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Personal Business

How They Help Investors in Hollywood

This was so 2003.

The South Florida real estate market still churned like a deep-sea fish mosh, with investors snatching up worthwhile properties like barracuda lunging at flashes of silver. Downtown Hollywood, with some coddling from the city government, seemed to have an especially bountiful future. Steve Buchbinder, a nonpracticing lawyer who lives in the city, wanted to get in on it.

Buchbinder and his real estate agent wife, Noreen, purchased four dilapidated buildings in 2003 on the 1800 block of Jackson Street. The buildings were in a prime spot, near Federal Highway, just a block from the downtown restaurant and club center. If Hollywood ever realized its pedestrian-friendly objectives, Buchbinder surmised, this would be an ideal location for condos.

The Buchbinders turned to the city's downtown Community Redevelopment Agency for advice. The CRA's job is, in part, to advise developers who have plans to make improvements to the city's housing and retail markets. The agency's then-director was Jim Edwards.

In 2004, Edwards gave the Buchbinders some bad news. Someone had bought a shabby, one-story, three-unit building at 1823 Jackson St., smack in the middle of the block that the Buchbinders were assembling. The buyer, it turned out, was Robert Geitner, life partner of Neil Fritz, another city administrator. Edwards, who has since gone to work for Hollywood developer Equity One, insists he never told Fritz about the Buchbinders' plans for Jackson Street.

Fritz, the city's director of commercial corridor redevelopment, was, like Edwards, supposed to be in the business of spurring real estate investment. But Fritz seemed to stand in the way of the Buchbinders' plans like a brick wall, Steve Buchbinder says. The would-be developer went to Hollywood's City Hall to ask Fritz what he and Geitner planned to do with the property. "He just said he was interested in living there," Buchbinder says.

The two sides tell different versions of what happened next. Buchbinder alleges that Fritz called him and asked for an evening meeting in the Buchbinders' office, a few doors down from the triplex, to talk about the property. He says that Fritz brought along Geitner and announced that Geitner had recently received an offer of $500,000 for the property — more than twice what he had paid for it only a few months before.

So? Was it just an idle boast (Oh, how smart I was to buy that junky building) or an invitation to make a better offer?

Buchbinder contends the revelation was Fritz's way of jump-starting negotiations.

In a letter that Steve Buchbinder circulated to Hollywood city commissioners last November, he says that he and his wife "refused to be involved in some kind of extortion." Paying such a marked-up price for the triplex would make their investment too risky.

Fritz, now director of the CRA, tells Tailpipe that Buchbinder's allegations are "blatant misrepresentations." The Buchbinders were neighbors with whom he and Geitner sometimes socialized, Fritz says, but nothing more, and he denies ever telling the couple that there was a half-million dollar offer on Geitner's property. Geitner gave the 'Pipe a statement denying that he had ever offered to sell the triplex to the Buchbinders.

By 2005, Fritz was in the process of being promoted to his new, high-profile CRA job, and he called the Buchbinders again, according to the couple. This time, Steve says, Fritz expressed concern that his partner's stake in the Jackson Street triplex would come under scrutiny due to his new position. (His subsequent tenure at the CRA has been a little short of stellar, with an alleged sex scandal and failed investments.)

Fritz told the Buchbinders that Geitner would sell for just $350,000, Steve Buchbinder says, provided the Buchbinders let Fritz occupy the triplex at a rent-controlled rate of $500 per month. The Buchbinders signed a contractv to buy the property, but after conducting their due diligence and becoming increasingly worried about the real estate market, they opted out of the contract.

In his statement, Geitner says that he approached the Buchbinders not as prospective buyers but as prospective real estate agents. The meeting was a courtesy, Fritz adds, to a couple who had a large stake in the block (and who were trying, with the CRA's assistance, to assemble a development project on that very spot). But Geitner says that — surprisingly — the Buchbinders offered to buy the property, which led to the contract. When the Buchbinders decided not to follow through, the triplex was sold to another party for $380,000.

And so, thanks partly to Fritz, the 1800 block of Jackson Street remains undeveloped today.

Leaving Las Degas

They're fakes. Frauds. Phonies. According to Gary Arseneau, if you saw the "Degas in Bronze" exhibit at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and thought you were looking at the work of French painter and sculptor Edgar Degas, you were bamboozled.

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Edmund Newton

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