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Carollo also discovered that Perry had unilaterally changed the authority's rules governing sick leave, a change that allowed MSEA employees to cash in their unused sick days. A major beneficiary of Perry's new policy: Bill Perry, who promptly issued himself a check for approximately $6000 in accrued sick leave. "I understand my decision may give some people cause for concern," Perry says. "But I made that decision as a benefit to the authority staff. I thought it was important to keep people working rather than having them take the time off."
Other MSEA transactions also appeared suspicious to Carollo, including the 1994 purchase of a warehouse near the arena for $1.1 million. The sellers were a group of investors, one of whom was a former law partner of Korge. The authority then leased back to the owners the adjacent parking lot for $64,000 per year to run the parking concession, which is now being operated by Korge's friend and fellow lobbyist Rodney Barreto. "I didn't even know he was running the lots," Korge claims.
Carollo remains skeptical. "The whole deal smelled," he says. "We didn't need a warehouse. What we were keeping there for the arena was total junk that we should have sold off for a few hundred bucks. And after buying this property, we give away its most important asset -- the parking lot."
Of greatest concern to Carollo, though, was the deteriorating relationship between MSEA and the Miami Heat. For years the basketball team had expressed contempt for their current arena -- too few skyboxes, bad neighborhood, lousy parking -- and had repeatedly threatened to leave. If Miami was willing to build them a new home, fine, if not, they would look elsewhere.
During De Yurre's tenure as MSEA chairman, he took the position (along with Korge and Perry) that the city should not capitulate to the team's threats. If the Heat's owners wanted to move north to Broward, that was up to them. But as long as they remained in Dade County, the only arena in which they would play was the existing Miami Arena. MSEA had even offered refurbishments of up to $90 million for such things as skyboxes and increased floor-level seating. But the team's owners weren't interested, and the two sides seemed at an impasse.
Another point of contention between the Heat and MSEA concerned a company called Decoma Miami Associates. In 1986, before the arena was even constructed, Decoma invested seven million dollars in the project and thus became MSEA's joint-venture partner. Their partnership agreement gave Decoma the right to negotiate all leases for the arena's tenants (such as the Heat and the Panthers) and to manage the day-to-day operations of the facility. MSEA would act as a sort of governing board, and would be required to approve any lease before it became final.
The landlord-tenant relationship between Decoma and the Miami Heat was always strained, but it worsened two years ago when Wayne Huizenga purchased a controlling interest in Decoma and Leisure Management, Inc. (LMI), a subsidiary of the Houston-based firm. (Decoma had assigned to LMI responsibility for the arena's daily operations.) From Carollo's perspective, Huizenga was now in a dangerously powerful position to undermine his efforts to keep the Heat in Miami.
With such possible threats looming, Carollo believed it was essential for MSEA to remain as independent as possible and to have an attorney whose affiliations did not raise troubling questions and whose loyalty lay exclusively with the sports authority. Instead Carollo found the relationships among MSEA, Decoma, and LMI entirely too incestuous for his liking. For example, the commissioner says he was "shocked" to learn that Korge, in addition to being MSEA's attorney and lobbyist, was also on Huizenga's payroll as a lobbyist for LMI. "He was making money from both sides," Carollo notes.
Additionally, Korge's pal Barreto, who controls many other prime parking lots around the Miami Arena, is also registered as a lobbyist for LMI. Another Korge confidant, John Blaisdell, was once the executive director of MSEA before jumping ship to work for Decoma and LMI.
Carollo says he quickly realized that he didn't know who he could trust and he wasn't sure about Korge's true allegiances. (Korge claims he only represented Decoma and LMI when their interests coincided with MSEA's, and that his first responsibility was always to the sports authority.)
IT'S WAYNE'S WORLD AND WE ARE MERELY VISITORS
Regardless of Carollo's ultimate motives -- to empty the authority's coffers for a new arena, to punish political foes, or to clean up a troubled agency -- by late January he had more than enough ammunition to oust both Perry and Korge. Their departure, and his unfettered control of the agency, allowed Carollo to make available $15 million from MSEA toward a new arena.
A little more than two years ago, when Steve Clark was elected mayor of Miami, one of the first crises he faced was the fate of the arena. At that time plans for Blockbuster Park, often referred to as Wayne's World, were moving forward rapidly, and the prospect of a new, sports-oriented theme park on the DadeABroward border almost certainly spelled disaster for Miami's downtown venue. The Heat and the Panthers, it seemed, were destined to move north.