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Standing in a bleak parking lot behind a piece of downtown Hollywood's run-down history, Jerry Mintz -- with his Roman Polanski build, Ted Koppel hair, and Norman Mailer eyes -- doesn't seem so threatening. As he talks about saving the Great Southern Hotel, he sounds more like a thoughtful scholar than a bombastic revolutionary.
But to the people who run the city, he's downtown's most dangerous man.
Mintz wants to end the reign of lobbyists in Hollywood, namely Bernie Friedman and Alan Koslow, partners in the law firm Becker & Poliakoff. So last week, he officially opened his campaign to run against their patron saint, Mayor Mara Giulianti. He's trumpeting the return of the people's will over developers' pocketbooks. He wants to place a six-month moratorium on all city development and force lobbyists to disclose their fees. He says he would focus on building infrastructure rather than spend the city's Community Redevelopment Agency money on high-rise projects.
Mintz isn't antidevelopment -- any fool knows Hollywood is going to grow. And while he warns against "cold" monolithic buildings, he's not ruling out high-rises altogether. Mintz says he just wants the city and its people to decide what it will look like -- not Koslow, who represents almost every proposed major downtown development project, and Friedman, who serves as the city's paid lobbyist.
"Instead of giving huge incentives to build a huge building, the city needs to be wondering: How do we preserve our way of life? We want walking tours, not elevator tours," Mintz told me last Wednesday. "People come to downtowns to feel life. When you change it into cold tall buildings, you lose your identity. You don't start with projects that are brought to you by lobbyists and developers; you define what you are and what you want to be."
Such populist -- and sensible -- talk usually wouldn't so much as muss Koslow's hair; plenty of powerless activist/gadflies out there say the same things. But Mintz presents a scintillating challenge to Hollywood's power circle: He is a deep-pocketed developer himself. More than anyone, he's helped rebuild the city during the past decade, renovating a block of downtown's Harrison Street, which he transformed from a shoddy struggling thruway into a thriving Art Deco business district, and building a 52,000-square-foot upscale showroom/warehouse building on Dixie Highway.
And Mintz has been a consummate city insider. He's a past chairman of the Arts Park Ad Hoc Committee that is helping to plan an $11 million public project in Young Circle. He used to play tennis with Koslow. And Giulianti was so enamored of him that in 1994, she told the Sun-Sentinel: "Jerry Mintz's vision for downtown is precisely what mine has been."
Not anymore. The 55-year-old Mintz is trying to raise money from like-minded folks to help upend Giulianti. He won't say how much he's willing to spend personally on his campaign, though he could invest a couple of hundred thousand dollars without much trouble. He owns downtown buildings worth millions of dollars, after all.
It's enough to make Koslow and company more than a little paranoid. When I was preparing a column ("Incentivize This," July 3) on multimillion-dollar incentives the city is paying developers, Koslow asked me, "Did Mintz put you up to this?"
The answer was no. Though I'd heard of him, I'd never spoken to the developer, and I assumed he was pro-Giulianti. But after hearing the irritation in Koslow's voice, I knew it was time to give Mintz a call and find out who he really is.
Here's what I learned: Mintz was born in Canada in 1948 and, after graduating college, decided to join the Israeli Defense Forces in 1970. He served nearly three years in the military as a paratrooper and remained in the reserves for several years after that, seeing combat in numerous Arab-Israeli conflicts, including the Yom Kippur War. He was married in Tel Aviv in 1972, and he and his wife, Edna, now have two grown daughters and two grandchildren, with a third on the way.
In 1985, he came to the States and helped revive Miami Beach. Mintz first bought and renovated the historic Harrison Hotel (apparently the man is drawn to all things Harrison). He also purchased land holdings near Joe's Stone Crab and worked for seven years running a valet service at the restaurant to make payments on them before controversial German developer Thomas Kramer bought them from him.
So in the life-accomplishments department, Mintz has Giulianti, who was basically a bored doctor's wife when she became mayor in 1986, dead to rights. Still, you can't help but wonder if he's for real. Can a millionaire developer really be taken seriously when he talks about ending the evils of millionaire developers? Then you listen to him talk about a planned high-rise condo project that will swallow the Great Southern, the city's most storied historical site, and you realize that he sees much more than just dollar signs when he envisions Hollywood's future.
"In my world, you would redo this building to its original beauty," Mintz said in his slight Canadian accent as he looked up at the white-painted back of the old hotel. "On the rest of this block, I would have a two-story project where I would have on the ground floor a real old-style market like you see in Seattle.