Parks and Profits

Believe it or not, Miami's planning czar Jack Luft says he can make Virginia Key both lovely and lucrative

Luznar and many of his friends are convinced the city wants to close down Jimbo's, despite Luft's repeated assurances to the contrary. As he drives the rutted road that leads to the bait shop, Luft explains his concerns about Jimbo's. For one thing, Luznar pays very little rent for his makeshift wooden shop, and that, Luft claims, infuriates people who lease other waterfront properties from the city at premium prices.

In addition, the city owns the property and therefore is responsible for ensuring overall maintenance of the premises, including trash removal. But Luft says the city can't legally do any maintenance owing to the "conservation" zoning classification around Jimbo's, which prohibits any city work. "It's not our intent to change the basic function and activity that goes on there," Luft insists. "We're going to try to find a way, as sensitively as possible and with as little destruction as possible, to put it on a legal foothold."

Luft parks his car and ambles toward the custom-made bocce-ball court and cluster of tables outside the weathered building. The 70-year-old Luznar, nearly as rustic as his shop, wears a baseball cap and a red Jimbo's T-shirt as he greets Luft with a grin.

For the next ten minutes Luznar wheedles Luft with suggestions for the campground design, glowing reports of his bait business, and reminders of Jimbo's recent appearance in a segment of World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. He also stresses that his little operation along the lagoon is about the only place in Miami where people of all races and ethnic groups can sit down peacefully and share a beer and some conversation.

A few yards away an advertising photo session is underway amid a group of brightly painted small shacks now used as backdrops. Models, crew members, and clients mix comfortably. Jimbo's appears to be exactly the kind of urban meeting ground Jack Luft hopes to create on Virginia Key, and he certainly appears entertained by the scene. "You can't build places like this," he remarks, "they have to grow." He asks Luznar to sell him a cigar and would clearly like to linger. But his island tour continues.

It pauses at the sea wall behind the bait shop, where two boats are tied up. The concrete is cracked and some very hardy grass has colonized the dirt in the crevices. "It's on its last legs," Luft says. Gesturing toward shards of metal, blocks of cement, and coiled ropes, he chuckles: "This is a liability lawyer's dream."

He follows the lagoon's edge, stopping to kick empty beer cans or stare at little hills of rubbish -- bottles, plastic six-pack rings, paper plates. Massive squares of concrete form a kind of artificial coastline for a hundred feet or more. He asks whether environmentalists might want to save this particular shoreline. "These are natural chunks of concrete," he says with a smile, "formed 20,000 years ago.

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