Abreu to try again to settle dispute over car-rental hub
By Dan Dolan
Miami-Dade County Aviation Director Jose Abreu says he'll try again this week to break up a 6-year dogfight between small local car-fleet owners and national leasing giants that he says could stall completion of a $340 million automobile rental hub at Miami International Airport.
Local car-rental firms and large operators like Alamo, Avis and Hertz are locked in combat over how garage space at the new Miami Intermodal Center will be split up, Mr. Abreu said last week. And neither side appears to be willing to give an inch, he said.
Last month, both sides rejected his latest proposal, which would have given six local firms more office space, car-wash bays and fueling stations, he said. County commissioners led by Dorrin D. Rolle then told Mr. Abreu to come up with a new plan that will make local fleet owners happier.
The large national chains seem to be in the legal driver's seat. Their agreement with the state, which is funding the decade-old project, was signed in 2000 and divides office, parking and auto service space at the center based on market share, Mr. Abreu said.
At the core of the dispute, according to Mr. Abreu, is the local companies' demand for about 25% of the space in the new garage. Their combined market share in Miami-Dade is 1.2%.
"Frankly, I'm having a problem swallowing that pill," Mr. Abreu said. "And the large companies say they're not going to sign an amendment to the original agreement."
The feud isn't costing anything but time and aggravation, Mr. Abreu said.
While the two sides argue, surcharge fees generated by tourists' car rentals continue to mount at a rate of about $1.2 million a month. To date, the $3.25 daily surcharge has pulled in about $45 million to cover construction costs.
The cash is being held in a state-run pool that will be tapped once the above-ground sections of the four-level garage are under construction. Only the foundations have been laid. Mr. Abreu said the state is negotiating with construction companies interested in completing the project.
Mr. Abreu said the dispute over space allocation can drag on until the building exterior is complete several years from now. If a new deal hasn't been inked by then, Mr. Abreu said construction would stop until contractors know exactly how they'd need to divide the office and work areas among competing car companies.
He hopes the firms will compromise on a plan long before then.
"I think my recent recommendation is a fair one," Mr. Abreu said. "But I'm caught in the middle trying to satisfy everyone. I'll gladly adopt a new consensus."
Robert W. Holland, a Miami lawyer who represents small local fleets, said Mr. Abreu's recommendation would drive clients Royal Rent-a-Car, Family Auto Rental, All Day Rent-a-Car, Siboney Auto Rentals and Global Rent-a-Car out of business by putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
"The big companies want to use all the space so they can consolidate all their Miami-Dade operations at the airport," Mr. Holland said. "They'd get a huge windfall by eliminating satellite sites and, in essence, storing their entire fleets for free."
To stay competitive with the big boys, each of his clients wants 1,300 square feet of office space, two fuel bays, one wash bay, 110 parking spaces and 16 feet of counter space in the main car-rental lobby, Mr. Holland said. This would equal about 25% of all space.
Mr. Abreu's plan called for each small company to have 42 parking spaces, two fueling stations, 600 square feet of office area and 10.5 feet of counter space. The small companies would share three car-wash bays. In total, the companies would have 16% of all facilities.
Under the original agreement with the state, all the small companies would share one office area, a wash bay and a fueling station. Each would get 10 parking spaces and 10 feet of counter space in the lobby.
"If they have to charge rent, so be it," Mr. Holland said. "But if we don't get more space, the small companies have no chance to survive."
Hertz Corp. property director Mark K. McBee, who met with county officials last month, declined to comment on Mr. Holland's analysis. Mr. McBee said his company supports implementation of the 2000 agreement, which is opposed by Mr. Rolle, seeking to protect minority-owned car-rental fleets.
County commissioners appear fed up with the squabble, which began almost immediately after the Miami Intermodal Center, which also includes major road and rail projects, was approved 10 years ago, Mr. Abreu said. Details of the space allocation were supposed to be finalized in 2001, he said.
"We need to get along and achieve a consensus," Mr. Abreu said. "We need to look at the big picture. I think a compromise is possible, hopefully soon. This has taken way too long."