MIA Secures Duty-Free Company

Miami-Dade commissioners on Thursday awarded a new contract to manage the duty-free stores at Miami International Airport, calling it another step in improving the airport's poor retail options and ridding the bidding process of cronyism.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said the deal would help ``delete our name from having one of the worst airports in the nation.''

The decision to give a Hollywood firm, Duty Free Americas, a 10-year deal to manage 12 stores wasn't without controversy. Some commissioners complained the deal didn't give enough preference to small, Miami-Dade businesses.

But in the end, commissioners voted 9-3 to give Duty Free Americas -- which also manages duty-free stores at Chicago O'Hare, Detroit Metro and several other airports worldwide -- a chance to improve tax-free shopping at MIA. It also had the best price, guaranteeing the county at least $20 million a year.

Two other firms guaranteed about $9 million annually. Another, Dufry Miami Retail Partnership, bid $18.5 million.

County Manager George Burgess implored commissioners to approve the deal.

''If you don't, you won't have duty free at a major international airport at the end of December,'' Burgess said.

The existing contract with Starboard Cruise Services, the current duty-free manager, expires this year.

The county's bid process had been scrutinized by commissioners and praised by industry analysts as being a ''clear and transparent process,'' Burgess added.

Still, to help navigate the county's bid process, Duty Free Americas was represented by two prominent South Florida lobbyists: Broward attorney Alan Becker and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.

The firm's duty-free stores will be spread throughout the airport, including the new south terminal set to open in 2006, and American Airlines' north terminal, currently under construction.

Commissioner Dennis Moss questioned whether Duty Free Americas' $20 million annual guarantee was attainable, and Commissioner Barbara Jordan argued the deal didn't give enough preference to local, disadvantaged businesses.

''Broward isn't Dade to me,'' said Jordan about Duty Free Americas' Hollywood home.

Duty Free Americas will own 70 percent of the contract, with Los Angeles-based Concourse Concessions owning 20 percent and Miami-based Siboney Wine & Spirts having 10 percent.

The Commission also issued a new bid request for a firm to manage retail in the new north and south terminals. The proposal called for disadvantaged businesses to receive 30 percent of the total contract.

This summer, only one firm -- Westfield Concession Management -- bid on the retail contract, prompting the county to start over. Westfield won an earlier contract to provide national stores such as Border's to MIA's central terminal.

Miami Herald

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