Leaders Concerned About Lack Of Financial Support To Retain Southcom
By Victor Cruz
Leaders concerned about lack of financial support to retain SouthComBy Victor Cruz
After four years, civic leaders are growing restless because money has not been set aside to provide the US Southern Command – an important military headquarters – a permanent home in the Miami area.
SouthCom, at the 80-acre WestPointe Business Park in Doral, is in its fourth year of a 10-year lease. It pays about $2 million a year, along with another million for land that serves as a security buffer.
Local businessmen and politicians, as well as SouthCom leadership, want the federal government to buy the land the headquarters uses to ensure that SouthCom will keep its current address for some time.
"We believe this is the right place for the headquarters and we have advocated all along that buying the land is the most cost-effective way of preserving the center’s longevity here," said Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, former chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Council, which promotes the military’s presence in Miami-Dade County.
With an annual economic impact of $72 million, according to Maj. Eduardo Villavicencio, SouthCom – one of the nation’s five regional combatant commands – has been courted since 1990 by chamber and county officials. They succeeded in having the command relocated in 1997 from Panama to Miami.
But two weeks ago, when the US Senate adopted a federal budget plan for 2002, no money again had been earmarked for the land purchase. While the Department of Defense is conducting a top-to bottom review of the budget’s military funds, the permanence of SouthCom remains unknown.
Results of the department’s review are not expected until June or July, and a defense-spending bill probably won’t be on the table for consideration until September, said John Scoffield of the House Appropriations Committee. Until that time, said Mr. Scoffield, it is impossible to determine whether money for SouthCom real estate would be in the final federal budget.
But local military officials said it was unlikely the Department of Defense will consider asking for such an appropriation for 2002.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, speaking through his congressional counsel Shayna Bechtel, did not rule out a Department of Defense allotment for the base. Rep. Diaz-Balart has been a strong supporter of maintaining the command in Miami.
But, "if it were going to make the budget, I think we would have heard about it," Ms. Bechtel said.
The headquarters, at 3511 NW 91st Ave., is home to 900 military personnel and 400 civilians. The fixed-term lease expires in February 2008. The headquarters occupies 9 acres for buildings and 19 acres of security buffer.
In 1999 the land would have cost $27 million to buy, according to SouthCom officials. Estimates this year, they said, put the price at $39 million to $40 million.