By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The fairy-tale rehabilitation of the Sony Music Building from architectural eyesore to Miami Beach's version of Manhattan's Flatiron skyscraper is part of Lincoln Road lore. "I said, 'This could be an amazing place,'" developer Mera Rubell, who purchased and renovated the building, told Variety magazine in 1999. In those days, three floors of the building housed the studios of WAMI, the Miami affiliate of broadcasting mogul Barry Diller's chain of thirteen CityVision UHF television stations. Seeking to create original programming that capitalized on local talent and finding little in South Florida, WAMI imploded shortly thereafter.
On the glass-fronted ground floor of the streamlined structure, which is topped by a Sony Music logo glowing in cobalt neon, the black WAMI logo still hangs in a cartoonlike balloon above the door. The brightly colored studio where passersby could once peer in the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch shows being broadcast live has long been empty. Then earlier this year America Galleries moved into the cavernous lobby.
WAMI's motto was "The City Is Our Studio." Now the studio, perhaps forever fated to be haunted by Diller -- who did, after all, found ultimate junk purveyor the Home Shopping Network-- is chock-full of schlock, including giant bronze jumping dolphins, enormous silvery eagles in flight, a verdigris statue of a mermaid emerging from the sea, and several announcements for public auctions of "paintings, rugs, vases, lamps, crystals, furnitures, sculptures."
In addition to the aforementioned colossal sculptures, the ambitious decorator may purchase $12.50 Limoges-style boxes, $14 Chinese snuff bottles, $5 silver-plated serving accessories, copies of Fabergé eggs, and ersatz porcelains depicting Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo sculpting David, to name a few of the many items for sale. Could the contents be repossessed property not suitable for an auction? Nooo! Treat the goods as if you were shopping in a regular store, said a salesman on duty late one recent night when not much shopping at all was going on.
Instead curious tourists meandered through the space; others stared wide-eyed through the windows; a group of eight, amazed at the abundance, even posed for a photo in front of the brightly lit store. A couple of locals wandering by were less impressed. One was overheard remarking, "I can't believe how ugly this place is!" A valid complaint, which might be better directed to the Rubells, also known for their chain of chic boutique hotels and discerning collection of modern art. Jennifer and Jason Rubell, the children of Mera and full names behind JJR Properties, the building's leasing agency, could not be reached for comment.
The Bitch took a trip to Watson Island and the Miami Children's Museum, and was greeted with appropriate puzzlement upon asking for a single ticket.
"You're here alone?" inquired the suspicious ticket-taker. "We require unaccompanied adults to leave their ID at the front desk." (It is worth pointing out here that it was early morning, The Bitch wakes up rough, and really, with Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episodes in 24/7 loop on cable, it was hard not to commend the woman for looking into The Bitch's bloodshot eyes and feeling a bit alarmed.)
Starting with the obvious, SUBJECTING CHILDREN TO CORPORATE BRANDING IN THE NAME OF EDUCATION IS BAD. Very, very bad. The fact that Publix, Bank of America, and Carnival Cruise Lines prominently display their logos on exhibits meant for children is repellent, and hard to ignore, given that said logos are painted on the exhibits in letters two feet high.
But The Bitch was happily surprised by several exhibits of the educational (a wall of art where children can compare and contrast Yoruba cloth patterns with a Basquiat painting) and just plain fun (mini-pilothouses, from which small visitors can steer plastic barge models around a miniature Port of Miami) variety.
In the corridors of Miami Beach City Hall, whispers abound of the impending retirement of crotchety city attorney Murray Dubbin so City Commissioner José Smith, who is termed out, can become the Beach's legal counsel.
Since reporting last week about an investigation by the Florida Department of Education's Office of the Inspector Generalinto the doings of Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, The Bitch has been wondering about the Mangrove League school's legal name.
Being the upstanding, highly skeptical, straight shooter that she is, The Bitch is not buying the disingenuous name change the doctor of philosophy and his board of trustees foisted on Miami-Dade's unsuspecting public last June. It is true that about a year ago, the Florida legislature passed a law allowing Padrón to print "Miami-Dade College" on B.S. degrees conferred to graduates of the School of Education's six baccalaureate programs. For all other purposes, however, this public institution's lawful name is still Miami-Dade Community College.
Says who? The Florida Statutes, that's who. And until state law dictates otherwise, the only alteration The Bitch will concede to spin-doctor Padrón is this: Miami-Dade Community? College.
"That's something we could probably look into," says Mike Gomez, Florida's deputy auditor general, referring to the name-change issue. An undisclosed number of his colleagues are currently engaged in a routine inquiry of MDC?C, with a report due sometime this summer. "If I remember correctly, the law specified that when issuing those four-year degrees, it could be referred to as Miami-Dade College. I don't think it was a wholesale change in the name," Gomez adds politely.
West Miami-Dade residents are waiting for the feds to make a decision that could exempt 200 acres in Kendale Lakes from state and local laws -- and possibly ease an attempt to include gambling halls at the Miccosukee Golf and Country Club. In February 2003 the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida applied to have the club taken into trust by the U.S. government on its behalf. The application is still pending, but late last year Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess weighed in on the matter.
Rundle and Burgess both wrote letters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressing distress that taking the land into federal trust would mean local police would no longer have jurisdiction, and that the golf course would be exempt from local zoning and environmental regulations.
Kendall residents have been curious and apprehensive since the tribe's 2001 purchase of the dilapidated Miami National Golf Club in Kendale Lakes. The tribe isn't known for its public relations efforts, and many didn't know what to expect. Then the course was refurbished, membership flourished, and the Miccosukee Golf and Country Club became a tour stop for PGA and LPGA events.
Another Miccosukee success story? Perhaps, but it is precisely because of the tribe's notable business acumen that residents keep whispering the "c" word.
"They've assured us that they have no intention of opening a casino in Kendale Lakes," says Miles Moss, president of the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations. "But we keep hearing rumors that the tribe is hoping to have at least bingo or table gaming on the grounds."
Exempting the club from state laws prohibiting gambling would be a key step in that direction, but Miccosukee general counsel Dione Carroll (while not specifically denying plans for any gambling operations) points out the time and money spent by the tribe to build a world-class golf course. Carroll's statement echoes a portion of a letter from tribal chairman Billie Cypress to Moss, wherein Cypress outlines the golf course improvements, concluding with this: "I submit to you that those are not the actions of an organization that is seeking to change the use of the golf course."
Carroll calls concerns about environmental regulations a joke. "Candidly, we have much more protective environmental regulations than the county," she says.