Lawsuit Threat Over Lease to Build Second Miami-Dade Commercial Airport

Developer Matthew Hudson, who signed a lease with Miami-Dade County six years ago in hopes of creating a commercial airport in Opa-locka, plans to make a final effort Tuesday to persuade the County Commission to revive his plans.


Developer Matthew Hudson, who signed a lease with Miami-Dade County six years ago in hopes of creating a commercial airport in Opa-locka, plans to make a final effort Tuesday to persuade the County Commission to revive his plans.

If he is rebuffed, Hudson is threatening to go to court for breach of contract over the 90-year lease, said the developer's attorney, Milton M. Ferrell Jr.

County officials insist they have acted lawfully and within the contract, according to Tim Abbott, Miami-Dade assistant county attorney.

PRIME LAND AT STAKE

At stake is 240 acres of prime airport land on which Hudson sought to create Miami-Dade's second commercial airport. But in 2001, two years after Hudson signed the lease, county commissioners passed a resolution precluding commercial aviation at the airport.

Ever since, the deal has slowed to a near standstill, with each side saying the other has failed to live up to the contract.

Now the county is attempting to rent a central portion of the land covered under Hudson's lease to general aviation company Miami Executive Aviation, whose chief executive is Fabio Alexander. County leaders contend this is valid under the contract, while Hudson argues it would ''carve the heart out'' of his lease and remove any of its value because it on the precise location where he hoped to build an airport terminal.

''The county is currently in breach now, but it can be fixed,'' Hudson said. ''Yet if they do this, it is a breach and it can't be fixed.''

But Abbott responded that the deal gives the county the flexibility to re-lease the property and that ''the county has the discretion'' to change development plans.

Miami-Dade County has three general aviation airports -- Opa-locka, Kendall-Tamiani Executive and Homestead General -- that serve corporate and private fliers. Miami International is the county's sole commercial airport.

Hudson, a Canadian, has a track record in real estate and airport development. In 1992 he bought Prestwick Airport at Glasgow, Scotland, which was largely shuttered at the time. By attracting low-cost European carriers like Ryanair, the airport became enormously profitable. In 1998 Hudson sold the airport for an undisclosed sum with the plan of pursuing a similar strategy at Opa-locka.

Hudson leased the Miami-Dade property under the name Opa-locka Airport Group, arguing that if it could attract low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, Opa-locka would comprise a formidable duo with Miami International Airport. MIA has failed to attract low-cost airlines but serves international and higher-cost carriers like American Airlines.

DEVELOPER'S PLAN

Under Hudson's plan, MIA and Opa-locka would be connected by a light-rail system for passengers. Perhaps most importantly, the two airports, he argued, would provide fierce competition against Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which has thrived by attracting low-cost airlines.

Hudson said he spent millions of dollars on development plans while waiting for the county to get Federal Aviation Administration approval of the lease. After waiting several years, Hudson approached the FAA and was told in February that the agency doesn't approve such leases.

''They sent me on a fool's errand,'' Hudson said incredulously.

The FAA simply changed its stance, said Abbott, the assistant county attorney. ''This was a switch on us because FAA has always given approval letters in the past. FAA has consistently said in writing that they have objections to the lease.''

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