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
Flick and Murray say Mintz and Briesemeister began a campaign to discredit Northwood Renaissance. Mintz worked behind the scenes, sending emails to neighborhood organizations. He raised questions about the credentials of Northwood Renaissance's board. He denigrated their methods and experience.
Frankel had also turned against them, lining up firmly with Briesemeister. A friend told Flick that the mayor couldn't utter Flick's name "without spitting on the table." Frankel had once pointed a finger in Flick's face and said to a companion, "I will never sit down in the same room with that man." Their relationship had deteriorated so drastically that Flick offered several times to resign as Northwood Renaissance's board president — but the board felt they needed his expertise too much to let him go.
At a January 2005 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency's advisory board, Terry Fox was launching into a presentation of the Village Center development plan when board Chair Gigi Tylander interrupted him. He was flabbergasted. "She simply refused to let me finish the presentation," he recalls. "The issue was coming up for a vote that night, and the board was fully in favor of our project." Tylander, Carl Flick adds, simply squashed the project. "It was like she was pushing the genie back into the bottle," he says.
That same month, Briesemeister began publicly promoting Mintz as her preferred developer for the anchor site. She contacted Citibank, lender for Northwood Renaissance's Village Center, and openly questioned the nonprofit's experience and expertise. The lender told Flick and Murray that Briesemeister had berated him for writing a letter of support for the Publix anchor site plan.
"We spoke directly to Regional Director Bob Balcerak at Publix and were told they were not interested in putting a store on that site," Briesemeister says now. A Publix spokesperson told New Times that, at the time, "there was not enough density to support a new Publix store in that area."
Flick claims Briesemeister also called Northwood Renaissance's developer, Michael Leeds. "At that point, right in the middle of our delicate negotiations, Leeds backed out," Flick says. "He indicated he didn't need a messy conflict."
A month later, Frankel told a Black Chamber of Commerce meeting on Northwood Road that a Publix would be built in Northwood only "over my dead body."
Mintz and some CRA staff were working hard to turn the community against Northwood Renaissance, lobbying black and white business owners. They claimed that Northwood had acted unethically — threatening eminent domain, buying property for less than it was worth.
Mintz sent emails to Northwood activists and the owners of property near the proposed Publix site. Rod Tinson, who owned nearly a full block across the street from the anchor site, began circulating petitions urging residents to lobby city commissioners to support Mintz's plan. Tinson later sold a parcel of his land opposite the anchor site to the city for $1 million.
Mintz also sent emails to Terry Lynn Knight, president of the Northend Coalition of Neighborhoods. On February 14, 2005, Mintz asked Knight to organize residents to speak out against Northwood Renaissance's plans at a City Commission meeting to discuss the fate of the anchor site. "Not so much in regards to the Publix, but rather to discredit the group," Mintz wrote. "It would be great if you could get that Black lady who sold to Carl Flick her land to speak how he took advantage of her."
Knight grew disgusted with the subterfuge and turned over Mintz's emails to Northwood Renaissance.
Three hundred Northwood residents showed up at City Hall for that commission meeting, so many that temporary chairs had to be set up in the hall. That night, Briesemeister presented her five-year, $20 million CRA plan for Northwood and the Pleasant City neighborhood. Flick was given 20 minutes at the podium to make his alternate case.
Two days later, Mintz wrote to Knight: "I would really like to take over the [Village] Center project if Northwood is not capable of doing it... What is important now is to get this Northwood Renaissance out of my hair, so that we can move the development forward."
Northwood Renaissance's board members weren't ready to quit. They'd landed tens of thousands in awards and grants from outside funders. "I think the mayor, Mintz, and Briesemeister thought at that point that we would just curl up and die," says Flick. "They wanted to be rid of us, but we'd worked for years on those plans."
Fox thinks he and his fellow board members were naive. "We thought we were doing good, that logic would prevail. We'd go to these commission and advisory board meetings, and we'd make organized, well-thought-out presentations of our plans. But that didn't make any difference. This was a political battle."
Northwood Renaissance at last agreed to transfer its purchase options on the anchor site to the CRA, in exchange for funds and land west of Broadway to develop affordable single-family homes. Flick and Murray say Frankel also agreed to cooperate with their plans for Village Center. But Briesemeister tells New Times the city never agreed to help on that project.
On April 9, Briesemeister announced to the City Commission that Mintz was pulling out of development plans in Northwood. Mintz was moving to Israel. The commission voted to purchase from Mintz two plots of land on Broadway adjacent to the anchor site for $650,000. Mintz had bought the two parcels for $450,000 two years earlier. "It looked like a sweetheart deal," Flick says.