Unhappy Landings

The audit was also welcomed by the trustees of APP, which had virtually no money in its bank account and - thanks to an oversight in its charter - no formal mechanism for collecting monies it was owed. The audit determined that APP was due some $5.8 million as its share of various county construction projects. The audit also confirmed that change orders to airport contracts let by Judy often exceeded their original bids. Those bids were the only sum on which the 1.5 percent APP share applied. And although Judy was never accused of any wrongdoing, the inspection of the books seemed to signal the director that it was time to go.

Judy's decision to leave was a thunderbolt, surprising almost everyone. Sure, he had been talking about retirement for a while. He had put in almost 30 years with the county. Before going to the airport, he had built much of Dade's road system. He worked night and day, weekends, too. His salary at the end was $100,000 per year, and he saved it. He was thinking about finding a hobby.

On the other hand, he wasn't really ready to retire. He had just been elected chairman of the Airport Operators Council International, a worldwide association of airport directors, and no one thought he was close to walking away from that. Besides, he had a lot invested in Irwin and the project to transform MIA.

But even Judy's long-time patron, Dade Mayor Steve Clark, couldn't deflect the questions about the way the airport was run. Commissioner Joe Gersten was especially insistent. What about this expenditure of $300,000 for a study about building a race track at Opa-locka Airport? Gersten asked. And what about this low-ball price from Sarkis Soghanalian, the so-called Merchant of Death, to ship a car from Europe for Judy's daughter while the arms dealer was negotiating a contract for an airport land lease?

No one in county government, bureaucrat or commissioner, had ever questioned Judy before. Judy couldn't believe it. "No private sector in its right mind would make a change when someone is making huge profits for the people," he says. Still, push turned to shove. And Judy refused to take it. It was that simple. He quit.

Judy's resignation stunned Irwin. "I never felt like I was a friend of his, but I liked him," says the artist. "I was something like a carbuncle that he had no time for. But he was pivotal. I appreciated his ability and his strength."

In October 1989 Irwin received more bad news. Frederick Elder, then- interim aviation director, sent APP an invoice for $430,000 to cover funds the airport had spent in connection with various studies and renovations related to art projects. Included in that figure was a $130,000 bill for steam cleaning the roadway and ceiling on the lower concourse in preparation for the installation of the lights. Irwin was incredulous. "If anything," he says, "they should have paid me."

APP's airport project coordinator, Mary Hoeveler, remembers the invoice as fateful, an omen of a bad end to come. "That was just one of many incidents," she says. "And it indicated that what Bob had accomplished with Judy - convincing him that art was central and not peripheral - Elder just didn't understand."

Craig Robins, treasurer of the APP Trust, refused to pay, contendng the lighting project, for one, stemmed from a private agreement between Irwin and Judy. "That was not an APP-authorized project," he says. "We really did not have anything to do with it." And he was not about to pay the bill.

"The arrival of that invoice signaled the end of the good intentions," says Cesar Trasobares. "It served to question my authority." The invoice, and Elder's attitude toward the airport project, weren't all that was bothering Trasobares, but they were significant. In January 1990, he announced his resignation as APP's executive director.

That same month, after being summoned to appear before a meeting of the APP Trust, Elder defiantly refused to back down. "I am not going to be nailed for sins of the past," he said.

After that, the airport project was on a glide path for crash and burn. While Elder denies dismissing Irwin's master plan as "bullshit," clearly the Irwin-Judy vision was doomed. (For Frederick Elder's comments, see the sidebar that accompanies this story.)

Irwin returned to Miami a couple of times. "I'd go to the airport on occasion for presentations to midlevel people who never showed up," he recalls. "Or maybe there'd be two people there. The meetings never came together. That tells me there was no clear interest or leadership on either side, from the airport or the arts people. Nobody did their homework. I was mystified.

"The idea of beginning again with Elder was insurmountable," Irwin adds. "We were dead in the water. It was just impossible."

For his work on the airport master plan, Irwin was paid a total of $300,000, including $75,000 for redesigning the central garage. Video artist Paik was paid $170,000 for his two installations, Wing on the third level of Concourse C, and the monitors spelling out "Miami" on the lower level of Concourse E. APP spent another $80,000 for consultants.

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