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"At that point Muxo got very upset. He said, 'Mr. Bateman, obviously you don't know what's going on here.' He stared at me. I said, 'You're right, sir, obviously I don't.' He pointed his finger at me. He stood up. He tried to get tough. He started yelling: 'Your mayor has been out here for the past two weeks negotiating this with Ralph Sanchez, and he assured us that this is a done deal.' Then he stormed out of the room."
Why were the meetings held at the racetrack instead of Homestead City Hall?
"It was a couple of weeks before the Grand Prix," Sanchez offers. "That's the busiest time of the year for me, so it was just a matter of convenience. My office is right there." He adds, "There was no backroom dealing. We were just trying to find out where each council member stood."
Asmar, the city manager: "We met at the track because we didn't want to be interrupted."
Bateman, the vice mayor: "I thought it was extremely strange -- not only strange but wrong. Our new city manager [Asmar] will never allow this to happen again. I feel bad that I even went. I don't care who Alex Muxo is; next time around he's going to come to city hall and sit down with us collectively and discuss this in the open."
Council member Roscoe Warren, who did not attend the February 12 meetings, says Muxo's coziness with Homestead's powerbrokers, his current corporate persona, and his past role in creating both the baseball stadium and the motorsports complex don't keep him awake at night.
"People look at it and say he created these monsters, then walked away, and now he's coming back to do deals," says Warren. "But whatever leverage he may have, our responsibility is to look after the fiduciary interests of the city. Alex's role now, since he went to work for Huizenga, is to do the best for Huizenga. We just have to be careful that we look at Alex differently now. He'll use whatever leverage he can to get the job done."
Neither Muxo nor Huizenga returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Muxo and Sanchez were under tremendous time pressure at the February 12 meetings, for a reason unknown to some of the Homestead council members who attended. The deal with France had to be signed before March 2, the day of the 1997 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami, so that revenues from the race would go to the new owner -- otherwise, no deal. Hence Muxo's and Sanchez's motivation to ramrod approval of the lease sale through the city's February 17 council meeting.
There was another problem, too. In 1996, at the request of Mayor Tad DeMilly, Huizenga Holdings executive and ex-city manager Alex Muxo sat in on employment interviews with the 31-year-old Asmar, then the deputy city manager of North Miami Beach, and later recommended him for the job of Homestead's top administrator. Asmar's corporate approach to public administration echoed Muxo's own style, and for a while the similarities between the two men led some city hall staffers to nickname Asmar "Muxo Junior." But by February both Sanchez and Muxo were frustrated with the new city manager. Asmar, according to several sources, was insisting on eight million dollars for the city in exchange for recommending approval of the lease sale. Alternatively, Asmar proposed that Sanchez and Huizenga, or a third party, simply buy the track outright for $28 million.
One Homestead council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says MMJV's frustration with Asmar explains the sub rosa setting of the February meetings. "I felt that it was a maneuver on the part of the Huizenga side to get at least four council members to agree to what they wanted, a way of sidestepping the city manager," he says. "I was a little worried about it. To be honest with you I thought it was probably a little illegal, or at least not an appropriate setting."
(City staffers and MMJV representatives say the racetrack meetings were perfectly legal. Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law prohibits two or more members of the same municipal board or commission from meeting in private to discuss matters that may come before that board or commission. The law doesn't bar elected officials from meeting individually with anyone other than their official colleagues.)
In any event, the February 12 meetings backfired. First Bateman, then other council members, rejected MMJV's offer of one million dollars as too low, and the process bogged down. The Miami Grand Prix came and went, and negotiations with France cooled.
Today Huizenga and Sanchez face the prospect of revivifying discussions with France, and the would-be dealmakers continue to operate under intense time pressure. Though NASCAR is famously tightlipped about its plans, many industry insiders believe the sanctioning body will soon expand the number of Winston Cup races from 32 to 34. At least six cities are vying for the two new expansion dates, and the unofficial deadline for the decision is June.
In its favor, MMJV has the tentative support of Homestead politicians, who generally share Sanchez's view that a Winston Cup race is crucial to the eventual success of the track. As a practical matter, they have little choice but to support racing -- the city's economic destiny is now almost inextricably linked to the motorsports complex.