MIRAMAR, FLA. -- Going boldly where no entertainment mogul has gone before, video rental magnate and sports franchise czar H. Wayne Huizenga now owns his own government.
Over opposition from environmentalists and local landowners, Huizenga and lobbyists for Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. convinced the Florida Legislature, as well as local officials, that to build their 2,500-acre sports complex in the swamps northwest of Miami, Blockbuster must be granted sweeping powers traditionally limited to popularly elected governments.
In essence, Blockbuster Park will be Florida's "68th county," a "special-purpose government" with extraordinary powers to condemn private land inside and outside the park; levy, collect and spend both sales and property taxes; issue tax-exempt bonds; and borrow money, just as a city or a county can do.
It is a radical experiment and one being watched carefully around the country, both by traditional representative governments and would-be corporate municipalities.
"We're tinkering with the outer edges of democracy as we know it -- the privatization of government, but one which retains the spirit of the Constitution and democracy," said Arthur Teele, chairman of the Dade County Commission, who supports the project.
On Thursday, the city of Miramar, one of three area governments (including Dade and Broward counties) from which Blockbuster Park hopes to gain autonomy, voted to let it do so, as have Dade and Broward.
Officially called a "Multi-Jurisdictional Tourism, Sports and Entertainment Special District," but dubbed "Wayne's World" by locals, Blockbuster Park will be governed by a five-member board of supervisors elected solely by the landowners in the special district.
And how many landowners in the electorate?
"There'd be one. Blockbuster," said Antonio Romero, vice president of communications and marketing for Blockbuster Entertainment.
"It has unprecedented powers. Some districts have one or two extraordinary powers, but this one has every one of them," said Dan Stengle, general counsel to the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which oversees special districts usually given more mundane powers such as draining land or controlling fires.
Disney World in Orlando also has its own district, initially designed to oversee drainage of the lands in an empty county in the late 1960s, but vastly more powerful now. But even Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District lacks some of the authority of Blockbuster's city-state.
"I just thought it too much a transfer of power," said Dade County Commissioner Alex Peneles, who voted against giving Blockbuster its own municipality. "I find it, you know, an archaic form of government."
Technically, there would be nothing stopping Huizenga, or his family and friends and fellow corporate officers, from being elected to the Wayne's World board of supervisors -- except that the board would have to submit financial disclosure forms, which could dissuade Huizenga himself, estimated to be worth $700 million.
It was another bold move for Huizenga, one of the largest political donors in the Southeast, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican and Democratic candidates and parties.
Huizenga, who got his start driving his own garbage truck in Fort Lauderdale, built an empire on trash that become Waste Management Inc. Using the millions he made on garbage, Huizenga created a sports and entertainment juggernaut.
In addition to Blockbuster, Huizenga owns all or part of the Florida Marlins (baseball), Florida Panthers (hockey) and the Miami Dolphins (football). Recently, owners of the Miami Heat basketball franchise reported that Huizenga was trying to negotiate the purchase of the Heat.
Although detailed plans do not exist, Blockbuster Park will not actually be a city. Corporate officers envision a professional baseball stadium and a multipurpose arena for Huizenga's professional hockey team.
Blockbuster executives said they needed to be granted special status to forgo the hassle of dealing with three different city or county bureaucracies, and to help them raise money through taxes and bonds.
On the plans shown by Blockbuster officials, Wayne's World also would include corporate offices, movie and music production studios, an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts and a marine stadium, to be built on a lake formed by an abandoned rock quarry.
The two stadiums would be linked by an "entertainment village," that would include shops, restaurants, a movie theater and -- most hyped -- "a virtual reality" game arcade. A theme park -- perhaps a giant "water world" -- also would be on the property.
Romero of Blockbuster said Blockbuster Park would be "a true public-private venture." Blockbuster plans to include free public parks in the development (it will charge for golf and tennis). But there's a cost. Blockbuster also will ask Dade and Broward counties to pay a substantial portion of the construction of the ballpark and arena. How much? Corporate officials are not saying.
Moreover, Blockbuster is seeking $42 million in federal transportation money to build interchanges and roads into the park estimated to cost $72 million.
Although Huizenga's supporters seem to outnumber his detractors in South Florida, the project, particularly the creation of new governing authority and the park's desire for public money, is controversial.
Environmentalists have attacked the park as another insult against the imperiled Everglades.
"We're dead set against it," said Kay McGinn of the Broward County Sierra Club. "Wayne says it's not the Everglades, but it is."
Environmentalists, as well as some federal and state water officials, have envisioned using some of the land surrounding the planned Blockbuster Park as "buffer zones" to recharge aquifers and protect the undeveloped Everglades.
Blockbuster executives, however, described the park site as nothing more than weed-infested pasture and abandoned rock quarries. Moreover, they contend the park actually will improve water quality in the area.
Other neighbors worry that the new park will encourage sprawl and an explosion of tawdry T-shirt shops, hamburger joints and goofy-golf outlets, similar to the strip of development outside Disney World in Orlando, right next to the edge of the Everglades.
Local officials, with the blessing of Blockbuster, have pledged to control obnoxious growth around the purposed park by banning new projects, creating not a buffer zone for the Everglades, but for Blockbuster Park. Critics scoff. And other competing landowners cry foul.
"It's unconstitutional," said D.S. Airan, an attorney for investors in the commercially banned "doughnut" around Blockbuster Park.
"I believe the real purpose is to provide monopolistic advantage," Airan said. "So Wayne will sell his hamburgers in the park and people will have to buy them."
But many others, including most of South Florida's politicians, support the project. Huizenga in particular currently enjoys extremely warm feelings in South Florida among regular working folks and politicians, although the baseball strike could turn sentiment against him.
"The complaints against Blockbuster pale in comparison to the improvement in our quality of life," said Ellis Traub, president of East Oakmont Homeowners Association, a neighborhood group near the park site.
Traub predicted the park would increase property values and bring movie production to South Florida. He also liked the idea of having a nice, family-oriented amusement and sports park nearby.
Teele, the Dade County Commission chairman, said he believes South Florida needs "a 21st century tourist attraction" to bolster the local economy and provide jobs. Mother Nature was kind to South Florida with sunny days and sandy beaches, but Teele thinks the region needs to augment its charms with a big, splashy tourist attraction.
Not that Teele and his colleagues had much choice. If they had failed to win approval of their special government from Broward or Dade, Blockbuster executives said the company would look elsewhere for a park site.
"At least we're at the table," Teele said. "Of course, some would say that Blockbuster bought the table."