By George “Bud” Scholl, Mayor
(January 28, 2015) – Citizens of Sunny Isles Beach, it is with great pleasure that I deliver my first State of the City address as your new Mayor. Since I have only been in office a little over one month, I want to point out that much of the progress that I will be discussing from this prior year was completed under the leadership of former Mayor Edelcup and the prior commission. I am pleased to report that after eleven years in office, Mayor Edelcup has left the City in great standing and we all thank him once again for his dedicated service.
Your City’s finances have never looked better. In fact, this past year we once again lowered our millage rate to $2.6 per $1,000 of taxable value, representing the third year in a row that we have reduced this important rate. Property values continue to soar in our City. Between increases in existing property values and new construction, our total property value in Sunny Isles Beach has gone from $6.9 billion to approximately $8 billion within the past year. With several new projects under construction, we expect to see this trend continue for the foreseeable future. This extraordinary tax base ensures that we can maintain an excellent position in the three critical areas of our City finances: 1) producing a general operating budget to maintain world class levels of service, this past year our general operating budget totaled $44 million; 2) providing sufficient levels of funding to complete our current and future capital project needs, this past year capital projects totaled $38 million; and 3) maintaining a solid level of general and assigned reserves, also known as our rainy day fund, which is currently at $19 million. I have been deeply involved in the annual budget process for the City long before becoming Mayor and serving on the City Commission, so I can assure you we have always taken a conservative and responsible approach to our City finances. Our continuing goal will be to keep taxes as low as responsibly possible while maintaining appropriate funding for these three key areas of our financial stability.
Speaking of capital projects, this past year has, once again, been a very busy and productive time for the City Administration. Our Beach Renourishment efforts yielded 36,000 cubic yards of sand spread over our beachfront from the Sands Point Condominium to the north end of the Golden Strand time share, alleviating a number of known hotspots for erosion. This was a very successful joint project between the City and Fortune International, the developer of the Jade Signature project. Looking forward, our City staff is consulting with coastal erosion experts to determine ways to mitigate the seasonal erosion patterns that have been affecting our beachfront. Replacing sand is becoming more and more difficult and costly, therefore, focusing some major expertise on mitigation will be an upcoming priority. While we are on the topic of the beach, I am pleased to report that we have completed the replacement of ten lifeguard stands and the expansion of our Ocean Rescue unit. This has resulted in our City having one of the safest beaches in all of Florida.
As everyone can see when entering or leaving our City by way of Sunny Isles Boulevard (State Road 826), Gateway Park is well on its way to completion, which is expected in August. Several of the Park’s main elements are under construction including the 370 car parking garage, which includes approximately 18,000 square feet of restaurant space, and the performing arts stage. Both standout as a testament to the City’s dedication to provide a convenient venue for large events, as well as ample parking for our residents to attend those events and enjoy passive park space. An elevated pedestrian bridge to safely bring residents between the park and North Bay Road spanning over west bound Sunny Isles Boulevard is scheduled to be complete by November. Our State Legislature treated us well this year by providing a $500,000 grant for the performing arts stage at Gateway Park, and $500,000 in general appropriations for the City’s storm water project on 174th Street.
The completion of Intracoastal Parks happened in 2014 but was short lived due to the south seawall collapse in August. The emergency repair is underway with the future playground location being used as a staging area. The entire seawall is expected to be complete by Spring 2015 at which time the playground installation can commence. However, during these repairs most of this park system remains open and is enjoyed daily by residents in the south end of our City.
The next and major phase of our utility wire undergrounding has moved forward substantially over this past year. The plans to underground the overhead distribution and utility wires on Collins Avenue and Sunny Isles Boulevard are nearing completion. This is still a very complicated and drawn out process even with 100% of the plans complete, however, we continue to press FPL and the other utility providers to move the process along. In the meantime, we have started evaluating and discussing the undergrounding process in other areas of the City.
On the administrative front, this has been a year of technology upgrades and enhancements. We have upgraded our building, code enforcement, planning and zoning management software systems and are moving towards providing more digital options for streamlining the permitting process. We have also upgraded our financial software to fully integrate all our accounting software systems.
We have some of the most diverse and plentiful arrays of cultural and community events and programs of any city in South Florida. This past year was no exception. They are too numerous to list, so here are highlights of some of our key events, programs and improvements:
The traditional annual Holiday Ball received a much needed facelift this year. By relocating the event to the gymnasium from the community center, we were able to add more special effects, increase the size of the dance floor and accommodate more guests.
Our Jazz Fest grew in attendance and vendor participation as well as reputation. Some special additions made it a more professional event while decreasing our net expense. This event has always been subsidized by the City, however, this year’s total subsidy came in at half of last year’s by producing the event in-house.
Attendance doubled at the Veteran’s Day event with more returning honoree’s from year’s past. These Veterans have expressed deep appreciation that they are not forgotten.
Both the Egg Scramble and Boogie by the Beach improved in quality by expanding both events out onto 181st Drive at Pelican Community Park. This resulted in a marked increase in attendance and much happier participants.
The Athletics Division added a field hockey program to the fall calendar. This new program, along with increased enrollment in existing programs, led to a 25% increase in overall athletic program enrollment in the fall of 2014. These successes create a challenge with the limited program space and availability of the gymnasium, but we are thrilled to see these programs flourish.
Artificial turf and lights were added to Senator Gwen Margolis Park, which has led to a soccer field in high demand.
Operational management of the skate park at Town Center Park was transferred to the City. This resulted in a more controlled environment. It is our goal this year to find an alternative location for the skate park away from residences.
The restaurant on the fishing pier opened Memorial Day weekend 2014 and has experienced a steady flow of customers through the summer and fall.
Our summer camp registrations increased this past year by over 10%. Our Winter Break camp that just concluded has seen an increase in enrollment of over 45% in the last 3 years. The After School Program has been at maximum capacity since the start of the school year. We have received positive feedback for the changes we made in both programs, including an increase in personnel and adding a variety of on-site field trips.
With the addition of support staff in the Video Production team, video productions of events are airing more timely. Those videos are now available on the website in order to increase access and expand viewership.
Our Cultural and Community Services Department launched a unique social media program to advise of event time changes when we have bad weather or other last minute issues that can cause the need for rescheduling. We found this to be an instant success when we needed to start the Egg Scramble late due to foul weather. To date we have over 650 Likes on Facebook, over 280 Followers on Twitter and over 130 Followers on Instagram, all are increasing daily.
The Sunny Isles Beach Foundation was established with some assistance from the City and then raised $900,000 by sponsoring a Gala for Mayor Edelcup’s retirement. This foundation has been specifically designed to support the arts, culture and infrastructure within our community.
Our Social Seniors have had a great year with a number of events and field trips. In 2014 they have nearly doubled their membership to 130. We are looking forward to creating a facility for a senior center to serve this important segment of our community.
Development in our City has rebounded to levels on par with the height of the last real estate cycle. Projects under construction include:
- 400 Sunny Isles Marina by Urbis & Key International
- Atlantic 15 by Terra Beach Group
- Chateau Beach by the Chateau Group
- Jade Signature by Fortune International
- Mansions at Acqualina by the Trump Group
- Porsche Design Tower by Dezer Development
Projects that have received approval and are slated to start development soon include:
- Chabad Lubavitch Russian Center of South Florida
- Muse by PMG-S2 Sunny Isles Holdings LLC
- Publix Supermarket by Publix Super Markets, Inc.
- Ritz Carlton Residences by Sunny Isles Property Venture, LLC (Fortune International and the Chateau Group Venture)
- Parque Towers by J. Milton & Associates
- The Residence Inn by Marriott (Robert Finvarb and Barry Shelomovitz Venture)
- Turnberry Ocean Club by Beach Club Acquisition, LLC (Soffer Group)
With each new building, our development community keeps increasing the quality of architecture and standard of design. This makes a significant addition to the sterling reputation our community maintains nationally and internationally.
I want to wrap up by pointing out what a tough year this has been for law enforcement on the national and international level. There have been a number of casualties of law enforcement professionals in the line of duty. We are fortunate to live in a very safe community, in large part due to the hard work of our excellent Police Department. We should not take for granted the level of dedication that our law enforcement professionals deliver to our fine City day in and day out, greatly enhancing our quality of life and making it safe to walk our streets day or night.
In closing I would like to thank you, the Citizens of our great City, for expressing your confidence by electing me to serve as your Mayor for the next four years. Governing our City is a team effort and I would like to also publicly thank our City Commission, City Staff and all the various volunteers that work together to create our wonderful community. On behalf of our Commission and entire Staff we wish everyone a healthy and prosperous 2015. Thank you.