Leaders still trying to find someone to make something of Opa-locka Airport
By Shannon Pettypiece
Business leaders are renewing a call for development on the more than 500 acres that make up Opa-locka Airport, which they think would bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to a community needing an economic jolt.
Groups have been trying to sublease the property to aviation businesses and related support industries for more than 30 years and there has been plenty of interest, said Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero, but without actual results.
"We've had several companies that wanted to develop facilities there, who worked for years trying to get a deal and they ran away screaming," Mr. Nero said. "They have been doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results, which is 'no' results."
The land is owned by the government and controlled by three private groups: Renaissance Airpark, which controls 176 acres; the Opa-locka Airport Group, 240 acres; and JP Aviation Investment, 35 acres. Miami-Dade County also controls much of the land through the Opa-locka Community Development Corp.
Although there have been inquiries about the land from companies such as Sysco Corp., to date the area consists of the basic necessities to sustain Opa-locka's general aviation airport, such as four runways and several hangars for the 343 private aircraft based at the facility, but no aviation service businesses.
For private pilots like Allen Morris, chairman and CEO of The Allen Morris Co., the airport's lack of related services forces him to fly his plane to Fort Lauderdale for repairs even though he keeps it at Opa-locka.
The land surrounding Opa-locka Airport has gotten a lot of interest from businesses because it is in a very strategic location near Miami Lakes, a rail system and has a workforce waiting to be utilized in Hialeah and Opa-locka.
"There are not a whole lot of areas in Miami-Dade County that have 1,000 acres of continuous land. The potential is tremendous," Mr. Nero said.
Willie Logan, CEO and president of the Opa-locka Community Development Corp., said the bureaucracy and odd mix between private and government control of the land have deterred development.
"It is government-owned land, and that in and of itself creates a lot of red tape and restrictions, which oftentimes aren't conducive for private development and are a turn-off for private developers," Mr. Logan said. "We had two tenants last year that left because they weren't willing to accept the long-term lease and didn't want to have to pay market value after the lease was up. They decided to go find private land instead."
Renaissance Airpark, on land being leased from county government and developed by Pasquale Properties, has been trying to break ground for 21/2 years to build a facility to service the airport community and include banks and restaurants, said Eric Person of Grubb and Ellis, a real estate advisory firm for Renaissance.
On Tuesday, he said that Renaissance plans to break ground this summer on the 2-million-square-foot project to be completed in 10 to 15 years, but the group has been planning to break ground for two years so some in the business community are skeptical whether the project will ever get started.
Technical and procedural difficulties and county zoning regulation are causing the delay, Mr. Person said. Other leasing groups said they are still talking with possible sub-tenants.
One of the few positive prospects on Opa-locka Airport's economic growth horizon is that Safire Aircraft Co. is considering the site for its permanent headquarters, Mr. Nero said. The company has temporarily set up start-up office space there.
"Safire is our first priority at Opa-locka," Mr. Nero said, adding that success with Safire could show other businesses that development is possible there. "We have to make this happen or they will build in another part of Florida or another state."
If changes aren't made in the way Opa-locka handles prospective tenants, Mr. Morris said, Safire will leave Miami-Dade County to find its permanent headquarters. Mr. Morris has been working with Safire to help it find real estate in the area.
"Everything that has happened so far at this airport has been a misfire, and I don't want to have Safire be another misfire," Mr. Morris said. "Safire cannot have a facility underneath some other leasehold. They are too big a player to be somebody's sub-tenant."
Since Safire moved into temporary offices at Opa-locka Airport, the firm has been happy with progress it has made with the county and its main requirements for staying at this point are 40 to 50 acres of land and direct access to the runways.
"We've been here only since March and so far we have found a very receptive tone from the local communities and a lot of collaboration," Safire CEO Camilo Salomon said Tuesday. "We're really not concerned because we are aware of the importance of our project to the area."