The Miami Circle controversy reveals the hidden hazards of land development.
By David Villano
Permits are in place, so is the financing. Construction crews are standing by. Now if it just weren't for those damned priceless cultural artifacts ... . That's the dilemma for developer Michael Baumann, whose $126 million, twin-residential-tower project, Brickell Pointe, has been derailed by the discovery of a 38-foot circle carved into the limestone bedrock at the construction site. Archaeologists believe the so-called Miami Circle was carved 2,000 years ago by the native Tequesta Indians. Enthusiasts, learning of the find from the tabloid press and Internet sites dedicated to unexplained phenomena, are comparing it to Stonehenge or Easter Island's mysterious carved faces.
When the discovery was made -- weeks before groundbreaking -- Baumann pledged to move the circle. Preservationist and Indian rights groups balked, demanding it remain untouched. Baumann became a worldwide pariah. Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, bowing to public outrage, initiated eminent domain proceedings to acquire the 2.3-acre downtown waterfront parcel. How much the county will have to pay is unclear.
Baumann's troubles didn't surprise everyone. County officials say the downtown Miami area is riddled with Indian artifacts. Indeed, Baumann's development permit, issued by the city, stipulates that an archaeologist monitor all digging on the site. "Over the last 20 years I can't think of a development project in downtown Miami that hasn't turned up some kind of artifact," says Seth Gordon, a government affairs consultant who advises a number of developers. "It's something you have to live with." Gordon, on behalf of a client, says he is already gauging archaeological interest in a vacant nine-acre tract slated for high-rise development not far from the circle.
Miami-based public relations consultant David Pearson, who specializes in real estate, says he advises all clients to adopt contingency plans for the discovery of artifacts or protected wildlife. One client, Port Royal, a golf community on the north end of Hilton Head Island, S.C., discovered remnants of a Civil War military encampment sitting in the path of a new golf course. The developers redesigned the course, preserving the ruins.
Baumann may not have that option. Through a spokesperson, he says he will never recoup the loss of future profits from the project should he be forced to sell. The city of Miami also stands to lose. Mayor Joe Carollo, who opposed the county's eminent domain action, says the Brickell Pointe project would have generated at least $1 million a year in badly needed city taxes. A tourist attraction will generate nothing. Pearson says no one should waste tears: "If you roll the dice you take a chance. Any developer should know this can happen."
In the News
BROWARD COUNTY -- Broward's latest corporate relocation coup is fast-growing Spirit Airlines. The Detroit-based carrier, which targets the Midwest-New York-Florida triangle, will move into a new, 56,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in Miramar by Nov. 1. Company officials promise to create an estimated 365 new jobs by the year 2001. The airline also plans to increase service to Fort Lauderdale, perhaps doubling 1999 passenger totals from a year ago.
Meanwhile, the city of Fort Lauderdale is welcoming its own new corporate tenant. Coverall North America, the commercial-cleaning franchiser, is moving its headquarters to the city from California. At least 20 employees will move here and at least 30 more will be hired locally. The company plans to expand into Latin America.
CUTLER RIDGE -- The soap opera saga of American Bankers Insurance Group (NYSE-ABI) has taken another turn with the announcement that Fortis, the Belgium-based international banking and insurance giant, offered $2.6 billion for the company. The bid comes just months after Cendant Corp.'s buyout attempt that failed, following allegations of massive accounting irregularities at Cendant. Fortis officials have not said how many, if any, of American Bankers' 1,700 employees will be affected.
FORT LAUDERDALE -- Republic Industries (NYSE-RII) is dumping its solid-waste business. After failing to obtain IRS approval for a tax-free spinoff to Republic shareholders, the company announced it will sell to the public its 64% stake in the waste division, Republic Services. The move allows Republic Industries to concentrate on the automotive retailing and rental businesses. Republic Services is the nation's third-largest waste company.
FORT PIERCE -- Indian River Community College opened its $10 million Health Science Center, billed as one of the most technologically advanced healthcare teaching facilities in the nation. Among the teaching tools at the center is the Human Patient Simulator, a computer-driven mannequin that displays pulse, breathing, drug reactions and other symptoms to more than 70 human conditions. Six Treasure Coast hospitals will partner with the college to provide students hands-on training.
JUNO BEACH -- FPL Group (NYSE-FPL) -- parent company of Florida Power & Light -- is stuck with a group of non-nuclear power plants in Maine that it doesn't want. A federal judge has ruled that FPL must complete the purchase of the plants despite changes in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules that may diminish their value. Like other electric utilities across the country, FPL is eyeing expansion opportunities outside its core market.
Seven former Pratt & Whitney engineers have announced the formation of Competitive Design Company (CDC), an engineering firm servicing the gas-turbine engine industry. CDC plans to hire 23 additional employees by the end of 2000. The expected average salary: $70,000 a year.
MIAMI -- CHS Electronics (NYSE-HS) will lay off about 600 workers -- that's about 10% of the company's worldwide total -- following an admission of accounting irregularities that inflated profits by nearly $45 million for the last three quarters. CHS is the world's third-largest distributor of computer equipment with sizable overseas operations. Company officials blame the error on a European-based manager who overstated earnings.
Thanks to a new contract with cargo carrier Emery Worldwide, Commodore Aviation will add up to 150 new employees over the next two years. The Miami-based aircraft-maintenance company currently employs about 500 people.
MAIPO, a maker of gold chains and other jewelry, will relocate its corporate headquarters and manufacturing operations to Miami from Puerto Rico. The company expects to employ 70 and will invest at least $2.5 million in the area.
In the wake of Sen. Connie Mack's announcement that he wouldn't run for reelection to the U.S. Senate, among the names floated as possible Democratic candidates was that of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. But Penelas appears to have agreed not to run -- after a one-on-one meeting in Tallahassee with state Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, who had filed qualifying papers the day the two men met. Asked independently about the substance of their meeting, both men, who are friends, said coyly, "Oh, we talked about a lot of things." Was there some kind of deal? Nelson, smiling broadly, said only that he was "happy" with the meeting's outcome.