Miami-Dade County, Developer Square Off on Opa-Locka Airport

Developer Matthew Hudson is slated to begin mediation talks today with Miami-Dade County officials in a dispute over his plans to turn Opa-locka Airport into a mecca for low-cost airlines.

Hudson, flanked by his high-profile Miami attorney, Milton Ferrell Jr., threatened to sue the county for hundreds of millions of dollars if a resolution isn't reached in the next day or two.

Hudson contends the Miami-Dade County Commission reneged on a 90-year lease he signed in 1999 that allowed him to develop a terminal and other facilities for airline passengers on 240 acres at Opa-locka Airport.

He was stymied from going ahead, he says, when the county commission passed a resolution in 2001 barring commercial service at Opa-locka. This year, commissioners leased 21 acres of the land to Miami Executive Aviation, a fixed-base operator that provides services like charters and fuel.

COUNTY'S POSITION

The county counters it was Hudson who failed to live up to his lease by developing the land, leaving it free to pursue other options. Assistant County Attorney Tim Abbott says it was always clear Hudson might have to change his plans for Opa-locka Airport, because county commissioners never guaranteed they'd go along with remaking it into a commercial facility.

'He signed the agreement on the theory that `maybe I can get the county to do this,' '' Abbott says. 'The Board of County Commissioners decided, `No, that's not what we want to do.' Having that kind of activity does make a whole different airport out of it.''

Opa-locka is one of three general-aviation airports in Miami-Dade catering to private and business fliers. Miami International Airport, the county's only commercial facility, has failed to attract many low-cost carriers, which have flocked to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in recent years.

MIA began offering free landing fees for new flights this year, partly to stem the loss of fliers to Fort Lauderdale.

HUDSON'S VISION

Hudson, who is credited with revitalizing Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, Scotland, by luring low-cost European airlines, maintains Opa-locka would flourish as a low-cost alternative to MIA and believes his plans were defeated by nearby Miami Lakes residents worried about noisy planes.

''It could be a huge economic asset. Now, it won't be,'' said Hudson, 62, who lives on a farm in rural Virginia. ``The county has acted in an incomprehensible way.''

Miami Herald




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