Miami-Dade County

After Estefans’ MIA deal, commission orders talks with black-owned restaurants

An America Ailines passenger plane takes off at Miami International Airport in this file photo from April 2013.
An America Ailines passenger plane takes off at Miami International Airport in this file photo from April 2013. AP

Miami-Dade’s ethnic tensions collided with the politics of procurement Tuesday, when county commissioners ordered Miami International Airport to negotiate leases with two black-owned retailers on the heels of MIA picking businesses by Perry Ellis and Gloria Estefan for a no-bid program described as evoking the “flavor of Miami.”

“The flavor of Miami is not just Bongos, and it’s not just Perry Ellis,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan, one of four black members on the 13-seat commission. “The flavor of Miami is also Chef Creole and Jackson Soul Food.”

Jordan’s legislation passed 9-1 and instructs MIA to negotiate retail leases with Chef Creole and Jackson Soul Food, local restaurants serving cuisine linked to Haitian and African-American traditions.

The vote represented a twist on the usual procurement time line, which typically sees the administration bringing contract recommendations to the commission for final approval. Jordan described visiting MIA with Chef Creole owners to check out potential sites, and insisting MIA executives include retail areas that weren’t initially shown to the business.

The four-term commissioner said the arrangement was fair, given MIA’s decision to let Perry Ellis and Emilio and Gloria Estefan avoid the airport’s often-fierce bidding process when they won contracts late last year for prime kiosks in a busy terminal. The businesses were signed under airport program highliging “iconic” local brands.

The Estefans plan to open the first Estefan Kitchen at MIA, a spin-off of their Bongos chain that will highlight the music stars’ love of Cuban cooking. Well known for shirts with Penguins on them, Perry Ellis has headquarters in Doral and is on the short list of global brands that call the Miami area home. Both secured spots in MIA’s Concourse D, home to No. 1 carrier American Airlines.

Airport executives say they’re already in negotiations with Chef Creole and Jackson Soul for eight-year leases in other areas of the airport and planned to bring the deals back to commissioners for approval. “This is something we’ve wanted to do,” MIA Director Emilio González said.

Jordan said she wasn’t confident the deals would get done without commission action. Her resolution said “it was important that the concessions of MIA reflect the diverse cultures and peoples that make up the county.” The only no vote on the item came from Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who noted that she also opposed the first no-bid MIA deals and wanted to be consistent.

Tuesday’s discussion touched on two frequent sources of friction in county government: a perceived pecking order when it comes to various heritages in the Miami area and complaints that Miami-Dade often waives contracting rules for influential businesses and lobbyists.

“Maybe if we start sticking with the procedures,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said, “then we wouldn’t have to worry about things like this coming up.”

This article was updated to remove an erroneous name for the airport program used to sign the Estefan and Perry Ellis enterprises. While referred to as “flavor of Miami” during the commission debate, the initiative does not have a formal name.