Peebles Power

Seated in his office on the 46th floor of the Bank of America building in downtown Miami, developer R. Donahue Peebles looks quite relaxed. The lofty headquarters for Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation overlooks Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach, the site of Peebles's crown jewel, the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort, a 422-room hotel, expected to open next month. Inside his corner suite, which has exterior walls of unobstructed windows, a telescope stands atop a tripod, its lenses pointed downward toward the Royal Palm. The sightline is quick and straight -- a stark contrast to the tangled deals with which Peebles has been involved in the past five years.

He wears a low-key blue tie and dress shirt, which match nicely with the azure sky surrounding him. His baby-brown eyes and round face make him look younger than his 41 years. An edge of fervency at times quickens his smooth baritone voice. His office is simply decorated, adorned with framed news stories about the Royal Palm hotel and his other ongoing Miami Beach project, the Bath Club.

His calm seems to belie the utter collapse a few days before of another proposed project, a headquarters hotel for the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale. On July 26 Wyndham Hotels pulled its $25 million out of the $81 million project.

"Where are we with Broward?" Peebles asks himself after a swig of Perrier. "I cannot imagine a circumstance -- and I would never say never-never, but no circumstance comes to mind -- that would have us building this hotel. Frankly I really don't see them building it themselves and having an international operator."

All Peebles really wants now from the Broward County Board of Commissioners, he claims, is a reimbursement of his costs, which he asserts the county is under obligation to provide him in the event the project is terminated. "We're doing an inventory now, and our best estimate is somewhere between $2.5 million and $4 million," Peebles declares. "Our lawyers are examining our options. I try to avoid litigation at all costs, but on the same hand, I'm willing to fight for what I believe in. We will pursue legal action where we feel our business interests have not been protected. In the meantime, we've decided to step away from the deal."

A consummate dealmaker who honed his skills in the nation's capital, Peebles knows the value of a veiled threat. But that's not the only bargaining tool in his repertoire. As one of few black hotel developers in the United States, Peebles has used that status in competing for development opportunities outside Miami Beach. He is a powerful symbol of long-overdue equity for minority contracts in Broward County, and his supporters from the NAACP and the Urban League in the past convinced him -- and county commissioners -- to push ahead. Peebles's history in development has not been one of quiet acceptance of fate; rather, he will adroitly juggle partners in and out, charm the decision-makers, and when all else fails, litigate.

For all his business prowess, however, Peebles has yet to get a hotel built outside of D.C. or Miami Beach. His attempts at public-private hotel development in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, Florida; New Orleans; and San Francisco have all come up empty. Some critics say Peebles overextended his reach by becoming involved in too many deals at once. They claim that Peebles doesn't bring enough to the bargaining table, that his financial backers are too tentative about committing the millions of dollars needed for major hotels.

Today, having briefly rattled his saber at Broward County, Peebles shifts to a more philosophical posture. "Quite candidly, I don't have to do this economically," he reveals. "I've done quite well. So I'm doing this because it challenges me. One of the things I've gotten out of the hotel industry is breaking barriers. Think about it: In the United States we had no hotels, prior to my involvement, built or owned by an African-American. That was one of the things that motivated me. My grandfather was a doorman for 40 years at the Sheridan Hotel in Washington, D.C. -- and he had several years of college. That was the best job he could get as an African-American. You can start at the bottom in the hotel industry. You can end up managing a hotel."

Peebles's mother, Yvonne Poole, fostered in her son lasting preferences for two things: the Democratic Party and real estate. Raised in Detroit and then Washington, D.C., the young Peebles lived in a home where selecting a political party was tantamount to choosing a religion.

"My real induction into politics started at about 14 when I was a legislative page," Peebles remembers. "I'd have school classes from six to ten-thirty in the morning, and then work as a page until seven at night."  

Embracing real estate took a bit longer. Inspired by an uncle who was a doctor, Peebles attended Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, intending eventually to go to medical school. But after working part-time in his uncle's medical office, he changed his mind. He went back to D.C. and began working as an appraiser at his mother's real-estate business. In 1983 he opened his own appraisal business.

"I'd had high expectations for myself," he says. "I didn't have a college degree -- to my mother's total dissatisfaction -- so I had a lot of accountability. I had to minimize mistakes. I didn't want to be proven wrong to my parents."

Washington mayor Marion Barry in 1983 appointed Peebles to the city's powerful Board of Equalization and Review, a property assessment appeals board on which his mother had sat until 1980. Peebles had become acquainted with Barry, a Democrat, while campaigning for him in the early '80s, and the two had become friends. He chaired the board from 1984 until 1988, when he resigned in order to parlay his political experience into a tax assessment appeals business, representing property owners before the board.

Peebles's relationship with Barry gave him a boost as a D.C. developer. For example, in the late 1980s, Peebles learned that the mayor was interested in leasing office space from a would-be developer in a blighted area. "I thought, If Barry is going to lease from this developer, certainly he should lease from me. After all we're friends, and he's pro-minority business people," Peebles recalls. He swooped in, made a tentative deal with the seller, then wrote the city commission and the mayor that he would not only build more office space, he'd lease it for less money. Peebles completed the project in 1989.

Such tactics earned Peebles a reputation as a commanding wheeler-dealer in D.C., says Butch Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit D.C.-based agency that promotes affordable housing and business redevelopment. "I just think he's a hard negotiator, which is the trait a lot of successful business people have," Hopkins says. "His ability to create a favorable deal for his companies or partners speaks to the fact that he's not to be taken lightly in business negotiations. They normally come out in his favor."

Robert Pincus, regional president of BB&T Bank in Washington, D.C., describes Peebles as "very shrewd, bright, and able." As a lender to the developer during the past ten years, Pincus has observed his style. "He'd tie up properties and then bring in partners with whom he'd form strategic alliances. Don's tenacious, methodical. He finds ways to make deals happen that a lot of people would say are difficult, if not impossible, to do."

Even before leaving D.C., however, Peebles tasted failure at the hands of skeptical elected officials. His ties to Barry came under fire in August 1995 when the mayor announced a $48 million plan to lease two office buildings from Peebles for about 700 city employees slated to be displaced by a new downtown sports arena. First elected in 1978, Barry had a reputation for cronyism and was driven from office after being videotaped using crack cocaine in a D.C. hotel in January 1990. He was convicted, released in 1992, and elected mayor again in 1994. Given Barry's penchant for favoritism, the D.C. City Council balked at the Peebles lease because it had not gone through a negotiating process with the council. Facing mounting pressure and a possible delay in the arena deal, Barry dropped the lease plan in September 1995.

Soon after that deal went south, so did Peebles and his wife, Katrina -- for a vacation in Miami Beach. They'd spent time in South Beach once before and decided to rent an apartment for two weeks over the New Year's Day holiday. "We came down here to get a break," he says.

While reading The Miami Herald's Beaches Neighbors section one day, Peebles noticed an article mentioning that the City of Miami Beach was looking for a black developer to refurbish the dilapidated Royal Palm hotel. The deal was especially appealing because the city was offering about $10 million as an incentive.

The city's hunt for a black developer stemmed in part from a nearly three-year boycott of Dade County by black tourists. While visiting Miami in June 1990, Nelson Mandela praised Cuban President Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The comments infuriated many in Dade's Cuban-American and Jewish communities; Dade's elected officials rescinded a proclamation that welcomed the South African leader who had championed the end of apartheid. In turn the black community got mad: Black tourists stayed away in droves. After months of discussions between community representatives and business leaders, the protest ended in May 1993 with promises of more scholarships for black students, more government contracts with minority businesses -- and the financing of a premier oceanfront resort owned and operated by African-Americans. The city of Miami Beach moved to purchase the Royal Palm Hotel and began seeking a black developer, offering a $10 million incentive.  

After the city requested proposals in December 1995, Peebles submitted one and soon became a frontrunner. The city commission appointed a selection committee to evaluate the hopeful developers. At the same time, Peebles began negotiating with the owner of the adjacent Shorecrest Hotel, a move that infuriated some commissioners and then-mayor Seymour Gelber because the city had been negotiating to buy the same property. "We had been back and forth with the owner about how much we were going to pay him," Gelber says. "While we were struggling with that, [Peebles] went and persuaded the owner to sell to him."

Peebles admits that the purchase was a tactic to snag the Royal Palm deal but that there was nothing wrong in doing so. "The [request for proposals] for Royal Palm stated it would look more favorably on proposals that included the development of both Royal Palm and Shorecrest but that the latter had to be privately acquired. It was a loophole, a little crack in the door, and I walked in it."

The selection committee recommended another developer, a team that included Hyatt hotel corporation and cable television entrepreneur Eugene Jackson. But Peebles turned on his considerable charm in courting commissioners -- who had the final say in choosing a developer -- and in seeking support from area business leaders. The city commission chose Peebles by a narrow margin in June 1996.

Gelber describes Peebles's subsequent performance on the project as "pretty reasonable." However, the mayor's successor, Neisen Kasdin, began feuding with Peebles. When Peebles found it wasn't possible to refurbish the old Royal Palm hotel and had to demolish it, he asked the city to lower the land lease to compensate. Kasdin staunchly opposed that, as well as Peebles's request to change a zoning rule to accommodate his Bath Club project. Kasdin declined to comment for this article.

The Royal Palm project began with all black investors, including Peebles, Motown Record Company chairman Clarence Avant, and two D.C. businessmen, Jeffrey E. Thompson and Cecile Barker. But Avant soon sold his interest to the other three, the relationship among whom soon deteriorated. Peebles sued Barker and Thompson in D.C. superior court in June 1997 for failing to make necessary payments to the project's partnership entities, RDP Royal Palm and RDP Shorecrest. The lawsuit sought to require Barker and Thompson to forfeit their interests in the partnerships for not making payments. (A superior court judge in D.C. ruled on July 27, 2001, that Barker's and Thompson's interests could not be forfeited for that reason. Several other counts in that suit are still pending.)

"[Barker] was bouncing checks on a number of occasions," Peebles claims. "The fact is Barker didn't have the money to make his capital contributions. As the management partner, I had the responsibility to make sure the deal got done with or without him. We gave him alternatives: Put your money up, dilute your interest in the partnership, or get bought out. None of those options worked for him. So we sued him. He only put in $600,000 in a $75 million project."

Barker countersued in Dade County circuit court in October 1997, claiming that Peebles was acting in his own interests rather than those of the partnership and had mixed partnership funds with accounts belonging to his other businesses. Peebles had stalled for months over Barker's requests to see the partnership's books and records, Barker claimed in court papers. The complaint also alleged that Peebles had "engaged in self-dealing" by using partnership money to buy an interest in a racehorse. When Barker challenged the acquisition, Peebles "tried to justify the purchase by claiming that the racehorse was intended to serve as a mascot for the Miami hotels." The complaint also alleged that Peebles used $10,000 in partnership funds to throw a lavish birthday party for himself. The suit is still pending. Neither Barker nor his attorneys would comment to New Times for this article.

Peebles considers such lawsuits mere obstacles to getting the job done. "Think about it," he submits. "We had a so-called major partner who had committed to putting in three or four million dollars and had put in only $600,000 -- kicking and screaming and bouncing checks all along the way. So I got another partner to put in $11 million, got a ground lease signed by the City of Miami Beach, and got the hotel built. I think that says a lot about how we run our company -- that we're willing to get the job done, that we're not quitters."  

As Peebles's Miami Beach hotel inched along in 1997, the young developer used the publicity from the Royal Palm venture as entrée into deals elsewhere. His ambitions led him to San Francisco and New Orleans, but those projects generated more court filings and hurt feelings than buildings.

Peebles began negotiating to build a $55 million hotel at the New Orleans International Airport in early 1997, taking on as a partner New Orleans developer Joseph Canizaro. The New Orleans Aviation Board wanted minority participation in the development; according to accounts in The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, negotiations dragged on for a year over disagreements about the level of minority involvement and about who would guarantee completion of the project. The board cut off negotiations with Peebles in January 1998 but refused to disclose its reasons. Board officials declined to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Otho Green, an Oakland, California-based consultant, had landed himself the deal of a lifetime across the bay in San Francisco and was looking for partners with equity to join him. The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency owned property on the corner of Mission and Third streets, a parcel that consisted of vacant land and a historic building that had been uninhabitable since the 1989 earthquake. In 1995 Green had conceived a redevelopment plan that called for a combination hotel and condo units, as well as retail outlets. The redevelopment agency was interested in the concept, and in December 1995 it issued a request for proposals similar to Green's idea. Preferring local minority participation in the project, the agency chose Green, who is black, as the project's developer eight months later. The Green Group Inc. was given a six-month period to meet certain requirements, such as selecting an architect, submitting concept drawings, and securing financing.

"They loved it at the redevelopment agency," Green says. "The property's across from the [Moscone] convention center, which is booked up for the next ten years. It's adjacent from the museum of modern art. Plus, the Giants' baseball park was being built six blocks away."

Green asked for a three-month extension to meet certain requirements, which the agency granted on April 2, 1997 -- with several caveats, including an additional deposit from Green of $340,000 by April 11. Unfortunately for Green, the hotel chain he'd lined up for the deal pulled out because of a pending merger.

Enter Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation -- though just how that entry happened depends upon who's telling the story.

"I got a phone call from Peebles," recalls Green. "He was in San Francisco and wanted to know if we could have a drink, so we did and talked about what was going on. It went very well. He's a very affable guy. He presented himself very, very well, as a compassionate person, a good businessman -- a tough negotiator but fair."

Peebles, however, remembers their meeting differently. "He'd won the rights to a fantastic site in San Francisco," Peebles says. "He thought he had a deal with a couple lenders, but that fell through. I happened to be in San Francisco for some other business, and he contacted me. I liked the deal, and within four days I'd posted a $400,000 deposit. I believe that, in business, when opportunities arrive you have to be prepared to capitalize them. My mistake was that I didn't document the deal in full detail."

Part of that deposit, $100,000, was lent to Peebles by American Strategies Inc., a New Orleans-based company with which Peebles had become involved during the airport deal. The company eventually sued Peebles to get the money back; the case was settled out of court in January 2001. Timothy Francis, the New Orleans attorney who owns American Strategies, declined to talk to New Times on the advice of his lawyer.

After making the initial, verbal deal with Green, Peebles sent him an agreement the day before the deposit was due that "was just not workable," Green says. "He wanted total control. I was just out of the project," he says with a disdainful laugh. "He was just taking it over. He was just going to give me a little money, and he'd have the project." When Green protested, Peebles promised to rewrite the agreement and make it more favorable to Green by the next day.

"Now comes the day the money has to be in, right?" Green recalls. Peebles finally met up with him, Green says, at about 3 p.m., and the two took a cab to deliver the deposit. "And he shows me this agreement, and I'll be damned if the agreement still didn't have him, essentially, taking on the project. I swore and all this stuff, but I was up against the wall. He had just, pardon the expression, cut off my testicles.  

"I signed under protest, but I also put a clause in there that if he didn't complete all the things he was supposed to do in 30 days, then the deal was null and void."

Says Peebles: "I became the majority [partner] and the developer. Otho hadn't developed anything before. If you want to be in control of a deal, you have to have the financial wherewithal and credibility with banks. They're not going to deal with you if you've never built hotels before. Banks don't entrust that kind of money to developers who don't have experience, and that was a $100 million deal.

"I gave him the deal he wanted, and he signed it. What Otho wanted to do was, when he got breathing room with my $400,000, he wanted to go back and negotiate with other hotels instead of me and then repay me the $400,000. I didn't think that was fair. What's unfortunate is that he tried to renege on the deal with us, and then the redevelopment agency pulled it."

The agency moved to end negotiations with the Green Group in May 1997 -- under pressure, Green contends, from San Francisco mayor Willie Brown -- and sought additional bids. Green sued the agency in April 1998, claiming it was unjustified in terminating negotiations. Green wanted Peebles to join that lawsuit, which he wouldn't do, Green says, because Peebles "wanted to stay tight with Willie and the redevelopment agency." Indeed Peebles not only sued Green to get his money back on the original deal, he proffered a new bid on the hotel project, this time partnering with San Francisco lobbyist William G. "Billy" Rutland, a long-time friend and former legislative aide to Brown. The Rutland-Peebles bid became one of two finalists for the project. The agency, its members appointed by Brown, came under intense public scrutiny when faced with the clear conflict of interest in choosing the mayor's pal. Cognizant of that, the board asked an outside consultant to recommend a finalist; the consultant's pick, a Massachusetts developer, won the project in November 1998.

Both Green's lawsuit against the city and Peebles's suit against Green were settled out of court. Green sums up the entire experience thusly: "I don't expect to be liked by him, and I don't like him. I think he's a reprehensible person and a reprehensible businessman. He came into a situation that could have been very beneficial to both of us. Through his greed and what I'd call unethical and immoral kinds of behavior, he ripped me and himself out of a deal."

John Rodstrom's desk is a jumble of papers, legal pads, and scribbled notes. The chairman of the Broward County Board of Commissioners, Rodstrom is trying to catch up on his work as an investment banker during the board's July hiatus. The walls of his 18th-floor office suite on Broward Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale are crowded with signed prints by Dalí, Miró, and other modern masters. Wearing khaki pants, a black polo shirt, and an easy smile, the 47-year-old is hardly recognizable as the stern and suited man behind the gavel. He, like Peebles, also enjoys a corner room with full windows overlooking a cityscape. But when Rodstrom takes a gander southeast toward the Broward County Convention Center, he can't see a hotel tower of 500 rooms -- as was envisioned when the commission began soliciting bids from minority developers in 1996. Not a shovelful of dirt has been turned in four years, the last three or more of which have been spent negotiating with Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation.

During that time the narrowly divided board members have become entrenched in their opposition or allegiance to Peebles and the hotel, with Rodstrom carrying the standard for the project's foes. "We've been at this negotiation business for what, since 1996?" Rodstrom says. "[For Peebles this] hotel deal can only get better with time, as long as he maintains his votes. Certainly that strategy has been borne out. There's a theory that even the most outrageous requests become acceptable over time. He's played that strategy to the hilt in my judgment.... He's been the beneficiary of time. I think he's a very shrewd negotiator, very gifted. I think he can charm the best of them.

"Don Peebles, in my judgment, could have always built this hotel except for one thing: He had to write a check. And with great bravado, he stands before the county commission and says, "I'm worth a hundred million dollars and could finance this thing personally.' But he's never had a real equity in this project."  

Rodstrom maintains that the race issue has actually kept the commission from aggressively pushing for concrete details about Peebles's financial backing. "Don's response is, "Hey, you never asked Wayne Huizenga, so why would you ask this black man? Why would you treat me differently than Mr. Huizenga?'"

Peebles has two hotel projects languishing in Broward County: the convention center hotel and a venture called Diamond on the Beach in Hollywood -- which is now, like so many other Peebles projects have been in recent years, mired in a lawsuit. Opponents of both have challenged Peebles's claims of financial commitments by lenders.

When Broward commissioners began soliciting developers for a hotel next to the 17th Street Causeway convention center, they made it clear that minority developers would receive preference. The developer ultimately chosen was the National Baptist Convention USA, headed by president Henry Lyons. Weeks before a do-or-die vote by the commission, the church group in January 1997 recruited Peebles to quash criticism by some commissioners that the group had shaky financing. Peebles soon ousted a partner, Julius V. Jackson, who had previously filed for bankruptcy, after the commission vowed to kill the deal if he remained. Black leaders in Broward threatened a boycott if commissioners did not proceed with Peebles, and in February the commission voted unanimously to continue.

In August 1997 the commission insisted that Peebles drop the National Baptist Convention before moving on with the deal. He agreed. (In the suit filed later that year regarding the Miami Beach project, Cecile Barker claimed that he had invested in the Fort Lauderdale project at the behest of Peebles but was later cut out of the deal. That suit is still pending.)

The following four years were a series of highly public, fitful negotiations, in which Peebles formed, then lost, partnerships with hotel chains Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Westin, and finally Wyndham. Along the way Broward County upped the ante by offering $11 million in public funds for the deal. And at times when the commission looked poised to back out, black protesters filled the commission chambers, pushing the deal forward yet again.

Commissioner Ben Graber claims that Peebles has consistently worked the race issue to his advantage. "Peebles tells the NAACP that if he doesn't get the deal, [the commission] is going to give it to insiders who are not minority," he says. "That's not true. We're committed to a minority deal but not particularly with this contractor."

Donald Bowen, president of the Urban League of Broward County, says that attempts to kill the deal by some commissioners have "gone beyond the bounds of human decency." His explanation for this behavior: "They might not be used to an African-American who's as strong and doesn't kowtow to them the way they might be used to other people doing. I can't prove it's racism, but the effect is the same either way you look at it. Basically the county has a dismal record of using African-American businesses."

Bowen complains that the commission has tried to "negotiate a deal from the dais," putting Peebles through endless haggling over details. "They'd just keep throwing problems at him, and when he'd have to solve those problems -- like any good businessperson would -- they would twist that and say he was trying to change the deal again." Developer Michael Swerdlow and garbage, video, sports, and used-car mogul H. Wayne Huizenga were never forced to do that, Bowen says.

Peebles remains calm while discussing the years of wrangling over the convention-center hotel, but the board's questions about his financing rankle him. "The chairman of a $4 billion company [Wyndham] comes and stands before the county commission and says, "We're putting in $25 million, and we've signed a deal with Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation.' That means we have a financing commitment. That ends that discussion. Capitalizing the project was no longer an issue. The problem was nitpicking legalese by the commission instead of telling the county attorney, "Get the deal done, protect the county's interest, and let them build this hotel.'"

Wyndham blames the commission for the dead deal, says Darcie Brossart, a spokeswoman for the firm. "Our relationship with Mr. Peebles and his organization was outstanding," she adds. "We look forward to future deals with him."

The Hollywood deal has had a similarly stormy trajectory. The Hollywood City Commission in July 1997 chose Diamond on the Beach Inc. -- a partnership between the late Gus Boulis, founder of Miami Subs, and Byron Moger -- to build a hotel on city-owned land at Johnson Street and A1A. The city offered the developers a long-term lease, but city officials became skittish after learning federal prosecutors had accused Boulis of laundering money in connection with his SunCruz casino-boat business. Peebles joined the project in July 1998 to shore up financial credibility for the 312-room hotel. He told the city that he had a commitment from GMAC Commercial Mortgage Corporation to cover most of the project's $50 million cost, but some commissioners had doubts about how definite that commitment was. Indeed GMAC backed away from the deal during the fall of 1998.  

John Coleman had been elected to the commission in June 1998 and was opposed to the deal from the beginning because he didn't believe public beachfront land should be used for private development. "Peebles came to Hollywood and said he had the money to do Diamond on the Beach," Coleman recalls. "He suggested late in [1998] that the loan was a good one, yet we know that he'd gotten a letter in October from GMAC saying that they weren't going to give him a loan." Diamond on the Beach sued Coleman in January 1999, claiming he had contacted GMAC and soured the loan commitment. The commission voted to kill the deal in February 1999, asserting that there was no financial commitment from a lender. The developers then sued the city.

"Peebles actually stood in front of us when I was a commissioner and said that if we would continue to do business with him, he would withdraw the lawsuit," Coleman says. "I looked at him in utter disbelief. This was like a holdup." The Diamond company eventually dropped its suit against Coleman, but a Broward County circuit judge ruled in April 2000 that the partnership did indeed have a financial commitment. In May of this year, Broward Circuit Judge Robert Lance Andrews ruled that the city must either allow the developers to build or pay damages of as much as $1 million. City attorney Dan Abbott says the city will appeal once the judge has set the amount of damages.

Peebles has felt compelled to remain in the fray, reasoning: "We couldn't just walk away in Hollywood because my reputation was questioned -- did I really have a financing commitment? -- so it was important to have an independent person, the judge, look at it, and we prevailed. All that needs to be said in Hollywood is that we had a financing commitment and the judge is scheduling a hearing for damages." Neither the city's resistance nor the death of Peebles's partner Boulis this winter has dissuaded him from building the hotel.

Peebles vows not to get involved in any more public-private projects; they're good for neophyte developers but now unnecessary for his established company. "It's not worth it," he claims. "We've spent three-plus years on [the convention hotel] and have nothing to show for it but being beaten up in the media, being harassed by the commission, and having our abilities questioned. We've proven twice that we can finance and capitalize upscale luxury hotels," he boasts of Royal Palm and a Marriott in D.C.

The Broward County Commission formally terminated the deal Tuesday, but Peebles remains determined to get paid some $2.5 to $4 million in public money for his trouble with the convention-center hotel negotiations. Rodstrom scoffs at that estimate: "My recommendation would be to give him nothing. At the most I'd have him give us every agreement that he has with everybody, and we'd work out what payment's appropriate."

If the commission balks, well, Peebles will very likely see them in court -- and in the court of public opinion. "I've urged the African-American community to not talk about a boycott for this particular deal but to look at the broader issues," he says. "There's been too much political capital expended on this deal. I don't feel I have anything to prove. I'm more successful than I'd ever envisioned."

Still, he doesn't regret his involvement in Fort Lauderdale. "I'd rather try and fail than not try at all. If nothing else comes from this, I believe that over time there will be a great deal more scrutiny in how Broward County does business. That is a good thing."

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