Miami International Airport has a new boss.
Jose Abreu, currently the state's secretary of transportation, has been picked as Miami-Dade's aviation director.
Abreu inherits a $566 million operation with a history of mismanaged contracts, political meddling, brazen corruption and the knowledge that previous airport bosses who bucked the system were unceremoniously shoved aside.
''They were really interested in moving forward. I am too,'' Abreu said. ''This isn't just an airport; this is a business center, a jewel for the community. It's my job to fight that perception that's out there that it may not always be a customer-friendly facility.''
Abreu, whose salary is being negotiated, has no experience running an airport, although his resume includes years of managing ambitious projects for Florida's transportation department.
County Manager George Burgess, who announced the hire Friday, said Abreu's experience coupled with his federal and state connections make him well-suited for the job.
''What I needed was a strong manager,'' Burgess said. ''You want someone with aviation experience, if you can find one. But what we really need is someone who can lead a complex organization.''
The county's aviation department has been without a permanent head since November when former director Angela Gittens quit her $200,000-a-year post under pressure from Burgess amid simmering tensions surrounding her management style and handling of the controversial North Terminal project.
As transportation secretary, Abreu was responsible for 8,000 employees, a $6.5 billion annual budget that covered every major road, bridge and rail project from Pensacola to Key West.
By contrast, the aviation department employs more than 1,800 people, and oversees MIA, Opa-locka and Kendall-Tamiami Executive airports.
''We need someone who can really advance our agenda in Tallahassee and Washington,'' said Burgess, pointing to two ongoing issues that would benefit from Abreu governmental expertise:
Dealing with the evolving and increasingly costly security demands from the Transportation Safety Administration.
Participating in the completion of the $1.4 billion Miami Intermodal Center east of MIA, an ambitious transportation hub designed in part to alleviate congestion at the airport, being built by FDOT with state and federal funds.
Abreu also acknowledged that he'll have a learning curve.
''Obviously, I don't underestimate the professional challenge lying ahead of me considering that I have never run an airport,'' he said.
But, he quickly added, he has plenty of experience managing large, complex public agencies and construction projects. Abreu stands to inherit the problem-plagued and over-budget North Terminal project from American Airlines.
Gittens -- hired to help cut through the influence peddling and cronyism that have historically plagued MIA -- found herself in public battles with county leaders and American, the largest and most influential carrier at MIA.
American has been in charge of the North Terminal project, created to help the airline expand its presence in Miami, but the work has mushroomed into a boondoggle, plagued by cost overruns and lawsuits.
American has agreed to let the county run the massive project, estimated to be finished in 2009 with a nearly $2 billion price tag.
Abreu -- the only candidate without aviation experience -- beat out Bruce Baumgartner, former aviation manager of Denver International Airport; Mario Diaz, deputy general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Steve Wareham, director of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Abreu starts July 11. He replaces interim aviation director Carlos Bonzon, who took over after Gittens quit. Abreu has submitted his resignation to Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed him to his current post in 2003.
With anticipated costs spiraling toward $2 billion, county officials Thursday took steps to take control of building the problem-plagued North Terminal at Miami International Airport.
Carlos Bonzon, Miami-Dade's interim aviation director, said Thursday he was no longer pursuing the permanent job.
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