Access Hollywood

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The most prominent lobbyist in Hollywood, for example, is Alan Koslow. Now employed by the law firm Becker & Poliakoff, Koslow was Hollywood's city attorney until he resigned following a 1991 scandal. Koslow had drafted a $50,000 settlement agreement for a city employee but declined to inform the commission that he was having an extramarital affair with the woman. Since then, Koslow has negotiated for tens of millions of dollars in incentives for private builders, including Radius developer Steve Berman, who happens to be Berman-Miller's cousin.

And there are other examples.

In June 2005, after purchasing the Publix plaza on Young Circle, Equity One Inc. of North Miami Beach hired Jim Edwards, Hollywood's former CRA director, to be its man negotiating deals at City Hall.

Miami architect Bernard Zyscovich hadn't worked on a private development in Hollywood until he was hired by the city as a consultant for redevelopment on the beach and U.S. 441. Now, Zyscovich is the lead architect for private developments at Marriott Ocean Village and Resorts and the Millennium Mall — the sweetest projects on the beach and U.S. 441, respectively.

But for some, including at least one elected official, Berman-Miller's development proposals represent the most egregious example of insider dealing in Hollywood.

"The whole thing stinks," Commissioner Frances Russo says. "The city is trying to do everything it can to make sure Cynthia Miller gets this project."

Hollywood's Young Circle is a mess. Where once there was a serene, well-manicured park in the middle of the hectic traffic circle, there's now a fenced-off construction zone. Concrete barricades divide traffic. Condominium towers that sparkle in architectural renderings are today still nothing more than concrete and cranes. The downtown part of Hollywood Boulevard, once a welcoming place for outside cafés, is now a dust bowl on windy days.

Hollywood still has a long way to go.

And yet, for as often as Hollywood has donned its hardhat in the past two years, the city is only in the beginning of its redevelopment efforts.

Focusing on the main thoroughfares — Hollywood Boulevard, Federal Highway, Dixie Highway, U.S. 441, and Hollywood Beach Boulevard — the city has in the past few years spent tens of millions of dollars to entice developers to build condos that even middle-class families can't afford. The public money has acted like rocket fuel on an already-burning-hot housing market. In 2004, the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel regularly ran stories about long lines outside of condo sales offices, particularly in Hollywood. The real estate bubble was blowing big and round in 2004. And the Hollywood City Commission had even more hot air with which to fill it.

Developer Steve Berman has arguably benefited the most from what some community activists term "developer welfare." Berman received an incentive package worth an estimated $8 million to $13 million in October 2003 to build La Piazza II. Less than a year later, in April 2004, Berman received yet another incentive — this one worth $11 million to $14 million — to build the Radius on Young Circle. The building quickly sold out, with two-bedroom units selling for more than $300,000. Koslow negotiated both deals.

And there's more to come. The city has already agreed to pay developer Charles Abele $11.2 million to redevelop the Great Southern Hotel. Koslow, who also represents the developer for this project, has asked the City Commission for a total of $25 million in incentives, which he will likely receive once the city's battle with pesky historic preservationists ends.

At its current pace, Hollywood's expensive face-lift will be substantially finished in less than ten years. City drawings show a Young Circle ringed with condominium towers. In the center, the ArtsPark (whose price tag has jumped nearly $10 million since inception) draws visitors with greenery and small arts- and education-related buildings. To the west, toward Interstate 95, mixed-use retail/office buildings rise two to three stories above Hollywood Boulevard.

It's a dream, but Hollywood city officials are devoted to realizing it. By the end, the vision could cost taxpayers more than $100 million, a conservative estimate.

What's more, Hollywood residents aren't the only ones paying for it. Because the city is financing its ambitious redevelopment projects through the CRA, taxpayers throughout Broward County are paying for Hollywood's transformation.

State law allows cities to create CRAs to revamp blighted areas. By creating a CRA, which acts as a separate legal entity, a city can freeze part of its tax base — meaning that property taxes that normally would go to the county to fund, among other things, public education and roadwork, do not rise as property values increase. Instead, the increased tax revenue stays within the CRA. For this reason, many of the millions of dollars Hollywood has lavished on developers is money that would have otherwise gone into county coffers.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson