Developers get wide range to roam for air terminal revamp
By Risa Polansky
Bidding to redevelop Miami International Airport's central terminal is about two years away — should the revamp concept take off — but already the process is taking shape.
The proposed public-private redevelopment would probably begin not with a formal request for proposals but instead with an "expression of interest" process, Miguel Southwell, Miami-Dade Aviation deputy director of business retention and development, told industry players at an introductory workshop last week.
Builders, engineers, consultants, investors and others packed the house to learn about the potential opportunity, proposed as a contract to finance, design, build and operate a redeveloped terminal in exchange for a long-term concession agreement.
Contractors could also have the option to transfer operating authority, potentially back to the county.
Opening bidding by requesting formal project proposals could drive away potential partners, Mr. Southwell said.
Some might question spending big dollars to draw up a plan, then end up competing with scores of other applicants.
Mr. Southwell said he expects the Aviation Department instead would first solicit expressions of interest and pre-qualification information — costing hopefuls only $50 to $100 — then select the top-ranked five or six to submit full-blown proposals.
Bidders could put $500,000 to $1 million into a proposal, he said, so the idea would be to have at least a 20% chance of getting the job.
Also, hopefuls can still communicate with aviation officials throughout the expression of interest process, he said. That's forbidden under formal bidding procedures.
In having tried both solicitation methods, "We just found that that works a lot better."
A selection committee would be comprised of perhaps nine people, Mr. Southwell said, about half county officials and half industry members.
"It would be a pretty independent group," he said.
In the about two years leading up to the solicitation phase, the plan is to continue communicating with the industry to flesh out a partnership concept amenable to all.
At last week's workshop, Mr. Southwell predicted a rush of phone calls and private meetings with potential players who prefer to share ideas and ask questions without competitors taking notes.
And the Aviation Department will probably host another industry-wide workshop early next year, he said.
The idea is to discern early whether the project is viable and shape it so it benefits both the department and the developer, but not to over-prescribe parameters to the point of discouraging creative proposals.
Talk of a mall project dominated last week's discussion, but officials are open to other ideas such as a hotel, convention center or hospital.
"We don't want just your traditional concession operation," Mr. Southwell said.
He noted also that the Federal Aviation Administration only allows for 50-year concession agreements.
But the airport doesn't plan to dictate much beyond that, he said.
Job D. Kunkel, senior aviation associate with global infrastructure, engineering and economic development consultant The Louis Berger Group, said communicating with potential partners is vital in the early stages of project development.
He flew in from New York for the workshop, attracted by the public-private partnership opportunity.
"I think the most successful public-private partnerships begin with the inclusion of all stakeholders and the candid distribution of information," Mr. Kunkel said. And because Miami-Dade Aviation seems to be kicking off the process that way, "that's a good start."
Construction wouldn't begin until about 2017 should the project move ahead.