When I decided to run for mayor of Miami Beach last year, I began with a door-to-door journey. I knocked on over 6,000 doors, meeting with the people who call Miami Beach their home and listening to what they had to say about themselves, about their lives and what they want for the future.
I resolved that if I were elected mayor, we would “take back the Beach.” We would remind our local government that its role is to serve the people, and we would restore the traditions that made Miami Beach one of the greatest cities on Earth.
I reassured residents that the government works for them, not the other way around — even if it seemed that City Hall often forgot this fundamental principle of representative government.
I have been mayor of Miami Beach for a little over 90 days now, and I want to take this opportunity to provide an update on how we are doing on some critical fronts.
• Flood mitigation. Miami Beach must be at the forefront as we prepare our city’s infrastructure for rising sea levels. Our sustainability initiatives are just beginning.
The City Commission recently voted to raise standards on citywide projects for storm water planning. There are currently three new pump stations being installed on an emergency basis on lower Alton Road.
We will be installing an additional 30 to 40 pumps in strategic locations throughout Miami Beach to further reduce the flooding.
• Transportation infrastructure. Recently, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales and I went to Tallahassee to meet the governor, the secretary of transportation and the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection to discuss the lower Alton Road construction project.
I’m delighted to report they agreed to expedite construction and to advance their target completion date to Dec. 21, 2014 — a full seven months ahead of schedule.
In the spirit of true partnership, we will maintain an open dialogue and work with county and state elected officials to expedite future capital improvement projects.
• Convention Center. In January, city commissioners voted unanimously to cancel all existing bids for the renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center. They then issued a new solicitation for design and/or construction services for a state-of-the-art renovation and a ballroom addition to the Convention Center.
In February, the City Commission approved the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to create the design criteria package for the Request for Proposals (RFP). To ensure that the renovation is expedited, the newly approved renovation project decouples the Convention Center from a hotel component.
We will not be transferring or selling city-owned land to a private developer, negating the need for a referendum. Separately but independently, we will identify parcels of land for a Convention Center hotel, to be financed exclusively by private dollars. Last, the renovation will include a major park and greenspace component.
This important renovation project will now be in line with what the residents demanded: respectful of their quality of life, fiscally responsible, and fully transparent. My goal for Miami Beach is not to make things bigger but to make them better.
• Public transportation. We implemented a free trolley service on an emergency basis to serve Alton Road and West Avenue businesses and residents affected by road construction. We hope to launch several similar trolley services throughout Miami Beach.
Moreover, I am exploring an intermodal system to connect Miami Beach with the mainland in an effort to reduce traffic congestion in and out of our city.
• Public safety: As promised, the City Commission approved independent audits of both the Miami Beach Police Department and the Miami Beach Fire Department. The police department audit is currently under way. Upon its completion, we will make any and all changes deemed necessary. There is nothing more important than making our city safe. Our first responders not only need to be second to none; they must also have the public’s trust.
• North Beach revitalization: Earlier this year, we held two public input meetings at the North Shore Youth Center to have an open dialogue with residents about the future and vision for North Beach, one of Miami Beach’s true gems.
We are already in contact with universities to explore an education component to the revitalization, and we’re exploring potential public/private partnerships for 71st Street.
Additional entertainment amenities such as a skateboarding park and an off-leash dog beach are also being contemplated.
• Building and permitting Departments: Residents and businesses should be treated like customers. Our building and permitting departments have taken great strides to provide a higher level of customer service and expedited processes for everyone, whether it’s a resident who wants to make renovations to a home or a small business owner who wants to open on Miami Beach.
In the months ahead, I will continue to walk door to door to hear the ideas and concerns of our residents, discussing everything from making Ocean Drive a better place for the people of Miami Beach to creating master plans for Alton Road and West Avenue.
Everyday, we learn more, getting smarter about what questions must be asked.
Miami Beach is blessed to have an outstanding city manager and staff as well as a pragmatic and progressive City Commission.
I look forward to working with them to move our city forward as we make Miami Beach the city that works for its people.
Philip Levine is mayor of Miami Beach.