A War of Addition

A legal battle between developer Ron Bloomberg and Beach officials over the fate of the city's cultural campus has both sides fuming

Robert A.M. Stern, the diminutive New York City-based architect, stands before the dais in the Miami Beach City Commission chamber, gesturing at a scale model of the cultural campus with one hand, holding a microphone in the other. "You have the library here, the ballet here, the Bass here, and Wolfie's here. All the landmarks are in place," he jokes during his February 17 presentation. The commissioners chortle.

The city hired Stern to design and build the library and the parking garage, and to develop a unifying plan for reshaping Collins Park itself. By now everyone has conceded that the parking garage is not going to happen in the foreseeable future, so Stern has adjusted his plans accordingly. Although not present, and never named, Ron Bloomberg looms large in the discussion.

"We recognize the need to keep parking on the beachfront site now," Stern says, pointing at the city-owned surface lot between Collins Avenue and the ocean. "We hope, in the future ... to remove the parking with the eventual construction of a garage, or some other way to address the large-scale parking problem in the area."

After Stern completes his presentation, Assistant City Manager Mayra Diaz-Buttacavoli gives commissioners the lowdown on how much parking, on-street and off, exists to accommodate future patrons and employees of the cultural campus. By her calculations the city can offer barely enough spaces to meet the facilities' needs under the zoning code -- for now.

Commissioner Susan Gottlieb, though, wants to make sure blame is assigned for this mad scramble for adequate parking. "The reason we have not been able to go ahead with the 400-space parking garage, which would more than address all of the problems in the area, is because of the escalating cost of a particular piece of property."

The only problem with the ballet's present location, she posits, is that the project has run afoul of "the greed of one particular landowne...."

"Okay, okay, okay," Kasdin says, hoping to stem her anger.
Bloomberg's perceived greed notwithstanding, the city is sending out mixed messages about its intentions for the Chevron lot. On one hand the city dropped the eminent domain suit, and Stern adjusted his library plans to allow for the lack of a parking garage. On the other the city has moved to block Bloomberg from putting up an office building there, and Stern still is talking about "the eventual construction of a parking garage."

Nor is there any end in sight to the war.
Consider this: On April 13 Stern's library plan was scheduled to go before the Design Review Board for approval. But before city officials can push forward with the third piece of the cultural campus, they will have to wrest control of the former Ablon lot from Bloomberg, via an eminent domain suit.

Bloomberg stresses that he will vigorously fight this lawsuit, which might well result in a big payday both for him and his attorney. He's also determined to battle the city's attempt to stall his office building on the Chevron lot. And (lest his friends at city hall forget) he's holding out for a ruling in his favor by the Third District Court of Appeal in his ballet lawsuit. The court will hear arguments on April 26.

If his appeal does succeed, what then? Bloomberg isn't sure. Maybe he'll ask for monetary damages, maybe the judges will order construction of the ballet stopped.

He would rather it didn't come to that. He says he hopes the city will either try to negotiate with him for the Chevron parcel, take it from him fair and square through eminent domain, or just drop its appeal of his office building there. He doesn't see any of those things happening anytime soon.

A meeting in late March between Commissioner Liebman and Bloomberg's lawyers, though civil, has yet to result in any viable compromise, Liebman says. "I can't even get one person to answer my phone calls," the developer maintains. "Ron Bloomberg, since he's litigating against the city, nobody returns his phone calls. Their attitude is, 'Okay, screw him.'

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