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

Resnick insists that the reason for his shift was simple: He hadn't known the extent of the city's financial obligations. The lawsuits Miami Beach had lost required the city to build parking facilities and perform some environmental cleanup, undertakings which were projected to cost up to $18.5 million. City attorneys at the time believed that the lawsuit settlements also gave the property owner (now Kramer) the right to build a boat-storage dry stack next to the Miami Beach Marina. If Kramer built that, the city would have to purchase property on the other side of Alton Road to build the required parking garage, pushing the total cost as high as $40.5 million. The Portofino Agreement would bring the city's costs down to about $13 million. "When I really understood the finances involved, I changed my mind," Resnick declares.

Commissioner Martin Shapiro, a consistent critic of the Portofino deal, insists there was an "unholy alliance between the city government and Portofino. Somehow Resnick became a figurehead for that. Ed sort of appointed himself spokesman for all of South Pointe, but I really think he was being used by the city and Portofino."

But John Dellagloria, now city attorney of North Miami, contends that it was Resnick, with his years of experience as a development attorney and his relentless negotiating style, who shaped the final version of the agreement. "Going into the negotiations, the transaction weighed more in favor of Portofino than the city," Dellagloria says. "When Ed was finished with it, the final document weighed evenly, maybe a little more in favor of the city."

Frank Del Toro, then with the city's planning department, remembers Resnick as a constant presence at city hall throughout the negotiations. "He was in John Dellagloria's face every day," he relates. "Ed had a lot of stature in city hall. He could go in unannounced and get to see [City Manager] Jose Garcia-Pedrosa. Any other person, Jose would make him wait, but he would always drop everything for Ed. That, to me, is power."

Resnick clearly relished the role he played those months in 1995. "It was fun," he admits. "It was important, it was meaningful, it was interesting, the personalities were unbelievable, the politics were incredible. And the sheer negotiating! Heinrich [Hanau, then-CEO of the Portofino Group] and I were at odds every day. I'd start out, 'Portofino has to pay for these improvements.' He'd say, 'Absolutely not.'"

The final Portofino Agreement that emerged from this wrangling did call for a zoning-density increase of the Alaskan site, which Resnick had once believed to be inviolable. Resnick emphasizes now that the other benefits the city would receive -- seven acres of open land north of the marina, more than six million dollars in improvements to city streets -- were worth it. "That's what I had gotten out of the negotiations," he says.

Still, by attaching his name to it and feuding openly with naysayers like Wiss and fellow South Pointe resident Mark Needle, Resnick found himself increasingly painted as an advocate for Portofino -- and, by extension, the odious Kramer.

Needle says that characterization is unfair, but that at one point Resnick made it clear he would brook no criticism of his dealmaking skills. "After one of those commission meetings, I told him honestly that I felt he had given up too much too soon, and he just went ballistic," Needle remembers. "Called me a 'goddamn punk,' something like that, just went ballistic."

Resnick continues to dismiss his allies-turned-detractors as misguided. "I really tried, always tried to arrive at consensus. I finally realized that was impossible with Mark and several others. If you waited for consensus with them, it would go on and on for the next twenty years."

Yet even neutral observers believe Resnick got too close to the process. "I think Ed fell in love with the Portofino deal," says Mayor Neisen Kasdin, who at the time was a city commissioner. "Although I never questioned the sincerity of his beliefs or his motivations, I think that, after he had worked so hard to make it a better deal, he lost his objectivity about it."

The staunch anti-Portofino crowd in South Pointe felt that the deal had gone down without their input. Many believed that Resnick, to use the vernacular of the Sixties, had gone from being part of the solution to being part of the problem. At a mid-1996 commission meeting at which the deal was discussed, Mark Needle warned commissioners that the people would not stand for it.

He, Wiss, and other activists against development in South Pointe went on to organize a petition drive to amend the city charter. The proposed amendment required every increase in waterfront zoning to be put before the public in a referendum. This proviso cut into the guts of the Portofino deal, in which the city had agreed to increase the zoning on the Alaskan parcel.

Resnick scoffs at the amendment and the petition drive that led to its being put on the ballot: "They stood outside the polls during the [1996] presidential election and said, 'Would you like to stop the high rises on Miami Beach?' Anybody could have done that."

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