Access Hollywood

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In 2003, a county auditor questioned Hollywood's ability to give CRA funds to private developers. Commission Auditor N.W. Thabit noted in a report that the Florida Constitution prohibits municipalities from giving public funds to private companies "when the public would be at most only incidentally benefited."

Thabit encouraged County Commissioners to lobby for changes in Tallahassee that would prohibit Florida cities, particularly Hollywood, from using public funds to benefit private companies.

That never happened.

And Hollywood quickly built a reputation for being more than willing to subsidize prosperous developers with taxpayer money, especially for developers with the appropriate connections.

After a small but vocal group of residents, including Jackson and Chervin, began to complain to the City Commission and police about crime and drugs in their neighborhood, Hollywood officials began to view the Little Ranches neighborhood as a prime target for redevelopment.

The city already owned a vacant lot near Adams Street and 24th Avenue, and in late 2004, the CRA began to buy property on the east end of the block as well, near Adams Street and Dixie Highway, paying roughly $6 million for a large, rundown apartment building and two small houses.

The city and the CRA asked for proposals from local developers in March 2005. The city's project, at Adams and 24th Avenue, became known at City Hall as the "Adams Street Project." The CRA dubbed its proposed development down the block the "Dixie Highway Project."

One name became synonymous at City Hall with both of the proposed developments: Cynthia Berman-Miller. And that was unusual. Berman-Miller was not only a city employee but she lacked experience as a developer.

Berman-Miller is from a family that has followed two career paths: art and real estate. Her grandfather, Paul Silverthorne, was a well-known muralist in Miami during South Beach's Art Deco heyday. He worked on design projects for the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, Sherry Frontenac Hotel, Lou Walter's Latin Quarter, and the Fu Man Chu Restaurant.

While her grandfather became known in the art world, Berman-Miller's mother, Andrea Silverthorne, went into South Beach real estate. Her company, NewStar Realty, has since expanded from South Beach to Dadeland, Hollywood, Jupiter, and Naples. NewStar has more than $125 million worth of real estate listings on the market, a publicist for the company claims.

Despite the family's success in real estate, Berman-Miller initially followed in her grandfather's footsteps. In 1993, after earning an associate's degree in photography at Florida International University in Miami, Berman-Miller went to the University of Florida in Gainesville, earning first a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and then a master's in art history.

From the beginning, Berman-Miller concentrated on the administration rather than creation of art. While earning her master's degree, she worked as a coordinator for the Art in State Buildings program, acting as liaison between the state Department of Cultural Affairs and the University of Florida. In Gainesville, she successfully curated the first exhibition of Cuban art in Florida in 33 years.

Before moving back to South Florida, Miller served as board member at the Kentuck Art Center in Northport, Alabama. Her husband, Scott Miller, was an art professor at the University of Alabama. Together, they moved to Hollywood in 1997. Miller became an associate dean at Miami International University of Art and Design. His wife was hired as curator of education at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, a nonprofit gallery and theater on Harrison Street in downtown Hollywood. Less than a year later, Berman-Miller was promoted to executive director of the center.

She came at a perfect time for Hollywood. Fort Lauderdale's neighbor to the south wanted to distinguish itself as Broward's "City of the Arts." Hollywood's development strategy mirrored the ambitions of an unpopular high school kid buying expensive, trendy clothes at the local mall. Hollywood blended Richard Florida's Creative Class theory — attract creative types with art and parks and more and boom times will follow — with an erect-condos-and-people-will-buy-'em redevelopment effort.

Toward that goal, in early 2002, Berman-Miller and a group of business and civic leaders successfully lobbied Broward County for a $5 million parks grant to build ArtsPark in place of Young Circle Park. For more than a half-century, Young Circle Park had been home to dozens of large trees, benches, and an amphitheater. In February 2004, the bulldozers arrived. The city's plan for ArtsPark included a charter school, art studio, and a fountain. From conception to groundbreaking, the price tag jumped from $12 million to $21 million.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson