Hot Properties

The condo kings at Crescent Heights say they're changing the face of Miami Beach. They certainly are.

"The next couple of years look pretty good for them," predicts Dabby. "As long as the real estate market is expanding, they'll probably do okay." For his part, Kahn says he's surprised he's stayed in Miami as long as he has; business has been good. However, he adds in a rare unglossy Crescent Heights moment, "I hate to be telling people Miami Beach will go down, but...." Kahn pauses. "Anybody who's buying today below $150,000, it makes sense," he continues. "But those paying $150,000 or above A I wouldn't want to be in their shoes." While he doesn't want to predict if and when the bottom will fall out of the Miami Beach real estate market, he says the area is following a pattern similar to Los Angeles, where the market eventually collapsed under too much construction.

Such negative vibrations have not stopped Crescent Heights from eyeing other buildings on the Beach: The company's most recent acquisition (February) was the $5,950,000 Casablanca Hotel & Apartments at 6345 Collins Ave. Menin says he and his partners are constantly on the prowl for potential purchases. Crescent Heights has also begun studying future buys in New York, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

With their rise as real estate kings, Galbut and Menin have become active community players as well as the designated company barkers. (Kahn has remained in the shadows, assiduously avoiding the media and developing a reputation for privacy. He did, however, reluctantly consent to a brief phone interview for this story.) Among their municipal posts, Galbut sat on Miami Beach's Zoning Board of Adjustment for twelve years; Menin is currently a member of the board. "I'm proud of what we've accomplished and I got to do it in my own hometown," Menin says. "This community enabled me to go to a place like Harvard, see the world, and come back. I'm honored."

The company chiefs and their families have also opened their wallets for numerous local causes; Menin is quick to boast that by his reckoning, the Galbut family enterprises are the largest local benefactors of Jewish enterprises in Miami Beach and abroad. Although the staff of the organization isn't predominantly Jewish, Crescent Heights does seem to cloak itself in a veil of Jewish piety. When Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson suffered a stroke last month, says Brian Duchman, Crescent Heights honchos circulated a memo inviting all employees to cut short their workday and attend a prayer session at a shul located in the Carriage House. In the freshly sanded doorway of the new sales offices attached to the lobby of the Ocean Pavilion, mezuzahs have been mounted. Company administrators also repeatedly boast that they close on Saturdays A which, they never fail to note, is the busiest real estate day of the week. "It's a company of principles, of values," asserts Menin. "Not being open on Saturdays shows we're willing to make a commitment to something that's more important than money."

If anyone knows the potential of the company's clout, it is Miami Beach Commissioner Nancy Liebman. In this past November's commission race, Crescent Heights threw its weight behind Liebman's opponent, Mike Karpel, and even though Liebman prevailed, she's still smarting from the contest. She says she was alarmed on election day to see throngs of Crescent Heights staffers gathered at polling places to campaign for Karpel. "When we asked them why they were at the polls, they told me that if I won, Crescent Heights would be out of business," recalls Liebman, who has an extensive resume as a preservationist. "They were scared I was going to stop 'progress.' The most inspirational part of the victory was that I had defeated that machine."

"Tremendous volunteers," Galbut declares. "And I'll tell you why: Crescent Heights is a family. It's really a family. Yeah, we fight within the family. But when it comes right down to it, we're one big family. The effort these people put forth because they felt it was for the family was incredible.

"We supported Mike because we need to have someone we felt was intelligent when it came to financial responsibility for the tax dollars that are collected," Galbut says, adding that the Karpel campaign was just a warm-up for Crescent Heights's involvement in the next commission race. "We were not as vocal or as visible as we'll be in the next election," he promises. "We'll be out there very strongly, I'll guarantee you that."

"We have two words for Crescent Heights's conduct: arrogant and abusive." Irving, an 87-year-old retired attorney, sits slumped in his wheelchair in an unused lounge at the Ocean Pavilion. In this room overlooking the expansive pool deck and boardwalk behind the building, a group of longtime residents, all of them elderly Jewish men, gather every afternoon to kibbitz. These days Crescent Heights is a main topic of conversation, though not one that gives the men a whole lot of pleasure. "We were a very happy building until one day we got a notice that [former owner Mitchell] Taylor had sold the building to Crescent Heights," says Irving, an articulate man with a gentle voice gone gravelly with age. He lifts his head slightly and squints through his thick glasses. "They've destroyed the morale in this building."

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