A Taste for Trouble

When Ed Resnick agreed to help negotiate the Portofino Agreement, he never figured he'd become South Beach's public enemy #1

By the time he retired in 1982, Resnick had built a reputation as a hard-nosed advocate for major developers throughout South Florida. He spent the first decade or so of his retirement at Turnberry Isle in North Miami-Dade. In 1988 the Resnicks returned to Miami Beach, purchasing a unit in the brand-new South Pointe Tower.

The hulking condominium rested squarely within the South Pointe Redevelopment District. By the time Resnick moved into his new condo, though, the city's attempts to spur development had been largely botched, resulting in two successful lawsuits against the city by developers. South Pointe remained one of Miami Beach's rougher neighborhoods.

"It was a slum," Resnick recalls. "And if you walk two blocks away from here, it still is." By plunking down a quarter of a million dollars for the Tower condo, Resnick was banking on a renaissance. And he didn't just sit around waiting for it to materialize. In 1992 the Miami Beach City Commission re-established the South Pointe Advisory Board (SPAB), a group of residents who could counsel commissioners on how best to rejuvenate their neighborhood. Resnick chaired this new advisory board from its inception until October 1997.

Soon after SPAB was reconstituted, Thomas Kramer began buying up vacant tracts of land on the bay side of South Pointe. Because some of those parcels' previous owners had successfully sued the city, most of them were zoned for extremely dense high-rise development. Which was exactly what Kramer wanted to build, as the construction of Portofino Tower next door to South Pointe Tower in 1994 evinced.

The prospect of being hemmed in by such monoliths frightened many residents. The city was worried as well, so officials began negotiating with Kramer's company, Portofino Group, to come up with a compromise plan for the land he owned. In January 1995, the first draft of this plan, which would eventually come to be known as the Portofino Agreement, was submitted to SPAB for a recommendation. Eight members voted for, four voted against. One of the "no" votes came from Resnick.

What gave him pause was the proposal to change the zoning of the bayfront "Alaskan" parcel, so called because it had once been owned by a Native American corporation in Alaska. The land, along with a couple of other slivers, is adjacent to South Pointe Park and is zoned for low-rise, marine-recreational use. The first draft of the agreement called for increasing the zoning on these parcels to permit tall, Portofino Tower-type buildings.

In a four-page position paper, Resnick insisted that "the requested change in zoning on the 'Alaskan' parcel ... should never be approved." He proposed either allowing Portofino to build something small, at the current zoning levels, or having the city buy the land and add it to South Pointe Park as open space.

His paper concluded that "the city can make a much better deal than has been presented." Resnick, who had made a career out of arguing for major developments, was not averse to tall buildings per se. He says he simply thought that the city could squeeze more concessions from Portofino Group.

The principal author of the first draft of the agreement, then Assistant City Attorney John Dellagloria, thought Resnick had a point. When the time came for another round of negotiations with Portofino, Dellagloria says, he asked Resnick to join the city's team.

Resnick sits in his wheelchair, leaning on his left arm. He's parked in the TV room of South Pointe Tower, a cramped, octagonal space painted in muted shades of purple. In his tenth-floor condo upstairs, his daughter and two grandchildren await the beginning of a week of fun with grandpa.

Outfitted in black slacks and a gray-and-black checked shirt, Resnick relates the tale of his role in the rise and fall of the Portofino Agreement with a hint of weariness. He talks at a deliberate pace, his bald pate rocking slowly back and forth as he speaks -- a persistent effect of his illness. When his face itches, he props his right arm up slightly with his left and leans his head down to scratch his face on his thumbnail.

His physical frailty, though, belies both a lucid analytical legal mind and a fierce will. These qualities, along with his knowledge of land-use issues, led city officials to tap him as the community adviser to the Portofino Agreement negotiating team.

Now, several years removed from the deal, Resnick notes that his efforts have won him mostly enemies. This is especially true of his former allies on the South Pointe Citizens Coalition, a group of community activists who pushed for historic designation and preservation of the neighborhood. "The primary force in that group was Ilona Wiss," Resnick recalls. "We were friends then. I'm still her friend. She just doesn't talk to me. But then, a lot of people don't talk to me any more."

A former realtor and South Pointe property owner, Wiss says the reasons for the rift were fundamental: "We were challenging the underlying premises of the agreement, and he just accepted them. All of a sudden the ideas from his position paper were just gone. He became an advocate for the plan."

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