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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
March 2018

North Miami Beach pulls ahead of its neighbor to the south

CPix_MarkSell_3-18omparisons are tricky but often instructive. So it is with North Miami, “City on the Move,” and its northerly neighbor and near-twin, North Miami Beach, the “City on the RISE.”

How do they compare? Both cities turn 92 this year, and their borders intertwine in confusing ways along Biscayne Boulevard between 135th and 151st streets like an irregular ziggurat. North Miami minibuses visit Biscayne Commons (North Miami Beach); and North Miami Beach trolleys go there and to FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus (North Miami).

Both places bear strange gifts. North Miami has offered us former Mayor Andre Pierre’s mysterious Porsche, fake police badges, the candidate endorsed by Jesus Christ, Mayor Lucie Tondreau’s 2013 coronation before a packed auditorium of bewildered but enthusiastic ESOL students, followed by her 2014 jailing on mortgage fraud, and so much else.

Up in North Miami Beach, the city council just booted Frantz Pierre for phoning in, rather than attending meetings over the past nine months, because of heart trouble. Pierre then sued the city on February 22, just before the council was to choose a replacement. And there’s former Mayor Myron Rosner, recently arrested again, this time for securities fraud-related charges and grand theft over a soured $150,000 business deal.

North Miami has 67,000 people and a $2.8-billion tax base (up 33 percent since 2013) to North Miami Beach’s 47,000 people and $2.5-billion base (up 45 percent). Both cities are city manager governments with proud mayors (George Vallejo, North Miami Beach; Smith Joseph, North Miami), smart city managers (Ana Garcia, North Miami Beach, Larry Spring, North Miami), and highly diverse populations, with non-Hispanic whites an ever-more distinct minority (20 percent North Miami Beach, 12.8 percent North Miami).

North Miami’s five council members represent districts, and North Miami Beach’s seven council members are elected at-large. Both cities offer fine parks, community policing, popular Police Athletic Leagues, and big parties, although North Miami’s are more expensive ($250,000 for 2017 Mardi Gras, $150,000 for FIU Brewfest). North Miami officials have taken more trips -- to Haiti and even to China in 2016 (bill: around $55,000, including the city clerk). North Miami voters tend to gripe about spending.

Which leads to our punchline: North Miami Beach is pulling ahead, both in financial metrics and in restoring civic trust, although both cities have taken more steps forward than back.

North Miami Beach is forging on with high-rises near the city center, along Biscayne Boulevard, and in Eastern Shores, mimicking its neighbors Sunny Isles Beach and Aventura. It is campaigning to annex the vast 163rd Street Mall and the neighborhood just to its northwest, which form an unincorporated doughnut hole within the city limits. In North Miami, the mammoth SoLeMia project is well along, which should start producing tax-roll dividends by 2020.

North Miami Beach has been more consistent for a longer time (Garcia joined in August 2013 and dived right into the city’s strategic plan, Spring came onboard in April 2016 and had to grapple with the police department, Chinatown, MOCA, and the bond issue).

North Miami has adhered to its strategic plan and mission statement; its council generally lets the city manager run things without interference (Garcia’s contract runs till 2020, Spring’s to 2019), and employees conform to an exacting set of Garcia’s standards, called RISE (Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence -- hence the “City on the RISE”).

Perhaps above all, North Miami Beach watches its pennies closely. Its reserves are well above $25 million and continally rising, double from five years ago, thanks to financial stewardship. North Miami’s are half that, up from zero -- thanks entirely to SoLeMia.

While North Miami’s politics are vastly more civil than in 2013, trust takes time, as toxins do not leave the system rapidly.

Perceptions matter now as voters in North Miami decide on a $120 million bond referendum -- reduced from $155 million -- tentatively scheduled for May 1, in tranches for infrastructure, community improvements, affordable housing, and technology. So far, the city management has faced skepticism, despite the city’s needs with aging pipes, droopy facilities, cracked pavements and sidewalks, repeated flooding with sea level rise, and the prospect of higher borrowing costs with delay.

Both cities face similar needs, with water and sewer systems, older neighborhoods and infrastructure, and modest median household incomes (North Miami $39,000; North Miami Beach $44,000).

In North Miami, Brickell Motors president Mario Murgado just withdrew his plans for an 11-story condo tower on the site of the shuttered 1969-vintage White House Inn. We can presume Murgado smelled a lost cause amid hostility from the neighbors.

While North Miami didn’t bite on that one, the council did on January 23 approve a five-story self-storage facility at 1880 NE 123rd St., adding to similar storage properties on 125th Street and 13th Avenue and just west of I-95 and south of 135th Street. While the City on the Move could call itself the City Where America Puts Its Stuff, a big Audi dealership opened last year just west of Biscayne on 142nd Street.

North Miami Beach zooms ahead with its growing array of developments. On February 20, the council unanimously approved CK Privé Group’s million-square-foot Uptown Biscayne project on five acres that includes the Dean’s Gold strip club and ABC Fine Wine and Spirits store. What’s more, the owners have land across Biscayne Boulevard and could connect the development with an overhead pedestrian bridge to a 163rd Street commuter train station.

There’s a price being paid. For example, kayak rentals at East Greynolds Park now directly face the 32-story Harbour luxury condos, coming on line this year. Some find this monstrous.

Says North Miami council member Carol Keys: “It’s as if North Miami Beach has eliminated zoning and density. We don’t want to be like Aventura or Brickell.”

True enough, as long as you watch those pennies.

 

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