at the beginning of the current school semester in January, the application has seen over 800 participants. “With GPS on phones, when people have the app open we can determine if qualified carpoolers are the ones pulling into carpooling spots at FIU,” Mr. Udvardy said. It’s one of the app’s greatest benefits, he said. “Employers and universities say, ‘I don’t know if we have the security to monitor lots full-time and how do we know if someone’s parking in the carpooling spots but driving alone?’ Well, now we can tell how many people are entering the garage and to which specific space.” The next phase of development is to include an expansion to Jackson Health System, which includes Jackson Memo-

rial Hospital, and to Miami International Airport. “We want to see from a perspective other than the university’s if the program can work at both of these locations that do offer carpool parking spaces,” Mr. Udvardy said. “For FIU, there are two ways in which the app works,” he said. “You can certainly make it global, but we also created a ‘circle of friends.’ For example, at FIU you need to be invited in to use the app to be part of the FIU circle. There’s a comfort level knowing that I can choose someone globally or I can choose someone that is at FIU.” In May, a new app will be launched just in time for the Commuter Challenge, which purposely coincides with clean air month. The challenge is valid from Indian River County through to Monroe County. “The challenge is to pledge to use alternative modes of transportation, but we used to have to take people’s word

for it,” Mr. Udvardy said. “After they pledged, we would follow up and ask them if they took public transportation.” “Now, with the app we’re developing, people will be able to go and select what mode they actually used and we’ll be able to determine where they’re tapping in and tapping out and where they’re using public transportation.” The department is expecting to engage with community partners to offer challenge participants incentives and rewards based on their location. For example, using GPS technology, the app could determine participants’ locations and offer a reward, such as a discount, at nearby establishments like restaurants or shops after the participant taps out of a public transportation station. “In previous years... there was no specific data about where participants started or were going or how much time it took,” Mr. Udvardy said. “[The new app] validates the commuter challenge.”


24

WEEK OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017

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