By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
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By Michael E. Miller
You'd think that, being the target of a federal probe and all, Seminole Chief James Billie would be overseeing a benefit concert (or two) just to pay off his many debts -- and legal fees. But instead the big man's band is hosting a show this Sunday to help scare up support for the Stranahan House, a 100-year-old Fort Lauderdale landmark on the banks of the New River. Actually, Billie's bash -- which also features folk acts Green Grass Revival, the Peters Road Band, and Valerie "Wisecracker" Caracappa -- is designed to bring attention to developers raising massive cookie-cutter condo complexes at the expense of the city's already-encroached-upon open space and historically designated properties.
"It's a perfect setting," says Barbara Keith, one of the caretakers of the Stranahan House. "Well it was a perfect setting. We're getting built up all around us here."
See, the defunct Hyde Park Market on Las Olas Boulevard (which abuts the Stranahan House property on the west) will soon be torn down to make room for a 30-story condo, unless the city, the Stranahan House, and the Seminole tribe can fork over $36 million to buy the land for a proposed park, museum, and amphitheater. Otherwise, the owner, New York City-based Coolidge-South Market Equity, will let Miami developer the Related Group build its condo.
To date, the Seminoles have pledged $3 million; the Stranahan House's stewards, who are leading this anti-development fight, have received an anonymous donation of $2 million. Last year Fort Lauderdale voters approved an $8 million bond issue to buy the land and prevent development there. The city then filed suit against the landowner.
The tale of how said lawsuit came and went is a weird one. In late August, Richard Lynch, a Broward real estate salesman, made a passing comment to another salesman that seemed to imply that the judge in the case, J. Leonard Fleet, had been offered a bribe to rule in favor of the owner and developer. Once Fleet heard about the comment, he quickly recused himself from the case.
The new trial isn't set until February; even if the court proceedings take a while, that still isn't much time for the development's opponents to raise $23 million. And if the house's only mode of fundraising is to be folk concerts, then that's a lot of pickin', pluckin', and strummin' -- even at $15 a head.
What kind of suckiness is at stake here? Picture this: When the Riverwalk is eventually extended all the way past Southeast Third Avenue to the Stranahan House, pedestrians might arrive there to find the historic home at the floor of a concrete box canyon. Sunrises and sunsets could become rather muted affairs.
Additionally, on the east side of the Stranahan House, a 15-story condominium is nearing completion.
Dave Cambest of the Broward Folk Club, who's helping organize the concert, points out the need for an outdoor performance space downtown apart from the glorified karaoke scene of Riverfront and the slick new band shell and park now anchoring the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue.
"You really have to kiss butt to play there," he laments. "Areas with stages are all being sold off and turned into concrete."
Keith envisions a moat of seamless open green space around the house so people can enjoy some peace and quiet in an open green area within a very exciting city.
"The history of Fort Lauderdale started right here on this river," Keith implores. "It started with the Stranahan House. This was the community center and trading post. It was downtown Fort Lauderdale, and it would be a shame to lose it. I mean, Stranahan House would still be here, but it would be lost."
In a town where hungry developers look at historical structures as eyesores standing in the way of progress, Bandwidth unequivocally declares that the fight for the Stranahan House is a just and warranted crusade.
The Stranahan House is located at 335 SE Sixth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Sunday's concert begins at 5 p.m., and ticket sales benefit the Stranahan House. Call 954-524-4736.
Earlier this year, Tori Amos released Strange Little Girls, a collection of cover songs. But back in 1999, Cat Power released The Covers Album, which used pretty much the same concept -- recasting songs originally told from a male point of view. Not to say that Amos stole the idea, but Chan Marshall was there first, without anything as controversial as an Eminem song, just acoustic traditional tunes and a soothing, becalmed "Sea of Love."
The reason your time is being wasted on these trivialities is that Marshall -- who is Cat Power -- is visiting the region for a rare one-off show before flying to South America for some dates there. The show is being promoted by J.C. Moya, who busted his balls to get Mark Eitzel down here in early July. That intensely poignant and intimate Miami performance moved the hundred or so souls who managed to attend; Moya is to be duly commended for his efforts to bring noncommercial acts to our shores, even if his initial ventures have proved somewhat frustrating. But Moya is still slogging along. "Someone's got to do it," he sighs.