BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Emergency Phones – Update
February 18, 2012, 3:43 PM
Filed under: Beach, CRA Districts, Downtown

Update March 8, 2012:  The CRA Board voted yesterday to scrap the camera aspect of the emergency phones and to install the phones already purchased in the ArtsPark and around the downtown garages.  Spots for eight of the phones have been identified.  Commissioner Furr requested that another be located in the Dog Park down by Pembroke Road.  IT Director John Barletta was reported to be exploring a different type of camera set-up based on a privately owned wireless network, but this appeared to be in an exploratory stage only as no details were presented.  The entire cost — both purchase and installation prices — of up to 10 phones for downtown (and maybe dog park) will be borne by the Police Department’s forfeiture funds.

February 18, 2012:  Those with long memories will recall Police Chief Wagner back in 2008 announcing a plan to curb crime by installing  emergency phones with zoom/tilt cameras in the downtown Parkside and Royal Poinciana areas. The City subsequently purchased ten of these phones which have been in storage ever since.  For a variety of reasons this project has repeatedly stalled, but now we’re told the emergency phone/camera project will be on the CRA Board’s March 7 agenda. An additional ten phones will be discussed for the beach.

There’s been both controversy and lack of clarity about this project for at least three reasons:  (1) the cost, (2) technological complications related primarily to the cameras, and (3) whether the phones will function more as an attractive nuisance than a crime deterrent.  And finally, with the proliferation of sophisticated cell/camera phones now in the hands of so many private citizens, the question has to be asked (and not just dismissed) as to whether the emergency phones are a project more appropriate to yesterday.

1. The Cost

After the Sun-Sentinel reported the ten downtown phones with camera attachments would cost $450,000 ($45,000 per phone), many reacted with shock.  How could the City afford such a costly project?  What we’ve learned is that the City’s cash-strapped General Fund will not be tapped for this project.  Instead the CRA has committed $100,000 and the rest is to come from LEAF funds (Law Enforcement Assistance Funds).  These latter funds can be spent only on police-related projects.

While the phones have already been purchased, the cameras have not. The projected cost breakdown we’ve received from Bryan Cahen, CRA Finance Manager, is as follows:

Phones – purchase price $47,111.75
*Cameras and wireless network $239,753.10
*Poles for video $8,244,10
**Installation/electrical $150,000
____
* Wireless network and poles are required for cameras, not for phones
**Installation costs would be reduced if camera component is not purchased

2. Cameras

A wireless video network must be set up for the camera component of this project.  In other words, wi-fi.  The Police Department, which has taken the lead in promoting the emergency phones, defers to John Barletta in the City’s IT unit when questions are raised about the feasibility of such a network in the downtown, given potential interference from tree cover and tall buildings. (The Beach is another story, because the broadwalk is a more open environment.) Given Mr. Barletta’s role in the failed city-wide wi-fi venture, we are uneasy at the thought of deferring to him on yet another wi-fi project.

Assuming the network could be made to work reliably, the video feed would be transmitted to the City’s 911 Communications Center.  How monitoring this feed would complicate the already-complex 911 staff work has not been explained, to the best of our knowledge.  One city staffer told us the cameras would be live 24/7 and continuously monitored by the Police Dept.  But one elected official told us the cameras would come live only if someone made a call on the emergency phone.  What is the plan for the cameras?

3. Attractive Nuisance

Is video surveillance a significant crime deterrent, greater than the phones, as some have advocated?  Or is it unworkable downtown, or too costly? And if so, will the emergency phones without video be more likely to attract pranksters and vandals?  These are open questions. 

Conclusion

Everyone can have an opinion on the questions this project raises, but opinions without sufficient back-up facts are not helpful in the difficult decision-making process required to make our community as safe as possible. We look forward to a clear, reliable presentation and discussion of both emergency phones and the video component — both pros and cons — at the March 7 CRA Board meeting.



Downtown Housekeeping
October 18, 2011, 5:13 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Downtown

Why does downtown look so bleak?

The obvious answer is “Way too many boarded up stores.”  But there are secondary problems as well.  Too much litter, graffiti and shabbiness, panhandling and loitering are all concerns that create an uninviting environment.  The CRA is betting that addressing the secondary problems will make it easier to recruit new business to the empty stores.  We’ll see.

One of the strategies the former city manager used to balance the budget was to divert as much CRA money as possible into the over-spent General Fund.  As part of this project, the Downtown CRA has been paying the City’s General Fund some $187,000 annually and supposedly getting in return “enhanced services” to clean up downtown. Despite these enhanced services, downtown remains essentially shabby. The once lush landscaping is littered with cigarette butts, crumpled papers, and bits of plastic.  Earlier this month, the CRA made the decision to restructure its “enhanced services,” since the annual $187,000 wasn’t working.  Enter Block By Block, a national company active in 39 cities across the country.

In a word, it’s privatization.  We’re skeptical, as are many of you, about turning over city functions to private concerns.  At the same time, if a city is not able to perform satisfactorily, other approaches must be explored. Fortunately, in this case, there will be no pink slips for city employees.  Chuck Ellis, the City’s Parks Director has informed us:  “There are no layoffs due to the Block by Block services.  Our staff will continue to pick up the trash and oversee the median maintenance.”

Instead of paying the City $187,000, the CRA will pay $153,000 to Block by Block to pick up litter, clean out tree wells, paint, mulch, power-wash sidewalks, and perform other maintenance tasks. In addition, Block by Block will assist with “quality of life” issues like panhandling and loitering. Its mode of operation is to coordinate its work closely with a city’s regular services so as to augment but not replace them.  This is a new approach for Hollywood.  If it doesn’t work, the CRA can terminate the contract.

With this company, the CRA expects to get the full-time services of four workers to be hired and supervised by Block By Block.  CRA staff has informed us that qualified Hollywood residents will receive priority in hiring. To start, these workers will be scheduled from 7 AM – 3 PM, but their hours may be changed as needed.   They will wear a uniform that identifies them as “Hollywood Ambassadors.”

We’re supposed to get a cleaner, snappier downtown.  No more cigarette butts in the tree planters.  No more plastic bottles in the gutters.  No more graffiti and dirty sidewalks. And above all, a more welcoming environment for new business as well as residents and visitors.  Let’s hope so!  Time will tell.



Emergency Phones
May 12, 2011, 8:06 PM
Filed under: Downtown

May 12, 2011

A proposal for ten emergency phones along the Federal Highway Corridor is finally in the works, just three years after Police Chief Chad Wagner announced this safety feature at a meeting of the Royal Poinciana and Parkside Task Force in 2008. With a June 3, 2011 deadline for submittal of bids from qualified electrical contractors, the City has now specified the following locations to receive emergency phones:

N. 20 Ave/Scott St.
N. 20 Ave/Garfield St.
N. Fed. Hwy/Johnson St., south alley
N. 19 Ave/Lincoln St., south alley
N. 19 Ave/Taylor St.
S. Fed. Hwy/Funston St.
S. 21 Ave./Plunkett St.
S. 20 Ave./ Van Buren St.
S. 19 Ave./ Monroe St., north alley
S. 21 Ave./Washington St.

Back in 2008, Chief Wagner said the first ten phones would be placed downtown, followed by 20 on the Federal Highway Corridor, and then later, on the beach and in other city neighborhoods. Plans have obviously changed in the intervening years, as the first ten are now slated for Federal Highway.

Chief Wagner described the phones as follows in his 2008 announcement:

“The Emergency phone will be used if you are in fear, need immediate assistance or if you witness an in-progress incident. The phone will not be used to receive information or to call a cab. Simply press the call button and you will talk directly to our Communications Center. The Emergency phone will also be equipped with a Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ Camera) so Police personnel can identify a suspect or suspects and provide valuable information to responding units. An additional camera will identify those who vandalize the equipment or make crank calls to the Police Department.”

“The phones will be on a free standing pedestal (approximately 8’3″) and will be easily identifiable with reflective paint in the Police Department’s black and white color scheme. A blue light will be affixed on top of the phone, making it clearly identifiable as a Police Department device at night.”

“The Emergency phone can also be used as a Public Address system for distances from 500-1000 feet. This application will be useful on the beach to notify persons of a missing child (Amber Alert) or an evacuation.”

Commissioner Blattner is one to thank for jump-starting the long-promised but ever-absent phones. And Mayor Bober joined him in requesting staff to get the project moving. Last but far from least, the citizen-based New Image Task Force is the impetus for most of the attention being paid to the Federal Highway Corridor these days. To all involved in resuscitating the corridor phones, we say thank you. If there are 20 more, as announced in 2008, the beach, downtown, and other neighborhoods are all in line.

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Holocaust Documentation Center – Comments: 2010
December 30, 2010, 1:43 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Downtown, HDEC

December 30, 2010

Note:  The comments provided in this post respond to our earlier post on the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center here.

_______________________

Thank you for that very informative and well-researched article on the Holocaust Museum on Harrison Street. As a museum professional for over 30 years (curator, archivist, director/CEO, member of the American Association of Museums), I find the process of developing this museum highly unreasoned. The figures you mention that the leaders of the museum are asking for are startling, to say the least, for a city the size of Hollywood. I have visited Holocaust museums around the country, and many are housed in modest buildings, and work with modest budgets, yet are able to present the history and documents in educational and satisfactory formats. The subject of the Holocaust must be treated with great respect. Throwing huge amounts of money at an unfinished and inactive “museum” does not create confidence in its future.

In order for a museum to raise money, the management must reach out to those they believe are or will be their public, their supporters. For example, how did the Holocaust affect people of Hollywood, Florida in the 1930s and 1940s?  I assure you that an exhibition on this topic could be prepared by two or three professionals with modest funding.

Next, this museum’s leaders seem to hope to open with a huge bang in an expensive building. I know from experience that it is far better to start small, develop your audience, and use your audience support to raise funds to grow. There are unfortunately quite a number of expensive museum structures around the country that simply fail to bring in an audience, while there are other small, poor museum organizations with visionary leadership to which the public flocks–and the museum then grows.

To your questions I will add another: who is hiring the director/CEO, and who provides oversight for that position? The duties of a museum director are: creating and maintaining a budget; establishing one-, five- and ten-year plans and keeping the organization on schedule for both the plans and the budget. As the Holocaust museum is a non-profit organization, both its budget and the plans should be made available to the public. The business and professional backgrounds of all leaders, the CEO and the board members, should also be made available to the public.

Also, does the city of Hollywood wish to be the major donor to this museum? Do the taxpayers agree? It is generally far more successful if the museum has a base of private donors.

Again, as both a museum professional and a native of Hollywood, I have been wondering for some years what was going on with the Holocaust Museum. Thank you for your very informative article.

Joan Mickelson
aka Joan Mickelson Lukach
author of A Guide to Historic Hollywood


You have misled your readers, hopefully because of a lack of understanding. The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center is not asking for a $1.7 million grant.  It is asking for the CRA to take back the $1.7 million building and own it, and lease it to the Center for $1 a year, as the City and CRA have been doing with several other non-profits for decades.  If the Center fails to fulfill its mission, the CRA gets back a tremendously improved building, instead of the decrepit building it bought and turned over to the Center.

Apparently you prefer the empty stores on Harrison Street–and perhaps would like to see another Pole Dancing establishment like the one we now have next door to the Holocaust Center.  Sara and Laurie, I’m sure you noticed it when you visited the Center–you couldn’t have missed its hot pink striped front and pictures of scantily clad ladies.  If HDEC is foreclosed on by the CRA, you can try to get another similar establishment in its building.  After all, the building was previously a nightclub holding “fetish nights” when HDEC took it over.  It can be one again. Oh–I guess it would be impossible for us to expect you to spend your energies helping the Center raise the $360,000 needed to open instead of expending your energies, as usual, to try to tear it down.   I know you have a long history of seeing the glass half empty, but you can at least be honest with your readers and let them decide for themselves.  Please print this in its entirety, so another voice can be heard.

Mara S. Gulianti


HDEC wants its $1.7 million purchase money mortgage debt to be forgiven and it wants control of 2031 Harrison Street for 99 years at no cost. Whatever you want to call this transaction, it sounds like a freebie to us.

Mrs. Guilianti says the CRA will get title to a building in better shape than it was when the CRA bought it for HDEC. Think about this.

First, the building would be encumbered by a 99-year no-rent lease.

Second, the CRA would be paying the purchase price ($1.2 million) and absorbing loss of HDEC’s interest payments on that amount (over $500,000 as of 10/2010). Add in the CRA’s grants to HDEC for renovations ($550,000) and you’re asking Hollywood taxpayers to invest $2.2 million on this property. And don’t forget the CRA borrowed the original $1.2 million to buy the building and is still making payments on this loan. Does this sound like a good deal for Hollywood taxpayers? We don’t think so.

In addition, there’s the liability issue. We have been told that the police advised HDEC that parking spaces would have to be removed on Harrison Street and HDEC would need armed guards and a metal detection entry system to provide safety if a Holocaust museum is to open there. We recognize there are crazies and hate groups out there, and agree that special security would be necessary. But we question the advisability of CRA ownership of this building in light of the potential liability.

Mrs. Giulianti was mayor when the CRA bought the building and “sold” it to HDEC. If she thought a 99-year no-cost lease would be a better arrangement for the City of Hollywood, that should have been arranged back then. It was her administration that orchestrated the $1.2 million loan with six years of deferred payments. And it was her administration that converted the $500,000 loan to a grant.

Does it really make sense to justify the proposed give-away to HDEC on the basis of Harrison Street’s vacancies and night clubs? And as for pole dancing and “fetish clubs” downtown, it was Mrs. Giulianti’s administration that overruled the Police Chief’s objection to late night hours for the clubs. He knew there would be problems, and he turned out to be right.

Lastly, our article does not mention foreclosure. For one thing, HDEC has $1.5 million in its building fund according to its Executive Vice President. Why not use it to pay off the outstanding debt on 2031 Harrison now. Then HDEC can concentrate all its attention on a serious fund-raising program for its documentation and education projects.

Balance Sheet Editors


As your report indicates, the CRA does seem to have lost its core mission which is to stabilize and improve the infrastructure and public spaces within the CRA.  A CRA should consider financial support for private or independent non-profit ventures only when they can reasonably be demonstrated to be feasible and which clearly further the overall plan.   A CRA should generally be in the business of attracting good private (or independent non-profit) redevelopment, not financing it.  A rule should also be considered which prohibits loans from being converted to grants.

Henry Sniezek


It’s much too late to close the barn door:  The Holocaust Museum is in the wrong place.  While it is an essential institution with an invaluable educational program, it does not enhance the area or the desirability of nearby spaces.  If it occupied independent space, say, the ground floor(s) of The Radius, or a site on Tyler Street, or the for-sale Methodist Church site at Van Buren and Federal, or (some day) the Polk Street Post Office, it would have the same importance and accessibilty but not the same negative effect on the leasability of neighboring properties or on the celebratory spirit to which so much of Downtown Hollywood and its developers aspire.

Further subsidy to the Holocaust Museum, no matter how politically correct such accommodation may be, is just not feasible or fair to the taxpayers in these difficult times.  The Museum’s and its management’s failures in meeting obligations and representations is not a basis for additional support no matter how much we might like to support the Museum’s purpose and intentions.  Even if there were sound basis for further support, we just don’t have the money, and any unsound accommodation is, at the end of the day, PUBLIC MONEY.  We should certainly not be creating further liabilities for the city.  We are already terminally pregnant with litters of ill-conceived subsidies, abatements, and gimmies, each of which is difficult if not impossible to wean from the public trough.  The City should not allow itself to be the Rescuer of Last Resort.

Has anyone ever done a cost/benefit analysis of the CRA over the last 30 years?  Today’s pretty picture (and underlying financial failures) provide no justification for additional investment without a sound plan, and we don’t have one.

James Bullock


What are the “substantial ongoing payments owed the developers of The Radius and Hollywood Station”?

Christian Mulack

Answer to this question:

Radius – $200,000 this year, with four additional years

Radius – $850,000 between now and 2017 based on the value of the residential development

Hollywood Station (PB Capital) – $300,000 this year, with seven additional years

Balance Sheet Editors


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Holocaust Documentation Center: 2010
December 27, 2010, 12:45 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Downtown, HDEC

Downtown CRA…Stewardship Needed

July 2011 Update:  The CRA did not act on HDEC’s request to convert its loan to a grant.  The matter is likely to be reintroduced in some form, but we are told the parties are in ongoing discussions.  Meanwhile, the interest owed on the loan is increasing.

December 27, 2010

The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center (HDEC) is asking for a grant of $1.7 million from the downtown CRA plus a 99-year lease at $1.00 per year.  The CRA has already invested $550,000 in this project.  In addition, the CRA made a loan of $1.2 million to HDEC with no payment due from 2004 until October, 2010. It is this loan plus accrued interest of over $500,000 that HDEC seeks to have converted to a grant.

HDEC’s mission is valuable, and its survivor documentation program and educational outreach are exemplary. However, HDEC’s extensive financial obligations and the downtown CRA’s lack of discretionary funds require a more careful review of HDEC’s request than the early January date permits.

Accordingly, for the reasons set out in this article, we believe the matter should be continued until the City/CRA can establish some performance markers and a way to extricate itself from HDEC’s ongoing substantial financial obligations.

Downtown CRA

For the last decade at least, the guiding principle of the Downtown CRA has been to create mixed-use upscale condo buildings that were supposed to bring hundreds of new residents with disposable income to “live, work and play” downtown. Inviting and incentivizing HDEC to move to downtown Hollywood back in 2003-2004 was part of this same strategy. Taxpayers were told at the time that HDEC was to open a museum which would bring “visitors from all over the world” to downtown Hollywood.

All one has to do is walk along any downtown street to see that there are as many, even more, vacant stores and unsold housing units there today than existed when the CRA was first created over 30 years ago.  Obviously, the CRA’s approach has not worked.

Today the downtown CRA is broke. It must contribute to the cost of city services (police, fire, code, etc.). In addition, it has substantial debt obligations including four outstanding notes to Bank of America (BOA) totaling $23,921,310 — and substantial ongoing payments owed to downtown developers of the Radius and Hollywood Station. As a result, the downtown CRA has almost no money left for its core mission to remove slum and blight downtown.

Not only has a vibrant downtown eluded the city for 30 years but also Parkside, Highland Gardens/United Neighbors, and Royal Poinciana, the blighted residential neighborhoods within the CRA district, have been all but ignored as the CRA gave money to developers instead. Repeatedly we were told it was necessary to invest these funds in upscale development in order to reap the benefits of a healthy and prosperous downtown.  Hollywood taxpayers are the losers in this sad scenario.

HDEC-CRA Background

As an incentive to lure HDEC to Hollywood, the downtown CRA bought a blighted building at 2031 Harrison Street after stating that “a proposed museum project has expressed interest in occupying this location.” The CRA subsequently transferred the property to HDEC in 2004 with a $1.2 million loan to cover the purchase price. The CRA had to borrow the money from BOA in order to make this loan to HDEC and we are still making payments on the BOA loan. To help HDEC with building renovation, the CRA gave the organization a $50,000 grant and a $500,000 loan. When it came time to repay the $500,000, HDEC requested it be converted to a grant, and the CRA Board complied with this request.

While HDEC moved its offices into 2031 Harrison in 2007 (after 3 years of building renovation), it has never built the promised museum. Heeding hardship pleas from HDEC, the CRA allowed HDEC to defer any payments on the 2004 loan until 2007, and then modified its loan in 2007 to give HDEC three more years of payment deferral. But during this second deferral period, HDEC purchased a second building — 115 S. 21 Ave. — that was owned by a private party and located across the alley from 2031 Harrison. The price was $850,000, with interest-only payments on a $750,000 balloon mortgage due in 2013.

Now, HDEC is paying some $50,000 annually in interest payments on the second building, while paying nothing on its earlier loan from the CRA for the first building. Instead, it’s asking the CRA once again to convert the loan to a grant, just as it did with the earlier $500,000 loan. This is a much more expensive proposition for the CRA, since the original $1.2 million loan with accrued interest now totals over $1.7 million.

Meanwhile, there is no HDEC museum and no front entrance to add vibrancy to the Harrison streetscape. The building’s main entrance on Harrison Street is covered with what looks like black drapes on which are tacked photos of the Holocaust.  A small white paper pasted on the door informs visitors that the first floor is under construction and they should enter from the alley.

The first floor has been torn apart for structural repairs but is awaiting redesign and renovation when sufficient funds become available. The remaining floors house a small non-lending library, a recording studio, some study carrels, offices, and a multi-purpose space.

Questions

Before a well-reasoned decision can be made on this latest HDEC request, it is important to consider the following questions:

  1. Without a business plan, how can HDEC meet its commitments?
  2. Would CRA debt forgiveness and 99-year no-cost lease be a sound business decision for the CRA, given its over-stretched financial condition?
  3. Given the history of HDEC promises not fulfilled, how soon can we expect to see a first-class museum open and operating downtown?

Balance Sheet Editors Visit HDEC

Attempting to answer these questions, the Balance Sheet editors requested and were granted a guided tour of the HDEC building and a meeting with Rositta Kenigsberg, the organization’s Executive Vice President. In addition, we met with the educational outreach director. We were impressed with the organization’s Holocaust survivor documentation and its educational outreach to students and the community at large. We believe this work is important, even critical, to a healthy, unprejudiced community and something we can all be proud of and learn from.

What causes us concern, however, is what we came to understand about the organization’s speculative real estate ventures and lack of a credible business plan to achieve the substantial financial outlays these ventures require.

We learned the second building was purchased to expand HDEC with a whole new adjoining building that will display HDEC’s permanent collection of memorabilia plus a Holocaust railcar that HDEC has acquired. The idea calls for the railcar to be encased in bullet-proof glass in front of the new museum, on the east side of 21st Ave., just across from the railroad tracks. The new museum building is anticipated to cost some $26 million. HDEC’s capital campaign has resulted in about $5 million, most of that in pledges (some testamentary). We were told only $1.5 million of this is cash in hand.

We learned that the vacant first floor of 2031 Harrison is now slated for traveling exhibits. We were told $360,000 must be raised to renovate this floor for such exhibits — as Ms. Kenigsberg said, “just $10,000 from 36 donors.” This money has not yet been raised. Unspecified funds to run a traveling exhibit program (fees for use, transportation, set-up and take-down costs) are yet to be identified. Also yet to be raised are at least $21 million to build the new museum, an unspecified “six figure” amount to set up a security system, and $750,000 to pay off the balloon mortgage. Where all this money can be found, and what approaches HDEC has identified for this major fund-raising endeavor are at best unclear. One thing we did learn is that Ms. Kenigsberg has her eye on more money from the city. She told us she had learned from a HUD representative that HDEC could be an eligible expenditure under the HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program and she had already contacted city staff about tapping into Hollywood’s NSP funds.

Recommendations

As a city we have provided over $2 million in loan and grant incentives for this project. It is time now for HDEC to repay what it owes the CRA for 2031 Harrison. The CRA simply cannot afford to write off $1.7 million. These funds need to be recaptured and recycled into projects that can assure us an active and vibrant downtown as quickly as possible, as was contemplated when the loan was first issued. It is a loan, not a grant, and so it should remain.

Finally, we strongly oppose the use of Hollywood’s NSP funds for downtown museum building, given the high number of foreclosed and abandoned homes in Hollywood’s residential neighborhoods so many of which need renovated, high-quality housing that ordinary working people can afford. Helping neighborhoods recover from the foreclosure disaster is the main purpose of the NSP program

We believe that HDEC’s financial profile is precarious at best and therefore the CRA should consider extricating itself from ongoing involvement with HDEC. In a spirit of fairness, we suggest establishing performance markers and a time line, placing the conversion of the loan to a grant on hold and revisiting it at a later date to see if HDEC has met these requirements.

We recommend a continuance of this agenda item so there is time to establish the performance markers and time line that we need in order to ensure a successful result.

Laurie Schecter
Marla Dumas
Sara Case

Note: Comments on this post are located here.

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Downtown Historic Properties Endangered
April 15, 2009, 10:15 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Development, Downtown, Young Circle

April 15, 2009

Unless it takes action, our newly elected City Commission is about to be implicated in what was arguably the worst decision made by its predecessor:  taking a family’s property by eminent domain to make way for a huge private development on Young Circle.

Back in 2005, Hollywood’s Downtown CRA began the legal process of seizing the Mach family’s property in downtown Hollywood. The city’s justification:  eliminating slum and blight.  Does the well-maintained Mach building, which dates from the 1930s and houses four small businesses, look like your idea of “slum and blight”?


Why did the CRA want to TAKE the Mach’s property?  Because developer Chip Abele wanted to build a big condo tower named Young Circle Commons on the site of the historic Great Southern Hotel and he needed more space for his project.  No problem:  the CRA Board (aka the Hollywood City Commission) should seize the adjoining Mach property and give it to Mr. Abele.  That’s what the former City Commission agreed to do by a vote of 5-2. Does the new City Commission support this action? We strongly hope not, but we will see….

The Mach family challenged the city’s action in court and won, but under its former leadership, the city promptly appealed the trial court’s decision. On March 26, 2008, a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city.  Read the appeals court opinion here.   The Mach family is seeking to have the case re-heard before the full Fourth District Court of Appeals, and is willing to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

Young Circle Developer:  Chip Abele

While Mr. Abele continues to allow the historic Great Southern Hotel to deteriorate as the court case drags on, he is back before city staff with a second tower he wants to build on the other side of Young Circle;  the so-called 25-story Hollywood Circle tower – a project he appears to be rushing through the city staff approval process in preparation for appearances before the city’s Planning and Zoning and Development Review Boards and ultimately the City Commission..

Historic Preservation

While the legal case drags on, Mr. Abele has shown no respect for Hollywood’s old, historic hotel, one of the most endangered historical sites in the State of Florida, according to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.  He has allowed it to deteriorate continuously.  The irony here is that Mr. Abele’s Young Circle Commons was designed to “save” a portion of the hotel’s facade, and historic preservation became a purported justification for seizing the Mach property.  In fact the only reason for taking the Mach’s property is that Mr. Abele’s proposed project is too big for his site.  Instead of its rightful place at the entryway to Hollywood’s historic downtown, the Great Southern Hotel has become a monument to Mr. Abele’s over-reaching and neglect.

Now, the spotlight is on the new City Commission.  Will it put a stop to the Mach family’s nightmare?  Or will it continue on the same discredited course as the old Commission?  Commissioners Blattner, O’Sheehan, Asseff, and Sherwood were not on the City Commission when this eminent domain action was approved and Commissioner Furr, who was, voted against it.  So we have five out of seven elected officials who did not vote to give the Mach property to Chip Abele for his condo tower.  But they, too, will become tainted by this mess unless they find a way to STOP it.

The great majority of Hollywood residents do not want their government seizing private property to subsidize a private developer’s condo tower.  Indeed, because of the statewide outcry against this type of government action, it is no longer lawful in the State of Florida.  The only reason the Hollywood case continues is because our city began the process of taking the Mach property before the State Legislature outlawed the use of eminent domain for economic redevelopment.  But now that the Legislature has ruled, the city’s continued efforts to take this property are contrary to public policy.

What We Can Do

Hollywood residents should call or e-mail our elected officials and demand that they stop eminent domain against the Mach family once and for all.  The phone number to the City Commission office is:  954-921-3321.  Click here for e-mail. Be sure to include your signature (name and address).

For more information about this eminent domain case from the Mach family perspective — how it has affected their lives, their health, their time and energy, and their view of Hollywood city government — please e-mail David Mach directly for a copy of his article on the subject.   Since his family has experienced all this trouble from the city, David, who lives in Emerald Hills, has become an effective civic activist as well as an expert on the extent to which developers finance the election of city officials.

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Young Circle & Downtown Zoning
February 18, 2009, 6:40 PM
Filed under: CRA Districts, Development, Downtown, Young Circle

February 18, 2009

Zoning vs  “Developer Entitlements”

Question: Why is Block 55 on the City Commission agenda now, just a month or so before Zyscovich Architects, the consultants hired by the city last June, can complete the Master Plan and Zoning Code for Young Circle and parts of downtown?

Have we forgotten the words of Commissioner Blattner last summer when our elected officials voted unanimously to spend $200,000 for the plan and code? “If we don’t establish our vision based what Zyscovich presents to us in the next six months to a year, whatever it takes, all we’re going to get [are] projects that don’t meet our vision.”

Now – after numerous meetings with the public and stakeholders – March 10 is the anticipated date on which Zyscovich’s recommended zoning changes and design standards will be issued. “We are that close!” said Terry Cantrell, President of the Hollywood Lakes civic association, one of the stakeholder groups that is actively pushing to have the hearing on Block 55 postponed. Only after the zoning changes and design standards are available, will our elected officials have the tools they need to assure that new Young Circle development truly meets the city’s vision for the ArtsPark and downtown.

Commissioner Asseff has repeatedly expressed her concern that city commission action not interfere with developer entitlements. In this case, postponement would have no bearing on entitlements, because the developer’s proposal for this project does not comply with the city’s development agreement. Hence a new agreement will be required if the project is approved and any entitlements will negotiated at that time. Therefore entitlement interference is not a viable argument against postponement.

Bottom Line: the public hearing on Block 55 should be postponed until after the Zyscovich zoning and design standards are released next month.

Note: as of now, the public hearing on Block 55 is scheduled for 5:30 PM, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.

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