The hottest special-interest saga these days at County Hall may be the fight for the coveted baggage-wrapping contract at Miami International Airport.
The latest chapter involves two competitors with such over-the-top dislike for each other that one accuses the other of hiding his finances and compares him to the Miami Marlins. The second likens his firm to John Wayne and counters that his rival has business ties to Cuba.
“It just seems like a movie,” MIA Director José Abreu said. “I don’t know anything else that is more controversial than baggage wrap.”
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade commissioners are scheduled to award the lucrative 10-year contract to TrueStar USA.
TrueStar is a corporate venture between the airport’s current vendor, Sinapsis Trading USA, and its giant Italian parent, TrueStar Group SpA. In 2010, Sinapsis ousted rival Secure Wrap of Miami, which had held the exclusive baggage-wrapping rights for nine years. Both companies wrap passengers’ baggage with clingy plastic, to prevent theft of the contents.
Sinapsis won after guaranteeing to pay a minimum $11.1 million a year to the county-owned airport — compared to Secure Wrap’s $4.1 million-a-year bid, which was nearly four times more than what the company had historically paid the county.
A year ago, Sinapsis asked the county to reduce its minimum annual fee to $8.7 million, saying its business had been hurt when Secure Wrap began wrapping baggage at locations outside the airport.
Commissioners reluctantly agreed to the reduction, but only after deciding to put out a new bid for the concession. Sinapsis’ five-year contract was cut to one more year. The new bid went out after commissioners — heavily lobbied by both sides — dug unusually deep into the weeds of the bid language, which is typically handled by professional county administrators.
The bid also briefly became an issue in Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s reelection campaign. Opponent Joe Martinez, then the commission chairman, suggested from the dais that the mayor had waffled by allowing Sinapsis to reduce its fee to the county after warning the company two years earlier that it had better live up to its lofty projections. Gimenez said it was better to lower the fee than leave the airport without any revenue or wrapping services while a new bid went out.
Sinapsis bid again, under its new TrueStar name. So did Secure Wrap, now as a joint venture named Safe Wrap of Florida. The committee judging the bids gave Safe Wrap a higher score on technical merits. But TrueStar won because it offered a higher payment: $9.6 million or 65 percent of its monthly gross revenues, whichever is higher, compared to the $9.1 million or 52 percent offered by Safe Wrap.
TrueStar has asked for the ability to charge maximum higher wrapping fees than Sinapsis, which has the ability to charge $18 for small bags — though it currently charges $15. As part of its new contract, TrueStar wants to charge up to $20 for small bags, with higher prices for larger ones.
Safe Wrap protested based on several claims, including that TrueStar was not a properly registered joint venture in Florida, had filed incomplete forms and based its bid on “wholly unsustainable” and “irrational” projections. Last month, a hearing examiner upheld the county’s decision.