Months after soliciting bids for dozens of new stores at Miami International Airport's proposed North and South Terminals, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted Thursday evening to reject the sole bidder's proposals and start all over again.
The move, geared to bring in more competition through better bid solicitations, will further delay awarding the contracts for retail stores by at least six months. The plan is still to have shops open by the time the South Terminal is finished in the spring of 2006.
Largely blaming airport staff for creating a request for proposals that failed to lure bidders, the commission unanimously rejected the existing bids from Westfield Concession Management.
''It winded up being a bumbled request for proposal, like a number of bumbled requests for proposal at the airport . . .,'' Commissioner Dennis Moss said. ''All this stuff about politics at the airport, I don't buy it. The deal was structured wrong.''
MIA's retail makeover has been slow and prolonged, falling far behind other airports and dragged down by years of complaints of political interference and influence from lobbyists.
For years, MIA has promised that when it completes its North and South terminals, it will offer bigger and brighter spaces, with higher ceilings and updated lighting. New stores and restaurants are part of the mix, bringing MIA to the 21st century where airports mimic shopping malls and passengers often grab meals on the run.
Surveys have found that MIA's departing travelers mostly want lower prices, more restaurants and stores and a greater variety of merchandise.
Overall, the airport will expand from 103 stores to 250 stores by the time the North Terminal is completed in 2008, said Patricia Ryan, MIA's manager of commercial operations.
The two packages rejected by the commission Thursday had each been bid on April 15 solely by airport retail giant Westfield.
The packages had totaled more than 70 proposed stores, including shops for news and books, clothes, gifts, jewelry, and electronics.
''The bottom line is that obviously we did not have the right business terms, because there is money to be made at the airport,'' acting Aviation Director Carlos Bonzon told commissioners.
Last year, Westfield won MIA's largest retail contract in a decade, for the airport's central terminal, which should bring the first long-awaited national stores to the airport.
County Manager George Burgess originally recommended that Westfield's latest proposal for one of the packages be approved by the commission, but changed his mind in recent days, saying Westfield had refused to clarify that its proposed price would meet the minimum annual guarantee of $1.3 million.
Throughout June, a negotiation committee had been dealing with Westfield to iron out various issues. In a memo, Burgess told commissioners that Westfield had sent an e-mail earlier this week saying negotiations were at an impasse.
A Westfield executive did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Burgess now said he wants to encourage more competition by parceling out the retail locations through multiple bidding packages.
The county plans to re-issue the bid requests, splitting the stores into several groupings of eight to 12 stores each, offering the remaining shops individually or in small packages of two or three locations to local and small businesses.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan proposed increasing the local minority presence by adding more weight to that factor in the next bidding packages.
Experts say the trend today is for airports to offer a mix of national brands plus locally tailored retail or food providers, to create a sense of place and give travelers a choice.
In Westfield's central terminal contract, which includes 31 locations covering 31,300 square feet, at least 21 stores have been leased so far. Stores that plan to open, in addition to Hudson News, include Brookstone, Landau Jewelry, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Mindworks, Bayside Brush, Airport Wireless, $10 store and Newslink.
Miami-Dade commissioners took another step to improve the airport's poor retail options and to rid the bidding process of cronyism.
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