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On Hollywood Beach, Only City Stands a Chance of Making a Sale

Like so many in this market, Eileen Miller wants to sell. But the owner of two small hotels on Hollywood Beach -- the Swan and the Mermaid -- is up against a formidable adversary. The City of Hollywood, which is also a seller and whose commissioners and staff are under political pressure to break ground on the long-stagnant site on Johnson Street: a big piece of oceanfront land that they may be tempted to give away practically for free.

"Someone is going to get the property very cheap," says Miller. Across the street to the south is another big piece of undeveloped property, where the Hollywood Grande was supposed to be built by developer Fabrizio Passalacqua. He filed for bankruptcy, and the city doesn't control that site like it does the one on Johnson Street. So you can bet that whoever does is going to drive a hard bargain.

"I have a for-sale sign on my building," says Miller, "but who is going to buy this property and Fabrizio's property to do a project on Pierce Street when can get the property on Johnson Street for nothing?"

One of the few prospective buyers that paid a visit to Miller expressed anxiety about the two major undeveloped properties that lie on either side of the Mermaid.

As for Miller's other hotel, the Swan, that's an even more futile case. It lies one block south, on Fillmore Street, which offers this view:

That's the Passalacqua property. With that land likely to be developed soon, it's going to make the Swan an unrelaxing location in the short term. And it would be foolhardy for someone to buy the property until he knows exactly what's going to be built next door.

Then again, Miller, who's currently paying $20,000 annually in property taxes, had already resigned herself to taking a big loss at the Swan due to the historic designation that was given to a home on the same block -- a designation that Miller thinks was ludicrous: "They say it's a historic house. It's actually a dump."

Having operated a hotel on Hollywood Beach for 30 years, Miller has become cynical about politics and suspects the historic designations -- one of which seems to impede development on each block -- are really a political means for the city to control what gets built.

Finally, she's furious that the city seems hellbent on letting developers build new hotels that will necessarily take business from the existing ones -- at least whatever scraps of business might be left from an area already overbuilt with hotels. "Why not use that land to build an aquarium?" she asks. "Or a public promenade like Lincoln Road Mall?"

But she hasn't found much support for that idea among Hollywood commissioners.

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Thomas Francis

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