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4/18/02: Miami News Today

Mayor seeks more economic incentives to lure businesses to downtown Miami

By Paola Iuspa

Millions of dollars in economic incentives could still be available to help a corporation move near the performing arts center, now under construction in the downtown Miami Omni district.

The possibility of offering county, state and federal funds to new business residents is under discussion by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz Diaz and Bryan Finnie, director of Miami-Dade's Office of Community & Economic Development, said Francois Illas, the mayor's chief of staff.

The request to maintain available incentives comes after Mr. Finnie proposed to use $8 million in federal funds to lure Ryder System Inc. to build a new $65 million headquarters on 10 acres near the planned arts center between Biscayne Boulevard and Biscayne Bay. Knight Ridder, parent company of the Miami Herald, owns the land.

When the Doral-based transportation management company decided against the Biscayne Boulevard site at 14th Street citing space constraints, Mr. Illas said the mayor rushed to secure similar incentives to entice other businesses to the neighborhood.

"With that money on the table," Mr. Illas said, "it would be easier to attract companies to the area."

"We will do our best to accommodate the mayor's request," said Mr. Finnie, also president & CEO of the Miami-Dade County's Empowerment Trust, which receives federal funds to help attract jobs and business opportunities to neighborhoods such as Allapattah, downtown, Homestead, Liberty City, Little Havana, Overtown, Wynwood and areas surrounding Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami.

The trust provides tax incentives, grants and activities such as job training, child care and transportation.

Mr. Finnie, said that although the $8 million previously earmarked had to be allocated to other projects, his agencies would come up with new sources of funds if the company relocating downtown met the requirements.

The incentives for the failed Ryder deal included a $10 million floating community development loan for a period of 10 years at a fixed rate of 2% and called for it to be built by a third-party developer.

Because he is running out of time to use this year's federal funding, Mr. Finnie said he has already reallocated most of the federal money proposed for Ryder to housing and retail projects.

"I am under a lot of pressure from the federal government to use those funds by October 2002," he said Tuesday. "But that does not preclude my agency from creating a similar subsidy."

He said the corporation would have to be considered a large employer.

"For another viable transaction that would bring significant employment to the area," Mr. Finnie said, "we could put together a similar package."

Philip Blumberg, president & CEO of American Ventures Realty Co. in Coral Gables and Knight Ridder's real estate consultant, said the city's and county's willingness to work together was sending a strong message.

"It is healthy that this kind of cooperation exists," said Mr. Blumberg. He said he is interested in becoming the site developer if Knight Ridder agrees to sign a long-term lease.

The San Jose-based media company has said it is in no hurry to develop the Miami parcel, which now includes parking for the Miami Herald staff.

Mr. Blumberg - whose 22-year-old company provides commercial real estate and investment management services to national, international and regional institutions - said Mayor Diaz was "making a dramatic improvement" in the city's relation and cooperation with the county.

"Government cooperation incentive packages," he said, "are prevalent among successful communities like Orlando."