By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
The city and the CRA asked for proposals from local developers in March 2005. The city's project, at Adams and 24th Avenue, became known at City Hall as the "Adams Street Project." The CRA dubbed its proposed development down the block the "Dixie Highway Project."
One name became synonymous at City Hall with both of the proposed developments: Cynthia Berman-Miller. And that was unusual. Berman-Miller was not only a city employee but she lacked experience as a developer.
Berman-Miller is from a family that has followed two career paths: art and real estate. Her grandfather, Paul Silverthorne, was a well-known muralist in Miami during South Beach's Art Deco heyday. He worked on design projects for the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, Sherry Frontenac Hotel, Lou Walter's Latin Quarter, and the Fu Man Chu Restaurant.
While her grandfather became known in the art world, Berman-Miller's mother, Andrea Silverthorne, went into South Beach real estate. Her company, NewStar Realty, has since expanded from South Beach to Dadeland, Hollywood, Jupiter, and Naples. NewStar has more than $125 million worth of real estate listings on the market, a publicist for the company claims.
Despite the family's success in real estate, Berman-Miller initially followed in her grandfather's footsteps. In 1993, after earning an associate's degree in photography at Florida International University in Miami, Berman-Miller went to the University of Florida in Gainesville, earning first a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and then a master's in art history.
From the beginning, Berman-Miller concentrated on the administration rather than creation of art. While earning her master's degree, she worked as a coordinator for the Art in State Buildings program, acting as liaison between the state Department of Cultural Affairs and the University of Florida. In Gainesville, she successfully curated the first exhibition of Cuban art in Florida in 33 years.
Before moving back to South Florida, Miller served as board member at the Kentuck Art Center in Northport, Alabama. Her husband, Scott Miller, was an art professor at the University of Alabama. Together, they moved to Hollywood in 1997. Miller became an associate dean at Miami International University of Art and Design. His wife was hired as curator of education at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, a nonprofit gallery and theater on Harrison Street in downtown Hollywood. Less than a year later, Berman-Miller was promoted to executive director of the center.
She came at a perfect time for Hollywood. Fort Lauderdale's neighbor to the south wanted to distinguish itself as Broward's "City of the Arts." Hollywood's development strategy mirrored the ambitions of an unpopular high school kid buying expensive, trendy clothes at the local mall. Hollywood blended Richard Florida's Creative Class theory attract creative types with art and parks and more and boom times will follow with an erect-condos-and-people-will-buy-'em redevelopment effort.
Toward that goal, in early 2002, Berman-Miller and a group of business and civic leaders successfully lobbied Broward County for a $5 million parks grant to build ArtsPark in place of Young Circle Park. For more than a half-century, Young Circle Park had been home to dozens of large trees, benches, and an amphitheater. In February 2004, the bulldozers arrived. The city's plan for ArtsPark included a charter school, art studio, and a fountain. From conception to groundbreaking, the price tag jumped from $12 million to $21 million.
Berman-Miller was supposed to help make up the shortfall. In September 2003, she became director of the city's newly created Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. Earning $40,000 per year, Berman-Miller became partially responsible for raising money for the financially troubled ArtsPark.
In a letter dated November 17, 2004, City Manager Cameron Benson explained to a developer that Berman-Miller "committed to bring in $1.8 million through fundraising efforts."
She was unable to meet the commitment.
"I have to admit that I am not aware of her raising any money for ArtsPark [as a city employee]," Commissioner Sal Oliveri says.
"She didn't raise a dime," Commissioner Russo echoes.
Berman-Miller says she simply wasn't able to raise funds as a city employee. "The [$1.8 million] commitment you refer to was a pledge by the combined leadership of the Art and Culture Center," Berman-Miller says. "Everyone involved in that pledge decided we needed more than $1.8 million, and the best way to raise this private-sector money was through a separate foundation for which I continue to work as a volunteer with many other volunteers coordinating the efforts."
For Berman-Miller, getting money from Hollywood has proven as worthwhile a task as getting money for Hollywood. In 2005, her mother opened an office of NewStar Realty on the south side of Young Circle, in a two-story office building. On the first floor, Silverthorne opened NewStar Gallery. On the second, she housed her real estate office.
Silverthorne hoped to capitalize on the blending of art and business in Hollywood. And the city agreed to help finance those efforts. On June 21, 2005, the City Commission, acting as the CRA, voted 5-2 to award a $5,667 grant to NewStar, with Commissioners Peter Bober and Russo dissenting. The grant was for NewStar to build an art installation outside its two-story office building. As director of the city's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Berman-Miller was responsible for Hollywood's marketing and development of the arts, though she says she did not play a role in NewStar's grant application and did not attend the CRA meeting.