OPA-LOCKA — High-powered attorney Willie Gary this week appealed the eviction of Opa-locka Flightline from prime real estate at the Opa-Locka Executive Airport.
Gary filed the appeal on Wednesday in Miami-Dade County court on behalf of Flightline, the only black-owned, fixed-base operator (FBO) in the U.S.
FBOs offer fuel, maintenance and storage services for business aircraft and privately owned jets.
“This is an ongoing litigation and it will be a long, long fight,” said Tricia “CK” Hoffler, a partner at the Stuart law offices of Gary, Williams, Finney, Lewis, Watson & Sperando.
Miami-Dade County sought to evict Flightline from the airport on grounds that the company has refused to negotiate a new lease in good faith.
Anthony Robinson, CEO of Flightline, refuted those claims.
“The county doesn’t want to admit that they are trying to squeeze our company out of business,” Robinson said. “The county has a hidden agenda to get us off the air field.”
Robinson supports his argument by noting that Flightline’s competition – larger, white-owned companies – were granted leases to build on the airport’s air fields, while his company was told that the county would not grant a new lease.
In order to get a long-term lease to build more facilities that will allow Flightline to grow, the county said the company would have to negotiate with its competitor, AA Acquisitions. AA Acquisitions is also a lease holder at the airport, and manages the smaller leaseholders.
The county has denied any racial discrimination. The Miami-Dade Aviation Department has said it did all it could to negotiate a new lease with Flightline.
“This is about business and it’s about what is fair. We are willing to fight this as long as it takes because this is not just about Flightline. It’s about the establishment trying to push the smaller, thriving business out of business,” Robinson said.
Gary and his associates say they believe their case is strong and straightforward.
“We don’t need to look for legal loopholes or anything like that,” Hoffler said.
“We are fighting for the rights of our clients to thrive just like any business is given the opportunity to thrive.”
Founded in 2007, Flightline also handles concierge services such as catering, ground transportation and dinner reservations, according to its Web site. IBM and Sears executives have utilized the company, as well as entertainers Enrique Iglesias and Lil’ Jon.
Flightline has threatened a billion-dollar lawsuit against the Miami-Dade Aviation Department and AA Acquisitions, alleging breach of contract and racial discrimination.
On June 10, Gary and members of the clergy held a press conference aimed at denouncing the airport’s operating entities for initiating the eviction of Opa-locka Flightline.
According to Miguel Southwell, Miami-Dade’s deputy aviation director, in 1998 MDAD signed a contract to allow Opa-locka Aviation Group (OAG) to develop 240 acres at the airport.
But by 2005, OAG had failed to meet benchmarks for building up infrastructure and facilities. MDAD sought to void the contract.
One OAG lawyer, Milton Ferrell, saw an opportunity. Ferrell, now deceased, joined with developer Michael Adler and Leonard Abess, CEO of City National Bank of Florida, to form AA Acquisitions.
They bought OAG’s lease for $19 million, according to the county.
AA Acquisitions then assumed management of the remaining, smaller leaseholders at the airport.
Since then, the number of tenants at the airport – some of whom had been there for more than 20 years—has plummeted.
Bruce Rubin, spokesperson for AA Acquisitions, said earlier this month that for two years, AA Acquisitions has sought to establish a lease, but Flightline refused to negotiate in good faith.
But at the same time negotiations with AA Acquisitions were being finalized with the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, MDAD was also working on a contract with Flightline.
Flightline initially held a 5-year temporary lease, but was seeking a long-term, 30-year lease and 15 more acres on which to build. Flightline officials say that once AA Acquisitions assumed management of the airport, the landlord strung Flightline along and would not grant a lease upon the promised terms. Flightline says it began withholding rent because AA Acquisitions failed to perform.
Photo: Willie Gary