Unhappy Landings

Irwin almost agreed. Many of his ideas, along with the plans of the other artists, were borderline preposterous, and he knew the concept would be difficult for the public to grasp. In the fall of 1987, in fact, just months after he had agreed to take on the project, Irwin confessed as much to an audience at Florida International University. "The people of Miami are going to have to want it," he said, "and even then it will be a slow evolutionary change - one that may not even happen in my lifetime."

But Irwin was going to try to make it work. "My idea was to open up the area so that arriving visitors could see where they were headed," he says. "We didn't need to throw it all away, just refine it."

Telling the story now, as he did recently over a spaghetti lunch at a sidewalk restaurant not far from his office, Richard Judy, 59, is careful not to seem too angry about the way he was treated by the County Commission, and especially Commissioner Joe Gersten. And he is also careful to give the credit for creativity to Irwin. But clearly Judy feels the airport, as well as much of the long-range thinking about its future, was his own. "Bob [Irwin] is more than an artist, you know," Judy says. "No one else in the country saw this approach," which, he adds, matched his own.

By mid-1988 the bond between Judy and Irwin had set to the point where Irwin was working with other artists to draw up plans with architects and planners. Specific proposals were made to Judy and the APP's advisory committee and the trust. And here things began to bog down. As Irwin tells it, "When Judy wanted to do something, it got done. He made decisions rapidly, and although quick decisions often masked bad decisions, it did become the way things were done. But the arts people made decisions at ten miles an hour, rather than at the 50 to 90 miles an hour that the airport worked. There was a cumbersome bureaucracy, and the board was nervous, cautious. It was obvious why they were having difficulty working together."

Irwin says it also seemed to him that Judy and Cesar Trasobares were unable to work together. "I'd come to Cesar with a deal, and he would need to sit down with Judy and work out the details, and afterwards nothing was in place," he explains. "They would get to arguing with each other. My feeling was that Cesar had old logs to saw. They could not sit in a room together and cooperate. So whatever I had worked out would get undone. It took a lot of energy just salving old wounds."

Finally, in an effort to make some progress, Irwin says he suggested to Judy that he slow down his speed of decision making. "And it came to the point where Judy was willing and he tried to change his methodology. But the arts people never changed. If anything, they slowed down even more."

Trasobares agrees that the process was clunky to the point of stagnation. "Bob's recommendations had to be heard by the Professional Advisory Committee, and then be approved by the Trust, and then we had to negotiate contracts through the county attorney's office," he says. "So what Judy and Bob discussed in two hours' conversation took months to bring about. It was frustrating."

Other artists also felt stymied. Alexis Smith says she submitted several proposals, and in meetings Judy greeted them enthusiastically. But when the artists' work was passed on to airport staffers for review, it came back "totally co-opted, changed, and [subjected] to some power trip," says Smith. After two years, she quit. "The biggest problem with the airport situation in general," she says, "was that there was no way to put forth an idea and see it through without having it bastardized by others with special interests."

Finally, to vent some of his frustration, Irwin got Judy's okay to install a demonstration project at MIA, what he calls "a freebie." Months earlier, the airport had paid $50,000 for a study about how to improve the lighting in the carbon monoxide-choked lower drive, where cars and buses idle while waiting to pick up arriving passengers. The atmosphere is so bad under there that Metro cops refused to work traffic-control duty. And while an engineering firm was eventually hired to change the lighting, Judy was unhappy with the results.

So Irwin took a look and, he says, "came up with an idea that was extremely simple." He lit the crosswalks with green fluorescent tubes that paralleled the white strips on the concrete, creating for motorists a brightly lighted area where pedestrians were easily seen. Moreover, the lighting gave to the roadway what he calls "a sense of motion, a pulse, that pulls [drivers] through space." Irwin also saved the airport money by using existing materials. Judy was happy.

Part 3

But for other reasons, Judy wasn't happy for long. About the time the lighting project was finished, in the spring of 1989, the newly elected Metro Commission ordered a countywide audit of departmental books. Just how much money Judy spent at the airport - and just who received it - was of particular interest.

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