September 16, 2014

Southeast

David Villano | 4/1/2000
Fort Lauderdale: Downtown Growing Pains

Twenty years ago, Fort Lauderdale was, by some standards, a sleepy Southern backwater, its urban skyline a mere blip on the horizon. Today, Broward County's largest city is a bustling metropolis with a downtown center replete with gleaming glass towers and fashionable cafes. Corporate headquarters abound. Among them: AutoNation, Citrix Systems, Arby's and Interim Services.

Local officials point to a $47-million bond passed in 1986 as the catalyst for downtown renewal in this city of 149,798. Much of the funds were used for construction of Riverwalk, a landscaped promenade linking the city's arts and science district with the shops and restaurants of Las Olas Boulevard. A building boom soon followed.

But not everyone shares big-league aspirations for Fort Lauderdale's city center. In the past year, at least half-a-dozen new office and condominium towers have been approved for downtown. A slew of others have been proposed, including a 38-story luxury apartment building that would wrap around a prized historic structure, the Stranahan House. Civic groups are fighting the plan. Other residents decry the gentrification of modest, sleepy neighborhoods bordering the downtown core. Housing costs are skyrocketing.

It may be the price of success. Broward is consistently among the state's fastest-growing counties. Its per capita tax base is the second-highest in the state, after Boca Raton's. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle says the challenge is to manage growth, not oppose it. To that end, he plugs the concept of the 24-hour downtown, a place where people live, work, shop and dine, all within a walking radius.

People to Watch

George Johnson Jr. is president and CEO of Extended Stay America. The public company's chairman, Wayne Huizenga, is careful with the company he keeps. Johnson's the real deal. But if Huizenga's consolidation strategy remains out of favor on Wall Street, Johnson could bolt.

Ayman Sabi, president and CEO of Roadhouse Grill, manages his own public company at age 35. Roadhouse Grill, a recent entry into the crowded casual, mid-prized dining niche, already operates 57 restaurants in 11 states and expects to add 15 this year.

Businesses to Watch

Perhaps more than any other company, 4-year-old Citrix Systems, a prepackaged software developer, has put south Florida's fledgling information technology industry on the nation's map. Wall Street can't get enough of this company. How high can it go?

Fort Lauderdale's daily newspaper, The Sun-Sentinel, is locked in battle with The Miami Herald for readers in the coveted South Broward market. The Sun-Sentinel's profit margins -- near 25% -- are among the industry's highest, but too much is at stake to ease up.

Affordability

Population growth of better than 2% in the Fort Lauderdale metro area is driving up housing costs, but a booming economy is helping to keep wages high. Realtors say the high-end market for condos and single-family homes has never been stronger. On the other end, starter homes in western Broward fringes can be found for less than $100,000.

Miami-Dade: Instability Stalls Recovery

The election of businessman Johnny Winton to the Miami City Commission last November raised the hopes of many residents that civility and sound judgment would return to City Hall. Winton, who unseated entrenched veteran J.L. Plummer, is a downtown real estate owner with no background in politics. But Winton's voice remains but one on a chronically fractured and factious city commission that proves incapable of putting an end to rampant public corruption in the nation's fourth-poorest city or of addressing a lingering fiscal crisis -- a governor-appointed state oversight board remains in control of the city's fragile finances.

A referendum that passed last fall, strengthening the commission's powers and forcing an early mayoral election in this city of 360,000, is now locked up in the courts. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, who remains largely estranged from the five-member commission, accuses his political enemies of masterminding the referendum. Awaiting the court's decision are a slew of eager candidates -- including former Mayor Xavier Suarez, who was removed from office two years ago following a voter fraud scandal -- lining up to oppose Carollo.

Meanwhile, City Manager Donald Warshaw's name has been added to the growing list of city of Miami officials snared in public corruption scandals. The one-time Miami police chief has been accused of illegally using a credit card tied to a police retirement fund.

Needless to say, the soap opera at City Hall has not gone unnoticed on Wall Street, where the city's $165 million in bonds remain below investment grade.

People to Watch

John Henry, owner, Florida Marlins professional baseball team, made his millions as a commodities trader. Now he's pushing hard for a new baseball-only stadium next to the new American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami's Bicentennial Park. An even bigger sell is convincing taxpayers to fund it.

Fred Messing, COO of Baptist Health Systems, earned kudos for making Baptist one of the most worker-friendly employers in Florida. As current chairman of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency, Messing hopes to work similar magic on Miami-Dade County's diverse and disparate business community.

Businesses to Watch

A year ago, computer distributor CHS Electronics was the world's third-largest distributor of computer equipment and ranked 189th on the Fortune 500 with 1998 sales of $11 billion. But accounting irregularities and other allegations of mismanagement have sent its stock tumbling and prompted a federal investigation. Will massive job cuts and consolidation of overseas operations put this one-time high flyer back on track?

IVAX, Noven and Andrx are the big names among south Florida pharmaceutical firms, but tiny Aphton Corp., located near downtown Miami, is turning heads with a strong run on Wall Street thanks to strategic alliances with some of the world's largest drug companies.

Affordability

The Census Bureau ranks Miami the fourth-poorest large city in the U.S. Meanwhile, the county has the second-highest cost of living statewide -- behind Monroe. In the Miami metro area, the median sales price for existing single-family homes in 1999 was $133,800. Professional-level housing remains in short supply, adding to the county's recruitment woes.

Hialeah: Eye on the Big Leagues

Every region has its municipal whipping boy -- the brunt of jokes, the place nobody goes unless they must. In Miami-Dade County, Hialeah holds that distinction. Crowded, bleak and industrial, this city of 210,000 is not found on any tourist maps. Strip shopping centers are the focal point for civic life; parks and other natural areas are few. Indeed, a recent aerial survey revealed that trees occupy a scant 3% of the city's surface area, compared to 23% in neighboring Miami Springs.

But thanks to a steady increase of immigrants from Latin America, Hialeah remains one of the region's most vibrant communities. Population growth is among the county's highest, increasing 11.4% annually from 1990 to 1998. Job creation, especially in the city's industrial sector, Miami-Dade's largest, remains strong thanks to cheap land and easy access to the county's airports. Shoemaker Gator Industries employs more than 600; Fine Art Lamps employs more than 200. And mail-order house ABC Distributing recently built a massive new distribution center that will employ 2,000.

With Hispanics accounting for 88% of its residents, Hialeah is a Latin city. New arrivals are quickly absorbed by a community where English-language proficiency is rarely a job requirement for low-end positions. Daniel Hernandez, president of the Hialeah Chamber of Commerce, says the community also has been attracting Hispanics from other parts of the U.S. The combined influx is creating a shortage of affordable housing. "Business is booming for the shop owners and small business operators," he says. "But we need to make sure that people who want to live here can afford to do so. That's got to be a big priority for us."

People to Watch

Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez made nationwide headlines years ago for winning re-election while under federal indictment facing corruption charges. (He was later acquitted.) Since then, Martinez's record has been clean, helping to earn Hialeah a long-overdue measure of respect.

Thomas Langbein is president and CEO of Techdyne Inc., which produces electronic components and is a rarity in Hialeah: a public company. City leaders hope Langbein can help change the perception of this blue-collar community.

Businesses to Watch

Telemundo Group, the nation's No. 2 Spanish-language network, is eager to prove itself in a head-to-head ratings war with leader Univision. Its recent rescue of all-news network CBS/Telenoticias from bankruptcy should help solidify its lead in news programming.

Biomedical instruments maker Coulter was a $700-million-a-year business when California-based Beckman Instruments acquired the homegrown firm in 1998 and changed its name to Beckman Coulter. Company officials pledged to maintain a sizable operation in Hialeah, but local officials are still crossing their fingers.

Affordability

According to the Florida Association of Realtors, the median sale price for a single-family home in Hialeah is $120,000. Median rental price for a two-bedroom apartment is $700-$725.

County Outlook

Broward

Broward remains one of the nation's fastest-growing counties, adding 32,000 residents in the 12 months ended April 1999. Fueling much of that growth are west Broward boomtowns such as Miramar, Sunrise and Plantation, where cheap land and low taxes have been a relocation magnet for dozens of Miami-Dade firms. Among them: Aviation Services, WTVJ-NBC 6 and Amerijet International.

Last year, stung by such defections, Miami-Dade leaders proposed an agreement with neighboring Broward and Palm Beach counties forbidding the use of economic incentives to lure each others' corporate tenants. Officials from all three counties lauded the pact. But the agreement appears to be filled with holes. Broward officials, defending their pursuit of Miami-based Lucent Technologies earlier this year, say their incentive package is not meant to entice the company to move its 500 Miami-Dade jobs to Broward, but for the creation of 300 jobs should Lucent choose to consolidate its south Florida operations in Miramar. Also the agreement is between the counties, not the municipalities. In January, the city of Sunrise put together its own incentives package to lure Miami's Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and its 200 workers.

Business to Watch
Teleservices company Precision Response Corp. was acquired in January by Barry Diller's USA Networks, but that won't interfere with plans to move its corporate headquarters from Miami to Plantation and open call centers in Sunrise and Perrine. Combined, the two centers will add more than 1,500 jobs to its existing statewide total of 7,000.

Miami-Dade

Civic leaders sighed in relief when Burger King announced earlier this year that it would not move its corporate headquarters out of Miami-Dade, but the county has struggled to attract startups and relocations. One exception: multinationals such as DaimlerChrysler and Sikorsky Aircraft continue to set up their Latin operations here. Company officials often cite Miami-Dade's crime, traffic and reputation for public corruption as drawbacks.

As a result, Miami-Dade has one of the state's highest jobless rates -- 6.7% last year. By 2005, officials say, the county could face a shortfall of more than 100,000 jobs. In February, Miami-Dade's 3-year-old One Community One Goal job creation initiative completed its planning phase. Now comes the tough part: convincing business leaders in such fields as telecommunications, financial services and information technology that Miami is the ideal location to set up shop.

Business to Watch
In the first nine months of 1999, Carnival Corp. cash cow Carnival Cruise Lines earned $776 million on revenues of $2.71 billion -- a 26% increase over a year earlier. But increasing calls for government regulation of the cruise industry give the shivers to company officials.

Monroe

Monroe appears ready for a referendum on what to do with the $10 million the county raises each year through its tourism bed tax. A countywide survey completed early this year revealed that voters are split on a key proposal: Should more of the money be diverted for land acquisition and infrastructure repair?

Under current provisions, most of the tax revenues are used for a tourism marketing campaign administered by Monroe's Tourism Development Council (TDC). Many residents believe the campaign has been too successful, bringing hordes of visitors and second-home buyers who foul the environment and drive up housing costs. Others believe the TDC favors the upscale Key West hoteliers and merchants at the expense of mom-and-pop operators on the outer keys.

Nevertheless, catering to visitors remains the lifeblood of the Florida Keys, with nearly half of all full-time residents economically dependent on tourism-related jobs. The county's 2.5% unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state.

Thanks to skyrocketing housing prices, Monroe has the highest cost of living in Florida. A one-bedroom apartment rents for an average of $1,000 a month. As a result, wealthy retirees are arriving as low-income residents flee. On average, residents derive more than a third of their personal income from investments -- a higher percentage than all but Indian River, Sarasota and Palm Beach counties -- and per capita personal income is well above the state average.

Business to Watch
Developers and civic groups alike will closely watch the opening of the Grand Key Resort. The 216-room complex, next to the environmentally sensitive Key West salt ponds, promises the kind of low-impact ecotourism experience Monroe County officials are calling for.

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