Beach: Gambling?
March 27, 2005, 1:43 PM
Filed under: Beach, Development

March 27, 2005

The Mayor took a walk

In one of the more abusive disregards for the political process, the mayor of Hollywood absented herself from the critical vote that everyone agreed would determine the future of Hollywood Beach: the decision as to which proposal would win the right to develop the casino property on Johnson Street.

Technically it is said she had the right, morally it is unforgivable. To quote her: “It seems this is very close, and I don’t want to be the one….” and then she trailed off.

The brouhaha that followed is the stuff of Hollywood and new chapters will be added to the legend. But we ought not be diverted from the consequences of this poorly conceived process and the havoc it will wreak on the beach.

The city manager in his declaration of support for a project that did not prevail, argued from two very interesting if not entirely clear perspectives. He was emphatic that “everything has changed as a result of the passage of the slots referendum.”

He seemed to imply that now Hollywood was going to compete with other locales for a new tourist that was a gambler and therefore the group that already runs a casino for the Seminoles is most suitable for Johnson Street.

If I understand what he is saying, he has already ceded the possibility that gambling will come to the beach and thus we ought to have an operator in place to take advantage of it. The proposal from this group did contain thousands of feet of retail and game space and a parking garage for 2500 cars. It also generated more money to the city then the proposal the City Commission selected.

The city manager also reverted back to the citywide master plan language of “highest and best use” and thus argued that a proposal that ginned the most cash was the highest and best use. He didn’t prevail. And his logic is flawed. For if we give him and others of his ilk the right to determine in monetary terms what is the “highest and best use” of public property, and that language is only coached in profit and loss statements, then the fabric of most urban settings is doomed.

How would we value Central Park solely in monetary terms? If highest and best use is the prevailing lever that developers can use, and there is no regard for the public interest, then start the subdivision now.

But money is not the only criterion. There is something called the public interest and it was not represented by the three proposers for the Johnson Street site. The winning proposal at this time, according to the developer’s numbers, would actually cost the city millions of dollars over the long run. So not only is there no common good served by building a hotel on the site, but the public is being asked to underwrite the development.

It won’t stop here. The developer’s lobbyist will argue that he can bring the numbers into conformity, he will ask for more height and density and the advantage that he won by having the least massive of the three proposals will be lost.

For all of the allusions to a city-wide master plan the fact is that the city proceeds without one. The mayor likes to say that she wants a vision that will drive development instead of developers. So then where is the vision? The former beach CRA director who is responsible for the RFP that set this ball rolling had a vision of a Mediterranean village that has since been discredited. Indeed all of the proposals diverted from that imposition. But what of the planning criteria that might have been in place to direct and control bidders’ responses? Is anyone really calculating the impact of a 2500 car garage on this tiny barrier island?

Look further north on A!A to the Howard Johnson’s project being completed by the same firm that won this bid and see what that have wrought. There now looms a multistory bunker for cars where there was once a surface parking lot. And the grace of it? Forget it.

Gone from the vision of these developers are the graceful approaches of the porte-cochere that swept us into the hotels of the 60’s and that set the tone for that part of the beach. We are in the hands of the crudest exploiters of this tender village and we have no-one to blame but the politicians and their staff who have no vision or guts to actually control, or even participate in the process.

Will Watman
March 2005

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