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The Theater Vanishes

When city officials started talking about creating the Hollywood Arts District -- or HART -- at Young Circle, Tailpipe was skeptical. It sounded like the same old development flim-flam, with a few artsy touches thrown in. The city gives developers Gary Posner and Patricia Peretz $3.5 million to build and operate a charter school on the site, another $3.5 million in loans for a new 17-story condo tower, and Young Circle gets a gaggle of new buildings, with taxpayers footing a large part of the bill. Ugh.

But at least there was one incontestable arts element in the plan: a proposed 400-seat theater. It clinched the deal for City Commissioner Fran Russo. "When they [the developers] came to us with the project, they had a gorgeous drawing of the theater," Russo says. "It's the only reason I voted for the project."

But wait. The developers recently told commissioners that they no longer plan to build a theater after all; Posner explained that he and Peretz couldn't afford it. So where's the ART in HART?

Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jim Edwards responds philosophically. Not to worry. The idea for the would-be theater, he says, was really predicated on making the place homebase for the Hollywood Playhouse -- which went out of business last September (after Posner and Peretz, who own the Playhouse's building on Washington Street, withdrew operating funds from the 50-year-old group).

"They're discussing a couple of different arts-related improvements within the project," Edwards says. "If they're able to substitute for the theater with other arts-related activities, that fulfills the concept."

Russo doesn't buy that. "Our city needs a performing arts center," she says vehemently. "Hollywood is so arts- and culture-oriented, yet we have to send our tourists and citizens to Fort Lauderdale or Miami to see a show. No."

She doesn't buy the claims of poverty either, noting that Posner and Peretz are getting $300,000 a year for ten years from the CRA to run the theater. "If there isn't enough money to do the theater, they should have known that up-front," Russo says. "If they don't have the money, then we should go to another developer to develop it. I'm not going to let this go away."

It sounds like the old bait and switch: Get a project's funding in place, then deep-six the expensive amenities (like a theater). The 'Pipe, one auto part who loves a good play now and then, couldn't reach the developers for comment. But what could they say?

Is Anybody Listening?

When news hit that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was indicted last week for allegedly paying campaign workers to collect absentee ballots from voters, Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion might have felt a tad bit anxious. That's because Eggelletion has been accused of committing the same crime -- a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison -- while running his reelection campaign in August.

This courageous conduit has learned of allegations that a paid Eggelletion campaign worker named Dennis Gill delivered absentee ballots to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office on August 17, 2004, two weeks before Eggelletion defeated challenger Allen Jackson in the primary. Warence Mae Smith, president of the St. Georges Civic Association, says she saw Gill deliver a batch of about 50 of the ballots. Indeed, they were unsealed, says Smith, which itself is a violation of law. The commissioner didn't return the `Pipe's phone calls, and Gill, who took home $1,300 from the Egg Man's campaigns, couldn't be reached before presstime.

Smith, who volunteered for Jackson's campaign, reported the apparent violation to both the county elections office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (which investigated the Dyer case in Orlando), but she says both agencies basically ignored her. At the time, however, she didn't know that it was illegal for Gill to deliver absentee ballots for Eggelletion.

"Nobody did anything," she says. "I wanted a fair election, period. That's the least we can expect, a fair election. But you file a complaint and nothing happens. I should have at least gotten a follow-up call, but I got nothing."

The Dyer case, however, changes everything. If the Orlando mayor pays a heavy price for violating Florida's election laws, then the scandal-plagued Eggelletion should at least be thoroughly investigated on allegations he did the same.

Pahokee Justice

Scorecard from Pandemonium in Pahokee, now playing in a racially divided burg near you:

Beaten to a bloody pulp: Robert Love, town loudmouth and head cook at the Grumpy Gator restaurant

Out of a job: Two Pahokee cops, including Chief Rafael Duran, who quit in the wake of a Feb. 25 brouhaha

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