By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
County commissioners, who had won guarantees that part of the Wayne's World project would be built in Dade, showed little interest in the pending dilemma of an abandoned Miami Arena, and they certainly were not giving any thought to building a new downtown arena.
Mayor Clark was merely hoping to mitigate the coming apocalypse. At a meeting in early 1994, attended by Clark, Korge, Huizenga Holdings vice president Jim Blosser, and Huizenga attorney Bob Traurig, Blosser discussed splitting the Panther's season between the old Miami Arena and the proposed Wayne's World arena. Two months later, on May 9, that group got together again, this time joined by Miami City Manager Cesar Odio. The talk turned to the Miami Heat.
According to those in attendance at the meeting, Huizenga's representatives told Clark that if the Heat did leave South Florida, Huizenga was confident that the National Basketball Association would award the city another franchise. There was even talk that Huizenga might try to purchase the Heat, or perhaps buy the new franchise. The basketball team would be based at Wayne's World, but Huizenga's representatives said they were willing to split a portion of the Heat's games with the downtown arena, just as they were willing to do with the Panthers. Everyone at the meeting agreed that cooperation was needed between the Miami Arena and Huizenga's ambitious venture to the north.
Then Korge came up with a novel idea: Huizenga should take over control of the Miami Arena. That way he could easily coordinate events -- including games and concerts -- between the two facilities, increasing the likelihood that neither would suffer too badly from competition. "I'm not going to deny that it may have been my idea," he says. "It was fairly spontaneous. And Odio thought it was a great idea. He kept talking it up."
Huizenga jumped at the idea. In July 1994, he bought a controlling interest in both Decoma and LMI. A month later Huizenga's brother-in-law, Whit Hudson, announced that he had just spent $60 million to acquire the Heat.
Within six months, though, Hudson's deal had fallen apart, and Micky Arison stepped in and bought the team. And then the Wayne's World project died after Huizenga sold Blockbuster to Viacom for eight billion dollars.
The only piece of the puzzle that remained in place was Huizenga's control of the Miami Arena. And what had once seemed to be a great idea quickly became a major problem.
For one thing, having Huizenga control arena operations antagonized Micky Arison and the Miami Heat, which views itself as a sort of sports outpost, surrounded and constantly threatened by Huizenga's evil empire. The attempt by Huizenga's brother-in-law to buy control of the team was, in Arison's mind, further proof of Huizenga's need to control everything around him.
Rather than fostering cooperation and coordination between the Miami Arena and a sports facility to the north, such as the one planned for Sunrise, Huizenga has used his control of Decoma and LMI in ways that have worked against the city's interests. Last year, for example, the Heat offered to extend its current lease at the Miami Arena -- which expires in 1998 -- by four or five years in hopes that the extra time might allow for a solution to the building's physical drawbacks.
The proposal included a ten-percent rent increase over the $600,000 the team currently pays each year. The city and MSEA were willing to accept the offer, but Huizenga, by virtue of his control of Decoma, was able to veto the plan and he demanded nothing less than three million dollars per year from the Heat.
Another problem associated with Huizenga's control of the arena was the now infamous "noncompete" clause in Decoma's contract with the city. Some Miami officials believed the clause prohibited them from building a new arena, or even from talking to the Heat about a new arena.
Dumbfounded city officials voiced shock and amazement that somehow Huizenga had hijacked their arena and had left them powerless to do anything about it. This past December City Manager Odio seemed to be surprised. "We didn't know that Huizenga would buy that contract," he said, suggesting that the city, like everyone else, had been caught off guard by Huizenga's supposed treachery.
In fact, Odio knew perfectly well that Huizenga was interested in taking control of the Miami Arena by investing in Decoma and LMI. After all, he promoted the idea after Korge suggested it at their meeting the previous May. The manager's disingenuous public statement prompted Huizenga Holdings vice president Jim Blosser to write a letter to Odio, scolding him for having "a most selective memory."
By repeatedly expressing anger and frustration that Huizenga was thwarting their efforts to negotiate with the Heat to counter Broward's momentum, Odio and other city officials only aggravated their problem. As their desperation grew, so did the asking price for buying out Huizenga's management contract, which they believed was the only way to get out from under the noncompete clause. Not only did they hand Huizenga a gun to hold to the city's head, they graciously loaded it as well.