Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26: Jungle Island Needs To Untangle Its Financial Mess Before It Gets a Dime More

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A beloved tourist attraction for parrots has been gradually turning into the home of the white elephant.

Once upon a time, this story was simply supposed to be about more meeting and banquet space.

That was the argument Bern Levine made almost two decades ago about why Parrot Jungle needed to move away from its legendary Pinecrest site. A majority of Miami voters bought the argument in 1995, when they approved Parrot Jungle's relocation to Watson Island.

Parrot Jungle grew, with plenty of banquet space - but also with lots of animals beyond parrots and other birds, and changed its name to Jungle Island in 2007. And the admission price skyrocketed.

What hasn't grown is the attendance level. Its average number of visitors hasn't ever approached the 725,000 Levine once projected - even before the economy collapsed in 2008.

But still, Levine wants more from the city of Miami - more money and a hotel. Oh, yes, and the relocation of the city's Japanese Garden, which was created on Watson Island in 1961 as a gift to Miami from the founder of Japan's Ricoh Corporation and which has already been restored at least twice, after municipal neglect and hurricanes.

Aside from the plan's many faults, Levine's got lousy timing. Miami's still recovering, both from the economic crisis and the public debacle of providing much of the financing for the Miami Marlins' ballpark.

And Levine's spent a lot of time cashing in on the goodwill of South Floridians who have fond memories of the attraction Franz Scherr opened in 1936.

Now it's time for Levine to give back that investment. Jungle Island doesn't deserve one more dime from the city - or to continue to grow - until its money management and administration improve. The city of Miami should say "no" until then.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25: North Miami Should Say "No" To Strip Joint

By Sylvia Gurinsky
WPBT-Channel 2's potential new neighbor on Sesame Street may be brought to you by the letter "X."

Many years ago, the area of Northeast 20th Avenue in North Miami in front of the PBS affiliate was named in honor of the network's beloved children's program. Now, however, the deceptively-named Sunny Isles Eatery wants to open an alcohol-serving strip joint - also deceptively called a "gentlemen's club" - close to the station.

North Miami would have to change a law that prohibits alcohol being served in such places for this to happen.

Actually, city council members shouldn't change that law.

But one council member, Scott Galvin, inexplicably supports this project as a potential job creator. What a choice from a man who works with Junior Achievement of Greater Miami, an organization that's supposed to teach young people about entrepreneurship.

Is this what you have in mind for them, Councilman?

Even worse is the location choice. Channel 2 is in an industrial/warehouse section of North Miami. There are any number of businesses the city could - and should - try to get for that neighborhood. For instance, how about businesses that match with Channel 2, which is also the headquarters of Comtel, a video production facility? How about high-tech businesses?

Then there's the matter of what's over the railroad tracks and Biscayne Boulevard to the east - Florida International University, David Lawrence K-8 Center and Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School.

(Yes, it's true that the corner of 163rd street and Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami Beach has a similar club; that doesn't mean North Miami has to join the party.)

Whatever joins Channel 2 in the area should match the employment and economic needs of the schools, not of a red-light district.

North Miami should say no to a change in law and to the Sunny Isles Eatery plans.

Otherwise, with apologies to the memory of Mr. Rogers, WPBT, a good citizen of North Miami for more than 40 years, will likely be asking another city, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday June 11: Delay MAST Academy Expansion Decision

By Sylvia Gurinsky

With the school year just ended, students and families looking forward to a relaxing summer don't need any surprises. Many at MAST Academy seem to be getting one.

The Marittime and Science Technology Academy is located in the former Planet Ocean site on Virginia Key. It has been a magnet school, with its students selected by a lottery.

But students living in Key Biscayne need their own high school. There is little space on the island for one. Students have been going to Coral Gables High School, Booker T. Washington High School and other local schools.

The school district is pondering whether to approve a major facility expansion on the land that includes MAST. The expansion would provide a high school for Key Biscayne residents and relief for the existing K-8 center.

The argument made against it by many in the MAST community is that having a regular school would undermine the unique nature of their school. Those who support the project point to other schools that have included successful magnet programs.

This is too important a project for either the school board or the Village of Key Biscayne to rush to a decision on. Perhaps a compromise can be worked out. Or perhaps another site, such as the soon-to-be vacated Miami Science Museum buildings on South Miami Avenue, can be put into the picture - particularly now that the MAST program has expanded beyond the original campus.

All the students involved - from MAST and from Key Biscayne -  are worth the patience needed on this matter.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 6: Back To Work For "One Community"

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Education is the engine by which all relevant industries in Miami-Dade County run. Those who have put together the latest report by One Community One Goal realize that:

Link to reports

As they did during the late 1990s, community leaders putting together that report have targeted seven industries for economic improvement. The report also acknowledges the advantages of the county's environment and cultural atmosphere.

Among the recommendations: Have Miami-Dade Public Schools and local universities and colleges actively participate in the formation of job creation plans.

Proposals include the creation of a Future Fund for economic development, the expansion of international and homegrown businesses and the recommendation of improved transportation infrastructure, including the development of light rail. There are ideas for strategies to encourage workers to stay in the community, or at least maintain connections. Communication with the public is strongly emphasized. The final report gives examples of what other communities are doing for economic and employment success and calls the upgrading of Miami Beach's convention center "critical."

A number of the ideas depend on changing the behavior of government that has a tendency to deal with friends and media that has a tendency to focus on the flashy. Changing that behavior will be the most difficult part.

The key word throughout the report is "sustained." Miami-Dade County  has a maturing community. By now, it should be able to develop beyond economic whims and political turf wars.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday June 5: How's Your "Money-Saving" Looking Now, Scott Supporters?

By Sylvia Gurinsky
Congratulations, Florida. Thanks to your 2010 election of Rick Scott as governor and continued swayed nature of your legislature, this state has broken financial records - in the money it's spending on lawsuits challenging reasonable federal laws and on the money it's spending fighting lawsuits for inane laws it's enacted.

The latest example comes from the state's decision to purge thousands of voters from the rolls (Sorry, Governor, a purge is what it is, and there's no other way to label it.). The stated idea was to kick out undocumented immigrants and others who aren't officially registered to vote. But, of course, it's the innocent who get hurt - and victims of this purge have included a longtime Florida resident who is also a World War II veteran and faithful voter. Even native Floridians haven't been immune.

Naturally, the purge has triggered a legal challenge.

So add it to the money the state is spending to defend other misguided or unenforceable laws - like any that restrict business dealings with those who do business with Cuba, which oversteps federal policy.

Speaking of the feds: Add in the money Scott and company have spent fighting the 2010 national health care law, money for upgraded rail and other transportation projects and more that could truly help this state.

Scott and his friends in the Florida Legislature call it doing what they need to do. Those who know Florida better call their legal wrangling what it is: Government waste.

Many of the voters who supported Scott in 2010 did so on two theories: That he would create jobs for Florida and save the state money.

He hasn't been directly responsible for the first. He's been downright irresponsible on the second.

How's that supposedly money-saving choice looking now, Florida?