Wednesday, July 15, 2015

NO, to International Air Show at Homestead Air Force Base ... by gimleteye

Mayor Carlos Gimenez isn't talking to environmentalists. Too bad. He has shuttered himself on the 29th Floor like his predecessors. Like Gov. Rick Scott who has closed himself off from pesky critics.

Gimenez decided to float the concept of an international air show in the middle of the Big Cypress National Preserve, without the input of environmentalists. Why?

Was it to gauge the depth of opposition, spending who knows how many consultant dollars and staff time in the process? Was it a plan, devised to put environmentalists -- again -- on the defensive with respect to other massive projects planned outside the UDB to the Everglades, or just to divert attention back to the Homestead Air Force Base?

I lead the battle to stop the conversion of the Homestead Air Force Base into a major commercial airport, through a no-bid 99 year lease secured by former members of the board of the Latin Builders Association, in the mid-1990's and early 2000's.

I read the recent interview with Mayor Gimenez, published in the South Florida Business Review, with curiosity. Here is an excerpt:

Now that you’ve decided the best place to hold an aviation trade show is the Homestead Air Force Base, how can you convince the federal government to allow it?[The Air Force rejected plans for the event, modeled after the massive Paris Air Show, in 2011.]

"We always knew Homestead was the best place but the Air Force didn't want us to go there. We looked at air field on the Dade-Collier line but as I came back from the Paris Air Show this year it became evident that if we want something the size and quality of the Paris Air Show it must be at Homestead. It has the space and is somewhat remote. The airplanes will do things you don't normally see an aircraft do. They are exhibiting their abilities to buyers, not spectators. The Paris Air Show is an aviation industry trade show not an acrobatic exhibition of airplanes.”

So what will it take for the Air Force to approve your proposal this time?

"Change of leadership. The proposal will stay the same. It was pretty good. It’s not only the administration that can change. A change in leadership at top of the Air Force happens all the time. I fully expect to go back to D.C. and expect to get support of our Congressional delegation.
"Companies are interested in holding it in Miami. There is no Paris-style air show in this hemisphere. Of the 2,000 vendors at Paris air show about half of them were French. So why wouldn't the U.S. want the same kind of show in this hemisphere to showcase American aviation, and to showcase Miami as a center for aviation?

"I spoke to the CEO of Accor, one of the world’s largest hotel, operators, about their RevPAR [revenue per available room] during the event compared to other times of the year. On air show weekend their RevPAR is 50 percent above what it would normally be. That's 300,000 people and a lot of money and the hotels being full and charging premium prices."

Mayor Gimenez whistles by the wide criticism his plan for the Big Cypress location engendered -- not just with environmentalists but with aviation and business experts -- , and he is apparently impervious to criticism that the Miami area is simply a lousy location for a major international aviation air show.

But, if Mayor Gimenez would be honest with the press, the public would know that an air show is a fig leaf for the future commercialization of the air base. Really bad plans don't die in Miami-Dade or fade away: they just wait for enough time to go by, to make another run at them.

Here is what happened the last time: Miami-Dade schemers, led by then Mayor Alex Penelas, believed they could push the US military around and they spent tens of millions of local taxpayer dollars, commandeering the apparatus of county government, to push forward a plan that would have enriched a small cadre of insiders, organized by Ramon Rasco -- who subsequently founded the failed US Century Bank with Sergio Pino. The harder they pushed (and they pushed the military very, very hard), the more Miami-Dade irritated the US Department of Defense. In the end, after a brutal battle that contributed to the loss of Al Gore to George W. Bush in 2000, the military shut down the Miami-Dade scheme.

So now, Mayor Gimenez -- nearly fifteen years later -- believes that a change in the White House or even in the Air Force hierarchy could provide energy to a plan to inch the air base closer to commercial aviation development. Why would he believe so?

Perhaps history counts for nothing. There certainly is evidence that is true for other government agencies, like the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Everglades, and flood control in South Florida, how time leads to "mission creep" and to the advantage of corporate profit.

The Homestead Air Force Base was not really about limited cargo and flight operations for low cost carriers, like Jet Blue or Southwest. It was about making sure that Miami insiders were positioned to maximally profit from the resupply of Cuba. Unfortunately for them, it took more time -- and a Democratic president -- than they believed necessary.

Mayor Gimenez ought to recognize that an international aviation air show at the air base is a step backwards to the battle that was already fought, at great expense, over the future of Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park nearby. The US Department of Defense ought to send a clear signal to Miami-Dade County: history does count to the military, if not to Miami-Dade.

1 comment:

Peachy Pie said...

Gimenez has done nothing to prevent or slow down a horrifying amount of over development in Dade County.He has demonstrated, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that special interests trump environmental protection, so why should it be any different for an airshow over environmentally sensitive lands?
Guilty as charged!