Incentivize This

In Hollywood, developers profit. You pay.

That tallies up to about $27.5 million in handouts to four projects, all of them Koslow-orchestrated specials. The lawyer negotiated the deals with the city, presented them to the commission, and is surely being paid handsomely for the service. Koslow won't discuss his fees, but when he talks about deal-making, he often uses his favorite verb, one not found in any dictionary: "incentivize."

"To the extent that the county or anyone else believes the deals are incentivized too much, it's myopic," Koslow tells me. "They should understand that over time, the CRA serves its purpose. The benefits go to the city and the county. People need to look at the long term. These projects are on the tax rolls forever.

"You have to help the developers create a market for luxury housing in Hollywood. Hollywood is not recognized as a market that can survive without some incentives. The critical mass of a downtown area isn't there in Hollywood. The developers are taking tremendous risks to build these projects in an unproven market."

Chip Abele, co-owner of Southern Facilities, parrots his lawyer's explanation. "We're playing by all the rules, and I don't know that anybody would be here but for these incentives," he says. "The CRA generally gives 10 percent of the project cost -- that's Hollywood's standard policy. These incentives are not grotesquely high. These are still pretty tight deals."

But developer Berman, who built the original La Piazza (a much smaller project) on the circle a few years ago, didn't sound as if he was worried about "critical mass" in an interview with South Florida CEO Magazine in March.

"People thought that I was either daring or crazy by trying to do new construction in downtown Hollywood," Berman told the magazine before boasting that the residential portion of La Piazza was full the day it opened. "We've had a waiting list for three years... people are starting to look at Hollywood and see it as the best bargain around."

How's that for "tremendous risks"?

Incentives can work when they involve a few hundred thousand for landscaping, wider sidewalks, and the like. Fort Lauderdale, for instance, generally gives developers cash breaks in the hundreds of thousands rather than the millions. But the Hollywood deals seem to be nothing more than guaranteed profit margin for firms like JPI and Southern Facilities. If those companies really need that much charity, then Hollywood simply isn't ready for the developments. If they don't need all that money, then taxpayers are getting hosed, Tommy.

Plus, the city is planning an $11 million Arts Park on the circle to fuel redevelopment. Add that to about $7 million per project to developers and it's more like insanity than incentive. And it should incense the people.

What people? Sure, there are about 150,000 Hollywood folk, but only a little club of activists -- like Pete Brewer and Howard Sher -- are raging against the Koslow-Giulianti machine.

Becker & Poliakoff, meanwhile, has come dangerously close to running the city. The firm holds fundraisers and assists in running most of the commissioners' campaigns, Giulianti's chief among them. Koslow's partner, Bernie Friedman, is the city's paid lobbyist.

It's quite a little circle of love: Koslow and Co. raise money to elect politicians who then repay the debt by hiring Koslow's firm and giving out ridiculous sums in incentives, a hearty percentage of which winds up in the firm's big pockets.

Now the lawyers and politicians are rallying to squelch the audit.

"The county just wants the [CRA] money," Giulianti said. "The whole audit is incorrect -- Norm Thabit isn't a lawyer."

So let's hear from the lawyer that Giulianti listens to more than any other: "The county is only trying to gain leverage on Hollywood," Koslow says.

Don't expect much backbone from the County Commission. Koslow's law firm has lavished even more money on county campaigns than those in Hollywood. Long-time Commissioner Suzanne Gunzberger has received many thousands of dollars from Becker & Poliakoff. A photo album on the county website includes a shot of her and Koslow standing arm in arm at a gala.

Broward Vice Mayor Ilene Lieberman sounds as if she's part of the Becker & Poliakoff program as well. At last week's commission meeting, with Giulianti and other Hollywood backers in the audience, Lieberman, in a rather chilling echo of the mayor, told Thabit, "I'm sorry, but you're not a lawyer."

So it's no wonder the County Commission refused to officially file the audit until Hollywood is given a chance to make its case at next week's County Commission meeting, on July 8. Presiding will be county Commissioner Diana Wasserman-Rubin, whose 2000 campaign was run by none other than Becker & Poliakoff's Friedman.

Oh, and if you'd like to see a copy of the audit, you can't find it on the county website anymore. Giulianti complained to Commissioner John Rodstrom about it last week and poof, it was gone.

"The County Commission is just wonderful," Giulianti gushes.

If the commission caves on the audit, it will prove that Koslow's brand of incentivizing can work on more than just developers. Politicians can be bought too.

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