Delta's flight to Broward all but confirmed, mayor says
By Catherine Lackner
Though Delta Airlines has officially set a 2002 deadline to decide whether to move to Broward County, "I think they're gone," Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick said Tuesday. "I've heard they've already told their landlord they're not renewing their lease. It's my guess they'll be moving north."
"I'm in their building a lot," said City Commissioner Chip Withers, "and their employees all confirm it's pretty much a done-deal. They've been told it's going to happen.
"I'm sorry to see such a large tenant and a good, long-standing corporate citizen leave. But I wish them the best."
The Atlanta-based airline leases 40,000 square feet in the SunTrust Plaza, 201 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables, where it employs 850 at a reservations call center. Delta is the city's third-largest employer after the University of Miami with 4,005 employees and HealthSouth Doctors' Hospital with 900.
Delta first hinted in May that they would consider a move from Coral Gables when the firm's lease expires in 2003. At that time, Mayor Slesnick said the city was "doing everything we can to keep them here because losing them would be a big loss to us."
In the past few weeks, county and city officials in Broward have discussed potential incentives of up to $476,000 for Delta to move its center to Miramar.
The effect of Delta's move on the Coral Gables economy and on its burgeoning office isn't known but I have to think it will hurt the market, Mr. Slesnick said. "We have three new class A buildings coming online now and a fourth coming on the market soon. So this is a poor time for this to happen.
"I hope and pray this doesn't increase the pressure on trying to fill up our office space."
While Delta's lease isn't up until 2003 and their move is expected to take some months, Mr. Slesnick said retaining the airline in the Gables has been one of his top priorities.
"Since I came into office in April, I've devoted a good bit of nervous energy to this. I was very distressed this wasn't started earlier and the process had already gone past the point where we could make much of an impact."
The city tried to accommodate Delta by lowering bulk parking rates and assuring the airline that new garages are being constructed, he said.
"One of the primary problems in an urban area is parking, so we immediately jumped to address that issue," Mr. Slesnick said. "But it takes two years to build a garage."
While Miami-Dade economic development officials are criticizing the cash incentives offered Delta by Broward County and Miramar as being in violation of a 1999 agreement not to poach corporate tenants, "I'm not going to find fault with them," Mr. Withers said. "Incentives are offered in every phase of business and it didn't surprise me. Everybody does it - you may not put cash in people's pocket but you offer them other incentives. You market both inside and outside of your area. It's something that's done everywhere."
George Goldbloom, owner of the SunTrust building, did not return calls requesting comment.