If Miami Beach is going to be the progressive, resilient, prosperous, livable and safe city that residents want it to be, then they will say Yes to all six questions on their ballots.
The questions are not the result of the wants and wishes of agenda-driven city leaders or special interests who tried to shut out public input. Rather they are on the ballot because administrators and elected officials listened to their constituents, and even sought their guidance before proceeding.
That’s why Beach voters can support each question with confidence. They have been heard.
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This measure would create the city’s Office of the Inspector General. And after City Hall, and city residents, were blindsided last year by allegations that Mariano Fernández, the Beach’s chief building official — make that former chief — accepted free and discounted rooms from a hotel owner who relied on the building department for permits and approvals, this measure is critical to rooting out and preventing corruption. Over the years, the city has weathered scandals in code compliance, fire inspection, as well as the building department.
The inspector general would have the power to investigate administrative fraud and abuses, oversee city contracts, programs and expenditures and conduct audits to propel good-government practices. The office would wield subpoena power and, most important, would be independent. It would not report to city commissioners. Whoever got the job would be appointed by a City Selection Committee that, Mayor Dan Gelber told the Editorial Board would not —nor should it be — populated by special interests, but, rather equally independent experts. City commissioners would approve the final recommendation.
If seems as if Miami Beach has needed a convention center hotel since the dawn of time.
Well, now is the time.
Proposals for hotels — their height, their traffic the location, their design and their cost — have gone down in the flames of acrimony and fear. For decades, the city has lost revenue and prestige as huge money-making conventions choose cities where the majority of attendees could be housed all in one place, and with easy access to convention center meeting and banquet halls. Miami Beach has not been among them. The hotel is vital to attracting high-quality conventions for which participants aren’t spread out over more than a dozen hotels. It’s inconvenient and, too often, a deal-killer. Right now, the trade shows that generally come to the convention center bring with them more local street-clogging traffic as attendees drive there, then go home in a few hours.
Again, it’s time. Question No. 2 would require the city to funnel all of the rental payments from the hotel, including more than $16 million in minimum fixed rent over the first 10 years, to go, in equal portions to stormwater projects — helping reduce stormwater-fee rates; traffic reduction measures; and education. Look, the city’s streets still flood, traffic is still a nightmare, and area schools, though funded by our property taxes, can always use more revenue. This is a good deal for residents.
This would let Miami Beach lease the site of the convention center hotel to Miami Beach Connect to develop and operate the privately funded $362 million hotel for a term of 99 years. Miami Beach Connect is a joint venture led by two developers with a track record on the Beach: David Martin, who is a principal of Terra International Developments; and Jacquelyn Soffer, a principal of Turnberry Associates. The 2.6-acre city-owned site proposed sits just south of the convention center. Both structures were be connected by an elevated “skybridge” for pedestrians.
As opposed to the proposed 800-room high-rise hotel voted down in 2016 because rattled neighbors said it would, among other things, block the sun, the new plan is 100 feet lower — whacked by one-third while still able to contain the 800 rooms needed; traffic will enter into the bottom of the building, minimally affecting traffic, Martin told the Editorial Board. The new design is calmer, more in keeping with the surrounding area than the behemoth of 2016, and it’s green, as in environmentally smart, with back-up power, water collectors and flood mitigation elements. Gambling and casinos would be prohibited. The Fillmore at the Jackie Gleason Theatre would remain open and functional during and after construction.
Also, an unsightly parking lot to the west of the convention center would become a park. In addition, to paying the city $16 million-plus in rent over 10 years, Miami Beach Connect would contribute to the city’s Art in Public Places program.
Question No. 3 needs 60 percent of voters to approve it. With the newly renovated convention center — made over for about $620 million — it would be irresponsible for voters to squander this investment by letting the opportunity to build an accompanying hotel slip away.
QUESTIONS 4, 5, 6
Speaking of opportunity, residents should enthusiastically support these threes ballot items. They make up the components of a general-obligation bond that would raise $439 million to address the quality-of-life issues that likely matter most to them.
The money would put in motion 57 projects to create or improve public parks and community centers (Question No. 4); upgrade deteriorating infrastructure, including seawalls, lighting and landscaping throughout the city (Question No. 5); and enhance public safety (Question No. 6). For instance, police officers need new radios. Their equipment is so outdated that they can’t even talk to other first-responders heading to the scene of an accident or some type of crisis; Fire Stations 1 and 3 need to be replaced. The city would install license-plate readers and security cameras in commercial districts.
Voters can go to gomb2018.com to see the full list of projects.
With the millage rate extremely low and the last general obligation bond from 20 years ago almost paid off, residents should realize that this is their best chance to address the myriad challenges that keep the Beach from fully serving them efficiently. They should consider it an investment. If they don’t, where else will the money come from? It’s about the city’s future.
The Miami Herald recommends YES to the six questions on the Miami Beach ballot.