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Retiring MIA director recalls 'helter skelter' of taking over airport


It was José Abreu’s last groundbreaking ceremony, and the owner of a company building a new hangar at Opa-locka Executive Airport waved him over to grab a gold-plated shovel and stand for the photo op.

But Abreu, director of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, gently lifted his palm and shook his head. He remained in the wings, beaming and applauding. Afterward, a businessman came up to say hello.

“So sorry you’re leaving, from the bottom of my heart,” he said.

Abreu chuckled. “I’m not dying or anything!”

What he is doing is retiring Friday after nearly eight years as chief of the county-owned Miami International Airport. Unlike his predecessor, who was pressured to leave, the county has repeatedly asked Abreu to stay.

“We’re going to be calling you,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan joked at the Opa-locka event.

His replacement, Emilio González, has been shadowing Abreu for a week, learning the basics before Abreu becomes senior vice president for the international engineering firm Gannett Fleming. González, the former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was selected for the aviation job by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who did not conduct a national search for the high-profile position.

Abreu took the reins in 2005, plucked from his post as Florida Department of Transportation secretary two weeks after the county took over the beleaguered MIA North Terminal project from American Airlines. Abreu’s task: Complete the project, plagued by cost overruns and lawsuits.

“I showed up fat, dumb and happy,” he recalled. “It was helter skelter.”

More here.