Perfecta Meets Prada

The old Gulfstream becomes a shopping mall

Hand it to the folks at Gulfstream Park. They've never been afraid to tinker with the formula. Unlike some racetrack managers, who wait passively as their elderly core audience does a slow fade to black, the guys at Gulfstream will do almost anything to put butts in the grandstand seats. But their latest idea is so radical, it shocks even this crusty old pipe: Tear the whole damn thing down and start over.

Tailpipe passed the Hallandale Beach site of his favorite racetrack last week, and his eyes fumbled for the familiar structure. Nada, nyet, nothing. No big, airy grandstand looming over the stretch, no imposing clubhouse. Just a messy pile of rubble.

Now they've gone too far, Tailpipe cried, with an anguished, pipe-rattling groan.

But hold on, monoxide breath. Not to worry. This is just the start of a new phase in the track's storied horseracing history, says Tom Dillon, vice president of new development for Magna Entertainment Corp., the Canadian-based company that owns Gulfstream and 16 other tracks. Dillon proudly unfurls a drawing of the new, multipurpose Gulfstream Park. The $200 million project will include restaurants, retail stores, a 30-screen multiplex, and 1,500 condo apartments. And, oh yes, a racetrack.

Dillon's drawing, depicting the view from Federal Highway, shows twin beaux-arts shopping centers with pricey-looking shops and restaurants, a promenade with fountain and reflecting pool, and a clubhouse with Romanesque arches, bell towers, and a pair of marquee-style video screens. Tailpipe can't wait to hear the polite critiques of the Gulfstream railbirds -- especially when they learn that the track will be run for the next two seasons out of air-conditioned tents. Pfffft.

"Racetrack promotions aren't working," declares Dillon, a thin man full of nervous energy. "We have about 18 minutes between each race. We know that if you're the average person, you'll want to do something else during that time. This way, a guy could come and watch the seventh race at the mall while his wife shops at Nordstrom's."

Good thinking, Tailpipe supposes. But isn't this is an admission that everything that Gulfstream has tried for the past nine years to develop a new, loyal army of racing fans has been a bust? Oh, with Pat Benatar, Blue Öyster Cult, and others fattening the gate, attendance increased by about 3 percent last year after three years of shrinkage, and the betting handle has been going up incrementally. But all the brilliant marketing tricks have apparently amounted to just a hill of beans.

Good News for the Tailpipe

Sort of odd, isn't it, that our perpetually golden tip of the Sunshine State doesn't take more advantage of Mean Old Sol's abundant radiation? But South Florida has been a tough sell when it comes to solar. Tailpipe's informal survey of solar-panel companies in Broward County shows that, aside from a few swimming-pool heaters, solar equipment is virtually unheard-of.

Eh? Florida is reclining in solar doldrums as gas prices hover around $2 a gallon and the state's $32 billion-a-year energy expense relies mostly on Middle East oil?

Mike Vedak, of All About Solar, has been in the industry since 1982. He says he may install two solar water heaters a year, if he's lucky. "We do just service work," Vedak says, with all the listlessness of a television Maytag repairman. "There's only a few of us left. I don't know, buddy. Business is slow right now."

Adds Jim Coryell of Broward Solar Inc.: "Years ago, we used to put in 100 solar hot water heaters for every pool heater we put in. Now it's the opposite. We do 200 pool heaters for every hot water heater we put in."

In the early 1980s, solar water heaters were popular in this neck of the woods because of federal tax incentives. By 1986, with incentives erased by the Reagan administration, business began a long free fall. Nowadays, a newly installed solar water heater costs around $3,500. Most developers are going to put that money into a granite counter top and halogen light fixtures.

Here's the good news. Tailpipe found some homes that may soon be outfitted with solar panels and hot water tanks. The Dorsey Riverbend area, which straddles the Sistrunk Corridor in northeast Fort Lauderdale, the city's poorest neighborhood, has been selected as a Front Porch Florida Community. There's enough money in the program -- which, says Gov. Jeb Bush, is intended to help "unleash the forces of capitalism" -- to outfit seven or eight homes in the neighborhood.

That'll put a dent in the problem.

Fruit of the Loom

Just as Bush and Kerry are running neck and neck, from the back of the pack -- waaaay back -- comes: The Hallmark Kid! Three years ago, New Times chronicled the brief career of Ryan Lipner, a 17-year-old obsessed with all things Hallmark. The wily boy was illicitly running his own greeting card shops by age 15, then slipped up while posing as a competitor. Hallmark sued him to prevent him from ever associating himself with the company. Lipner has been judged mentally incompetent in Broward criminal court (he faked wackiness, he told New Times at the time), but his brushes with the legal system only spawned a new passion: politics.

He has filed more than 150 civil suits, most against high-profile politicos like Janet Reno, Jeb Bush, and George Bush. (The court has declared him a "vexatious litigant," which means he'll have to post a bond to sue in the future.) And Lipner, who's now 20 years old, has hit the campaign trail for president. Sure enough, there's his name on the state elections division's database.

"I really think once my name is leaked out there, and I get media attention, people are going to vote for me," he avows. There is, of course, that small matter of a constitutional age limit of 35 for the presidency. No problem, Lipner says. He's filed a discrimination suit in federal court.

Hatchabooby

You're paying a lot more than $3.99 for that fast-food, double-patty, burger thing, the folks from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say. Think of the costs in male pulchritude. All those hormones in the meat? Consume enough of them, guys, and you'll develop granny boobs. Hubba hubba. PETA's effort to dramatize the point in a billboard has been turned down by three outdoor advertising companies. So Tailpipe is pitching in to spread the word.

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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