Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties: Economic strengths and challenges, people to watch



The graduation rate at Miami- Dade County Public Schools was 80.7% last year — highest since the state began tracking graduation statistics with modern methods. In 2007, the rate was 58.7%. Also last year, the system saw its first year with no schools receiving an F; in 1999, when the state began assigning letter grades, 26 schools in the county earned an F. Two-thirds of all schools earned grades of A or B last year, and the district’s average was a B. In October, the district was one of four in Florida to earn a $15-million U.S. Department of Education Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant. And school leaders seem to be making progress in their efforts to negotiate changes to a new state law that diverts millions in construction funding from traditional public schools to charter schools.

CHALLENGE: Transportation

The TomTom Traffic Index ranks Miami-Dade transportation as the sixth-worst in the U.S.; analysis firm INRIX ranks it fifthworst in the U.S. and 10th-worst in the world. During fiscal 2017, ridership on the county’s transit system of buses and elevated Metrorail and Metromover trains took its biggest drop ever.

Early in 2017, the county voted to cut Metrorail funding but reversed itself in September under heavy criticism. The county also proposed a $6-billion SMART transit plan that called for expanding Metrorail, but county Mayor Carlos Gimenez has focused on more buses and roads, instead.

In addition, CIVIQ Smartscapes terminated a contract with the county that would have put hundreds of wifikiosks and security cameras around county transit stops, plus wifion every county bus and train, at no cost to the county. CIVIQ says it couldn’t find enough locations for the kiosks.

The county added four cars to Metrorail as part of a $380-million retrofit to the system. And TriRail — the ground-level train system that runs through Miami- Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — is expected to roll into downtown Miami sometime this year, as is the Brightline train service.

County commissioners in January created a tax increment financing zone, covering about one-third of the county’s real estate market, from which they hope to divert $1.8 billion in property tax revenue over 30 years to pay for transit projects. The zone extends for half a mile to a mile along each side of six rail routes proposed in the SMART plan. The problem: Doing so will tap future potential tax revenue that will be needed to support core city services. Taxes from that area now account for $1.6 billion of the county’s $7.4 billion core budget.

CHALLENGE: Downtown Developments

On Flagler Street, the retail district in the heart of downtown Miami, the city’s reconstruction and beautification project — first proposed in 2011 — stalled last year. The city fired the project’s first contractor in April, halting work until it could find a new contractor. Then it extended the hiatus so developer Moishe Mana, who became the street’s largest property owner, could decide whether to incorporate cobblestones into the driving surface. Although construction began in 2016, only one block of six is finished.

Meanwhile, the rest of downtown Miami is thriving. The Frost Museum of Science opened last year, next to the Perez Art Museum Miami. The taxable value of downtown properties hit $16.68 billion in 2016, up 10.25% from the previous year (which saw an increase in value of 12.7%). Roughly 37% of the city’s property tax base is downtown. Miami- Dade County Public Schools has allocated more than $50 million to expand and improve schools downtown.


CHALLENGE: Downtown Redevelopment

After years of work, Miami Beach designated two new historic districts in its North Beach area. The North Shore and Normandy Isles Local Historic Districts include 271 buildings that represent late-era Art Deco and post-war Miami Modern style. City planners are studying whether to add more waterfront properties, which are currently under a demolition moratorium.

Also in North Beach, the city’s Historic Preservation Board approved the redevelopment of Ocean Terrace, a one-block area around 75th Street along the ocean. Voters stopped the original redevelopment plan for that area, which would have demolished several historic (but then-unprotected) structures. The developer’s new plan will restore and reuse historic buildings’ street-level facades, build a condo tower in the area’s center and connect two historic hotels to form a larger one. The development conforms to the master plan voters approved for the 10-block North Beach area last year.


CHALLENGE: Economic Development

Category 4 Hurricane Irma inflicted significant damage on the Lower Keys in September, with some 1,800 residential and commercial buildings destroyed and more than 3,000 sustaining major damage — not including mobile homes. Nearly 40,000 households applied for help from FEMA, and 10,000 residents were left homeless.

The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce reported that many businesses remained damaged or destroyed at the beginning of 2018. Little Palm Island Resort and Spa and the Dolphin Marina and Cottages both say they won’t reopen until next year.

After rising to 3.6% in October, the county’s unemployment rate was back to 3.0% by the start of the year. The Keys’ real problem, though, is a shortage of workers, a situation made worse by the hurricane in the Lower and Middle Keys. Most workers there are locals, not commuters from the mainland (the drive is too long), and rebuilding costs will price many of them out of housing.

CHALLENGE: Transportation

In August, work began on a $76.5-million plan to restore the Old Seven Mile Bridge and Sunset Park. While work goes on through 2021, public access to Pigeon Key is via ferry from Knights Key. Key West International Airport, meanwhile, will soon see the completion of the $10-million reconstruction of its only runway.

The county also began the process for its first road project designed to adapt to sea-level rise: Raising two low-lying, floodprone roads in Key Largo and Big Pine Key and collecting, pumping and treating stormwater runoff from the roads. It hopes to use what it learns from these projects to make broader plans, since half of the county’s 300 miles of roads are susceptible to sea-level rise during the next two decades.

People to Watch

Stacey Mitchell: Monroe County Tourism Development Council director since September, Mitchell leads the tourism industry’s recovery from Hurricane Irma. The council’s longtime sales executive, Mitchell took over from a 21-year veteran of the position at one of the Keys’ most challenging moments. She’s overseeing a marketing campaign with the goal of reminding people to visit the area without reminding them of the hurricane. More than half of the Keys’ workforce works in the tourism industry.

Lester Sola: Emilio Gonzalez left as director of Miami International AIrport in November after four years and is now Miami’s city manager. Sola now will oversee logistics and growth at the county’s top economic engine — and will have to navigate alwaysdifficult county politics.

Derek Jeter: The CEO of the Miami Marlins has taken flak for trading several top players to slash $45 million from annual payroll, but residents haven’t turned against him. Yet. He’ll have to figure out how to get fans in seats.

David Beckham: With his Miami Major League Soccer franchise finally official, he’ll need to drum up fan support through naming, logo and uniform campaigns, plus start recruiting players. He and his team will also have to deal with at least one legal challenge as they finish gathering land for their Overtown stadium.

Jorge Gonzalez: City National Bank recently became one of just three South Florida-based banks with more than $10 billion in assets. As the bank’s president and CEO, Gonzalez has largely driven its growth through new lines of business, including equipment and specialty finance, as well as a division dedicated to government, institutional and non-profit banking. He’s also leading the bank through a planned acquisition of TotalBank, which will make City National the third-largest bank based in Florida.

Peter Zalewski: During the recession, Zalewski founded Condo Vultures to chronicle and organize bulk buyers of distressed condos. He then founded CraneSpotters to cover the development boom that followed. Zalewski just became the acquisitions director for Brickell Ventures, a new private equity firm that plans to purchase recently completed downtown Miami condos at a discount from developers and unit owners during the next price decline. When he starts buying, you can bet prices are falling.

Della Heiman: Heiman’s Wynwood Yard incubator for restaurateurs received $100,000 from the John S. and James. L. Knight Foundation last year to support its development of entrepreneurs. Heiman and partner Ken Lyon are also opening North Beach Yard in Miami Beach, where they expect to have as many as 35 food, retail and fitness businesses.

Regional Roundup

Miami-Dade County
County Population: 2.79 millon, +5.5% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 23.1%
Per Capita Income: $47,667

  • Developers of Prive at Island Estate in Aventura won a $26-million jury verdict against the Williams Island Property Owners Association, which attempted to block Prive’s development on a nearby island. The association effort was unsuccessful, and the developer countersued, alleging that the association violated an agreement between its developer and the Prive developers in which both promised not to interfere with developments on each other’s islands.
  • Coral Gables-based Bacardi will purchase Patron Spirits, known for its tequila, for an undisclosed price. Bacardi has owned a minority stake in the company since 2008 but will own all of it when the transaction closes.
  • Perry Ellis International founder George Feldenkreis, currently the company’s largest shareholder, launched a bid to take the publicly traded fashion company private by buying the roughly 89% of shares that he doesn’t own. Feldenkreis’ son, Oscar Feldenkreis, is the company’s president and CEO, and the elder Feldenkreis is a member of the board.
  • Cruise ships failed 15 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sanitation inspections in 2017 — a record for the industry, where the typical annual failure rate has been two to four per year. Five Carnival Cruise ships failed inspections, along with ships from Norwegian Cruise Lines, Oceana Cruises and smaller lines.
  • Swiss financier Joseph Benhamou and family members will purchase Brickell Bank from majority shareholder Banco Espírito Santo, which is in liquidation. Members of the Benhamou family are majority owners an independent private bank in Switzerland, CBH Compagnie Bancaire Helvétique. When European regulators seized Banco Espírito Santo in 2014, they ordered it to sell Brickell Bank.
  • Fashion designer Naeem Khan will move his headquarters to Miami from New York and will open a fashion studies high school next door. The school will be an extension of Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ magnet Design and Architecture Senior High and should allow DASH to grow its fashion program from 100 to 400 students.
  • British small-space hotel company Yotel will launch its new extended-stay format with a 30-story tower in Miami developed in a joint venture between Miami-based Aria Development Group and Kuwait-based AQARAT. YotelPad will include 250 Yotel hotel suites and 208 condos, which owners can rent as hotel suites.
  • Non-invasive medical technology maker Insightec, which splits its headquarters between Miami and Haifa, Israel, raised $150 million. Koch Disruptive Technologies led the round with $100 million.
  • The owners of Sergio’s Cuban Kitchen and Bar signed a deal with Cuban Manna to open dozens of Sergio’s Cuban fastcasual, healthy Cuban foods restaurants in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
  • The owners of the Jungle Island animal attraction, which has been shut down since Hurricane Irma, plan to reopen late this spring with new attractions opening by late summer.
  • Former Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria says that he did not make a profit on the $1.2-billion sale of the team and will not be sharing any of the sale price with the county and city. As part of the deal in which the county funded the majority of the team’s new stadium, Miami and Miami-Dade are entitled to 5% of any profits Loria and his partners make from selling the team within 10 years of building the stadium. The county plans to sue.
  • Team Citi.moov won Fastrack Institute’s 16-week Miami mobility competition with its idea for applications and software that will incentivize residents to share rides, bike or use public transit. The team is trying to raise $500,000 to launch in Miami.

Monroe County
County Population: 76,265, +4.1% vs. 2013
5-Year Change in Wages / Salaries: 20.5%
Per Capita Income: $81,211

  • Baptist Health South Florida will spend $40 million to rebuild Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon and hopes to raise $15 million in donations for the work, set to begin next year. The hospital, destroyed during Hurricane Irma, is the only one in an 80-mile stretch between Tavernier and Key West. Hospital employees are working out of a temporary field hospital.


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