In the nascent years of Miami Beach, Miami and Coral Gables, Carl Fisher built a rail line across Biscayne Bay, Mary and William Brickell built mansions south of the Miami River and George Merrick built parks and pools and trolley lines and canals for the “City Beautiful.”
By and large, those enterprises are believed to have been self-financed, with the help of other private investors. While the state of Florida financed facilities to attract more tourists in the 1920s, historians say it was the private sector that provided most of the financial strength that fueled South Florida’s growth.
Now, the private sector is again in the mix to help make essential critical infrastructure improvements possible.
Embedded in Miami-Dade County’s proposed budget and capital plan for fiscal year 2015-16, is a $250,000 allocation for consulting designed to help launch private-public partnerships to strengthen the region’s flagging infrastructure. Those partnerships, public officials say, are essential if the county is to meet the challenges of expanding badly needed transportation equipment and corridors, upgrading water and sewer systems overwhelmed by sea level rise, and rejuvenating rapidly deteriorating courts and jails. Airport and seaport facilities, as well as parks, libraries and museums also are on the list.
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County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said, during a forum on private-public partnerships, that the only way we are going to get any of them done is with the help of P3s. I stand by that statement: If we have to maintain and operate all of these things alone, we just couldn’t do it.
Miami-Dade County isn’t alone. Worldwide, global infrastructure needs are fast emerging as critical priorities that most nations are finding difficult to fund.
In the United States, a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers places the present-day gap at $1.7 trillion, “with an additional $3.6 trillion financial need by the end of 2020.”
Locally, the city of Miami Beach has seen the costs of its efforts to combat sea level not just rise, but jump exponentially, with tax-paying residents footing the bill. At the Miami-Dade County level, the future cost of dealing with the issue is a relative unknown as budget-makers, scientists and other experts wrestle with needs assessments.
When the County Commission passed its annual budget, an initial $300,000 was allocated to pursue a long-term strategy as well as to hire a “resiliency officer” to assess the county’s requirements.
Last year, the County Commission passed a landmark resolution that endorsed the findings of a seven-member Sea Level Rise Task Force headed by Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin.
Among other things, the seven-member panel said the county must take more decisive steps to fortify its infrastructure. It said it is urgent for the county to act expeditiously to identify the roads, bridges, waterways, pump stations and other critical infrastructure now vulnerable to rising water levels from the Atlantic Ocean. It recommended the hiring of engineers to develop a specific plan, similar to the $20 billion program that New York City devised in 2013.
The commission declared that going forward, any residential or commercial project proposed by developers must account for how it will mitigate rising waters in the years ahead. Additionally, the county, in a most forward-thinking way, recently required that sea level rise be an element for consideration in the bids and contracts through the county procurement selection process. This is wise and will serve our community well.
Last summer, the county entered into a $91 million contract with engineering giant AECOM Technology Corp., the world’s largest and top-ranked engineering, design and building firm, to oversee federally mandated repairs to the county’s water and sewer systems.
In selecting this firm, the county picked a company whose very purpose is to prioritize and simplify solutions for unknown impacts as well as natural disasters that all communities face. AECOM helped Orange County, California, upgrade its dams; helped protect critical public assets in Australia; and mapped sustainability plans for the Greater London urban area, among numerous others worldwide.
Moving forward, we need similar proactive projects in South Florida.
The Miami Tunnel project and the Interstate 595 expressway extension in Broward County are two of the most recent notable endeavors in which the private sector helped alleviate growing traffic without eviscerating public treasuries. Private investor participation came as a result of sophisticated financing structures that helped public agencies raise upfront capital and generate cash “waterfalls” to pay for the projects’ costs and long-term debt.
Without private sector help, South Florida faces a minimal chance of fixing its problems amid today’s building boom, especially in the vertical housing and mixed-use commercial sectors. The boom has imposed high demands on not only our utilities infrastructure, but our transportation capacity. This is not just a local government problem; it is a much broader community-wide and public-private sector responsibility.
We must now engage in a process to develop and execute an ongoing, rolling capital improvement program of needed upgrades so that our region can be sufficiently protected and resilient to meet the challenges that nature has in store for us.
We have seen our elected officials act, and we should be proud of them. They need our continued support and proactive involvement.
In the 1920s, Fisher, the Brickells, Merrick and others were highly self-reliant entrepreneurs with unique visions. Nearly a century later, the private sector, with the help of local governments and state and federal partners, should unite to sustain what was started.
Al Maloof is the managing partner of GJB Consulting LLC (GJBC), an affiliate of Genovese Joblove & Battista P.A., a South Florida law firm.