MIAMI-Miami-Dade County has submitted tentative plans to the federal government for development of an eco-tourism and research center on 601 acres of the former Homestead Air Force Base.

The action followed a decision by the county commission not to proceed with a lawsuit against the Air Force in hopes of saving a plan for a commercial airport at the base that was approved seven years ago.

The base, located 15 miles south of Downtown Miami near the Everglades, Biscayne National Park and the Florida Keys, was closed after it was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

In 1994, the Air Force approved the use of 1,800 acres at the base for commercial airport development. But in January of this year, a last-minute decision by the Clinton administration reversed that approval on the basis that portions of the base were environmentally sensitive.

The county sued, but in May a federal judge ruled against the county. The county commission had deadlocked earlier last week over whether or not to appeal, but two days later voted 8-5 to abandon the lawsuit and submit an alternate development plan instead.

The next day, any hopes that the Bush administration might voluntarily reverse the Clinton administration’s decision were dashed by a two-sentence letter from Air Force Secretary James Roche to Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas. Roche said he had reviewed the January decision and “did not come across sufficiently convincing issues to suggest that the decision would be different if it were reopened.”

“The idea of an airport is totally dead,” Bill Johnson, assistant county manager, tells

Johnson says the alternate plan submitted by the county Tuesday is a “hypothetical” plan, designed to demonstrate to the federal government that the county can create and sustain a commercial venture consistent with the Air Force’s criteria.

The focal point of the hypothetical $132 million plan is a complex containing a 7,000-sf visitor center, a 12,000-sf multimedia complex, and a 60,000-sf environmental and ecology research center. A 100-room hotel with 4,000 sf of meeting and banquet space would house the scientists, environmentalists and other professionals who are expected to use the research center.

Also included in the plan is an amateur sports complex composed of a 15,000 sf recreation center, 30 sports fields, 48 tennis courts and a 900-room dormitory.

The final component of the plan is 250 military retirement homes. According to the plan, those homes would provide the area at least $7.5 million in new household income, which would in turn support about 11,000 sf of new retail demand.

Johnson says once the Air Force approves the general concepts contained in the hypothetical plan, the project will be put out for bids, and the final product could be significantly different. It could, for example, include a movie studio, an idea that has been put forward by one of the county commissioners.

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