The new improved Publix grocery store on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 48th Street is still closed three months after its scheduled completion date. And it likely won't open until May 18, says a store manager who declined to be identified. This is a bad portent for two reasons: 1) a new, even larger store is planned up the street in Miami Shores, and 2) one of Florida's biggest corporations blew it in an embarrassing way. Soon after the market closed last July 10, builders knocked over 38 precious trees on the site, says Fred Fernandez, administrator of the Upper East Side Neighborhood Enhancement Team. Worse, they got away with it. Fernandez says he noticed the downed trees, checked his computer, and found the city had issued no permits. That should have warranted a fine of about $15,000, he adds. But then, inexplicably, the permits appeared and no fine was levied. Next the company knocked down another 100-year-old tree and was forced to pay a $500 penalty. More recently the builders repeatedly submitted flawed plans for a new water pipe, says Miami Fire Department Lt. William Richardson. "It took five plan reviews to correct the same problem," he gripes. The purveyors of pleasure aren't making any excuses. "Publix wants to do the best and take care of every situation," comments Carmen Millares, community-affairs spokesperson for the company in South Florida. "These are just normal construction delays."
Seems Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas is getting an early start on his fall re-election campaign. And considering his recent verbal missteps during the Elian Gonzalez controversy, that may not be a bad idea. Penelas didn't have to spend a nickel of campaign cash to place photos of his smiling mug on 200 bus benches and 200 buses around the county. The ads were backed by local organizations pushing eminently worthy causes: curing muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. Those nonprofit groups paid reduced rates, says Michelle Ruiz, an account executive for Gateway Outdoor Advertising. Another seeming problem: Jorge Lopez, Penelas's former chief of staff and a close friend, is active with the multiple sclerosis group (a family member suffers from the disease). "It's ridiculous to go there," says mayoral spokesman Juan Mendieta, sounding kingly. "In many cases we lend our faces to worthy causes. We have been doing this for years, and they approached us."
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