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Transportation: Rail Splitters - Miami- Nov. 2003

To some Miami Beach residents, the proposed Bay Link plan is a no-brainer: A light rail line linking their city to downtown Miami, drawing tourists and commuters out of their cars in one of the nation's most densely populated areas. With federal and county funds available for the $400-million project, city taxpayers would bear virtually none of the cost.

But to others, the idea threatens the very soul of Miami Beach. Opponents are waging a campaign to derail the project. Among their concerns: Disruption of traffic during years of construction; incompatibility with other mass transit; aesthetic considerations; fear of losing tourists to downtown Miami; and the age-old worry that affordable mass transit will attract the urban poor across the bridges to Miami Beach.

When Miami Beach officials first proposed it, Bay Link was hailed as a forward-thinking solution to Miami-Dade's growing traffic crisis.

Under the plan, streetcars would connect with the county's Metrorail, loop through downtown Miami, then scoot across the MacArthur Causeway to south Miami Beach. Two loops would service the condominium and tourist zones, principally in South Beach.

Miami officials have enthusiastically endorsed Bay Link. Service industry workers on the mainland, they say, will have easy access to Miami Beach's hotels and restaurants; young professionals living in South Beach will have an easy commute to downtown Miami. City leaders also point to a recent study concluding that Bay Link would boost property values along the line.

With such accord in the normally fractious arena of Miami politics, Bay Link supporters remain dumbfounded by the range of objections. "There are so many different complaints," says Randall Robinson, a planner with the Miami Beach Community Development Corp. and a spokesman for Bay Link supporters.

Indeed, some veteran residents say the issue may be more about neighborhood politics than transportation: Younger residents of the historically transient sections of South Beach, who generally support Bay Link, are flexing their political muscle at opponents in the more suburban, affluent parts of the city.

For now Bay Link is on track. In September, the Miami Beach City Commission voted 4-3 to continue an engineering study of the project. In response, opponents have pledged to make Bay Link the top campaign issue in municipal elections this month.

Says Robinson: "Nothing on Miami Beach has ever brought people out of the woodwork to fight for a cause the way this one has."

IN THE NEWS

Coral Gables -- In Warren Buffett's first foray into south Florida real estate, Minneapolis-based HomeServices of America, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has purchased Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors (EWM) and its related entities -- Embassy Financial Services, Columbia Title and First Reserve Insurance. With 750 sales associates in 11 offices, 39-year-old EWM is one of Florida's largest independent brokerages. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Miami -- County officials overseeing the $265-million Performing Arts Center in downtown Miami say the project has been plagued by construction flaws that could affect acoustics and delay the opening by months. By one estimate, correcting the flaws could drive up the final price tag by as much as $50 million.

Badia Spices has announced plans for a $3-million expansion of its Miami headquarters, creating 20 jobs.

Miami-Dade -- National Football League officials have announced that Pro Player Stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins and baseball's Florida Marlins, will host the 2007 Super Bowl. It will be the eighth time Miami-Dade has hosted the event -- the fourth at Pro Player Stadium. Economic development officials say it should pump at least $350 million into the local economy.

A recent study reports that Miami-Dade's housing market is the third-most "overvalued," ranking behind Portland, Maine, and Denver. The figures compiled by Fidelity National Information Solutions suggest that housing prices in the county are 28% higher than what the economy should support.

In response to the ailing Argentine economy, Swiss drug maker Novartis Pharmaceuticals is relocating its Latin American headquarters from Buenos Aires to Miami-Dade. The company plans to hire 28 people locally.

The Brazilian Business Bureau, in partnership with the American Chamber of Commerce of S?o Paulo, has opened an office in Miami to assist Brazilian firms seeking to expand into south Florida. About 50 jobs will be created.

Miami International Airport celebrated the opening of its fourth runway. Officials say the $120-million project -- part of a $5-billion, 10-year expansion plan -- will allow the airport to increase capacity by 25%.

Removing some authority from the county's Public Health Trust, the Miami-Dade Commission has created a new department -- the Office of Countywide Healthcare Planning -- to oversee healthcare delivery to the county's neediest residents. A recent study found that close to 25% of Miami-Dade's residents have no health insurance. The Public Health Trust will continue to oversee publicly operated Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Beleaguered air carrier Air Jamaica has closed its Miami sales and marketing office.

According to figures from the U.S. Census, Miami-Dade is the only large county in the nation where a majority of residents were born outside the U.S. Just over 50% of Miami-Dade's 2.3 million residents are foreign-born. Within the city of Miami, the figure is about 60%.

The Beacon Council assisted 37 companies that have expanded or relocated in the county this year. Those companies pledged to spend $181 million in capital improvements and add 1,700 jobs by 2006.

Publishing
NEW-LOOK HERALD

MIAMI -- In an effort to reach a younger audience more accustomed to a computer screen than a page of newsprint, the Miami Herald has redesigned its look and content, promising readers the chance to "read the full paper at a glance." A Page One "navigation bar" highlights top stories. Subject labels and one-sentence descriptions precede all news and feature stories. Each issue also includes a "5 minute Herald" -- a full-page of synopses of the day's top stories from each section. The new look coincides with the Miami Herald's 100th anniversary.