Hooray for Hollywood

Even with a housing bust and bad court verdicts, the show goes on.

That's liable to make the lunch line at Jubilee Center even longer. Asked for his opinion on the mayor, a homeless man with a mangy beard looks up from his tray: "Mara?" He shakes his head. "She started out OK, but she's a sellout — to big corporations, to development on the beach."

The man, who wouldn't give his name and would say only that he lives "in the woods," skims the frosting off a square of angel food cake as he ponders Giulianti's political evolution.

"She never used to be that way," he says dolefully. A Hollywood resident of nearly 35 years, he speaks of Giulianti as though she were an old friend who had lost her way. "Everything she does is for money."

Mayor Mara Giulianti is making over Hollywood with a little help from her friends: Rep. Ken Gottlieb and Cynthia Berman-Miller.
C. Katz
Mayor Mara Giulianti is making over Hollywood with a little help from her friends: Rep. Ken Gottlieb and Cynthia Berman-Miller.
Rep. Ken Gottlieb
Meredith Hill
Rep. Ken Gottlieb

For some reason, Giulianti labors under the perception of the backroom wheeler-dealer with hardboiled patter about how money talks.

The engine behind of the mayor's redevelopment plan is the Community Redevelopment Agency, created by the city but functioning as a separate legal entity, with tax increment financing. Tax rates going to the county are frozen in CRA districts, like Hollywood's downtown and its beachfront. As property values rise from new investment, the extra property tax revenue goes to the CRA, creating a substantial fund that the city has wide discretion in dispensing.

In many cases, CRAs work to create affordable housing. In Hollywood, however, it has largely concerned itself with creating high-rises, like those now being built around Young Circle.

There are two exceptions. Tango Gardens is a row of 60 townhouses planned along Adams Street from South 22nd to South 24th avenues, and these could be purchased by people whose income is within 120 percent of area average. Metro Hollywood is a condo development proposed for the corner of Adams where it meets Dixie Highway. Its 118 units would be a mix of townhouses, condos, and live/work units, all of which would sell for under $300,000, placing them lower than Broward County's average home price of $325,000.

But in a city operating under the specter of corruption charges, the benefits of these projects are clouded by the connections of their developers.

Cynthia Berman-Miller was still the city's director of the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs when, in March 2005, the city first advertised development opportunities on Adams Street. Berman-Miller submitted a proposal, and though she had left city employment by the time her group won the bid, it aroused suspicion of an inside deal.

Berman-Miller's partner in Metro Hollywood is Rep. Ken Gottlieb, who has his own close ties with the city government as its representative in Tallahassee.

The joys of landing a development contract with the city can be bountiful. But before you get to that point, you have to go through the gauntlet of public scrutiny. It can be a tough trip.

It's nearing 9 p.m. on October 24 when it finally comes time for Rep. Ken Gottlieb to make his presentation to the North Central Civic Association, which meets at the Fred Lippman Center on Polk Street. Despite his silver suit, the baby-faced Gottlieb has the rumpled, drowsy look of an 8-year-old boy roused early from his nap. It must be exhausting to work as a legislator by day, a developer by night.

Gottlieb goes through the basics of the design, and despite the critical expressions in the crowd, he appears to be gaining confidence. "Fifty years from now, when all the other buildings that are being built are being looked at for redevelopment, the community will be fighting to save this," he says. Someone in the audience scoffs, loudly.

Recovering his momentum, Gottlieb points out: "No other [development] group wanted to bid on this. What we decided was, that didn't matter. We still wanted to make something that was architecturally significant, that would be a revitalizing tool for the city."

Maria Jackson, an activist on Hollywood's South Side, demands to know whether Gottlieb's group will ask the city for an additional $1.5 million to buy the VFW property next to the Theresa Apartments. He says they will not, but his answer takes a defensive tone — he knows Jackson opposes any project with Cynthia Berman-Miller's involvement.

Every dispute in Hollywood has a history, a related skein of personal affronts and grudges. For some Hollywoodians, the mention of Berman-Miller is like a red cape for a charging bull. Jackson, who suspects Berman-Miller got an inside deal from the city, appears to grind her teeth at the mention.

"This is going to make our quality of life in Hollywood better," Gottlieb insists. "I think it's important to focus on what's happening and not necessarily innuendo and personalities."

In a city where personalities dominate politics, that may not be a realistic hope. At the meeting's end, the association's vice president makes an apology to Gottlieb, explaining, "It's just hard for us to trust our public officials these days."

On November 7, it was Berman-Miller's turn. She attended a special meeting of the United Neighbors of South Hollywood, at McNicol Community Center. But as Jackson and association President Andre Brown publicly grilled her, another group of association members stirred in the back.

"I don't think it should matter who builds what, as long as they're putting the money back into the community," shouted Jack Meharian, who was standing just to the left of the district's commissioner, Beam Furr. Meharian then made a motion that the association support Berman-Miller's project.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help