News: Paul Pry Pages

By Anne Newport Royall

LAND USE DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE

October 26, 2011

Who’ll Let the Dogs Out?

Over 40 people crammed into the fourth floor large conference room to beseech the Committee to let the dogs run for free for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening at Pine Tree Park, located at 45th Street and Pine Tree Drive.

City Code requires all dogs be on leashes at all times, with exceptions made for specific, designated areas.

In response to needs facing dog-owning dwellers of densely populated urban environments, the City has moved to create “bark parks” for pets to congregate and play.  As recently as the last Commission meeting, the administration was directed to install a temporary fence around a section of the Par 3 Golf Course in Bayshore Neighborhood for a bark park while that facility is under renovation. This will bring the total to six fenced-in, or segregated dog parks in public green spaces in the City of Miami Beach.

In South Pointe Park, the neighbors of SoFi asked, and were granted space to have “off leash” hours for their pets.  In SPP there is no designated bark park, but over 17,000 square feet of the park, near the end of Washington Avenue where the new Tobias Rehberger installation will stand, comprises the only “off-leash” zone in the City.  This designation was no easy task, requiring ordinance changes from both the City and County Commissions.

Trish Burger has organized the dog users of Pine Tree Park to ask for off-leash hours in Middle Beach as well, and came to the meeting armed with signatures and two score of folk.

It’s not the first time neighborhood interests have gone to the dogs since the 2001 renovation of the park that created the first bark park in the city. By February of 2004, dog owners were so happy with the park, they hoped to expand it.  One anonymous resident even pledged $25,000.00 to add to the 24,000 square foot area dedicated to dogs in the over six-acre park.   In response to the offer, the Parks Department designed a much larger dog-bone shaped enclosure and held a neighborhood meeting to roll out the exciting plans.

The thirty residents who showed up that Monday in April were so overwhelmingly opposed to the expansion, and so frustrated with the lack of enforcement of the basic dog laws in and around the park, that the commission directed the administration to abandon any expansion plans and ramp up enforcement.

And so they have.  From January to October of this year 65 off-leash violations have been issued to human patrons of Pine Tree Park.  These tickets are given to people caught choosing to allow their dogs to run free outside the enclosed area.  This represents 11.57% of all the off-leash citations issued in the City during the time period, according to a Managers Memo on the subject.

Dog owner Howard Packer said he is “made to feel like a criminal” when using the park.  June Mooney called the recent enforcement moves “fascist” and told the story of how she witnessed a mother, with her six-year-old daughter, both driven to tears while being cited at the park.

“If Central Park can allow dogs to run free until 9:00 a.m., Miami Beach should be able to,” offered Randy Johnson.

Nina Yaviz asked for “constraint’” as she has been witness to off-leash dogs attacking children and adults in the Park.

Cesar de Feuntes complained that the area provided now is too small, “large dogs can’t exercise.” And offered there were “too many fleas,” when speaking to the overcrowded conditions.

This reporter can attest to the fleas, as she was bitten by two while standing in the crush of dog lovers at the door to the conference room while covering this story.

“Great legislation is when you can’t make people happy all of the time,” suggested Hank Bush, “Limited (off-leash) hours would be a win-win.”

Commissioner Jerry Libbin tried to be the hero, “If 25% of the park was enclosed for dogs, would that satisfy everyone?” he asked.

The room exploded with comments from all sides.

Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who has championed the issue would not be upstaged, ‘It’s too hard to listen when there are 50 people in the room.”

Henry Lowenstein, President of the Orchard Park Neighborhood Association chimed in, “I don’t have a dog in this fight’” he quipped, “But I know more people don’t use the park because they are scared of the dogs.”  He referred to it as “Dog Poop Park.” He said more people from the neighborhood would have attended if they had been notified more than 24 hours in advance of the meeting.

“How many things do we need for kids?” yelled Mrs. Bush.

This comment caused a huge uproar.

“If people are just going to scream at each other, we will adjourn and we will be done,” said Wolfson, looking to regain control of the room.

“Talk to us, the Commissioners,” soothed Commissioner Michael Gongora, “Don’t engage one another.”

Tobi Ash, matron of the new organic garden zone that was added to the park the tune of $40,000.00 last year spoke next.  The garden was built on the previously fenced-in site that housed the City of Miami Beach K-9 training facility.  The neighbors did not want the police presence in their neighborhood, so the facility was relocated to Stillwater Park. “The way I see it, the park is for pets, people and plants.  We need to make it safer for dogs.  Lets all get along.”

Renowned canine author Mark Derr admitted to being “a scofflaw” when it comes to walking his dog without a leash in the park, and offered his expert opinion, “the bark park is too small.”

“Seems like all things were copasetic until we hired nine new code enforcement officers to do their jobs” Wolfson jabbed.

Hilda Fernandez, Assistant City Manager pushed back, “ We were directed to do more enforcement.   There was a two-year warning period, where no fines were issued. Fines began in 2011 at the direction of the Commission after two years of education and warnings.”

Libbin was ready to send this back to Commission to approve an expansion of the bark park, but Gongora disagreed, “This is not ready to go back to Commission.  We need a neighborhood workshop.”

Gongora further suggested that Code Compliance be released from their duties as it pertains to enforcement of off-leash incidents in Pine Tree Park until this can be sorted out.

Meet Noli

Michael Comras of the Comras Companies has coined the word NOLI, to identify the area of Lincoln Lane North, and the undeveloped large tracts of public parking that surrounds Lincoln Road to the north.  He wants the City to do something with all that land.

Robert Wennett, developer and resident of 1111 Lincoln Road agrees, as he “feels pressure from The Design District and Genting land purchase.  “There is no benefit to these surface lots,” he declared, suggesting larger format tenants, and perhaps even residential units could be built above parking spaces, “There is no downside to go out for a Request for Proposals” to see what the options are. That was the topic at hand:  should the City go looking for ideas to make NOLI happen?

As far back as 1997, the City has entertained ideas for redeveloping its land.  While RFP’s for Altos del Mar in North Beach have come and gone with no construction, he City has successfully negotiated joint ventures in the City Center area for some other surface parking lots.   Notable private public partnerships include The Lincoln at Michigan and 17th Street, a multi-story parking and office facility that features ground-floor tenants such as BB&T Bank, Lucky Strike and the Dog Bar.  It should be noted that some of the available retail and office space has never been occupied in The Lincoln.

However, the City does report that retail rents with Lincoln Road frontage command some of the highest rates in all of South Florida.

“We are loosing some great tenants to the Design District,” noted Comras, “Lincoln Road is a great street that needs room to breathe.  Surface lots are nice and convenient, but are not economical.”

Any joint venture to develop these properties will most likely require voter referendum, so while the realtors hope that market has the appetite to invest in new mega-developments on Miami Beach, it will be up to the residents to chew over most proposals over before swallowing and selling or leasing the land.

FINANCE AND CITYWIDE PROJECTS

September 27, 2011

It’s A matter of Money

The administration has been tasked to generate more revenue for the City without raising taxes.  New revenue streams developed in the past two budget years include making Coke the “Official Sponsor” of Miami Beach and putting advertisements on the mast arms at parking garages.  While some ideas have brought the City added revenue, some have not and more parking money may not be one of them at this time.

After discussing excluding one property from sharing in free federal dollars to improve building facades in North Beach, and the sales pitch for offering employees access to low-interest installment pay day loans, the FCP members suggested stopping in its tracks any notion that the City would entertain a valet parking franchise to be awarded in the City.

Almost a dozen members of the valet parking industry, and several prominent landowners and restaurateurs from South of Fifth had been waiting for over 90 minutes to hear that news.  With no discussion and Parking Director Saul Francis barely in the room, Commissioner and Chair Deede Weithorn put the death of the proposal, “in the fast lane.”

While the City’s parking consultants, Walker, had issued a report valuing the business at $45 million dollars annually, the City has not yet capitalized on this opportunity, other than to charge day-rates for parking meters reserved to the vendors who privately contract with hotels and dining establishments to provide semi-private valet parking.

The industry met any notion of altering the system as it is now with alarm and immediately leapt into action by hiring lobbyist David Kelsey.  Kelsey organized the opposition and dog-eared every Commissioner and the Mayor in the few months since the proposal became public at the Transportation and Parking Committee and subsequent industry workshop.

Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, FCP committee member, was success full in having the item pulled from a recent TPC agenda and fast-tracked back to FCP.

Where the motion was to direct the City not to pursue the notion. At all.  Never ever.

Done.

The room was stunned, then a collective sigh that turned into a burst of joy as the throng left the room, patting Kelsey on the back.

It’s A matter of Taste Part 2.

The current exclusive provider for food and beverage services at the Convention Center, Jackie Gleason Theatre and the Byron and Colony Theaters have been held by the same vendor since December 1986.

The last time a change was considered was in 2006, when, after years of complaints of sub par food and service, Centerplate was again awarded the contract, with the condition that they would partner with Barton G. and expand into the social catering market.

Hopes were high.

Unfortunately, the marriage between Barton G. and Centerplate lasted roughly twice as long as Kim Kardashian’s. Unlike that Hollywood union, however, here in Miami Beach there was not a clean pre-nuptial, and the terms surrounding that separation are in court. Several City staff members have been deposed, and as of yet, the City has not been named party to the on going litigation.

Over the summer when the contract was up, The Commission decided not to put out to bid the management of the Convention Center, as to not jeopardize the relationship the City has with Art Basel. (Global Spectrum, the current convention center manager who replaced long time contractor SMG in 2008 and Art Basel share the same parent company Messe Schweiz.) In their review of the performance of Global Spectrum, the CCAB noticed that the lowest scores on client satisfaction surveys always went to Centerplate.

In anticipation of the September 2012 expiration of the catering contract, the CCAB recommended that the City issue a new RFP. Do some tasting, test the waters. See what else is out there.  Do something to improve the performance of the Convention Center.

However, after heavy personal lobbying from Centerplate’s new General Manager Nick Tierno and a creative interpretation of the low scores by CPA Commissioner, Weithorn, the Committee voted to recommend renewing Centerplate’s contract for two years with rolling two-year renewals after that.

CONVENTION CENTER ADVISORY BOARD

October 3, 2011

 It’s A matter of Taste Part 3

 Stu Blumberg kicked off the meeting with a joke about the tent still standing in the Parking Lot, left over form the Car Show, “It’s the new ballroom” he quipped, saying he saved the City $55 million and now they have the space and expansion they have sought for years to make them viable and competitive.

But the serious and sad state of the Convention Center is no laughing latter.

With the Genting proposal on the table and a proposal from a second prospective gambling licensee still under the table, and a new jai-lai fronton on the horizon for Miami-Dade County the need of a makeover for the economic engine of the is City evident to Blumberg.  It has been for years.  Decades.

With that in mind the Committee had suggested that the Contract with Centerplate, the exclusive food vendor be competitively bid when it expires next fall.

The two -sentence recommendation of the CCAB was buried on page 75 of the Finance committee meeting agenda it was recently placed on the week before. The CCAB was not notified the item was even on the agenda, although board member Tim Nardi and several others around the table this day were in attendance and spoke on the matter.

Blumberg was biting mad.

“This is another example of the City ignoring the recommendations of the volunteers who work hard to advise the City,” in their capacity as boards he decried, “for the record.”

Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez offered to send the matter back to Finance before going to the full commission.  Blumberg was “not interested in embarrassing Centerplate again,” by bringing it back, “the horse is out of the barn,” he admitted.

Roger Abramson commented that the “Commission appoints these boards but then does not take their council.”

Board Member and Chamber of Commerce President Jason Loeb, proprietor of Sudsie’s Cleaning Services did not think getting reconsideration in light of having the opportunity to state their opinion clearly it was a matter of “embarrassment.  It’s the right thing to do.”

Frank Kruszewski was as resigned and disgusted as Blumberg, “It’s a waste of time. Three people have made their decision,” he said, referring to the action of FCP members, “I come here to make a difference, not to be ignored. Do you?” He asked his fellow board members, “Do you need a parking pass that bad?”

Board members, in exchange for their service, receive a parking pass good anywhere, anytime, Citywide.

You can sign up at the City Clerk’s office, first floor, City Hall.

Have a meeting or an issue you want Anne to follow?  Contact her at paulpry31@gmail.com

Speak Your Mind