Best Flack 2005 | Jan Mitchell | Besttropical | South Florida

Take it from us. The best public relations specialists aren't the shrillest or the ones with the most free goodies (don't expect a story in New Times just because you sent an unsolicited gifty) or even the ones who call you the most. The best ones are, like Jan Mitchell, the ones who deliver the goods. Mitchell, one of the movie industry's mainstays in South Florida, started out 20 years ago in partnership with her dad, Jack Mitchell; the father-daughter combination handled accounts for most of the major studios, repping movies like Dances with Wolves and Silence of the Lambs. Since she started her own agency four years ago, Mitchell has gone indie, representing a wide range of flicks, recently including everything from the ground-breaking The Brown Bunny to the blockbuster The Passion of the Christ (if you know the movies, you know the stretch doesn't get any wider). But she's been most visible as a spokesperson for both the Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beach international film festivals. It's not as easy as it sounds. Doing public relations in the film biz means getting the word out quickly to reporters about unexpected events, throwing together well-crafted press packets under impossible deadlines, and keeping touchy, egotistical reviewers happy. "You gotta be prepared to wing it," she says. "You can have a film pulled at the last minute or have one fall into place and it's so good you can't turn it down. Things happen." Mitchell's secret is, it seems to us, her likability. The easygoing Mitchell, who sometimes volunteers her services for charities like the National Family Caregivers Association, knows how to make conversation without edging into the awful what-are-you-going-to-do-for-me territory. Like she's a normal human being. A flack? Who woulda thunk it?

As some of our long-time readers might remember, Rowe holds the dubious distinction of having been the very first staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach when it was launched back in the last century (circa 1997). But after about 18 months on the job, he decided to leave the sprawling madness of South Florida for the sprawling countryside of a North Carolina farm to write fiction. Before heading out, though, he showed his own personal flare for stunning plot twists. Rowe was hit by a train on the night of his going-away party in the Himmarshee district. It was a bizarre accident, and, though he suffered serious injuries, Rowe lived not only to tell that tale but the one he spins in Fever, a novel he completed in 2003. Little, Brown and Co. gave Rowe a two-book deal and a sizable advance, making our little hearts quiver with pride (and, yes, not a small amount of jealousy). Fever is a "blood-soaked Florida potboiler," as he gamely describes it, about a heist on a cruise ship. And it will sail into bookstores this October. We haven't had the pleasure of reading Fever yet, but rest assured that Rowe, who worked for the Miami Herald before New Times, is a uniquely talented writer with one very sharp, irony-laced eye for Florida-baked pulp. If you don't believe it, go to the New Times website and check out some old clips, starting with "Big Chief Moneybags," his 1998 cover story on former Seminole leader James Billie. Then mark your calendar to buy the book.

There are 637 guest rooms at this beachfront hotel, but you probably won't spend much time in yours. No, you'll be hanging out at 3030, its swank bar, or eating freshly cooked chocolate waffles at Riva, the award-winning restaurant. The massive $18 brunch is just enough fuel for your tour along A1A on a rented Segway. Oh, you'd prefer to rent a metal detector and fish for buried treasure in the sand? No problem; that's just $20 an hour. Or you can take surfing, scuba, or sailing lessons. Or rent a poolside cabana, complete with television. Other activities include fingerpainting, ceramics, water aerobics, and "bowling in paradise." Your room, should you choose to hang out in it, is PlayStation-equipped, offers "adult movies" on pay-per-view, and comes with a fully stocked mini bar. Eat, sleep, drink, shit, piss, screw -- anything you want, you can do at the Harbor Beach Marriott.

Not long after Palm Beach County landed the honor of becoming the new home of the Scripps Research Institute, Jeb Bush supporter Elizabeth Fago became chairwoman of the board that would oversee state funding to the project. Fago even gave a million bucks to Scripps as a show of support. But soon, Fago's two decades of problems were revealed; there was $100,000 owed to the IRS and a failed marriage to a major drug dealer. Turns out two states were also investigating her business, Home Quality Management, a chain of nursing homes headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, for improprieties. Her company was even charged in 2004 with abuse, neglect, and Medicaid fraud by New Mexico's attorney general. The negative news forced Fago to make a hasty exit from the Scripps board's audit committee, which she chaired. But Fago, who has given more than $120,000 to Republican causes, was apparently not so embarrassed that she needed to walk away altogether. Still the top dog, the woman who has faced more than 35 lawsuits for unpaid bills in recent years helps oversee the expenditure of $310 million in state money.

Nobody's sure why, but Lake Worth has become the Haight-Ashbury of South Florida. It's a place where free-thinkers and hippie types have settled, run for office, and staged regular public protests. The center of this alternative universe in consumer-driven SoFla is Chief Sitting Bull Organic Garden. Taking up three lots behind a convenience store, the garden is run by a dozen regulars who have plotted out a spot for themselves and grow everything from bananas to radishes. This year's crop will be the best yet, says regular gardener and former Lake Worth mayoral candidate Panagioti Tsolkas. (The bumper crop comes thanks in part to a donation of horse manure that got things going, so to speak.) Aside from the veggies, the garden has served as the location for free movie showings and the occasional piñata contest for neighborhood kids. Without gates or get-out signs, the place works on the honor system. So far, it has survived five years with no greater losses than a few gardening tools and an occasional watermelon. Regular volunteers get their own corner of the garden, but lest you think otherwise, be warned: Plants of the five-bladed-leaf variety are prohibited.

The sign outside this dive bar is often a source of entertainment on that boring ride along Dixie Highway from West Palm Beach to Lake Worth. Its finest bit of humor came last year:

"Celebrating 30 years without some stupid slogan."

There's not a helluva lot to smile about when you're sitting in Fort Lauderdale's molasses-slow traffic during winter. The tourists and snowbirds swarm the city the way cattle egrets fill a barnyard at feeding time. Simple errands become lost days. So double-thanks to the gray-haired fellow recently driving his bright-yellow Land Rover through downtown with these two messages plastered on his back bumper: All of us are not here on vacation. If it's the season, can we shoot them?

Hands down, the most common directions requested on the street in east-central Broward County have been, "Do you know how to get to [random rental car return address]?" Truly it was a logistical nightmare, asking out-of-towners late for flights to Easter-egg-hunt for their rental agencies. And there were tons of out-of-towners. In 2004, Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport moved almost 21 million passengers, double the total of a decade ago. According to basic arithmetic, that shakes out to roughly 10.5 million spare lunatics speeding around unfamiliar streets in unfamiliar cars. With the January opening of that sparkling blue-and-silver, nine-story monolith near Terminal 1, shuttle rides to rental lots are almost forgotten. Ten car rental agencies are a three wood from the curb, and 5,500 extra parking spots await your (nonrental) vehicle in the cast-in-place concrete hive, which was designed by Miami architectural firm Spillis Candela DMJM. Goes to show, $247 million still buys a lot of garage.

The best new building in Palm Beach is 89 years old. And it's been on life support for 13 years. That's how long local preservationists have been struggling to save the 1916 County Courthouse on the corner of Banyan Boulevard and Dixie Highway. The neoclassical building was practically buried in 1972, when it disappeared inside an ugly "New Brutalist" wraparound expansion; Corinthian columns and gewgaws were chipped away, carted off, and in some cases scattered to the four winds (West Palm Judge Marvin Mounts scored the courthouse steps, which he kept in his garden). Still, the original building remained mostly intact beneath it all -- you could spot the old roof if you happened to be an airborne seagull. Last year, the Palm Beach Historical Society and the Palm Beach County Commission -- which kicked in $18.5 million for the project -- finally went ahead with plans for the great striptease: That nasty concrete shell has now been stripped away. The courthouse will be restored, columns, pediments, and all, to house county offices and an 8,000-square-foot History Museum. Stop by and see what the lady looks like in her skivvies. For an old broad, she ain't bad.

Picture this: You're driving north on U.S. 1 just south of the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel. Along with the little buzz you get from knowing that you're about to drive under a river, you have a pretty respectable view of the ever-changing downtown Fort Lauderdale skyline. Then you emerge from the tunnel, and there it is, a sight only slightly less sinister than Godzilla: the Waverly at Las Olas Condominiums. Even the website makes it sound like the monstrosity that it is: "From the pulsating downtown boulevards emerges a new landmark..." For those of us who have watched in horror as this architectural abomination has taken shape, it really is as if the streets have regurgitated something unsightly onto the northeast corner of Broward Boulevard and Federal Highway. Promotional materials for the complex of pricey units, which started out as rental apartments but quickly went condo, declare that it has a "Post Modern architectural theme with Victorian elements." That's just a fancy way of saying it's a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and ultimately not much of anything but a big ol' mess. Where to begin? From the needlessly busy color scheme to the hodgepodge of architectural elements (which the builders keep piling on), the Waverly is pretentious urban ugliness at its worst. And get this: It's not even at Las Olas but a full two blocks away from the trendy boulevard whose name it has desperately borrowed.

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