By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Maybe pink really is the new black. In Little Havana's Latin Quarter it seems pastels are now de rigueur, at least for building façades. Black is not only out in the LQ but, supposedly, illegal.
The exterior in question belongs to Borders Picture Framing and Gallery, which is located in a minimalist one-story building at 1601 SW First St., on the northwest edge of the Latin Quarter. Owners Steve Meeks, Jr., and Steve Meeks, Sr., who are among the premier framers in town, moved into the space three years ago. Back then the exterior was yellow and pink. "Looked like a Taco Bell," says Steve Jr. So knowing a thing or two about art and design, they painted it "dark, dark gray," as he describes it. "Almost like a slate black. Because it's a very flat, straight building. We put silver reflective tints on all the windows. It's a very sort of modern look."
About a month ago a mysterious fellow with a goatee showed up at Borders, saying he was a private contractor sent by the city's East Little Havana Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET). According to the younger Meeks, the man told him the frame shop didn't conform to the city's Latin Quarter color guidelines and offered to paint it another shade at no expense to the owners. They refused. "I said, 'Look, I don't have anything from the city telling me that I have to paint my building,'" the picture framer recounts. "It just struck me as very weird."
Turns out the man with the beard was actually sent by the Small Business Opportunity Center, a private nonprofit corporation that has served as a funnel for taxpayer dollars into Little Havana since 1976. The SBOC is connected to CAMACOL, the Latin Chamber of Commerce, whose founder, Luis Sabines, was one of Little Havana's great caudillos. He died in 2000. His son, Luis, Jr., runs the SBOC from its office in the CAMACOL headquarters just a few blocks from the Meekses' store.
SBOC is a long-time recipient of the federal grants doled out yearly by the city's Department of Community Development for a plethora of noble purposes, in this case the commercial façade program, to which $700,000 was allocated this fiscal year.
The problem is the city and SBOC have put a very gray cart before the dark horse of code enforcement. Pablo Canton, the East Little Havana NET administrator, admits he hasn't been able to get an inspector to issue the Meekses a violation notice for their offending hue. That could be because the only two inspectors he had were recently reassigned to another office as part of a NET downsizing plan. But it could also be that even if code-enforcement sleuths are on the case, it's likely they can't figure out what colors are in the clear in the Quarter. Canton tells New Timeshe doesn't know exactly what's in the official Latin Quarter palette, just that black and other dark colors aren't. "We have certain rules," he declares. "We don't want a purple building or a dark-green building. Personally, I don't really like black either." For the definitive word, Canton referred New Times to veteran city planner José Casanova for the "approved" LQ colors. (Casanova did not respond to a request for comment.)
The Meekses think the guidelines are obscure at best, according to a 1988 copy of such that they possess. "It doesn't say it cannot be gray," Steve Jr. notes. "It says, 'Light shades of color are preferred.'"
Lured to the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort by a wily flack promising interviews, cocktails, and a chance to "hobnob with soon-to-be stars of the hit reality program" The Apprentice II, the Bitch was ambushed on Monday by an elaborate sales pitch for the adjoining Trump Grande Ocean Resort & Residences (otherwise known as "condos").
Though a man in a brown suit and blue oxford shirt greatly resembled the ousted Bowie from the current Apprentice season, it was in fact Trump development partner Gil Dezer. With no other stars on hand, there was no comparing claws with next year's Omarosa. Instead a pack of duped but proudly impoverished journalists mingled awkwardly with Realtors intent on moving seven-digit units in the Sunny Isles Beach palace, and, oddly, the entire staff of a Scion dealership. Surely the closest the disposable imports get to Trump property.
Though the big cheese -- The Donald -- was most definitely not in the house, there were some big wheels -- of camembert, chèvre, and Morbier du Livradois -- and free liquor on hand, served with glossy brochures for the properties.
Rob LaPlante, an agreeable mensch with tousled hair and smudged glasses who is the casting producer for the forthcoming second installment of the NBC series, calmly filled in as a celebrity surrogate. LaPlante recalled last week's open casting call for The Apprentice II, which saw a line "three football fields long" of careerist-on-camera hopefuls snake down Collins Avenue.
"I interviewed more than 1000 people in one day," LaPlante sighed, though he was mum on how many from the South Florida audition made the cut to contestant. "Sometimes people from a certain setting work out, and sometimes they don't."