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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.
"That's what people go to see. If I sound passionate, I am. That's the whole reason I'm doing this, because for me, when you take a property like this and you tear it down, you are tearing away your children's future. You are robbing them of the ability to feel a piece of who you are and who your grandparents were. All they will have left is these cold buildings that their only function is to sleep in and eat in. But they don't provide you with that sense of being that people really need."
He talks a decent game, but what about his track record? When Mintz decries the huge multimillion-dollar incentives being promised to developers, isn't he being a tad hypocritical? He's set to receive a total of about $600,000 from the CRA for his latest project, an $8 million, six-story office building. Over the years, he's benefited from numerous low-interest loans on which the CRA has paid half the interest. And since he began investing in Harrison Street, the city has added about $2.5 million worth of improvements there.
Yet he promises to stop giving developers large payoffs if he's elected. And, more radically, he says he'll put three planned Young Circle high-rise projects, worth about $200 million, on hold while the people of the city and architects decide if they are really what Hollywood needs. The city has already preliminarily approved those projects, which include about $20 million in public incentives for developers.
"What my incentives were or weren't has nothing to do with the future of the city of Hollywood," Mintz insisted. "I don't think we have to give huge incentives to developers anymore. There is a demand in Hollywood. Developers want to come here now. They come to me all the time.
"What the city should be doing right now is twofold: One is infrastructure -- streets, alleys, trees, sewers, flowers, parks -- and the other is the assemblage of land. You assemble land, the developers will buy it. You don't have to give away the city's future tax base."
Political foes will argue that Mintz as mayor would be a walking conflict of interest. Though he pledges that he'll retire as a developer should he win, Mintz still has no plans to sell eight properties he and partners own in downtown Hollywood. If he wins the election next November, he would automatically become chairman of the CRA; measures that would benefit his properties would surely arise. "I will ask for the opinion of the ethics commission on those matters and comply with whatever they recommend," Mintz says.
Good enough. To his credit, Mintz has proven to be what many might assume to be an oxymoron: a responsible developer. Harrison Street still has its history and original architectural integrity intact. The six-story office building is the tallest thing he's ever constructed.
His insider knowledge gives him an edge in the coming fight -- and he's almost certainly in for a real city hall brawl. "It is going to become a very, very ugly campaign," Mintz told me. "Maybe the ugliest campaign in history. But I joke that I've fought in four Israeli wars, got through a midlife crisis, and if my hemorrhoids don't kill me, I think I can win it."
Former councilman and city activist John Coleman, who lost his bid to unseat Giulianti in 1998, agrees. "The team running the city now is the mayor and Becker & Poliakoff," a supportive Coleman said. "Jerry Mintz is interested in forming a new team that doesn't include Becker & Poliakoff. The people on the inside who are with Mara are also with Jerry, so they are going to have to make a choice. He is going to have a very tough campaign -- he's a tough guy -- and it's going to be personal."
Even Mintz's partner in the six-story office building, developer Steve Berman, wouldn't comment on the campaign. Berman, after all, is set to receive millions in incentives from the city for his upcoming Young Circle project, La Piazza II. Should Mintz be elected, La Piazza II would be delayed. "All I can say about Jerry are good things" was as far as Berman would go.
Mintz, though, has always been something of a lone wolf in Hollywood, operating without lobbyists. He says he hired Becker & Poliakoff a few years ago for a matter before the County Commission, but other than that, he's always represented himself.
Not only do Mintz and Koslow not work together but they don't play tennis together anymore either (though Mintz says he beat the lawyer the three or four times they hit the court). A taste of the combative friction developing between Mintz and Koslow came last Wednesday, shortly after Mintz's visit to the Great Southern Hotel.
Both men attended an evening forum at Hollywood City Hall where Bernard Zyscovich, a consultant hired by the city, gave a long talk about his vision for the future of Young Circle. He seemed to leave people more confused than ever, with the low point coming when the Miami architect made an extended analogy about the similarities between building a city and making lasagna.
During a question-and-answer period at the end of the forum, Mintz took the microphone and told the 150 or so people in attendance about his vision for the city and put in a word for saving the Great Southern Hotel.
Koslow, standing nearby, sniped at Mintz, "You didn't ask a question."
The former paratrooper, with anger in his eyes, shot back: "No, I made a statement, and I'm going to be making a lot of statements."
I asked Koslow what he thought about Mintz. The lobbyist initially was mum but later said, "Mara is going to make 'Mintz-meat' out of Jerry Mintz."
At the forum, I also asked Giulianti about her new political opponent, but she refused to speak to me since she didn't approve of my column about incentives to developers. "I have no thoughts about Jerry Mintz," she said before shaking my hand and walking away.
Ah, the blind arrogance of power. It really sends a refreshing shiver down your spine. So let's listen to Mintz instead. "I was in Italy over the summer in a town called Ravello, all the way down south of Sorrento on the water, and I'm looking at these ancient, ancient buildings that to this day people preserve," he told me. "When you walk in the gardens and you look at the architecture, you feel alive. It does something to you. And that's what our responsibility is here. Our responsibility is not to say, 'We're putting up a new building, we have a quick solution, and we'll have more taxes next year.' Because, over 100 years, you are just making a terrible mistake. That's the way I truly feel. That's Jerry Mintz."
Here's to his coming year of running dangerously.