As time grows short, Miami aviation show remains up in the air
By Zachary S. Fagenson and Ashley Hopkins
Miami-Dade commissioners and the Beacon Council are still optimistic they can get a massive commercial air show off the ground in summer 2012, but challenges are piling up and the time to overcome them is winding down.
Among them are finding the money necessary to figure out what improvements are needed on the planned site, securing final permission from the military and bringing on major aerospace companies as marquee exhibitors.
This month the Beacon Council, the county's official economic development arm, learned it wouldn't receive a federal $400,000 grant due to a congressional holdup over the overarching program covering that money.
The money was to go toward soft costs of infrastructure improvements on 54 acres abutting the Homestead Air Reserve Base pegged to host the Miami International Air Show.
Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero, in a previous interview, said it may now fall to the county to cover those costs, though in October commissioners informally agreed to set aside $15 millions for improvements to the site, which is county-owned land.
At a Feb. 15 commission meeting, however, County Manager George Burgess, Mr. Nero and commissioners all seemed eager to get the ball rolling, but all said they were waiting on each other.
"We've been on a kind of wait and hold, hold and wait mode for them and we're ready to work with them as we always have been," Mr. Burgess said. "The sooner we can sit down and move together the better."
Yet Mr. Nero said it's up to commissioners to determine the source of money for the site study.
We need "the identification of the appropriate use of what funds in order to implement and pay for those improvements," Mr. Nero said. "When you took action you identified potential GOB [bond] funds as a source. We have been told, and if we're wrong we stand corrected, that we may not be able to move forward with those funds because there is a permanent job requirement under the regulations which you all passed."
Commissioner Dennis Moss suggested Mr. Nero and Mr. Burgess sit down and work out the details.
"Let's get that show on the road," he said. "2012 is right around the corner and it's not going to do any of us any good to have this back and forth."
When the Beacon Council was first made aware that it wouldn't receive federal dollars to study the site, Mr. Nero said the clock was running.
"If I don't have some reasonable progress on this within the next 30 to 45 days, I don't know if this show will be able to move forward with the timeframe I have set," he said in early February.
That commission meeting came about a week afterwards. Mr. Nero's very informal deadline expires in mid-March.
Either way, the Beacon Council needs a tangible site and product to pitch to potential exhibitors like Boeing or Northrop Grumman, who anchor these massive shows.
"By April we will be in a position to offer a specific commitment [to] private sector manufacturers who we are beginning to meet with," Mr. Nero continued. "If we don't know by April, because they're doing their budgets now, this show is not going to happen."
At the same time, the council needs to finish running the request for permission to use the site up the military chain of command.
The Beacon Council is "aware the base commander on his own cannot approve an international air show," said Lt. Col. Thomas Davis, chief of public affairs from Homestead Air Reserve Base. "It exceeds our purview."
Lt. Col. Davis said he's recommended the council first take its request to the 10th Air Force Commander in Texas, but may ultimately need to take it all the way to the Secretary of Air Force.
"Just use our military chain of command, we're very comfortable within that," Lt. Col. Davis said he recommended. "By doing that they're properly informing our entire chain of command of their intent and properly informing and educating them and see if they get a thumbs-up."
At the end of the day, if something goes wrong, the base commander will take ultimate responsibility, he added.
Mr. Nero was out of town early this week and no one from the Beacon Council could be reached to discuss how far the council is from receiving military approval.
It "is moving it up the chain of command," Mr. Nero told commissioners.
Despite the challenges, the air show still dangles a massive economic opportunity before county officials.
The Beacon Council has pitched the show as a five-day event that could pull in about 200,000 public attendees, house more than 800 exhibitors and generate up to $100 million in hotel reservations, day pass sales and parking.
At the same time Mr. Nero is hoping to leverage the show to boost South Florida's role in manufacturing and distribution in the aviation industry.
Commissioner Rebeca Sosa pressed the importance of receiving more regular updates from the Beacon Council on the planning.
"This is something that we can't miss," she said. "We need to make sure that the world knows that we are committed to this."
Mr. Nero said he planned to update commissioners on progress, or lack thereof, weekly from then on.
Homestead is handing over its 140-acre sports complex to Lay Ley Enterprises
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