Kramer's Donor Boner

South Pointe Elementary officials were thrilled with the $100,000 check. They'd be even happier if they could cash it.

If Thomas Kramer has flaunted anything in his tenure as South Beach's latest eccentric rich boy, it is a talent for well-publicized charity. While he extinguished his Ocean Drive nightclub, Hell, two weeks ago, and his grandiose plans to convert South Pointe into a faux Italian village remain drawing-board fantasies, the German millionaire has impressed local gentry with his contributions to worthy causes.

None has been more grand, nor more celebrated, than the oversize cardboard check he presented to South Pointe Elementary School at his coming-out party this past November. And as it turns out, none has been more useless.

As of this past Friday the $100,000 check -- the first of three equal installments Kramer pledged to start a daycare program at the school -- remains uncashed. The reason: the Dade County Public Schools, as a matter of policy, do not run daycare programs.

"We're basically in a bind," says Emilio Fox, region superintendent for Miami Beach schools, "because what the donor may have in mind is not in the scope of what we do as a matter of regular educational programs."

What Kramer had in mind, according to publicist Barbara Gothard, was "developing an early childcare education program in conjunction with South Pointe Elementary School." The notion, Gothard says, came as the result of an October visit to the school, which opened in the fall of 1991. Kramer and his wife Cathrine met briefly with principal Patricia Parham and expressed interest in funding the start-up of a daycare program.

"Actually, I wasn't sure what he wanted exactly," Parham recalls. "I only met Thomas for a few minutes." One possibility, she says, is that he hoped to contribute to the state-funded Head Start program for three- and four-year-olds South Pointe housed its first year. Due to overcrowding, that program has been cut back to include only four-year-olds this year.

Whatever the intent, Parham was soon in receipt of a $100,000 check made out to "South Pointe Elementary School -- Project Daycare" -- an entity that doesn't exist.

After learning the donation was explicitly earmarked for daycare, Region Superintendent Fox called a hasty meeting with Kramer's representatives. In early December, Fox sat down with Gothard, who does fundraising work for Education Alternatives, Inc., the private company that implemented South Pointe's innovative curriculum.

Fox says he explained to Gothard that Kramer's gift could not be used for daycare without a major change in district policy, and he suggested the money instead be channeled into one of South Pointe's existing programs. He then asked for Gothard to send him a letter outlining what Kramer wanted done with the money, so he could begin allocating funds. "I left the meeting with the idea that we'd get something that said, The $100,000 is for existing programs at South Pointe for primary-age kids.' I felt the issue was settled at that point," Fox says.

But when he returned from Christmas vacation, Fox received a letter reiterating that Kramer wanted his contribution used for daycare -- effectively freezing the money again.

Fox and Gothard are now trying to coordinate a meeting next week between schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo and Kramer's representatives in hopes of trying to work things out.

Kramer himself, who in the last year has spent some $30 million buying about fifteen acres of land in blighted South Pointe, suffered another setback recently. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars transforming the historic Leonard Beach Hotel into a nightlife monstrosity known as Hell, he abruptly abandoned management of the club several weeks ago.

A January 12 press release issued by the Portofino Group, the company that oversees Kramer's newly acquired empire, announced a "temporary" closure of Hell.

According to one former employee at the club, "Kramer basically decided operations was not his game and he should never have been involved with it." The decision came as a shock to staffers because Kramer was set to open a fancy restaurant called The Gate on the patio adjoining Hell. The eatery was trumpeted this past week with a full-page ad in the February issue of Ocean Drive magazine -- the same issue that, coincidentally, featured a flattering interview with the grinning German magnate. Gary Lampner, the former kitchen wizard at The Strand, had even been recruited as the eatery's executive chef.Everything was done: menus printed, equipment purchased, parties planned. Even the freezers were stocked.

But no one is more shocked these days than Kay Statz, the South Beach builder long considered Kramer's top executive in the larger development plan for South Pointe. Statz, who was fired two weeks ago without warning, stresses that he does not want to discuss Kramer's financial backing (a topic of continued speculation) or recent rumors that Kramer is about to abandon his $220 million dream of transforming Miami Beach's southern tip into an upscale, Mediterranean-style resort.

"What I do know is that I revoked all my building permits last Monday at the owner's request," Statz says. "I expected to do ten million dollars' worth of construction next year. Now I'm doing nothing." Statz, a fellow German who befriended Kramer prior to heading his day-to-day operations, says he has no idea why he was dismissed. Kramer, he notes, has been avoiding him. "Everybody has the right to change their mind," Statz adds. "He can change his mind. But you don't walk into my life and mess up career and my company without paying for the damages."

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