Rodriguez envisions the area as a studio city for producing Latin-American television programs, fashion layouts, music videos, commercials, and possibly films. He plans to rent out the former apartments as offices to industry-related businesses, with a restaurant on the ground floor -- a kind of Hollywood-style canteen where executives and talent can network over lunch. The renovation of the ice factory where Leroy Smith used to fetch blocks of ice for his mother will boast nine sound stages, and is nearing completion. The crew of Oliver Stone's next movie is already using one area to build sets.
Rodriguez bought the buildings cheap, but he expects to spend about ten million dollars on the sound stages alone. He's already put about $30,000 into cleaning out the apartments, a kind of archeological dig in which crews spent weeks unearthing old clothes, furniture, appliances, personal documents, and petrified food from the stinking rooms.
"My economic venture is to turn this place around," Rodriguez contends. "I see it as attracting special people. It's exciting to create this blank slate and see who fills it up. It's getting back to that pioneer spirit of Miami that inhabited this area 100 years ago. There needs to be an area that has room, that has style, that has history, that has a good location," he says. "This is the original Miami, and I think it's really cool that all that history is there."
As he sits at his window, Carlin can hear the men at work in the apartment building next door. Rolling his eyes toward the holes in his ceiling, the storeowner mentions that he wishes Rodriguez luck, and hopes he finds some good security guards.
Suddenly an old gray sedan drives up to the liquor store window. Carlin's only customer of the day, a fortyish black man with a muscular physique, a thick gold necklace, and dark sunglasses gets out. He passes a twenty through the slot at the bottom of the window. Carlin passes back a pint of gin and some change. As the man turns to go, Carlin calls out after him, offering a plastic cup, which the man accepts.
"He's probably going to find a tree and sit and have his drink," Carlin muses. "People just need some peace sometimes. That's the way life is. Everyone needs to find somewhere to go."
Carlin says he hasn't figured out where he'll spend his days when he closes the store, now that he has the money to do as he pleases. In the meantime he'll be sitting here. He pats his dog Nick and returns his gaze to North Miami Avenue, dreaming, perhaps, of the future.