Spinning Straw

In the annals of Hollywood dealsmanship, the Hollywood Art District stands out as a masterpiece of financial spin. Tailpipe is talking not just about the kind of spin that talk-show blowhards employ but also the spin used by fairy tale dwarf Rumpelstiltskin to turn straw into gold.

The centerpiece of HART, as the project came to be known, was the promise of a new theater for Hollywood, where snowbirds often twiddle their thumbs on winter evenings for lack of cultural stimulation. Developers Gary Posner and Patricia Peretz had the cure. They proposed to give Young Circle a new, high-toned arty look with an 18-story condominium tower, a new charter school, and a brand-new Hollywood Playhouse (in place of the venerable regional stage company on Washington Street, which has fallen on hard times) for $71 million. This could happen, the developers told the city, as long as Hollywood's Community Redevelopment Agency chipped in a mere $7 million on the front end.

That was three years ago. So far, HART is mostly a dream, like some gauzy Shakespearean fantasy to entertain the audience.

Posner claims that he has $8 million of his own money wrapped up in HART, but the only funds that have been disbursed are public bucks (though Posner bought the old playhouse for $450,000 in 2003). And the project appears to be spinning its wheels, like a bus stuck in mud.

The first casualty of HART has been, of course, ART. Posner and Peretz, in the midst of hustling to open a charter school in time for the 2004-05 school year and jousting with the condo association of a building they wanted to tear down, decided that the new theater was just too expensive. Sorry, theater-lovers. You'll have to be satisfied with unspecified contributions to the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, around the corner on Federal Highway, and maybe some renovations for the old down-at-the-heels Hollywood Playhouse.

Like other projects in Hollywood, HART begins to take on a blurry look, as loans and grants from the Community Redevelopment Agency are lobbed at developers and project components suddenly disappear and new ones get leveraged into place. The Posner group's charter school, the Hollywood Academy of Art and Science, is being run out of three stories in the Home Tower building on Young Circle, but still no signs of the new condo building or of any new art initiatives.

And now, the developers, in the throes of the housing market's deflation, are showing distinct signs of financial stress.

CRA officials acknowledge that the developers recently paid $1.7 million on their no-interest loans — seven months late. But the CRA has yet to receive a stipulated annual payment of $20,000 toward sprucing up Young Circle, with another payment of $20,000 due next month.

But not to worry. The city will continue to pay Posner and Peretz $270,000 a year through 2013 for the costs of the mortgage on the charter school property and its operation.

Asked about the missed loan payments, Posner himself seemed at a loss. "I'm not sure what's going on with that right now," he said.

If Posner's confused, how do you think Hollywood CRA Director Neil Fritz feels? "Before I write them another check," he says, "I need to sit down and analyze everything."

That'll Show 'Em

Tailpipe can already anticipate the critics pondering the Broward Community College faculty art show. Somber intimations of post-millennial angst. Stark black-and-white images ineffably connected to institutional struggle. An ironic commentary on the decline of academic idealism.

Since 1960, art professors at the college have had one big show where they showed the students how to do it. This year, however, for the first time, the annual faculty art show was canceled. Sort of. Teaching staff didn't have a working contract in place until the day before Thanksgiving, so plans were, uh, modified.

"Too late," sculpture prof and union negotiator Catherine Leisek said of the original conception. "You can't put an art show together that quickly."

Instead of a planned three-ring multimedia circus — a Dada performance piece with sets and costumes that Leisek suggests would have blown minds — the art department is registering its discontent with what it suggests is an act of civil unrest. The walls of the gallery will remain blank during the two-week exhibition except for a copy of the contentious contract that held everybody up.

The empty gallery will be a strong statement, Leisek says: "We respect your deadlines. Respect ours." Students paying a visit to the bare-walled protest will get an education, she adds, "on the purpose of a union and what a contract is."

Somehow, Tailpipe thinks he's going to miss the Dada thing.

A Wilder Ride

Overcast and windy, last Thursday afternoon wasn't ideal for the average beachgoer. But Leslie Pacheco of Delray Beach picked up her sons, Collin, 10, and Bryson, 8, from Trinity Lutheran School and walked them toward Delray Water Sports.

It was a midweek treat for the Pacheco boys, who spend nearly all their weekend days at this particular beach. They're training to become sponsored, competitive kite surfers, and as far as anybody around here knows, they're the youngest ones in Florida.

Bryson, a freckled, curly-haired second-grader, weighs just 52 pounds. "Our biggest problem was finding a harness small enough to fit him," Leslie Pacheco says. "The wind just lifts him off the ground."

Safety issues come to mind for Tailpipe because in kite-surfing — or, as some prefer, kiteboarding — you're riding an uncontrollable force that can propel you across the waves at speeds of up to 30 mph. It can be a wild, unpredictable ride. Without some safety measures, a surfer can find himself lifted into the air like an airborne flapjack before slamming onto the griddle of a nearby beach. Just last month, Connor Kempe, a 17-year-old star quarterback from the Benjamin School, vaulted out of the Jupiter sea, skimmed across the beach, and crash-landed in a parking lot, plowing through two metal gates and grinding into the pavement.

He bruised a lung, received a brain contusion, cracked his patella, and broke bones in his face, but he's expected to make a full recovery.

Veteran surfers agree it was a freak accident. They also think Kempe might have needed more training, even though he had kite-surfed for more than a year.

After a month on land and some practice in water with just the kite (to get the feel of it), Bryson finally ventured into the ocean, in full gear, last weekend. On Thursday, he seemed to prefer eating apples, playing in the sand, and whacking sticks against a palm tree. But big brother Collin — who has been training for a year — couldn't wait to hit the water.

"I'm ready," he said, picking up his black wetsuit. Suited up, Collin headed out to the beach to prepare his red-and-black Best Waroo kite alongside about seven others. Most of those electric yellow, green, orange, and pink-and-orange kites would all be dragging men in their 40s and 50s, as the sport tends to attract middle-aged windsurfers in search of a new thrill. That's part of what has made it hard finding gear for a couple of elementary-school kids. But Collin is being watched by the kite manufacturing company, his mother says, and the company has already provided gear for him. In the near future, he may be among those competing in speed races and style competitions that originate in Jupiter and end in Fort Lauderdale.

Collin can already jump, and he says he's learning acrobatic maneuvers like the F16 and the backroll.

"I can do a raily," he bragged, referring to a popular superman trick in which he extends his body parallel to the water and brings it back upright.

"No, no, no," teased Chris Heffernan, a local kiteboarder. "You have to unhook yourself to do a raily. You're doing something called a mule kick." Heffernan and others who hang out every weekend at Delray Water Sports (often referred to as "the shed people") do a collective coaching job for the Pacheco boys, who are never allowed to kite-surf alone. That makes Leslie Pacheco feel a little better about safety.

"Usually, what you find in accidents is that people haven't taken any lessons," Heffernan says. "They're using old equipment. These guys out here make it look easy, and people think they can walk right up and rent these."

Collin says he's not afraid of flying out of the water. The big waves can be intimidating, but that's just part of the thrill. Like the rest of the males on the beach, Collin is addicted to "that feeling you get when you're on the water, and you can go as fast as you want."

Watching her son sail over the white caps, dragged by what looks like a small red-and-black rainbow, Leslie Pacheco admitted that she has a hard time just watching.

"I'm just now getting into it," she says.

There's a mule kick for parents too: the prospect of seeing a young surfer carried off on a stretcher.

— As told to Edmund Newton

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