Abreu working on redesign of terminal project
By Charlotte Libov
Although he shied away from the word "downsizing," Aviation Director José Abreu said he plans to present a redesign of Miami International Airport's North Terminal in September that better reflects reduced passenger projections for the years ahead.
"We have a team looking into it," he said, adding that he prefers to think of it as a "right-sizing" plan as opposed to a downsizing of the terminal, where renovation plans long have been delayed.
Mr. Abreu said that when the terminal renovation was designed before 9/11, the airport was projected to serve 55 million passengers by 2010. Current passenger projections call for the airport to serve about 33 million by 2010.
"There were all kinds of assumptions made back then as to what kind of hub it was going to be and how many airlines would use it at a given time, and that isn't necessarily what is true today, so we need flexibility," he said. He said the airport should serve more than the "projected 33-34 million, but we won't do 55 million."
He said American Airlines, slated to be the major user of the new terminal, would go along with such a plan. "They are part of the team," he said.
American Airlines was in charge of the terminal project before county commissioners last summer voted to take control, citing cost overruns and other problems.
The North Terminal is the costliest part of a $5.2 billion capital-improvement project at the airport. The new 1.2 million-square-foot South Terminal is almost completed.
Mr. Abreu made his comments at a county commission meeting last week at which the commission indicated its continued frustration over the North Terminal renovation. Commissioners voiced their displeasure when they approved by a 10-3 vote $60 million in consulting fees.
According to Mr. Abreu, the consultants currently working on the South Terminal will serve as business representatives for the North Terminal project.
"How many consulting firms do we need, and how much are we paying them?" asked Commissioner Audrey Edmonson. "Every time I turn around, it's a different kind of consultant. And each time we hire one, it's for millions of dollars."
"There are a lot of them, but they act as project managers or representatives," said Mr. Abreu. He said the aviation department is not renewing its contract with its consultants on the North Terminal project but will use the group from the South Terminal, "where they are doing a fine job."
Ms. Edmonson said two of three items detailing expenditures appeared to be the same. Mr. Abreu said some overlap is to be expected due to the project's magnitude.
Chairman Joe Martinez said he shared Ms. Edmonson's frustration. "I am very, very tired of approving all of these consultants," he said. "I bet 30% of the project is consultants telling us what to do and consultants telling the other consultants what to do."
He said he would rather have Mr. Abreu and his staff handle the work. "I think you can do it better than the consultants can. I think this is a huge waste of money, and it's pushing up the per-passenger cost.
"We know you are stuck with a situation that you are trying to make the best of it," Mr. Martinez said to Mr. Abreu, "but there are consultants who are three, four and five deep. It's not easy, but thank god you are there. I support what you do, but this is hard to swallow. My trust is in you, but do I like this? Absolutely not."
Mr. Martinez, Ms. Edmonson and Javier D. Souto cast dissenting votes.
Also at the meeting, commissioners rejected by a 9-3 vote a proposal to give the county manager more latitude on terminal contracts. The failed ordinance would have allowed Mr. Burgess to unilaterally modify contracts up to 15% or $10 million, with contracts of more than $150 million limited to a 10% modification. It also would have authorized the county manager to waive competitive bidding for contracts of up to $1 million, extend contracts and waive damages for failure to meet deadlines.