Park It Somewhere Else | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Park It Somewhere Else

The $10 million that Broward County and Hollywood politicians aim to spend in the area's most visible park to create an arts extravaganza will be wasted. Tossed in the toilet. Spent and forgotten. Though many suggest it will reenergize the shuttered downtown, it won't.

First, let's dispense with the blather of the project's all-too-vocal opponents. Though they claim that Hollywood pioneer and developer Joseph Young, for whom Young Circle is named, would likely have hated the idea of this publicly financed boondoggle, this is hooey. The guy would have loved it. After all, he was a developer. And, despite claims to the contrary, such arts-related buildings (fountains, a butterfly garden, an arts center, and more) can spur development. Look at San Francisco south of Market Street, where museums have sparked a neighborhood renaissance.

So why have we drawn this conclusion? The plan is half-formed and hokey. Questions abound regarding financing. And in overdeveloped South Florida, the small bits of nature left should be cherished, not paved. Moreover, we side with the little guys, the regular park users. Last week, we questioned 20 of them. A few retirees. A few criminals. A few tourists. Pretty much everyone seemed to know the plan's details. And not one of them supported the idea.

Here's what they said:

"Governments shouldn't hit people up for another $10 million," commented 81-year-old Jean Fletcher, who's lived in the city 40 years and was tugging a cart filled with groceries. "The mayor [Mara Giulianti] is gonna have a beautiful park and an empty downtown."

"It would be detrimental to put buildings here," added Tony and Pam, a couple from Maui who didn't want to give their last names, as they strolled through. "How about if they just planted some trees and cut the lawn?"

"They just want to overload the park," said Tom Rambo, whose nearby condominium has tripled in value since he bought it. "I think the mayor's done a pretty good job, but she spends too much money."

"Bad idea," concluded Raymond Curry. "We need more trees. Where are the squirrels gonna go?"

Now a little unsolicited advice for Sun-Sentinel brass: Stop the drift. Make some impressive hires, and give 'em room. Tell your readers there's a firm hand at the tiller.

Not long ago, the paper -- a money machine for the Tribune company -- won national awards for its local coverage, attracted attention for innovative material from Washington and Tallahassee, and even gained a reputation as a player in international coverage with the opening of its Cuba bureau.

But that momentum has dissipated. The paper hasn't won much national acclaim lately. And it sometimes reads as directionless. Big beats like Fort Lauderdale aren't covered. Important stories are missed. Story play sometimes makes it seem the editors are asleep at the word processor.

Almost two months ago, Deputy Managing Editor Daisy Harris, an alumna of the Boston Globe and Miami Herald, left the paper. Scuttlebutt says she was asked to leave. The official word was she quit. Veteran Editor Joe Jennings, who oversaw coverage in the critical South Broward area, was pulled in to fill the job temporarily. Miami Bureau Editor Dana Banker has been forced to split time between the Magic City and Weston, filling in for Jennings. The paper made no indication that it will take permanent action on any of the jobs.

Then Broward City Editor Rick Robb, who holds the paper's pivotal news post, announced recently that he will take a three-month leave of absence. It's unclear whether he'll return to the job. "What I'll be doing afterwards is kind of up in the air," he says.

Result: Troops are dispirited. The money saved can't be worth it. "Middle management is where this paper has always been weak," says one reporter who declined to be named. "Now it's getting weaker."

The slander trial of right-wing shock-jock Dick Farrel last month included some of the most bizarre legal maneuvers ever seen in Palm Beach County.

Accused of maligning a former fan, retired Tequesta school teacher Larry Ferrara, Farrel appeared to be a dead duck when Judge Thomas Barkdull allowed into evidence audiotapes of Farrel ranting, "That scumbag, low-life, fired teacher who lives up in Tequesta... was a homosexual, and they were afraid to have him around little boys."

With the tapes looming, codefendant Omni-Lingual Broadcasting, owner of WPBR-AM (1340), the little West Palm Beach station where Farrel works, separated itself from the case. Farrel fired his lawyer and decided to represent himself.

The richest part of the spectacle was seen by few. When his case seemed at its worst, a shaken Farrel asked for a settlement conference. Speaking in the courthouse cafeteria with his opponent's lawyer, Barry Silver, Farrel cried poverty. "There's nothing there, boys," he intoned. "I live in a $400-a-month apartment. The bank owns my car. About all I can do is drop my trousers, bend over, and take it up the keister."

The offer wasn't accepted. Despite his own apparent lack of confidence, Farrel managed to win acquittal.

New Times picked up a trio of awards at the Sunshine State awards banquet, which was held June 8 at the Miami Airport Marriott. Staff writer Bob Norman took a first in magazine writing for "Irish Sting," which described Irish Republican Army gun runners, and second place in nondeadline sports reporting for his story "Backyard Bloodbath," about a youth wrestling league. Art Director Michael Shavalier grabbed second for tabloid design.