Herman Echevarria, a made-in-Miami success story — Cuban exile turned Hialeah politico turned business leader and reluctant TV star as husband to a “Real Housewife” — was found dead Monday morning at his apartment in downtown Miami’s Epic Hotel, according to Miami police.
Echevarria was 61. Police are investigating the cause of death.
Echevarria had served as a Hialeah council member for 12 years, from 1985 to 1997. After a bitter battle with Raúl Martinez for the mayor’s seat, Echevarria left city politics to make his mark behind the scenes in the business world.
There, he served as chief executive officer of BVK/Meka, a national advertising and marketing company on Brickell Avenue. He owned Venue magazine, a Spanish-language glossy.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Along with former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, Echevarria played a significant role in the county's successful negotiations with the city of Miami on an arena deal to keep the Miami Heat in Miami for 30 years.
“I asked him to do that,” Penelas said Monday. “He has done a lot of positive things for this community. He was a real deal, a real friend. It wasn’t just about politics. He was a complete community person and did a lot of good work on many philanthropic and charitable causes.”
After just one visit to downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts for a June 2010 play featuring telenovela star William Levy, he worked alongside Miami Mayor Tomás Regaldo to preserve the landmark.
Echevarria had read the city was going to stop funding the Gusman. He called Regalado, hashed out a financing and marketing plan with BVK/Meka, and presented his ideas to the city commission.
“I think it’s a disgrace that we close the door on so much history,” Echevarria told the Miami Herald in 2011.The Gusman had hosted everything from an Elvis Presley concert to the Miami International Film Festival. “I will have the satisfaction of saving an icon of Miami. I want do something for a community that has been very good to me.”
BVK/Meka managing partner Gonzalo González called Echevarria “a super-energetic person, always in a great mood and willing to help everybody.” He said that colleagues were worried when Echevarria did not show up at work. He believes Echevarria died in his sleep of a heart attack.
His second wife Alexia Echevarria, a costar on Bravo TV’s “Real Housewives of Miami,” issued a statement on Instagram. “He was a family man, a hardworking businessman, dedicated to helping others and a pillar of his community that was loved by everyone who’s [sic] life he touched.”
The two wed in the Dominican Republic in 2004, three years after meeting at South Beach’s Macarena. “He was such a gentleman,” Alexia Echevarria, a divorced mom with two sons, told the Herald in 2011.
The couple lived in Normandy Isle in a home decorated with Cuban art by masters like Mario Carreño and Wifredo Lam. They separated in 2015.
Echevarria was born on May 12, 1955, in eastern Camagüey, Cuba. In 1966, at age 11, Echevarria, his father Aureliano and mother Esther, along with a younger brother and sister, fled the island on a 21-foot boat. They settled in Hialeah and his father built Climate Aluminum Products. Echevarria dropped out of Hialeah Senior High School in his junior year to work alongside his dad and joined the city’s chamber of commerce, eventually becoming its president and chairman.
When his dad died at 55, he left Echevarria the aluminum business, which he sold to invest in the failed Global Bank. “But I started over again and I paid back every penny,” he told the Herald in 2011.
With friend Manny Machado, the two built BVK/Meka together in 1993. “We had a lot of history. I’ve known him since I was a child,” Machado said. “We started the business together and he was a people’s person. His passing is certainly a great loss for his family and for all those he touched — and he touched many.”
On Monday, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce released a statement:
“With Herman's loss, we mourn the passing of a great friend, trusted adviser, and passionate supporter. His work as a successful entrepreneur, respected business leader, philanthropist and devoted family man represented the very best of our community.”
Echevarria is survived by his children Nelson and Herman Jr., and stepchildren Peter and Frankie. A viewing will be from 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Funeral Home, 373 W. Ninth St. in Hialeah. Burial is at noon Thursday at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery, 11411 NW 25th St., Doral.