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Tate says he met Levy one time at the office of downtown Miami capital fund manager Peter Bermont, another synagogue member with clout. "This young skater was pretty cocky about his role with Sarnoff," Tate claims. "He said he had bought the two vacant houses and that he was going to build a facility to sell skateboards and accessories. I was shocked."
Bermont concurs. "The young man knew what was going on before anyone in the public did when he bought the properties," he says. "If you have information before anyone else, doesn't that give you an edge?"
Tate says he offered to buy the two parcels from Levy. "I never heard from him," he adds.
The straight-edged skater, which means he doesn't use drugs or drink alcohol, admits he contemplated redeveloping one of the properties into a community center for skateboarders to hang out. "I don't think having me or someone like the guys at M.I.A. Skate Shop set up a retail center is necessarily a bad thing," Levy says. "In fact, it would generate tax revenue for the city. But I don't want to ruffle any feathers, so I have no intention of changing the zoning on either property."
The structures, which Levy eventually had demolished, were overrun by crackheads and prostitutes. "I found needles and used condoms all the time," he complains. "I had a homeless guy chilling on the second floor of one house. He offered me heroin."
Levy plans to build a new home if the project moves forward. "My only conflict of interest is raise my property's value," he says, "and that I have always wanted to live next to a skate park."
How would you like to visit a dead relative and hear kids with boom boxes and smoking marijuana, because that is what they do in the park." Tate, the Miami skate park location's number-one hater, is being interviewed by WPLG-TV Local 10. It's June 30 at 11:15 p.m., and the gruff 82-year-old, dressed in a white-and-black checkered jacket and black tie, is cramming as much opposition as he can into the two-minute segment.
An influential real estate developer credited with pushing through state legislation that in 1987 created the Florida Prepaid College Plan, Tate has been on a mission to kill the skate park since facing off against Marc Sarnoff in December 2009 at Temple Israel. "The commissioner told me he didn't care who I was," Tate says. "He was real obnoxious and nasty. I've worked with presidents Clinton and Bush. Neither of them has ever acted the way Sarnoff does. He wants everyone to kiss his ring."
Tate, who contributed $100,000 to the Republican Party and GOP candidates in 2008, wasn't about to back down from the city commissioner. The old man loves a good scrap. Last year, he took on the state Legislature, Gov. Charlie Crist, and 11 state university presidents to stop tuition increases. He spent $500,000 of his own money on ads against the hikes.
During a telephone interview with New Times, Tate stands by his negative generalization of skaters that was tailor-made for the evening news. "I absolutely meant it," he says, noting he and Bermont stopped by the Coconut Grove skate park, which coincidentally is operated by a nonprofit company that lists Levy as a director on its state corporate records. "Not only did I see boom boxes, I heard them," Tate hisses. "There is no question about the marijuana because I could smell it."
(New Times visited the park on three occasions in October, staying two to three hours each time. Levy and Hurtado allowed hip-hop music to be played, but the noise didn't travel past the basketball courts next to the skate park. Though most of the teenaged riders skated without adult supervision, parents accompanied children under 10. And we didn't see anyone inside the skate park lighting a spliff or a pipe.)
After the WPLG story, other concerned citizens joined the synagogue's opposition. One of them was Miami Lakes-based publicist Penny Lambeth, who sprang into action after receiving a Google Alerts message about the news story during the Fourth of July weekend. Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Lambeth migrated to Miami 30 years ago. She graduated from Ohio State with a degree in journalism but made her career in public relations. "I came for a vacation and just fell in love with the city," she says. "I got involved with local preservation groups because I am a big history buff."
Lambeth has been a member of the Dade Heritage Trust as well as the Villagers, a Coral Gables historic preservation group, for more than two decades. During a face-to-face interview, Lambeth rattles off the restoration projects for which she has volunteered: Venetian Pool, the Gusman Center, Actors' Playhouse, the downtown Miami civil courthouse, and the Merrick House, among others.
But her most cherished project has been the City of Miami Cemetery, where city founders such as Mary Brickell, Henry Flagler, and Julia Tuttle are entombed. As chairwoman of the City Cemetery Task Force, Lambeth led the charge in 1998 to clean up the then-101-year-old burial ground.
An elderly woman with white-blond hair and a voice as tender as sweet corn, Lambeth recalls how she pushed city officials to clear out a homeless encampment in the 10.5-acre cemetery, where burials began in 1897. "They had set up an entire living room behind some hedges," Lambeth says. "They were washing their clothes in the faucets and hanging their clothes to dry on tree branches."