At his fifth State of the City address Friday, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado’s theme was “Miami is Back.”
He touched on a time when the city was at its worse financially. Regalado said it was important to acknowledge and learn from those nightmarish years, when the city was forced to declare a financial urgency three years in a row amid shrinking revenues. The law allowed city officials to force employee concessions to shore up its budget.
Today, Regalado said, Miami’s financial state is brighter. The past turmoil led Standard and Poor’s Rating Services to downgrade the outlook on the city to “negative.” Last year, the rating service upgraded Miami to “positive,” citing a stronger local economy and substantial increases in the city’s reserves.
Miami’s most recent budget, for the first time in five years, did not have to cut services or slash department budgets.
“Our city’s financial future is bright. We have gone beyond just stopping the bleeding,” Regalado said.
Regalado acknowledged there’s still work to be done. The city’s reserves are at $57.5 million, still shy of the $96 million required under Miami’s financial-integrity ordinance. The city is in negotiations with a disgruntled police union over what officers describe as unjust benefits cuts in years past. At a chaotic protest last month, officers flooded City Hall demanding their benefits be restored and chanting, “Regalado, must go.”
The mayor was mum about the high turnover rate of high-level city staff members under his watch. Most recently, City Manager Johnny Martinez resigned. Martinez was replaced by Daniel Alfonso, who vacated his job as the city’s chief financial officer. Alfonso is Regalado’s fifth city manager.
Regalado did take the opportunity to announce that the city has filled the chief financial officer opening. Fernando Casamayor, previously a tax collector for Miami-Dade County, will take post.
Regalado pledged to make Miami more attractive as a tech and startup hub. In partnership with Miami-Dade Public Schools, Regalado said the city will encourage more young people to explore careers in the computer sciences.
This summer, all Miami summer camps will offer computer coding classes. The city currently offers free wifi at 34 of its parks with recreation centers. Miami will expand Wi-Fi coverage into parks without recreation centers, Regalado said.
The mayor said the city is increasingly looking for ways to use technology. The city plans to introduce a park finder app for smartphones and other devices that will help residents and visitors locate the nearest city park.
“Yes, at the city of Miami, we have an app for that,” Regalado said,
He also sought to highlight Miami’s lure to luxury retailers, particularly in the Design District.
Designers like Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Berluti, Emilio Pucci, Prada, Celine and Cartier have already set up shops in the neighborhood, while more high-end retailers are expected to expand their footprint into the Design District.
“Miami can become a mecca for high fashion,” Regalado said.
Regalado said Miami’s brand is increasingly becoming global.
“Today we are becoming the gateway to Europe, Asia and the Middle East,” he said, adding the city will formalize sister-city partnerships with Barcelona, Spain, and Beirut, Lebanon, in May. The sister-city program is supposed to encourage tourism and business among its participants.
He was most impassioned when he talked about the city’s responsibilities to residents.
“We are raising the bar and striving to be South Florida’s most valued and consumer friendly city,” he said.
In the coming weeks, the city will institute a “secret shopper” program in which anonymous individuals will rate city departments based on the level of customer service they receive.
Regalado also made lofty promises. Speaking of homeless veterans and the city’s outreach efforts, he vowed: “This will be the first city in the United States that will have no homeless veterans in the streets by year’s end.”