Personal Business

How They Help Investors in Hollywood

This was so 2003.

The South Florida real estate market still churned like a deep-sea fish mosh, with investors snatching up worthwhile properties like barracuda lunging at flashes of silver. Downtown Hollywood, with some coddling from the city government, seemed to have an especially bountiful future. Steve Buchbinder, a nonpracticing lawyer who lives in the city, wanted to get in on it.

Straight from the artist's hands
Straight from the artist's hands

Buchbinder and his real estate agent wife, Noreen, purchased four dilapidated buildings in 2003 on the 1800 block of Jackson Street. The buildings were in a prime spot, near Federal Highway, just a block from the downtown restaurant and club center. If Hollywood ever realized its pedestrian-friendly objectives, Buchbinder surmised, this would be an ideal location for condos.

The Buchbinders turned to the city's downtown Community Redevelopment Agency for advice. The CRA's job is, in part, to advise developers who have plans to make improvements to the city's housing and retail markets. The agency's then-director was Jim Edwards.

In 2004, Edwards gave the Buchbinders some bad news. Someone had bought a shabby, one-story, three-unit building at 1823 Jackson St., smack in the middle of the block that the Buchbinders were assembling. The buyer, it turned out, was Robert Geitner, life partner of Neil Fritz, another city administrator. Edwards, who has since gone to work for Hollywood developer Equity One, insists he never told Fritz about the Buchbinders' plans for Jackson Street.

Fritz, the city's director of commercial corridor redevelopment, was, like Edwards, supposed to be in the business of spurring real estate investment. But Fritz seemed to stand in the way of the Buchbinders' plans like a brick wall, Steve Buchbinder says. The would-be developer went to Hollywood's City Hall to ask Fritz what he and Geitner planned to do with the property. "He just said he was interested in living there," Buchbinder says.

The two sides tell different versions of what happened next. Buchbinder alleges that Fritz called him and asked for an evening meeting in the Buchbinders' office, a few doors down from the triplex, to talk about the property. He says that Fritz brought along Geitner and announced that Geitner had recently received an offer of $500,000 for the property — more than twice what he had paid for it only a few months before.

So? Was it just an idle boast (Oh, how smart I was to buy that junky building) or an invitation to make a better offer?

Buchbinder contends the revelation was Fritz's way of jump-starting negotiations.

In a letter that Steve Buchbinder circulated to Hollywood city commissioners last November, he says that he and his wife "refused to be involved in some kind of extortion." Paying such a marked-up price for the triplex would make their investment too risky.

Fritz, now director of the CRA, tells Tailpipe that Buchbinder's allegations are "blatant misrepresentations." The Buchbinders were neighbors with whom he and Geitner sometimes socialized, Fritz says, but nothing more, and he denies ever telling the couple that there was a half-million dollar offer on Geitner's property. Geitner gave the 'Pipe a statement denying that he had ever offered to sell the triplex to the Buchbinders.

By 2005, Fritz was in the process of being promoted to his new, high-profile CRA job, and he called the Buchbinders again, according to the couple. This time, Steve says, Fritz expressed concern that his partner's stake in the Jackson Street triplex would come under scrutiny due to his new position. (His subsequent tenure at the CRA has been a little short of stellar, with an alleged sex scandal and failed investments.)

Fritz told the Buchbinders that Geitner would sell for just $350,000, Steve Buchbinder says, provided the Buchbinders let Fritz occupy the triplex at a rent-controlled rate of $500 per month. The Buchbinders signed a contractv to buy the property, but after conducting their due diligence and becoming increasingly worried about the real estate market, they opted out of the contract.

In his statement, Geitner says that he approached the Buchbinders not as prospective buyers but as prospective real estate agents. The meeting was a courtesy, Fritz adds, to a couple who had a large stake in the block (and who were trying, with the CRA's assistance, to assemble a development project on that very spot). But Geitner says that — surprisingly — the Buchbinders offered to buy the property, which led to the contract. When the Buchbinders decided not to follow through, the triplex was sold to another party for $380,000.

And so, thanks partly to Fritz, the 1800 block of Jackson Street remains undeveloped today.

Leaving Las Degas

They're fakes. Frauds. Phonies. According to Gary Arseneau, if you saw the "Degas in Bronze" exhibit at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and thought you were looking at the work of French painter and sculptor Edgar Degas, you were bamboozled.

The exhibition consists of 73 sculptures that the museum's website says are "cast in bronze from Degas's original composite and wax models."

Arseneau, 54, a full-time lithograph artist and self-described "independent scholar" from Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville, says the pieces violate the Association of Art Museum Directors' ethical guidelines for displaying art. "This is a bait and switch," he says. "The public has been defrauded by the Boca Raton Museum of Art. If I did what they did, I'd be in prison for forgery."

Degas worked primarily in wax, so the pieces couldn't be cast into bronze. These pieces, Arseneau says, were cast from re-creations of the original sculptures after Degas died. Arseneau says Degas' heirs have been trying to cash in on his name since his death in 1917. Curators, who may not know better, have helped by displaying collections like the one in Boca.

"Any transfer into new material, unless specifically condoned by the artist, is considered counterfeit and should not be exhibited or displayed as works of art," Arseneau says. "Well, he was dead. That's just common sense. It's not his work, period."

The museum issued a statement from Executive Director George Bolge, who acknowledged that the bronzes were posthumously cast. They were presented as "providing insight into the artist's working method," the statement said. "We are confident that our curatorial handling of the works will stand the scrutiny of art historical scholarship as well as ethical museum practices."

Admission for special exhibits at the museum is $20. "That's what they're charging the public to see a bronze copy of a bronze copy of a plaster wax copy of a reconstructed model," Arseneau says. "They forged Degas' signature on every work to create the illusion that he created or approved the work. If they told people these were second- or third-generation copies of the originals, maybe the public would still pay 20 bucks for it, but I doubt it."

Even American citizens who don't attend the exhibit are being defrauded, according to Arseneau, because the National Endowment for the Arts has indemnified the collection, essentially insuring the display in case of disaster.

New Times art critic Michael Mills found the show underwhelming, noting that Degas himself had "significant misgivings" about his work as a sculptor. Tailpipe, having seen them himself, concurs: He came out singing, "I get no kick from bron-zay."

Got Boats?

A couple of cows for a good saddle? Trade you my Cheetos for your Doritos. Or how about a $6 million yacht for a house or a condo in Florida?

A Northfield, New Jersey, plastic surgeon and ear, nose, and throat doctor is looking to make that last, high-end swap through Craigslist, the internet hub where just about anything goes.

For the adventurous and creative (and those with beaucoup resources), real estate deals continue to percolate — at least outside the Hollywood condo market.

Dr. Ira Trocki, a big-time real estate investor in the Northeast, is advertising other trades on Craigslist, like Philadelphia condos for places in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Such trades aren't all that uncommon, real estate agents say. But a boat?

"People in hell want ice water," said Andy Weiser, a local Coldwell Banker agent. "It sounds very funny to me."

Weiser wonders how such a swap might go down. Do you bring in an appraiser? How do you allow for the appreciation of the real estate and the inevitable depreciation of the yacht?

Trocki says it's a little simpler than all that. He sells his boat to the homeowner. The other guy — or gal — sells the house. By mutual agreement, they each buy the other's merchandise. It's like bartering on a grandiose scale but very legal.

Meantime, old-school bartering is apparently making a comeback. Just be careful not to step in the bullshit. One trader on Craigs­list advertises a private (or, as it's spelled, "privet") island off Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with a "$2,500-square-foot house" in exchange for "anything of value," including "cars, boats, planes, jewelry."

Trocki's proposed swap is straightforward enough: No middle man. A house for a yacht.

The doctor himself is a man of many interests. He actually owns the company that built the yacht — Buddy Davis Yachts and another, Egg Harbor Yachts, a once-floundering boat maker he bought in 1999 and infused with $10 million in improvements, according to the company's website. He bought the advertised boat for his wife who, after going for a cruise in it, said she'd never step foot on it again. She said she'd rather have a house in Florida, so here we are.

He's the principal of the Trocki Hebrew Academy as well and has worked as a cut man for Mike Tyson for 12 years. An accidental head-butting with one of his sparring partners at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City left Tyson with a gash over his right eye that extended to his upper eyelid. He was taken to Trocki's nearby practice in Margate, New Jersey, where the doctor closed the wound with 48 stitches. So began a friendship. Tyson attended his children's weddings and bar mitzvahs.

"He's a fun guy," Trocki says.

Meanwhile, the 'Pipe, who has always harbored secret fantasies of the yachting life, wants to know if Trocki might be interested in a quaint old family garage, only slightly spattered with motor oil.

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