Last month’s Winter Music Conference in Miami’s Bayfront Park cost nearby condo residents two weekends’ worth of quiet time. The annual incursion of Urban Beach Weekend revelers each Memorial Day demands SoBe residents give up a four-day weekend’s worth of normalcy.
For the neighbors of a Lenox Avenue building operating as a hotel for out-of-towners, just a block from busy Lincoln Road mall, all that pales in comparison to what they’ve had to give up, and how often.
It’s called First at Lincoln. It’s at 1619 Lenox. State records show that a First at Lincoln Condominium Association was created in 2005, with Marco Vincenzo Belfiore, Mickael Mosse, and Federico Olivieri as its listed officers.
The hotel’s website is defunct. Its Facebook page is barely visited, barely maintained. No one answered the listed phone on repeated calls between 9 and 10 a.m. on a recent weekday morning; it was finally answered later in the morning.
I’ve come to know a lot about this hotel, most of it from a Lenox Avenue resident who has lost plenty of sleep and patience from guests’ noise. To hear that resident tell it, everybody on the block has just about lost their patience with 1619.
And they’ve complained to the city, apparently to no avail.
I’ve been tracking the developments in this matter since last summer, when I began asking for and receiving updates about their complaint from that one resident, who has become the spokesperson for 1619′s aggrieved neighbors.
Their collective name: Citizens Demanding Closure of 1619 Lenox Avenue. According to the group’s first communique to the SunPost – entitled, “1619 Lenox Avenue Destroyed Our Neighborhood” – they comprise the tenants of six residential buildings in the 1600 block of both Lenox and Michigan Avenues.
Fearing retaliation of the worst kind, my source, the spokesperson, is adamant about remaining anonymous: “I don’t wish to have my life harmed.”
“I know of too many stories where the thugs in the police department, city manager’s office, [and] Code Compliance make complainers’ lives literally a living hell, so my name doesn’t exist,” the spokesperson told me as recently as February and again in March. “Just think about that. Living in fear of retribution by small town thugs.”
“I am very very familiar with the tactics of the owner of 1619 and even more familiar with the tactics of Code, police, etc.
“I’m afraid of the city, literally. Why? I know too many people who have been the objects of the city’s thugs.”
For this occasion, I’ll step aside momentarily to allow my source to describe the dilemma better than I could ever do justice:
“1619 Lenox Avenue is being run as a daily visitor hotel. It is nothing but. Any claim to be otherwise is false.
“[It] has dozens of formal complaints filed [against it] with Code, (and the police department), over the last few years. NOTHING has been done to correct the vast violations of this building. With the cooperation of a Code officer, we have seen the computer files of complaints against . It is shocking that this number of complaints have been filed FOR YEARS and Code does NOTHING but occasionally show up, chat a little bit, [and] leave SOLVING NOTHING.
“The guests at the hotel, called First on Lincoln, are a rowdy bunch. Their language is disgusting. Their behavior is even more so. They are loud, rude, foul mouthed, discourteous and law breaking.
“The hotel built TWO hot tubs in the back of the hotel, WITHOUT PERMITS. It is beyond believability that these hot tubs were planned with ANY CONSIDERATION WHATSOEVER of [surrounding] neighbors. It is impossible to believe that anyone planning the hot tubs in this location didn’t say to themselves, ‘This is crazy. The hot tubs are completely surrounded by other apartment buildings that have been here for many, many years. The noise and partying that will accompany these hot tubs will ruin the lives, day and night of all the residents in these buildings.’ “THE HOT TUBS LITERALLY DESTROY DAILY LIVING IN THIS ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD. People dread going back to their homes!
“Every day, beginning in the afternoons, the rude guests of the hotel are in the tubs, music blasting, loud, disgusting conversation, while neighbors have to listen, have their lives disrupted, their dinners ruined, their children annoyed, the elderly left helpless, LEFT TO LIE IN THEIR BEDS UNABLE TO SLEEP.
“This neighborhood for many years has been fortunate enough to have residents that respect each other. RARELY have there EVER been complaints filed with Code for any of the buildings. The residents are young professionals, the elderly, couples with infant children, and many hard working waiters, cooks, [and] construction workers who get up at 5 a.m. to go to work.
“The hot tubs are used throughout the night, from 6 p.m. til 5:30 a.m. Guests of the hotel are drunk, loud, many times having sex, playing loud music, have loud, raucous conversations, mostly filthy and profane. When neighbors ask them to quiet down, the response is, ‘f–k you.’
“The residents of our neighborhood have to be kept WIDE AWAKE, night after night after night. Most times when Code is called, they never even show up.
“The total lack of action by Code allows the owners of the hotel to keep doing what they’re doing.
“We were told that a [special] master says he/she is not convinced 1619 Lenox is being run as a hotel. This defies belief. Obviously, they’ve never checked.
“The hot tubs literally RUIN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, OUR DAILY LIVES, OUR ABILITY TO SLEEP, OUR RIGHT TO LIVE PEACEFULLY AS WE HAVE FOR MANY YEARS.
“The owners of First on Lincoln have literally invaded our neighborhood and ruined every aspect of our daily lives and after dozens of complaints, all formally listed in city computers, Code DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
“The single most important issue in restoring our neighborhood to a peaceful, livable state is to have the hot tubs closed completely.
“The guests ignore any request to not use the hot tubs after 9 p.m. The owners of the hotel don’t have any security so the guests do whatever they wish.
“THE HOT TUBS MUST BE CLOSED. We will do whatever is necessary to make sure this happens. We will not simply sit back and allow our daily lives to be ruined by strangers.
“Considering the [many] complaints formally filed against 1619 Lenox, one has to give enormous credence to the vast corruption within the City of Miami Beach’s government. The corruption is thorough, top to bottom, including EVERY department. Just recently, Code officials have been caught demanding and receiving kickbacks from business owners.
“One would almost have to conclude that given the hundreds of formal complaints filed against 1619 Lenox, and given that Code does little to nothing to enforce/correct the complaints, corruption is involved. What is another explanation? There is none.”
On Aug. 3 of last year, the spokesperson repeated the claim that Code Compliance has “literally hundreds of complaints” against 1619 – “I have seen the computer files.” The source also lobbed this grenade:
“Given the wanton corruption of the city of Miami Beach in general and the police department and Code Compliance specifically, one must conclude that 1619 is either paying someone off financially/politically or there is some other typically slimy Miami Beach deal that has been cooked up.
“As I remember someone telling me here, ‘I smell a rat the size of Buick.’
“All anyone has to do is look at the almost staggering corruption with Mayor Bower, the commissioners who almost define crime, and the recently fired city manager” – referring to Jorge Gonzalez – “and one can see how 1619 gets away with what it does.”
Last November, I was provided a copy of an email sent to Code Compliance administrator George Castell:
“George, we spent the entire day in meetings regarding the years-long illegal hotel at 1619 Lenox. As you and the entire department knows and has known for years, there are hundreds of complaints against [it]. As of this date, Code has done nothing to close [it] down. Your department has been telling me and many others that the process takes a long time. Fine. What is a long time? It has been years.
“The hotel disrupts the entire neighborhood and Code basically laughs it off, does nothing, has no intention of doing anything. How do I know this? You haven’t done anything and the owner of the hotel, as of moments ago, laughs at the city.
“Given the history of every department in the city of Miami Beach for vast corruption, the only answer that is plausible to everyone is that corruption is involved.
“There is no other explanation. I build 6,000-square-foot houses in 4-6 MONTHS. Closing an illegal hotel with literally hundreds of complaints against it for years should take a matter of hours.
“Please update us on what precisely the city is doing to close this illegal hotel that ruins the lives of dozens of families daily, and your guys laugh it off.
“If we do not hear from you with precisely when the illegal hotel is to be closed, we will assume the one and only conclusion, CORRUPTION.”
My source admitted to me that the neighbors were “at a loss to understand any of this.”
“1619 is an illegal hotel. It was adjudicated as guilty of running [as] an illegal hotel. They were quiet for a while but now are back in business and the owner laughs at complaints. His attitude – ‘F–k the city. I tell them what to do with the taxes I pay.’ Enough said.”
Two days later, I learned from my source that 1619′s “owner and several of his cohorts yesterday said, ‘The city is run by idiots. We don’t care what they say or do. Obviously, we’re still in business and it has been years.’ Almost word for word.
“He laughs and many dozens of people lie wide awake because of his ‘colorful’ guests who think 4:00 a.m. is just fine for rap music blasting, yelling, etc. Code and the police do show up, but nothing meaningful happens. We are told the process takes a while. Years???
“There are elderly people in these buildings. There is one woman who has brain cancer, literally, and I think could use a decent night’s sleep.”
In a Dec. 8 email sent to Castell, to Castell’s superior – and the code division’s Top Gun – Hernan Cardeno, and to me, I learned that a new wrench had been tossed into the brouhaha:
“Now there are two illegal hotels side by side on Lenox!
“The ‘chicplaceatlincoln’ just put up signs advertising rooms for rent. They also have a website.
“It is beyond comprehension that yet another illegal hotel is opening, literally next door to 1619?! This neighborhood will not tolerate this. Please advise as to the closing of this illegal hotel.”
The city’s inertia only continued.
Then came this update, on Feb. 1 of this year:
“The matter has worsened. It’s 5:30 a.m. and another night of howling, literally. The five buildings surrounding 1619 have tenants that have moved, given up.
“The city is less than worthless. They send a couple of dopes who drag themselves through 1619 asking questions. They do nothing. Now, if a building has close to 400 complaints over years, and the city does nothing and the owner of 1619 laughs, a deaf, dumb, blind, drunk, crack-smoking child would have to assume something is wrong. As my nephew would say, DUH!
“I went to a special masters meeting and left after 2 hours. It made the Three Stooges look like Albert Einsteins. 1619 had an attorney who looked, acted, talked like a thug. And the special master almost had to be stuck with a pin to keep awake. It was a pathetic joke.
“And one wonders why in the last mayoral election 11% of eligible voters voted. Which means 89% have given up.”
On March 19, I received this update:
“They are still very much in business as a hotel. Guests arrive and depart daily. They manage to con the city and have for years.”
“Last night was another night of no sleep. The newest guests are here to party and party all night.”
“With hundreds of violations on record and nothing done by the city to stop it one can only conclude corruption.”
“We know it exists in every department including Code where four employees were just convicted of taking bribes.
“Sometimes when you call Code they literally say [they] can’t hear you because of the drunken partying, and then ask what is the problem.”
“The owner of 1619 has numerous problems all over South Beach – public record. He now owns several more properties in this neighborhood which tells me he has money and with that, power. And he wins. Obviously.”
1619′s owner, my source believes, “is Italian but is [a] front for several other investors. There are now ‘First on Euclid,’ ‘First on Meridian,’ etc.
“It’s all crooked. If looks could identify, and they shouldn’t, he looks like a Neapolitan gangster, and am told he is. Apparently has tons of cash.
“Their latest scam is this: You own an apartment. They find tenants for you. You don’t live there. One person owns 13 of the 20 apartments. The others are his relatives. The temps are called guests of the owner of the condos. They come and go daily, as seen by a never-ending trail of taxis. ‘Guests’ change rapidly. The city knows it and does nothing. Why? One guess.”
Castell was emailed again earlier this week: “Not only has the hotel stepped up drastically, but there is now another hotel, next door to 1619.
“They are clearly hotels. You told me to report obvious hotel stays. As I write this there are about 30 people in the back, all short stays. How do I know? I asked them. Please do something.”
When I last heard from my source earlier this week, I was told –
“Same old story. Of course they will do nothing and haven’t for going on four years. And who says crime doesn’t pay? This past weekend there were about 30 new guests, obvious to all, but Code.
“That tells me something smells bad. All anyone has to do is look at the utter corruption in every department of the city. In fact, four people in Code are going to bed tonight in prison. Enough said.”
One wonders if those four, despite their circumstances, might be enjoying a better night’s sleep than the beleaguered residents of Lenox Avenue.
WHAT GUESTS THINK
Reviews posted on Expedia by First on Lincoln guests rate the hotel an average 2.7 on a scale of 5. While a few reviews are glowing – “this hotel was exactly what we were looking for….the hot tub deck was fun with other young couples and groups” and “the staff was very friendly” – most are negative and downright scathing:
“I saw roaches. My room was hot. No room service for days.”
“There was a surprising deposit of $200.”
“There was a humongous dead cockroach in the bedroom. I went to the front table, yes table, not desk, to ask the man to come get it. He laughed and said this is not like Paris where there are no bugs…this is Florida. The hotel was terrible, but those situations were not acceptable.”
“Bad experience, they change bath towels only two times in a week, we found a roach in room.”
“The room was not cleaned very well, there were no towels in room upon check-in and when asked for towels, was told there weren’t any more. There were ants all over the window sill….The pictures on line are deceiving.”
“Bed is for a Barbie and Ken, too little for two persons and the mattress was broken.”
“We were shocked and appalled that this hotel received a 3 1/2 star rating. The bed was extremely uncomfortable to the point where my husband woke up with a backache each morning! The sheets were so rough that we had to purchase our own to make it through the next four days. The towel situation was awful as well. Many times we were left with one towel. So we had to purchase that and hand soap as well! Clearly the worst stay we have ever experienced. This hotel/apartment needs to be downgraded to 1 1/2 stars or worse!”
“Would never go there again nor would I recommend this hotel.”
“Great location but poor upkeep of property.”
MIAMI’S WORST HOTEL…”
“WORST EXPERIENCE EVER!!!”
The condition of the hotels and rooms is unacceptable, bad odor, staff without experience….I have been in a lot of small hotels around the globe with charm, but definitely, this hotel is the last place you want to go…”
“DO NOT RENT HERE! Customer service is absolutely ATROCIOUS. The woman that works the front desk is extremely rude. She had snappy remarks for everything. When I asked her about parking while I was checking in, she told me ‘Don’t you see I’m doing a bunch of things at once? Have a seat and wait until I’m done.’ How rude can you get to your GUESTS? The room – DISGUSTING. The pictures are deceiving. The ENTIRE floor was sticky. I could not be barefoot at ANY point of my stay….This is the worst experience I’ve ever had. Do not make the same mistake I did!”
While one guest exclaimed that “the lady at the front desk was beyond RUDE!” another called her a “sweetheart.”
NOT TOO PROUD OF THIS PRIDE PARADE
One word continually came to mind while watching Sunday’s Pride Parade on Ocean Drive:
Indeed, you’d have thought the economy had tanked and that the organizers had intentionally decided to put on a scaled-back version. It was that pathetic.
Among the five the city has hosted, this year’s edition ranked – I’ll put it charitably – the fifth best. Which isn’t intended to be all that kind.
Who organized this year’s? For that matter, who organizes any of them? Number one complaint: the gaps.
Every year there are avoidable gaps in the parade, but none more frequent nor lasting for longer spells than in this year’s edition.
Where to start?
There were fewer floats. There were fewer marching bands. Some marchers walked listlessly behind their organizations’ banners, disorganized, with ho-hum demeanors. This year’s participants lacked the fire, the energy, the zest seen in past parades.
My suggestion: Why not scoop up all those “legacy couples” – same-sex couples celebrated in each year’s parade for the longevity of their unions, some of who have been together 50-plus years – and stick them on one big float? This year, you had some in cars, others on floats, and still others trailing behind on foot. Trouble is, the ones on foot slowed things down for the participants who followed.
But they weren’t the only ones slowing things down. A lack of management along the parade route failed to goad slackers to pick up speed and thus close the gaps.
By the time the Palace Restaurant’s float drove into view in front of the Cavalier Hotel where I was standing, parade-goers were presented a strange and confusing sight: not one person was on it. Abandoned. Empty water bottles, yes, but nobody aboard. People in the crowd nearby looked at each other quizzically.
And what of the rusted, old VW bus that chugged along at one point? What was its purpose? The sight of two modern-day electric cars immediately tailing the gas-guzzling ’60s-era relic was an odd visual juxtaposition indeed.
Take out all those gaps and the parade could have been sensibly shrunk down from an hour to twenty minutes, give or take. Crowds began abandoning the parade route minutes before it ended, thanks to one too many lengthy gaps. Such a shame.
Miami Beach likes a parade. But next year, somebody ought to hire better organizers.
Once again I felt the hurt that always hits me at these Pride Parades. That would be the hurt from being a straight man in a sea of gay humanity and seeing so many beautiful, luscious lesbians who will never, EVER be drawn to one like me in the sort of way that I and most other red-blooded straight males would crave.
But that won’t keep me away from next year’s parade, to get hurt all over again!
THE COUNTY’S OMISSION
Not one county commissioner bothered to ride in this year’s parade, an aberration from years past. Every year, at least one shows up. The year Sally Heyman took part, she rode not in a car but on a Segway.
This year, County Hall sent no one. Didn’t anybody get a memo?
“ANYBODY SEEN MY PILLS? AND CRACKERS?”
Since her new chief-of-staff (Gabrielle Redfern) came aboard, Matti Bower‘s email blasts to residents have become more frequent. They’re now issued weekly, 13 already since year’s start.
Which is good. A mayor keeping in touch with her public.
Last week’s missive contained helpful hints about how to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, including this tidbit, which could perhaps be filed under “Perhaps A Little Too Much Personal Info” –
“I have started my hurricane season preparation already, buying an extra gallon of water and an extra can of cat and dog food every week. I also add an item or two from my hurricane shopping list each time to my purchases, whether canned goods with pop-off lids for foods that can be eaten cold, crackers, and extra batteries. I also make sure I have a two-week supply of my medications ready to go in a travel bag. By the time June rolls around, I’m ready! Come November, I eat any leftovers.”
Perhaps after her term ends, the li’l lady can get a gig with a local TV station offering Martha Stewart-style tips on turning crusts of dried up toothpaste in your bathroom sink into homemade hand soap and making compost from shredded City Hall documents and banana peels.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Sunny Isles Beach’s City Commission meets tonight (Thurs., April 18) at 6:30 p.m. at Government Center (18070 Collins Ave.).
Volunteers from throughout the county will converge upon two dozen parks and recreational sites Sat., April 20, for the 31st annual Baynanza Biscayne Bay Cleanup Day. Haulover Beach Park, Maurice Gibbs Park, and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens are among those that will get a sprucing up.
Bal Harbour voters go the polls Tues., April 23, for a special village election on a charter amendment proposal governing the sale, lease, or disposal of village-owned real property.
Surfside holds a special Commission meeting Tues., April 23, at 7 p.m. (9293 Harding Ave.)
Roger Carlton‘s last day as Surfside town manager is Fri., April 26.
The MBPD’s Heroes 5K Run/Walk for Life will start from South Pointe Park Sun., April 28, at 8 a.m. Interested participants can join city cops in raising awareness for the American Cancer Society’s fight against cancer.
The public is welcome to a meet-and-greet for incoming Surfside Town Manager Michael Crotty at Town Hall, Tues., April 30, at 7 p.m. (9293 Harding Ave.)
IN THEIR WORDS
“I don’t mind how much my ministers talk, so long as they do what I say.”
“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”
“When I’m out of politics I’m going to run a business; it’ll be called ‘Rent-A-Spine.’”
“Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.” – Margaret Thatcher
“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.” – Roger Ebert
A FINAL NOTE
The delivery van was packed with about a ton of explosives when, at about 1 in the afternoon, it careened through a gate, crashed through a lobby door at the front of the U.S. Embassy, and detonated.
The entire central facade of the building collapsed. Offices were reduced to rubble. The explosion was heard throughout the city and reportedly broke windows as far as a mile away.
The toll: 63 dead, of whom 17 were Americans. More than 120 others were injured in the blast. A pro-Iranian jihadist group claimed responsibility.
That suicide bombing – of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut – occurred 30 years ago today. Before we and the world would ever come to know the name of Osama bin Laden, or that of al-Qaeda, or their acts of terrorism culminating in 9/11, there was Beirut, April 18, 1983.
Generally regarded as the first act of anti-U.S. terrorism conducted by Islamic fundamentalists, the bombing was a rude introduction to Americans of the bloody and barbarous violence that the Middle East knows only too well. For the first time, we were being targeted for murder.
As I write this, we still know not whether Monday’s tragedy in Boston was homegrown or foreign-based terrorism.
It has been 30 years since Beirut, and the world and our nation have known too many of these savage acts by madmen. We must brace ourselves for the certainty that more will follow in the future. But as we endeavor to come to grips with such acts of ugliness and evil, we should also endeavor to end them: by bridging differences, resolving conflicts, and – recalling what Roger Ebert said above – contributing joy to the world. “We must try,” he concluded.
Indeed, for the more peaceful world that we seek, we surely must.
The author is an independent columnist. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and not those of the publication or its editors and owners.