Homestead - South Dade

Car dealer gets his way in Homestead; Hyundai outlet to rise

The vacated Sports Center bowling alley contributes to the general weathered look of Homestead's downtown.
The vacated Sports Center bowling alley contributes to the general weathered look of Homestead's downtown. MIAMI HERALD

Jay Rivchin wasn’t satisfied.

After finalizing a controversial contract with the City of Homestead in mid-October, Rivchin, operator of Dadeland Dodge, came back before the City Council Tuesday night asking to loosen some restrictions. During that meeting, the council ultimately approved selling the city’s abandoned bowling alley to Rivchin, who is in the process of building a Hyundai outlet.

In that original contract, the city inserted a clause that would prohibit the property of being anything other than a Hyundai dealership. It also prohibited the sale or transfer of the property from Rivchin to someone else.

Rivchin asked the council to loosen those restrictions, contending that banks weren’t approving the deal with the existing language.

“The issues were, there was no control over the title of the proposal,” said Greg Travaline, Rivchin’s business partner, who stood side by side with him. “There was no asset to secure the loan. Once these changes are approved, we’re good.”

Rivchin asked that the council let him add language that would allow him to change the use of the building after five years. If it’s changed before the five years, he would owe the city $200,000. He also requested that the sale or transfer restriction be limited to five years. Again, if he violates the five-year rule, he would be fined $200,000. This wouldn’t apply if Rivchin becomes disabled or dies, the proposal says.

“We don’t know if Jay is going to be around forever,” Travaline said. “We don’t know if Hyundai is going to be around forever.”

But some council members weren’t entirely comfortable with Rivchin's proposed changes. Councilman John Burgess suggested that the fine be increased on the sale/transfer clause in order to “protect the city.’

“Tomorrow, if we give them this property, they can have someone on the hook for $4 million and end up paying us $200,000 and we end up with whoever they sell it to,” Burgess said. “Unfortunately, we have all seen worst-case scenarios here in the city.”

Burgess made a motion to amend that portion of Rivchin’s latest proposal to raise the fine to $500,000. It passed 4-3. The rest of the clauses were automatically approved.

Rivchin and his business partner objected to Burgess’ suggestion, saying the increase would cause trouble with banks.

Some members of the council seemed frustrated.

“How long are we gonna continue discussing this?” Mayor Jeff Porter said.

The project generated controversy after the Miami Herald revealed in September that the deal’s most vocal proponent, Councilman Jimmy Williams, had carried on a series of undisclosed contacts with Rivchin over Williams’ city-issued cellphone in the time leading up to a vote. Williams and Rivchin had more than 400 interactions, none of them made public until the Herald reported about them.

Less than two weeks after the council voted in favor of the project, the councilman’s goddaughter bought a car from Rivchin’s dealership after the three engaged in a late-evening conference call. Both Rivchin and Williams said there were no special considerations, although neither would produce a sales invoice.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Williams continued his support for the project.

“For the record, I have not talked to Mr. Rivchin about this contract,” he said. Williams directed the conversation at Rivchin and Travaline. “Are these all the changes?”

Travaline: “This is it, we’re good.”

Williams: “So this is done?”

Travaline: “Done.”

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan