August 22, 2014

Around the State- Southeast- July 2002

Pat Dunnigan | 7/1/2002
SOUTHEAST FLORIDA

Raising the Bard
A reading program based on Shakespeare's works is catching on in south Florida.

By Pat Dunnigan

Fort Pierce retiree Len Weingart is the kind of guy who hounds the school district for essays written by "teacher of the year" nominees then scours them for spelling and grammatical errors. He's equally hard on textbooks, pouncing on the smallest errors as proof of the educational system's inadequacies. Don't get him started on modern educational methods unless you have some time.

It would all be just a tiny bit obnoxious, except for the fact that Weingart is so frequently correct: He discovered 41 errors in the teachers' essays. And he claims a few academic credentials of his own: A doctorate in psycholinguistics, a fellowship to the Yale University Divinity School and seven years as a professor in the English Department at Florida State University. He later worked as a public relations writer for Philip Morris.

Since moving to Fort Pierce about 15 years ago, Weingart, 71, has voluntarily organized writing programs for the St. Lucie County School District and helped to garner grant money.

So when he began approaching the school district a few years ago with an idea for an elementary school reading program based on the works of William Shakespeare, he had the attention of officials there.

St. Lucie County was the first school district to give the Shakespeare program a try with an after-school program in 1999. Since then, Weingart has run 17 more of the two-week programs for third-graders in St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties, using a text based on "A Midsummer Night's Dream." If a federal grant application is successful, Weingart wants to train 10 teachers to expand the program this fall.

Weingart says the rhythm and repetition in Shakespeare's writing make it ideal for teaching reading skills. And to those who think Elizabethan English might be beyond the reach of the average 9-year-old, Weingart preaches higher expectations. "My thesis is ... children require challenge," Weingart says. "If you respect their intelligence, they will raise their expectations to meet the
challenge."

In Martin County, Superintendent Sara Wilcox says the program's effect on students' reading comprehension has not yet been measured. But she sees no downside, Wilcox says. The program costs the schools nothing. Weingart runs it on corporate donations.

And, says Wilcox, echoing the opinion of other educators familiar with the program, it is probably worthwhile even if it does nothing more than introduce children to the works of Shakespeare. "That in itself means a lot," she says.

In the News

Boca Raton -- The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will send a team to the American Media Inc. building, where anthrax killed a tabloid photo editor last fall. The study follows a visit by the Environmental Protection Agency last fall that reported a clear ventilation system. AMI employees, however, wanted a second opinion.

American Automobile Network Holdings has signed a contract for exclusive worldwide manufacturing and distribution rights for an automobile made by Tianjin Automobile Industrial & Export Corp., a Chinese government-owned maker of cars, minivans, tractors and other vehicles currently sold only in China.

Boca Raton Community Hospital officials say year-end budget numbers will likely show an operating loss of $12 million. Hospital officials say rising costs and inadequate Medicare reimbursements have created the losses.

Turnaround specialist Sun Capital Partners Inc. will buy Boca Raton-based Tutor Time Child Care Systems for $30 million. The chain, which operates about 200 day-care centers in 24 states, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Fort Lauderdale -- Supporters of Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant have successfully beaten back an effort to move her office under the control of the county commission. The county's Charter Review Commission had suggested the change but came under sharp criticism for what was seen as a move targeting the county's only black constitutional officer. The commission suggested no change to the status of the county's three other county constitutional officers -- the sheriff, clerk of courts and property appraiser -- who are all white men.

Fort Pierce -- A-1 Roof Trusses of Boynton Beach plans to build a $4.5-million manufacturing facility on a 19-acre site across from the St. Lucie International Airport, bringing 120 new jobs.

Hollywood -- Environmentalists are raising concerns about a $45-million beach sand replacement project that will widen 12 miles of shoreline between Pompano Beach and Hallandale Beach. Environmental groups would like to see a section of Fort Lauderdale's shoreline excluded. They fear the dredged up sand will harm offshore coral reefs.

Miramar -- Plans to use $210,000 in cash incentives to lure south Florida-based international travel company MyTravel Group to the city has Miami-Dade County officials complaining that Miramar is beefing up its own economy at the expense of its neighbors. The travel company has employees in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Broward County economic development officials defend the incentive program by saying many businesses lured to Miramar would have otherwise moved out of the state.

Weston -- Three months after four of the city's five planning and zoning board members quit in a tiff over having their recommendations ignored by city commissioners, a new board is in place. The reconstituted board will issue advisory opinions but will not vote to approve or deny projects.

West Palm Beach -- Autobuilders South Florida Inc. will build an Ed Morse Cadillac dealership at the Sunrise Auto Mall in Fort Lauderdale. The 12,000-sq.-ft. facility is scheduled for completion by year's end.

Groundbreaking for a 12-building, 100,000-sq.-ft. center for abused, neglected, drug-exposed and HIV-infected children is scheduled for the fall off Haverhill Road. Boca Raton-based Garcia Brenner Stromberg, Architecture, is designing the project.

Kolter Property Co. is redesigning part of its downtown City Plaza condominium project to add some less-expensive units, including townhouse lofts priced from the $200,000s to two-bedroom units for $300,000. The redesign also includes the addition of balconies on every unit.

Bouncing Back
WEST PALM BEACH -- County tourism officials say the hotel industry is rebounding, with March receipts off by less than 2% from the same time period last year. The county filled 76.7% of its hotel room during the first three months of 2002, compared with 83.4% for the first quarter of 2001.

MIAMI-DADE

Base Conversion
Key West makes all the right moves as a planto develop an old Navy base sails through.

By David Villano

They're not smirking, but Key West city officials are clearly pleased that, if all goes as planned, about 34 acres of Navy property will be transferred to the city this summer with few islanders screaming in protest. Rising from the largely vacant waterfront parcel over the next two years will be, among other things, a marina, an amphitheater, a job-training center and a straw market. About 60% of the land will become a public park.

"I wouldn't say that reaching consensus was easy," says Key West City Commissioner Carmen Turner. "But let's just say we learned from the mistakes of other communities."

There are plenty from which to learn. Across the country, debates are raging over how best to convert surplus military land to civilian uses. In Miami-Dade County, officials battled for years with residents and environmental groups over a proposed commercial airport at the old Homestead Air Force Base. After numerous lawsuits, high-stakes lobbying and charges of influence-peddling, Air Force officials shot down the plan last year. Other development plans remain in limbo.

The Key West property, adjacent to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park at the island's southwestern tip, remains one of the last undeveloped parcels in Key West. Five years ago, the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced that the property would be deeded to the city provided that a locally generated development plan pass muster with both the Navy and the state's Department of Community Affairs. Otherwise the land could be auctioned to the highest bidder.

City officials quickly called for public input. Predictably, everyone wanted a piece of the land. Environmentalists called for open space; low-income residents demanded affordable housing and economic development opportunities; and hotel owners and shopkeepers asked for a second cruise ship berth -- the specter of which terrified many civic activists.

After dozens of neighborhood meetings, two design charettes and months of spirited debate, the city commission in early 1999 approved a plan that included a little of everything: Park land, commercial space, affordable housing, even a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration visitor center. The second cruise ship berth was rejected. "I think it was a very good process," says Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley. "Is everybody happy? Probably not, but I think the exercise was about as painless as it can get."

Although Navy officials nixed the affordable housing portion -- Weekley remains dumbfounded -- the rest of the plan sailed through. In May, the Navy announced that about five acres -- primarily the port area -- would be excluded from the transfer in response to Sept. 11 security concerns. As a result, public hearings will be held later this summer to discuss modifications.

"We live on a very small island, and I think people realized that this is one of the only chances we may ever get to acquire a piece of land that can be used in a way that will address our public needs," says Turner. "Everybody has their own ideas, but in the end we realized that this was too important and that we all needed to sit down and reach an agreement."

In the News

Homestead -- Faced with a looming budget crisis, Homestead has laid off 33 people, or about 8% of its workforce. The cuts will come primarily from the city's parks and recreation and maintenance departments. Officials believe the city's budget will be balanced by fiscal year 2003.

Miami-Dade -- Thanks to a strong construction industry and an economy more diversified than in many other parts of Florida, Miami-Dade led the state in job growth during the 12-month period ended in April. The county added about 9,000 jobs, or just less than 1%. As a whole, the state's job growth was near flat, with a loss of 900 jobs. But Miami-Dade's unemployment rate remains one of the highest in Florida at 7.3%, compared to a statewide average of 5.1%.

The Florida Board of Education has given Miami-Dade Community College approval to offer four-year bachelor's degrees for students interested in teaching in high schools and in programs for the learning and physically disabled. A 1-year-old Florida law allows community colleges to petition to offer bachelor's degrees in fields facing a shortage of workers. MDCC is already the nation's largest community college.

Japan-based Pegasus Corp., one of the world's largest makers of industrial sewing machines, will open an office in Miami-Dade to service its customers in both North and South America. Company executives say the new office will create 18 jobs.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle pleaded no contest to charges of exploiting his office for allegedly lobbying Mayor Alex Penelas on behalf of a non-profit association he heads. The charges were brought forth by the county's Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, a 4-year-old group charged with monitoring conflicts of interest and other misconduct by county officials. Rolle will pay a $750 fine as part of the settlement.

Miami -- A much-anticipated $50-million dredging operation that will clear decades of muck and debris from the Miami River has been postponed until at least this fall. Officials from Miami-Dade and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remain undecided on what to do with the estimated half-million cubic yards of sediment -- some possibly contaminated. A decision is expected by this summer.

With plans dead for a baseball stadium at downtown Miami's Bicentennial Park, officials from the Miami Art Museum and the Miami Museum of Science have unveiled a proposal for relocating to the 29-acre waterfront property. The plan also calls for sculpture and science gardens and extensive landscaping. City officials are pleased with the plan but remain wary of the estimated $400-million price tag.

Spain's Caixanova Bank has opened an office in Miami's Brickell Avenue financial district. Officials say the bank, based in Spain's northwestern province of Galicia, hopes to attract customers from among the hundreds of thousands of Galician immigrants in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In response to chronic homeowner complaints over unwanted developments, the city has passed a landmark ordinance designed to create so-called neighborhood conservation districts, allowing residents to shape their own zoning laws.

Tampa-based Holland & Knight, Florida's largest law firm, laid off four partners and 20 staff members from its Miami office as part of a firm-wide cost-cutting move.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz has joined other local officials and business leaders in touting an ambitious plan to replace the elevated downtown portion of I-395 with a tunnel. The roughly seven-block-long tunnel would allow removal of the unsightly overpass that cuts through the city's blossoming performing arts district. The project is estimated to cost more than $300 million.

Transforming Brickell
MIAMI -- Hoping to cash in on a long-held promise of transforming Miami's Brickell Avenue financial district into a 24-hour neighborhood, development firm Constructa has broken ground on Mary Brickell Village, a 192,000-sq.-ft. retail center that will include upscale dining, fine shops and more modest commercial tenants. The $80-million project is expected to be completed late next year. French-owned Constructa is best known for Coconut Grove's highly successful Coco-Walk entertainment and shopping complex.

Tags: Southeast

Digital Access

DIRECT DIGITAL ACCESS
Add digital to your current subscription, purchase a single ditgital issue, or start a new subscription to Florida Trend.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
An overview of the features and articles in this month's issue of Florida Trend.

ACCESS THIS ISSUE »

Florida Business News

Florida Trend Video Pick

How to Do Florida: Crabbing on Tampa Bay
How to Do Florida: Crabbing on Tampa Bay

How to Do Florida host Chad Crawford joins Tampa Bay legend Gus Muench, of Gus' Crabby Adventures based in Ruskin, for a day's work hauling traps and then a rewarding crab dinner.

Earlier Videos | Viewpoints@FloridaTrend

Ballot Box

After meeting with climate scientists, what should Gov. Scott's next move be?

  • Take action: He should adopt recommendations and move quickly to avoid greater disaster and economic problems.
  • Remain neutral but at least make a statement addressing concerns.
  • Take no action. Gov. Scott has more important, more immediate matters to attend to.

See Results

Ballot Box
Subscribe