Miami-Dade County

County mayor’s son wins approval for land sale. Commissioners won’t ban family deals

Partners in Miami-Dade Steel, a planned “micro” steel mill powered by electricity near Homestead: Gustavo Lopez, left, Julio Gimenez, center, and Leroy Jones, right.
Partners in Miami-Dade Steel, a planned “micro” steel mill powered by electricity near Homestead: Gustavo Lopez, left, Julio Gimenez, center, and Leroy Jones, right. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a land deal for partners that include a son of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and swatted back a suggestion that officeholders’ relatives should be banned from doing business with the county.

The vote reserves 123 acres of county-owned land near Homestead for Julio Gimenez and partners. The partnership wants to spend nearly $300 million developing a mini steel mill that uses electric-powered machinery to convert scrap metal into rebar and other raw building materials.

Miami-Dade Steel LLC has about 18 months to raise the money and obtain permits before having to pay the $16.8 million needed to purchase the land. The county mayor recused himself from the proposal, allowing top aides to handle negotiations with the steel group, which has pledged to create more than 200 well-paying jobs there.

“That area was devastated after Hurricane Andrew,” said Commissioner Dennis Moss, whose district includes the proposed site for a “micro” steel mill. “For a very long time, we have been pursuing companies to develop in that area.”

Most of the friction came from one commissioner’s proposal to ban a similar deal from going forward in the future. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who is running for mayor in 2020, said the steel mill proposal was a good project that would still raise suspicions because an officeholder’s relative is a partner. She promised to introduce a bill to ban immediate family members of the county’s elected officials from conducting business with the county or from lobbying for legislative matters before the commission.

“I feel this legislation is needed to fully regain the trust from our residents,” Levine Cava said. “Many in the county feel we have not done enough to tackle ethical reforms. I am committed to do so.”

Her fellow commissioners gave a collective thumbs down to Levine Cava’s plan. “Many of our children are not millionaires,” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said. “They have to work. Sometimes they become attorneys, and they represent companies in government.”

“My family deserves to make a living just like anybody else,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan.

Julio Gimenez, a longtime construction executive, is a minority partner in Miami-Dade Steel, the entity formed to pursue the steel mill. The lead partner is Gustavo Lopez, who said he has built other micro mills in Latin America and China. The partnership asked to have the proposal skip the normal review process by a commission committee in order to make a May 15 deadline to register for an investment-visa program that the partners hope will raise $50 million for the project, the younger Gimenez said.

County negotiators inserted language in the contract Tuesday to address concerns by nearby Homestead Air Reserve Base that exhaust from the steel mill could cause updrafts that might affect airplanes. The agreement calls for scratching the project if a later report finds problems for the Air Force from the steel mill’s design.

Mayor Gimenez left the chambers before the steel-mill item came up and returned after the successful vote, passing his son on the escalator. In an interview, the younger Gimenez described the mill as a boon for a county where tourism and construction drive large chunks of the job market.

“It’s a game changer,”he said. “We’re pursuing manufacturing in Miami-Dade County. And green manufacturing.”

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