Lots of Contention

Quik Park's Hank Sopher has made a quick buck from garages and vacant lots. Now politicians are wondering if he's selling the public short.

Teele later admitted, during an interview in his Dinner Key office, that he was a great admirer of Sopher, whom he first met about two years ago. But the surcharge fiasco had thrown him for a loop. "I'm just totally confounded," Teele said. Then he added: "I think that what he's done is lashed out out of frustration." In sum the surcharge maneuver was "a strategic mistake" that "cost him PR points," Teele surmised. "It has created the perception that he's looking for favors," Teele observed. "And he's going to have to work out of that." Then he added, "I think he's been getting some bad advice." From whom? He rolled his eyeballs in a glance to the ceiling. Translation: Joe Carollo.

Indeed that morning when a reporter stopped the mayor in the carpeted hallway alongside the commission chamber, Carollo did not dispel the notion that Sopher had erred. New Times was curious: Were Sopher's donations to brother Frank somehow related to the mayor's push for parking privatization? "One thing doesn't have anything to do with the other," Mayor Carollo responded sternly. "[Sopher]'s going to be one of 30 companies who are going to bid." But of course the surcharge matter would have to be "cleared up" first, he added. Then what did he think Sopher sought from all the contributions to Frank? The mercurial mayor took a step back. "You're going to write what you're going to write," he blurted angrily and began to walk away. Then he turned around and added: "By the way he's not Cuban, so you don't have to dump on him." And the elected leader of the Magic City strutted off.

Sopher still had the mayor on his side, but in the end the investment in Frank Carollo was not a good one. He lost his senate race by a wide margin. When a legal threat arose challenging the offstreet parking referendum, the administration canceled its request for letters of interest from parking companies. The city ordered Quik Park to pony up the $600,000 and a $200,000 fine. Then Mayor Carollo, after his wife filed for divorce, announced he would not run for re-election next year.

"I'd watch him like a fox," warns New York City councilwoman Kathryn Freed, who is struggling to keep Sopher from squeezing a hotel into her historic SoHo
"I'd watch him like a fox," warns New York City councilwoman Kathryn Freed, who is struggling to keep Sopher from squeezing a hotel into her historic SoHo
The Parking Network's Fred Bredemeyer caught Quik Park pulling a fast one on Miami
Steve Satterwhite
The Parking Network's Fred Bredemeyer caught Quik Park pulling a fast one on Miami

Apparently few knew it, but history was repeating itself. During his long career in New York, Sopher has left a trail of legal entanglements, especially involving tax disputes. But he's in good company. The parking industry, in New York at least, has a hard-earned reputation for not paying taxes. "You gotta remember that parking is about 80 percent cash," explained one Manhattan garage manager who has been in the parking business for 40 years. Which makes it easier to fudge on the accounting end. But he said state and city authorities have their hands full trying to nail bigger offenders: "They just don't go after the garages that hot and heavy."

Sopher may be learning things are a little different down here in the paved swamp. "It's characteristic of Hank to fight anything," said the Manhattan manager, who has known Sopher since the Sixties. "He would spend whatever the hell it costs just to make his point and if he loses at the end, he loses. He's always been like that."

Even his partners admit Sopher has a certain unpolished boldness about him. "He's rough around the corners a little bit, but he's smart as hell," said Steven Shepsman from his office in Melville, New York. The 48-year-old Shepsman is managing director of Reckson Strategic Venture Partners (RSVP), the main financial backer of Sopher's holdings in the Miami area. In sum he offered: "He's a New York real estate guy."

Hank Sopher clashed with other New Yorkers, especially government guys, long before Quik Park made it to the Dinner Key stage. In the Sixties in housing-hungry Manhattan, he set up a corporation named J.I. Sopher Realty, which included an outfit called High Rise Realty. As the demand for luxury apartments fed a construction boom in Manhattan and across the Hudson River in New Jersey, he made hefty profits. In addition to his brokerage fees for selling and renting units, he also earned money managing parking garages for owners of some of the high rises.

In 1975 the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York filed a civil suit against Sopher alleging his company had a policy under which his sales and rental agents were not to show apartments to prospective tenants who were black. The accusations centered on four high rises Sopher agents handled: the 178-unit Parc 23 on Park Avenue South, the similar-sized Parc 77 and Parc Coliseum on the Upper West Side, and the 1500-unit Normandie Court on the edge of East Harlem.

Sopher denied the allegations but signed a consent decree in which he pledged not to discriminate against minorities; it also required him to keep meticulous records so federal authorities could monitor his brokers' actions. But in 1982 and again in 1985 the U.S. Attorney's Office, then under the helm of New York City's current mayor Rudolph Giuliani, charged Sopher with violating the record-keeping stipulation. In 1987 a grand jury took testimony from several of Sopher's former agents who confirmed the discriminatory practices. But he has always disavowed the statements.

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