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How Many Malls?
With developers bidding for retail dominance in fast-growing Broward County, a turf battle erupts.

A high-stakes battle has erupted between two shopping mall development companies over a tract of public land in the once-sleepy expanses of west Broward County, replete with charges of secret deal-making and questions about how much retail business the area can bear.

The dispute arose in May when Sunrise City Manager Pat Salerno announced plans to lease a tract of undeveloped city land to Sunrise Land Group, a development company owned by Wayne Huizenga. Huizenga plans to build a $200-million upscale mall not far from the city's new $192-million, publicly financed arena, the National Car Rental Center -- home to the Florida Bobcats, an arena football team, and Huizenga's Florida Panthers NHL hockey franchise. By agreement, the mall must be anchored by at least three high-end retailers, such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales. Target opening date: early 2001. A retail development such as this one, explains Salerno, offered an attractive alternative to a proposed high-density residential project that would have placed a heavy burden on city services and nearby schools.

The tract, however, is only about a half-mile from Sawgrass Mills, touted as the world's largest outlet mall at 2.2-million square feet. After learning of the deal, Sawgrass Mills' owner, the Virginia-based Mills Corp., cried foul. It filed suit against the city of Sunrise, alleging it acted improperly by negotiating secretly with Huizenga's company. Mills Corp. says that had it known the city was shopping the land around for lease deals, it might have floated its own proposal. In any event, company officials contend, the region cannot support two major malls. Mills Corp. placed full-page ads in local newspapers explaining its opposition to the deal.

City officials insist they did nothing wrong. What, they ask, could they have gained by negotiating in the dark? Alex Muxo, vice president of Sunrise Land Group, says his company hatched the mall plan only after the city asked for an alternative to the residential project. Muxo says Mills Corp. is simply afraid of a little competition. "We wouldn't be wasting anyone's time if we weren't convinced it can work," he says.

Although it opposes a second mall, Mills Corp. is not entirely against the idea of new development. Shortly after hearing of Sunrise Land Group's plan, Mills Corp. proposed adding an 800-unit upscale apartment tower at the entrance to Sawgrass Mills. It also announced its intention to proceed with a 550,000-sq.-ft. expansion of Sawgrass Mills, which it proposed, then shelved, three years ago. With the additional space, Sawgrass Mills likely will want to attract additional anchor tenants, perhaps a high-end retailer.

Even with such an expansion, Muxo believes both malls can flourish. "We're right in the center of the tri-county area, within 45 minutes drive time of roughly 4.5 million people," he says. "This is an ideal place to be doing business."

In The News...

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CORAL GABLES -- Union Planters Bank is shifting its south Florida headquarters here from Miami's Brickell Avenue banking district. The move will allow the bank, now Florida's sixth largest, to be closer to corporate clients with offices in Coral Gables.

FLORIDA KEYS -- No more free TV in the Keys. On June 30, county officials pulled the plug on a string of broadcast towers that relayed Miami television stations' signals down through the Keys. Earlier this year local residents voted overwhelmingly to repeal a special tax that had subsidized the towers. Only a handful of remote island homes currently do not have cable service options.

Rumrunners Island Bar, the local Islamorada landmark popular with hordes of weekend tourists visiting the Florida Keys, burned to the ground. A cause has not been determined. The bar's owner pledges to rebuild. Meanwhile, drinks are flowing at a makeshift outdoor bar.

MIAMI -- Hoping to become an instant force in Latin America, Atlanta-based United Parcel Service has acquired most of the assets of Challenge Air Cargo. Privately held Challenge Air, which flies to 17 cities in 13 countries, is one of the region's leading air cargo carriers. The company employs about 1,200, including 600 in Miami. No announcement has been made on possible layoffs.

Atlantic Gulf Communities Corp. (OTC-AGLF), one of the largest residential real estate developers in the Southeast U.S., announced that it has eliminated 24 jobs, or about 18% of its workforce, as part of a program that also includes restructuring its management team.

Denny's, the nationwide restaurant chain that has been battling allegations of racial discrimination, announced that Miami will be the site of its first black-owned franchise in Florida. The restaurant, which will be owned and operated by Miami's Willie Robinson and Associates, will employ 50 people when it opens next spring.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY-- Federal Express selected Miami International Airport as its new Latin American Cargo hub. Orlando and Tampa had been considered. The company expects to create up to 275 jobs over the next three years and will make a capital investment of an estimated
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Future Tech International, a distributor of computer components in Latin America whose owner is embroiled in a White House fundraising scandal, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move is expected to aid in the company's planned sale to Bell Microproducts of San Jose, Calif. Terms of the sale were not disclosed, and neither company has announced layoffs. Future Tech International founder Mark B. Jimenez was indicted a year ago for allegedly using his company to funnel millions of dollars to Vice President Al Gore and other elected officials.

In a stunning blow to prosecutors, a federal judge has cleared former Port of Miami director Carmen Lunetta of illegal campaign contributions and diverting millions of dollars of public money for personal use. U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks ruled that the money in question belonged not to the county but to a private firm, Fiscal Operations, contracted to operate the port's gantry cranes. While cleared of the criminal charges, Lunetta still faces a civil suit brought by Miami-Dade County.

Miami-Dade County continues to flourish as a gateway to Latin America. Among the latest companies to set up shop: Parfums Christian Dior, the French maker of cosmetics and perfumes, which is moving its Latin headquarters from Panama to Miami. The company expects to employ 15 people at its new Brickell Avenue headquarters. Also new to the area is helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. The company, a division of United Technologies Inc., is relocating its Latin American sales division to Miami Lakes.

STUART -- Calling itself the Treasure Coast's newest commercial bank and the first in Martin County in more than 25 years, Gulfstream Business Bank opened for business recently in a new 5,300-sq.-ft. headquarters with 12 employees. Local bankers, business owners and entrepreneurs founded the bank.

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Miami's role as Latin music headquarters is about to get a boost. (No, Latin music superstar Ricky Martin is not moving to South Beach.) The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, better known as the people behind the Grammy Awards, have announced the first Latin Grammys for November 2000. While not official, industry experts say that Miami-Dade County is a shoo-in for the star-studded, world-televised gala awards show. The county's concentration of record companies' Latin American headquarters plus cable channels like MTV Latin America will outweigh the academy's concerns about potential political flaps over Cuban artists, they say.