[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Big News for Miami and South Florida

Friday, December 14, 2007

Big News for Miami and South Florida

The blockbuster deal approved by Miami city commissioners and Mayor Manny Diaz has me excited. A Marlins stadium, Museum Park, Port Tunnel (construction company notwithstanding), streetcars, hell...even a soccer stadium (don't laugh, I like soccer)!

OK...laugh.

I know this has a long way to go to ever become reality, and the whole thing is very ambitious for a city government that has had trouble with much less complicated issues. Still, I have to give kudos to Manny Diaz for at least having the vision necessary to move Miami and South Florida forward. After all, big things don't happen for those who don't take chances.

The Marlins stadium at the Orange Bowl can, and will work. I would have preferred a downtown site, but the OB site will be OK once people get over the "it's in Little Havana" and that there's no Metrorail station within reasonable walking distance. The county has provided shuttles from the nearest station to the OB for Hurricanes games, so there IS a preexisting method of public transportation for the OB. Also, it's not as far from downtown as some would lead you to believe (no more than 1.5 miles as the crow flies).

There are those who are concerned about the big player in this, the redrawing (gerrymandering) of the Community Development Agency boundaries to include Museum Park. The CDA is designed to help down and out neighborhoods, not serve as the catalyst for big community projects, they say.

Those concerns aren't totally without merit, but the folks who espouse those concerns are missing the bigger picture. Imagine a downtown where you have a thriving Performing Arts Center and Museum complex within walking distance. Imagine a sports complex where baseball and soccer, two popular sports in South Florida, will co-exist. Imagine what these entities would do for a city wanting to step up in the world stage. Imagine the impact on our community, on our children who will get to enjoy these amenities that are integral components of any world-class city. Most importantly, how can something like this NOT create jobs and opportunities?

If we sit back and complain about the same-old, same-old, without taking bold action, we'll always have the same-old, same-old. I'm sure this plan has faults that will have to be addressed at some point. But finally, for once, someone in Miami has the vision to put out a plan that, if completed even close to the original, will set the beginning of a new era in South Florida.

For that, I congratulate Manny Diaz.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan said...

Robert, I don't agree with you. The people who run Miami couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag during the best of times. For them to commission this extremely complicated and expensive assortment of projects now, as the City enters what promises to be a lengthy real-estate recession, is insanity. They should be cutting spending and taxes and working to make Miami a more attractive environment for business and tourism. Instead they are committing us all to pay for projects (particularly the stadiums and streetcars) that are too risky or otherwise marginal to attract private funding. I think the fact that they structured this deal in a way that lets them avoid a referendum tells us most of what we need to know about it.

6:01 PM, December 14, 2007  
Blogger Timothy said...

I agree with Jonathan. I have no copy paper at my school and they are talking that raises might be frozen next year. See how excited I get about a soccer stadium and a frigging street car line

8:59 PM, December 14, 2007  
Blogger Timothy said...

By the way... who really thinks this construction will create permanent jobs here in Miami? this is all out of town workers who work for a year then go back to wherever.

9:08 PM, December 14, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...

Jonathan and Tim,

I respectfully but firmly disagree.

Jonathan said: They should be cutting spending and taxes and working to make Miami a more attractive environment for business and tourism.

In theory, yes, but if we continue with the status quo attitude we've had in this area for who knows how long, we'll never get there. If there's one word many Miamians know
how to say, it's NO. It's much easier to say NO than to take a bold step and see where it lands. Yes, this project is, and I quote from my post, "very ambitious for a city government that has had trouble with much less complicated issues". Nevertheless, a big step in making this area more attractive for business and tourism is to have all the things in place that makes cities attractive on multiple levels. There's no doubt in my mind that cultural attractions and sports in a city helps to foster that type on environment. Who stays in downtown after dark, besides edgy clubgoers and the homeless? Wouldn't it be nice to have a downtown district where people walk the streets at night and have entertainment options besides Bayside? Whenever I go out of town on business trips and I'm in some large city, one of things I do is check out the local entertainment and sports scene. Invariably, a group of us end up going out to such establishments. It's unfathomable for me to think that an enhanced arts and entertainment district downtown wouldn't help tourism.

Regarding spending and taxes, a big chunk of the money is coming from the Tourist Development Tax and others similar to it in Miami-Dade County. These were approved via referendum several years back, precisely for the funding of cultural and sports venues. Additionally, Miami-Dade voters approved bonds to fund Museum Park and other projects a couple of years back. In essence, we've already approved these projects through our authorization for leaders to use this money as they see fit.

The other big chunk is through the redrawing of the CRAs. These were created as early as the 1980s by the city of Miami via resolutions (they were never required to be approved by voters as far as I know). As the post mentions, I understand the hesitation some have in expanding the CRAs. However, I see it as a logical step. The taxes generated by new developments within the boundaries (Museum Park, Carnival Center, etc), would stay in the area and help to pay off the debt on those projects as well as be available for future projects within the CRA boundaries. Sure it may appear a little shifty, but the reality is that the downtown core is abutted by very low income areas, and keeping that money in the community helps everyone.
What's needed is better adminstration of the CRAs, which has been the big problem all along.

In summary, I don't see a compelling reasons for voters to have to approve this plan, since the main components of it have already been approved either by voters or city ordinances and resolutions approved by the State of Florida. If people don't like the plan in question, there will be public hearings held in which they can voice their concerns.

Tim: you really think this plan won't create jobs? Sure there will be the temporary construction jobs, but how about streetcar operators, museum and stadium employees, not to mention the businesses that would undoubtedly follow the establishment of such a district?

Again, I realize there is a "pie in the sky" component to this. But for once, there are some in this city who are willing to dream big and take chances for the benefit of the entire community. How refreshing!
Do they have an agenda? Sure, but who doesn't? In my view, those who constantly say no to these type of efforts (not referring to you all, but in general) have their own agendas which frankly don't serve the community at large.

12:25 PM, December 15, 2007  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Thanks, Robert. I think that most of us evaluate projects like this one according to whether we think municipal govts generally are capable of managing growth. I don't think they are. I agree with Joel Kotkin, who pointed out that the cities with the strongest economies and population growth have been the ones that made themselves into attractive places for working people with children to live. They did this not by building expensive new projects but by holding taxes and other living costs at reasonable levels, controlling crime and having adequate schools. Other cities that spent a lot on big projects designed to make them fun, but that didn't make it easier for working people to live in the area, are stagnant.

Some of the problems in Miami, particularly housing costs, are partly out of the control of the local government, but there are measures that could be taken to help make Miami an attractive place. Miami could try to reduce its spending to keep its already-high property taxes from rising further. It could liberalize zoning rules to make it easier for people to live near their work. It could improve its commuter roads rather than spend billions on rail capacity that won't be used. Stadiums and streetcars are fun, but they won't get people to move to downtown Miami if downtown Miami remains expensive and dangerous and has lousy schools.

This new project either will not go anywhere or will be taken over by the incentives of patronage politics. If you look at this scheme through the eyes of families and small businesses that are considering moving to the area, what you see is a city that already spends beyond its means, and that now wants to embark on a huge and risky round of new spending on flashy projects that will probably end up shrinking the tax base. Where is the money to pay for it going to come from? When have subsidized stadiums ever paid off?

I look at this and see a high likelihood of increased taxes and govt borrowing ahead. It looks even worse if you factor in the possibility of an economic recession within the next few years.

6:19 PM, December 15, 2007  
Blogger Robert said...

Jonathan,

It would have been great if we had a few philanthropists shelling out a few billion to fund all this, but that's wishful thinking.

The biggest sources of funding are the hotel bed tax (tourist tax) and the CRA. Unless there's a drastic decrease in tourism, that money will be there at least to some extent. The CRA-generated money from new projects helps pay off debt for the Carnival Center and stay in the area.

Some of the problems in Miami, particularly housing costs, are partly out of the control of the local government, but there are measures that could be taken to help make Miami an attractive place. Miami could try to reduce its spending to keep its already-high property taxes from rising further. It could liberalize zoning rules to make it easier for people to live near their work. It could improve its commuter roads rather than spend billions on rail capacity that won't be used. Stadiums and streetcars are fun, but they won't get people to move to downtown Miami if downtown Miami remains expensive and dangerous and has lousy schools.

Miami 21 addresses some of the zoning issues, and there has been a trend of people moving to the downtown core in recent years. For many years, people rightly criticized Miami leaders for not having a comprehensive master plan to improve downtown. Any effort was piecemeal and lacked cohesion with anything else. Miami 21, and this plan I believe are the best efforts Miami has thought of to solve these issues. There is risk, namely if the tourism market dries up, but as long as there's fun and sun, I don't think we have to worry too much about that.

I'd like to think that a lot of people would be attracted to live downtown if there was a district that incorporated cultural, sports attractions and livable neighborhoods with good schools. The reason people are willing to put up with the negatives of living in big cities is accessibility to cultural attractions and institutions which are the bedrocks of a community. It's about time Miami starts moving in that direction and stop relying exclusively on the beach for its main attraction. Frankly, I don't see this being accomplished any other way. There are too many competing interests and too many people willing to shoot this down for a myriad of reasons, both good and bad. Meanwhile, downtown remains mostly a dump.

The devil is in the details, and this plan will probably look different in a few months after further scrutiny. Still, at least it has people talking and moving forward, something which hasn't happened before.

12:27 PM, December 16, 2007  
Blogger George L. Moneo said...

Slightly off topic, but big news nevertheless, it seems that SotP has called it quits and has uploaded his last post.

9:26 PM, December 16, 2007  
Blogger Timothy said...

do I believe this will create jobs? Sure. Will it create jobs that people can live on? No way. Street car operators may be the exception, but museum employees and stadium workers are hourly wage earners who will struggle to keep pace with the extraordinary cost-of-living increases here in SFL. I am laughing while write this because I am watching the County Commissioners backing away from this deal like the proverbial rats and the sinking ship. Now they are all qualifyhing their support and CYAing like crazy. YAY! Someone just mentioned the American Airlines terminal as an example of just HOW AWFUL this kind of deal can be.

5:41 PM, December 18, 2007  

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