Prospect of slots hikes interest in airport terminal redo
By Risa Polansky
Seeing a share of slots income at Miami International Airport could entice developers to gamble on revamping its aging central terminal.
Aviation officials are exploring a contract with a developer to finance, design, build and operate a new central terminal in exchange for a long-term concession deal.
At the same time, in a bid to boost non-aeronautical revenues in the face of escalating debt payments, they're considering installing slots at the airport.
The two now-independent concepts may go hand in hand.
At an industry workshop last week meant to open talks between the Aviation Department and potential partners in a central terminal deal, one of the first questions was whether gaming is fair game when it comes to redeveloping the terminal.
The query came from attorney Mitchell Bierman, who chairs law firm Weiss Serota's Airport Services Group.
"We're open to that," Miguel Southwell, aviation deputy director of business retention and development, told industry players. "We're hoping that would be one of the things that would attract developers to the central terminal."
Mr. Bierman called the answer "encouraging."
"If they're willing to allow a private operator in who would share some of that revenue, that's going to create a lot of interest," he said in an interview. "It might help get that project done."
Mr. Bierman represents "a number of clients" potentially interested in a deal, he said, and "the slots concept occurred to me as being a potential revenue enhancer and a potential attraction. They're asking for a huge amount of private investment here."
The model on the table now seems to be retail, he said, and "I think a lot of the people that I talked to who are potentially interested in it are concerned about the amount of revenue that retail alone would generate."
Whether slots are included is "not at all" a deal-breaker, Mr. Bierman said. "I think there are a lot of people who would be interested without that."
Geno Jaramillo, project executive with builder MCM Corp., said he expects high interest — "especially with the gaming angle."
But slots revenue is far from certain.
The gambling concept is in formative stages, Aviation Director José Abreu said in an interview.
The only known parameter is that slot machines, if ever installed, would be situated post-security by county commissioners' orders.
And the slots idea was conceived to keep airlines' fees down by helping pay the airport's debt, Mr. Abreu noted, "and not necessarily the concessionaire's debt."
Installing central terminal slots and giving developers a cut isn't impossible, he said, but the concept hasn't been analyzed and the airlines would need a say.
Miami-Dade Aviation doesn't yet have a license for slots. The state is processing a quarter-horse racing application that's a pre-requisite.
Mr. Southwell revealed at the workshop that the racing permit would also open doors for a card room, though he qualified that that doesn't mean a casino is planned.
If ever, the terminal redevelopment could begin in 2017.