FTAA meetings cost $15 million, officials say
By Susan Stabley and Shannon Pettypiece
The price tag of the Free Trade Area of the America events in Miami may total more than $15 million, but the cost to downtown businesses affected by road closings and security concerns may never be known.
Dana Nottingham of Miami's Downtown Development Authority said he is unaware of any agency that tracked or documented the impact the trade talks had on downtown businesses.
"It's a tough thing to document," he said Monday. Many downtown businesses boarded up windows and closed doors during last month's forums and events tied to talks among ministers from 34 nations hammering out a FTAA pact.
The Port of Miami reported $630,000 in lost revenue from user-docking fees from cruise ships, port spokesman Juan Kuryla said. Because police and protestors impeded roadway access, eight cruise ships were rerouted to Broward County's Port Everglades, he said, although cargo shipments flowed despite minor delays.
Companies at the Port of Miami were able to make all their shipments and did not have to divert ships to other ports but faced extra congestion and delays, he said.
"It did cause some backups, but they were able to eventually get to the port," said Mr. Kuryla.
Shippers compared the delays to those caused by the annual Grand Prix of the Americas auto race in city streets next to the Port of Miami. They cited such events as a disadvantage in using a downtown port.
"Because of the port's location, sometimes these events occur," said Bruce Brecheisen, vice president at shipping firm Seaboard Marine. "There were some problems with getting cargo in and out of the port. It was a strain, but it was bearable."
At the peak of protests Nov. 21, the first day of trade talks among ministers at Hotel InterContinental Miami, several thousand protesters marched through the streets to the hotel and to rallies at Bayfront Park, prompting multiple closures of nearby Port Boulevard for 10- to 20-minute intervals, Mr. Brecheisen and Mr. Kuryla said.
"Those 10- to 20-minute delays on Thursday were pretty continuous," said Mr. Brecheisen. "It was a little more frustrating in that we did not know when the closings were going to occur."
More trucks than normal had to pass through x-ray machines at the port, and there was an extra security checkpoint at the entrance.
All Seaboard Marine employees reported to work that week, Mr. Brecheisen said, but some had to stay late because of backups and others were sent to off-port locations.
Many area companies kept its workers out of the area. BankAtlantic activated a contingency plan to move its workers elsewhere and Wachovia Securities kept a skeleton crew at its office at 200 S Biscayne Blvd., moving the rest outside the city.
Bayside Marketplace - with more than 100 retail, restaurant and entertainment vendors - closed for the week of the FTAA events, barricaded behind a chainlink fence because of its proximity to rallies at Bayfront Park. Officials from Rouse, the company that owns Bayside, were unavailable for comment.
Mr. Nottingham said November's inconveniences might pay off in the long run if jobs are created with an FTAA pact and the location of a trade headquarters in Miami.
In trying to avoid property damage from demonstrators, millions of dollars in tax money was spent on police protection. During a press event at the InterContinental on Nov. 21, Chuck Cobb, chairman of Florida FTAA Inc., said the events cost $15 million to stage.
Congress contributed $8.5 million to support thousands of law-enforcement officers from about 40 departments statewide who helped prevent significant vandalism and rioting during the week of the trade talks.
The funding was tucked into the $87 billion spending bill used to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan and had been added by Sen. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson.
Local organizers as well as federal agencies feared a repeat of the demonstrations seen during the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. According to the office of Sen. Bob Graham, those demonstrations cost state and local government more than $17 million.
Damage to downtown Seattle businesses cost $3 million, and 92 protesters and bystanders and 56 police were injured, according to a May 13 report from the US General Accounting Office. The office also said the Seattle meetings were severely underbudgeted at $9 million.
Private contributions to the Miami ministerial meetings totaled $1.68 million, according to Miami-Dade County documents dated Nov. 10.
General Motors donated the largest amount, $250,000. At the Hyatt Regency Miami, site of the Americas Business Forum, where more than 800 business leaders from more than 34 countries made recommendations for the treaty, the automaker had a prominent display promoting its newest vehicle.
Of 49 private sponsors listed, major donors included Pepsi and FedEx, giving $150,000 each, and Florida FTAA, the Miami team lobbying for the headquarters, $100,00.