News: Paul Pry Pages


City of Miami Beach Meetings

By Anne Newport Royall


Tuesday, November 22


Once upon a time, in the high-flying days of real estate, circa, 2001, there was a company called Africa Israel Investments, Inc. Run by two men, Lev Leviev and Shaya Boymelgreen. The two, who met on a cruise, hoped to corner the world, building settlements in Israel’s West Bank and converting TriBeCa and Park Slope in New York into the places to be and live. Using Leviev’s family money made in cutting diamonds, and Boymelgreen’s experience in renovations, gained by cutting asbestos from buildings, the two began snapping up parcels and properties around the world, including here in South Florida.

Over in Miami, the pair’s first signature project was The Marquis, the 67-story condominium and hotel on Biscayne Boulevard. The second project was to be Vitri at 541 West Avenue. While only seven stories, the building was to be just as signature for AFI, located at the gateway to Miami Beach at the Macarthur Causeway and designed by starchetict husband and wife pair Carlos Prio-Touzet and Jacqueline Gonzalez-Touzet.

However, things went bad for the men on a personal level and in 2007, and the two parted ways, with Leviev getting claim to New York and Boymelgreen keeping Florida.

Leviev went on to pay $525 million for the landmark New York Times Building, sight unseen, hoping to transform the icon into a first class office building

Vitri sits today as a sore sight, with steel rusting away and poking from a pockmarked ground. It’s building permit and development orders long lapsed.

Just north of Vitri sits the shell of the former South Shore Hospital. Hit hard in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, where nearly every window on the west façade was blown out, the Hospital never recovered and finally filed for bankruptcy in March of 2006. The property had been purchased just the year before by Russell Galbut’s Crescent Heights, who leased back the building and office tower to the hospital.

For years, both properties languished. In 2009, Galbut presented the City of Miami Beach with a plan to redevelop the combined blocks of 500, 600, and 700 Alton Road into a mega retail development. The proposal included the relocation of the public Miami Beach Community Health Center at 745 Alton Road to across the street and building them a new, state-of-the-art facility, partially funded by the County.

While at the time the major tenants were not revealed, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson was dead-set against the project and the proposal died even before it left the barn. As it turned out, the tenant to be was Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton, (LVMH), who was shopping around South Florida locations to build a haute hub for all it’s lines, including Louis Vuitton, Pucci, Givenchy, Celene, Guerlain, Fendi, Dior, De Beers, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Thomas Pink. Sephora and Tag Heuer, just to name-drop a few.

All that retail could have been ours. Ours. OURS!

Alas, that upscale of all upscale retail destinations belongs now to Craig Robbins’ Design District across the Bay.

Galbut, never a man to say never, still has grand plans for the multi-block site. This time involving the City of Miami Beach.

At the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, architect Jonathan Cardello of ADD Inc. unveiled the “very early stages” of Galbuts’ latest vision for a “new entry into Miami Beach.”

Taking their cues from New York City’s High Line, a 1-mile linear park built on a section of a former elevated freight railroad spur on the lower west side of Manhattan, Cardello says the City will pay for a “signature pedestrian bridge” over the Macarthur Causeway to link the fabulous cut walk to the Baywalk via a park on top of the 2000 space City-owned parking garages to be built as part of the project.

Leaving Galbut to build a mega 450,000 square foot designer-outlet shopping plaza and 250,000 square feet of rental apartments on the site.

The City Manager, Jorge Gonzalez even suggested the designer for the bridge, world-renowned Spanish architect and Ph.D engineer, Santiago Calatrava. (His Bridge in Calgary Pictured Above).

Calatrava, a Pritzker-Prize winner in the making, has designed some of the worlds most signature bridges, including the Peace Bridge in Calgary, Canada, both the Samuel Beckett and James Joyce bridges in Dublin, Ireland and the Petah-Tikva Footbridge in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Currently, his design for the PATH station at the former World Trade Center site in New York is under construction.

Calatrava would also be tapped to design the 22 story signature residential towers to be featured in this Miami Beach project.

The trick would be for the City to agree to the extended height of the project, in exchange for the new park. Currently, the site is zoned for 70 feet.

SunPost Contributor Alejandro Arce commented on what a “wonderful idea” this was, asking, “how will you deal with the politicians on Miami Beach?”

Cardello hopes that the City will agree to a process “up-front,” one that gets the community involved and perhaps convene a “super board” to better clear the development hurdles the City has.

Currently, the project would have to go before the Design Review Board and the Board of Adjustment and the Planning Board for different approvals at different times.

“The only way for this to work is through a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP),” said Galbut. “This would be the largest addition of parkland to the City of Miami Beach, over three acres.”

“We want to come together with the City to build something wonderful,” Cardello added.

“Hurry up, I want to move!” stated longtime TMBC member Dee Lawrence.

Construction could start in late 2012.

If the City allows.


Monday, November 28


Eight residents showed up to learn about the ramifications to the City of re-upping its agreement with Florida Power and Light.

“I guess my fellow six commissioners think they know enough about franchises” not to attend, opined Commissioner Deede Weithorn, who demanded the workshop when FPL came before the commission two months ago seeking to have the franchise extended for 30 more years.

Aletha Player, Area Manager for FPL told the group how the current 30-year agreement is set to expire January 22, 2012. After a full year of negotiations, she believed the new agreement represented one that was “fair and beneficial” to both the City and FPL, one that “preserves control over the franchise agreement” with the City, rather than cede that control over to Miami-Dade County.

In 1989 the County passed an ordinance that allows FPL to collect a franchise fee from users when that user lives in a locale that is not covered by a franchise agreement.

If Miami Beach decides not to renew the agreement, while the electricity would still flow to users, the 6% franchise fee tacked on to everyone’s bill could be diverted to County coffers.

In the 2010-2011 budget, $7 million dollars was added to the general fund through the franchise agreement.

Ken Ruben Senior Attorney for FPL went on to explain that the non-exclusive 30 year agreement “helps to regulate FPL’s use of the City-owned Right of way” where FPL has most of its transmission equipment and provides the City with a “bondable stream of revenue in exchange for the City not operating a municipal energy company.”

Currently, the City has not pledged the franchise fee money to repay any loans or bonds.

Ruben also wanted to dispel the myth that the agreement prohibits any resident, or the City itself, from generating power for their own use, and the legislature currently allows for excess power generated by individuals to be sold back to FPL through net metering.

With 177 franchise agreements in Florid alone, “FPL will serve the residents with electricity with or without a franchise agreement” Rubin stated.

“Why 30 years?” asked Mark Weithorn, chairman of the City’s Transportation and Parking Committee?

Rubin responded that the term was for financial reasons, and that point was one of the “few things in this agreement where we were not able to comprise.”

Deputy City Attorney Raul Aguila added while there was “no legal requirement” that the term be 30 years, as the Florida statue governing franchises says “up to 30 years” efforts to try to make a change failed.

Rubin continued through a laundry list of changes demanded by the City that FPL agreed to, including setting higher installation standards, faster restoration of damaged ROW and the ability to raise or lower the franchise fee between 1% and 6% as well as be subject to any better terms that FPL may negotiate with any other entity in Miami-Dade. Monroe or Palm Beach Counties.

Terry Bienstock, President of the Sunset Island 3 & 4 Homeowners Associations wanted to know “what is the resident getting out of this” franchise agreement.

“Nothing” responded Commissioner Weithorn.

Dr. Phillip Stoddard, made the trip all the way from South Miami, where he serves as Mayor. His concern was how difficult it was to persuade FPL to accept net-metering, where they would be forced to buy back excess energy generated from renewable, private resources. In fact, it took the Florida Legislature in 2008 to force FPL to accept net metering. But what the Florida Legislature can do, a future legislative body can undo. Would the net-metering terms in this, or any future agreement by any other municipality survive change by the legislature?

Probably not, replied FPL.

“We are in the jaws of an energy revolution”, Stoddard continued, noting that changes in generation, delivery and storage systems are progressing quickly, “I want to be able to renegotiate the terms of this deal again in my lifetime,” he said.

Barry White, Vice President of Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, CASE, also made the drive from the southern reaches of the County to show support for Commissioner Weithorn and her efforts to hold FPL at bay, “FPL wants to add two new reactors to Turkey Point” each one almost double the size of the two current nuclear reactors operating today.

“FPL is entrenched in an old business model. Instead of investing the 35 billion dollars in reactors 6 and 7, FPL should be investing in putting solar on all of their customers homes,” White suggested.

Not everyone there was interested in bashing FPL. The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce sent Aaron Perry and Aaron Tandy to show support for a fellow Chamber member. Tandy, a lawyer whose firm, Gunster Yoakley does work for FPL and Perry, the former chairperson of The Chamber, both stood up to extol the virtues of the company that in 2009 was one of 25 US companies that paid the least United States taxes, 1.3 percent versus the national corporate average rate of 35 percent. “FPL is a tremendous, positive corporate citizen,” Tandy said.

Mayor Cindy Lerner, who also traveled from the deep southern City of Pinecrest, did not wax so poetic. She is angry over the heavy-handed dealings her City has had with FPL over the utilities desire to run new, high voltage transmission lines down US-1 right on her City’s borders. She asked the lines be buried for safety, FPL said no.

But more than FPL, Lerner blames the Florida Legislature for not being more aggressive in pursuing renewable energy sources for the State, and through her work with the Miami-Dade League of Cities, hopes to develop a model franchise agreement for municipalities, “for no more than five years. FPL wants to tie our hands.”

“I blame the City” concluded Mark Weithorn, “For needing the $7 million in the general fund.”


Tuesday, November 29


David’s Café II on Lincoln Road was the safest place in town to be on Tuesday morning, as nine members of the Miami Beach Police Department, including the top four men in the chain of command, and the CSI photographer memorializing the event, were in attendance to support interim chief Ray Martinez continue his very public bid for the top cop spot.

The only other more public job quest in the nation is happening in the Republican Party for their Presidential Nominee.

Martinez, a personable, fit man, was taken aback a bit as a club member made his way to the table near Martinez by coming through the plastic fichus trees that form a barrier between the Breakfast Club and the regular diners.

A person stalking through trees makes the Chief nervous.

But in a flash, when everyone was safe, the Chief launched into his stump speech, which gets better every time he delivers it.

“We are going back to basics in policing,” he began, as he described the shift from command staff being responsible for times of day to one based on geography, “We are turning that upside down.”

No longer will an officer be subject to working in North Beach one day and South of Fifth another. The three captains are in charge for their sectors and areas and have been given the manpower to be responsible, and accountable, for what happens on their turf 24/7/365.

“We are putting as many people back in uniform and back on the streets as possible,” Martinez stated, “we shook out the closets a little.”

Each of the three captains have a undercover Crime Suppression Unit, a Neighborhood Resource Officer, a squad of motorcycle cops and a slew of patrolmen, some on foot, some on bikes, some on ATV and some in cars assigned to them.

“We will get to know the residents and the businesses in those areas,” Martinez pledged.

The announcement that Sector Three, which comprises the entertainment district around Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, would have no cars, only cops walking or riding on the beat brought a round of applause.

Permanent walking beats have also been established on 41st Street, Washington Avenue and the 71st Street/Collins Avenue area seven days a week.

“Our number one job is to fight crime. Our number two job is to restore the public trust,” Martinez continued saying that with the advent and proliferation of cell phone cameras, folks “only see the bad things an officer does,” not necessarily the events that led up to the gone-viral video actions.

While the new sector plan has only been in effect for eight days, fans are already lining up to support the Chief.

In their first, and only, resolution of the year. The Miami Beach Police Citizens Relations Committee strongly recommended “ Assistant Chief Raymond Martinez to be the next chief of the Miami Beach Police Department.”

Members of the TMBC were not that far behind. And while questions were raised about union contracts and take home cars, (MBPD officers pay $32.00 every two weeks if they live in Miami-Dade County and $37.00 every two weeks if they live in Broward or Monroe to take home their cars and must carry their own insurance that they pay for), the issue of future tenure for the chief was the most pointed.

If Martinez were selected, how long would he stay? Many top cops reach the post after over a score of service, making them eligible to retire in a few short years and making them available for reemployment elsewhere while collecting their pension from the City of Miami Beach.

“I feel good. I am still young. I am not near ready to retire. If the City wanted me to sign a ten year-contract, I would tomorrow,” he offered.


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