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"Florida airport tenants challenge threat of evictions"



Saturday, May 24, 2008

OPA-LOCKA
Airport tenants challenge threat of evictions
Several long-term tenants at Opa-locka Executive Airport, threatened with
eviction, have filed a complaint alleging discrimination with the FAA.
By INA PAIVA CORDLE
The Miami (FL) Herald


Several businesses at Opa-locka Executive Airport have filed a complaint
with the federal government against Miami-Dade County, alleging economic
discrimination.

The tenants are threatened with eviction because the county granted a lease,
including their land, to AA Acquisitions, headed by developer Michael Adler.
They are asking the Federal Aviation Administration to invalidate the
developer's lease and force the county to grant their businesses long-term
leases instead.

'These are all minority-owned, small business people that have devoted their
lives and their families' lives to the airport for over 30 years, and the
thanks they got from the county is they are being thrown under the bus and
thrown on the street like dogs,'' said Michael Pizzi, a Miami Lakes attorney
who represents the tenants.

FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams said the complaint is still under review. And
the county disputes the allegations.

''The county has provided ample access to the existing tenants to
participate in the new development of Opa-locka Airport,'' said Miguel
Southwell, Miami-Dade Aviation's assistant director of business retention
and development.

The Miami-Dade County Commission last year gave AA Acquisitions leasing
rights to about 200 acres at Opa-locka Executive Airport.

Adler, chief executive of Miami-based Adler Group, said in November that AA
Acquisitions would invest $200 million to create Airside International
Business Park at Opa-locka, with new hangars, office, industrial and retail
structures, and a hotel and parking.

Adler said then that AA Acquisitions would ``work with the few remaining
existing tenants who are interested in being part of the plans for the
future of Opa-locka airport. Part of that means being willing and able to
enter into long-term lease agreements at fair market rates. If they choose
not to remain a tenant, AA Acquisitions will work with them to ease their
transition.''

Several existing businesses at Opa-locka, which have had month-to-month
leases for years, had hoped to secure rental agreements with AA
Acquisitions, but are now being evicted, said Pizzi, who represents Airkraft
Parts, Wayman Aviation, Suncoast Aviation, National Aviation, ALCA Aviation
and BMI Aviation.

National Aviation, AirKraft Parts and Wayman Aviation recently received
eviction notices, and the others have letters from AA Acquisitions saying it
intends to do the same, Pizzi said.

Adler was out of the country Friday and could be reached for comment. His
spokesman, Bruce Rubin, said that Opa-locka has been an underused asset for
years, and it is the county and city's plan to improve the airport and bring
it into the 21st century.

''AA Acquisitions has made extraordinary efforts to reach these existing
tenants and invite them to be part of the future plans,'' Rubin said. ``We
have asked repeatedly for business plans from the tenants, we have asked
repeatedly for their financials, and generally speaking, they have not
provided them.''

The FAA complaint, however, contends that the tenants ``sent letters to
Adler making reasonable good-faith offers to remain at the airport long
term, under similar terms that were offered to them by the county. The
letters and subsequent phone calls offering to set up meetings to continue
negotiations were ignored by Adler.''

Opa-locka Airport was once one of the busiest private airports in the
nation. Its recent problems spring from the late 1990s, when a company,
Stagecoach, secured rights to lease a large portion of the airport. Its plan
was to entice low-cost carriers to make Opa-locka their home.

The move turned into a political quagmire, with county commissioners
eventually siding with local residents who were worried about traffic and
noise. Stagecoach's request was denied.

Stagecoach sued the county for $20 million. Its 90-year lease stipulated it
didn't have to pay rent until construction began. Nothing was ever built;
Stagecoach never paid rent.

Last year, Adler bought the leasing rights for $20 million from Stagecoach,
which agreed to drop its lawsuit.

''There is enough land at Opa-locka and there will be enough opportunities
at Opa-locka to accommodate everyone,'' Miami-Dade Aviation's Southwell
said, ``if everyone acts reasonably.''

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