On March 26, as the city commission was set to vote, the Decoma purchase agreement was quietly withdrawn, which may have been exactly what Huizenga wanted. Portuondo, Carollo, and even Knight-Ridder chairman Tony Ridder all say they believe Huizenga was not bargaining in good faith. "I believe the real negotiating goal of Decoma was to paralyze city officials," says Portuondo. "And that was designed to do two things: to get the most money possible for Decoma, and to keep the negotiations going as long as possible in order stop the city from building a new arena. There is no doubt in my mind that Decoma clearly wanted to push the negotiations beyond the March 29 deadline [imposed by Broward], thereby forcing the Heat to go to Broward."

Carollo agrees: "They [Huizenga and Decoma] never in their wildest dreams thought that Dade was going to be able to put it together and keep the Heat here in Miami."

The decision to abort all negotiations with Decoma was finally reached on Wednesday, March 27. Portuondo was supposed to pick up Carollo in front of the Miami Herald building so the two could watch the Heat play the Los Angeles Lakers. Carollo was upstairs discussing plans for a new arena with Ridder. Portuondo's arrival prompted a three-hour discussion about whether the city really needed to buy out Decoma before a new arena could be built. Until that time, Ridder had supported a purchase of Huizenga's contract as a way of avoiding legal entanglements. But after Decoma had the gall to insert language favoring the Panther's lease, he decided that enough was enough and declared, "The deal is off the table."

Chapter eight
In Wayne Huizenga's world of billion-dollar deals, risking a few million in a game of chicken with Dade County and the City of Miami was worth the gamble. Some of Huizenga's partners in Decoma, however, now believe they got shafted. "The truth is that we are considering some legal action with the other minority partners," says Jorge de Cardenas, who owns about three percent of Decoma. "They didn't even talk to us. Huizenga did whatever he wanted without any concern for the rest of us, and so right now we control an arena with no tenants [after 1998]."

De Cardenas, president of the Miami public relations firm The Creative Group, has been an investor in Decoma since 1986, long before Huizenga's involvement. He says he still isn't sure what happened. "On Friday night we had a deal. Everyone shook hands, everybody was happy. The Heat was going to get a new arena. Wayne was going to get his money. We were going to get some money. We were all going to make some money. It seemed like a good deal for everybody. A win-win situation. Then on Monday everything went sour. I guess somebody got greedy."

That somebody, de Cardenas believes, was Wayne Huizenga. "The responsibility of the general partner is to do what is in the best interests of the company and the minority partners," de Cardenas says. "Instead he was worrying about his other companies." According to that interpretation, Huizenga sacrificed the financial interests of Decoma in an effort to win a sweeter deal for the Panthers and to improve the chances that he would get the Broward arena he really wanted. (Decoma vice president John Blaisdell could not be reached for comment for this story.)

Carollo says he has no intention any time soon of making a deal to purchase Decoma's arena-management contract. But if the city eventually does decide to do so, Carollo doubts that the price will be anywhere close to the $14 million once offered. "I'm not interested in discussing any buyout until after construction begins and the Heat are firmly here," Carollo says.

"It's been a good investment," de Cardenas adds. "We have made money, but all of that is going to be over in a couple of years. We should have sold when we had the chance. Something that was worth at least $14 million a few weeks ago is now worth nothing."

Next week in Part 3: Ego, ego everywhere, nor any drop of sense.

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