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
In November 1992, Powers was in South Beach, ready to launch the new monthly magazine chronicling the social, fashion, and modeling scene that was burgeoning. He had a new business partner, Jason Binn, the 24-year-old son of Manhattan millionaire Moreton Binn. The younger Binn had been a top sales and marketing executive for Michael Warren, a New York-based garment maker. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
The magazine's first editor-in-chief, Lori Capullo, remembers starting out in an office above News Café on Ocean Drive at Eighth Street. She spent a great deal of time trying to land an interview with famed fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was staying at the Marlin Hotel in Miami Beach. "Jason and Jerry really wanted to get Versace because we were using a photo of supermodel Claudia Schiffer in one of his evening gowns for the cover," Capullo explains. "But we kept getting the runaround from his publicist. We found out where he was and Jason sent him a bouquet of flowers."
Within two days, Capullo says, Versace contacted her through the hotel's concierge and agreed to an interview. "At the end of our meeting, Jason and Jerry came over," she says, "and they did the whole pose-with-a-celebrity photo."
Powers says they lucked out with Versace. "He had fallen in love with Miami Beach," he explains. "He wanted to be part of the community. We caught him at the right moment."
To compete with national magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, Powers decided to focus on the stars. "Ocean Drive was always meant to be a money-making operation that was all about celebrities, fashion, and Miami," Powers says. "We weren't going to be the Miami Herald or the New Times."
So when the inaugural issue came out in January 1993, the magazine did not disappoint. Schiffer graced the cover, and the Versace interview was the main story.
Club promoter Michael Capponi, at the time a teenage surfer kid from Miami Beach, remembers handing out copies to pretty girls on the street. "People were just blown away," Capponi says. "Here was this bright-colored magazine with photos and stories about the locals who were making Miami Beach a cool place to be."
Indeed, the timing couldn't have been better. After years of being stereotyped as a city of elderly retirees, South Beach was again becoming cool — as it had been in the '50s and early '60s — both in the northeastern United States and Europe. Ocean Drive would cement that image. Soon advertisers were clamoring for space.
Yet amid all the good fortune, Powers still had to deal with a serious problem in New York. The same month Ocean Drive made its splashy debut, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York indicted Powers for not reporting the $560,000 he made in 1988 and 1989. On January 20, 1993, Powers pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return in a timely manner. To avoid prison time, he helped the government nail his former client, Max, who in 1996 was charged with 11 counts of conspiracy and tax fraud. In response, the artist claimed Powers had shown him how to cheat Uncle Sam.
On June 22, 1998, Max pleaded guilty to two counts of tax evasion. He received two months in prison and two years of supervised release. Less than a month later, Powers was sentenced to three years' probation.
During the half-decade of court hearings, Powers distracted himself with Ocean Drive. From the beginning, their plan called for circulating about 40,000 copies. Local distributors could commit to accepting only 2,000 copies at a time, so there was no way Binn and Powers were going to make the magazine profitable by selling it on newsstands. "And they told me they would do their best to sell only 20, 30 percent of those," Powers says. "I needed to get the magazine out to everybody in order to make an impact."
Feature stories about developers such as Tony Goldman and Craig Robins and restaurateurs such as Mark Soyka, along with gossipy articles covering South Beach nightlife and fashion, filled the magazine. But it was the photos — beautiful women dressed in haute couture — that defined the glossy as the standard bearer of all things fabulous in the Magic City.
Start-up costs nearly doomed the magazine. A company now called St. Ives Press sued Powers for refusing to pay $18,500 in printing fees for the debut issue, and eventually he agreed to fork over $14,500. After the first year in business, Ocean Drive needed another $350,000 to become self-sustaining. "It was a cash-crunch problem," he insists, "based on our success."
So Powers and Binn brought in investors, including South Beach real estate magnate and playboy Thomas Kramer, whose womanizing and partying became a regular feature in Ocean Drive. Though Kramer's role as both story subject and owner seemed to blur the line between advertising and editorial, Powers is unapologetic. "This was a guy we would have written about whether he had invested or not because he was a Miami Beach character," he says. "And we never had a separation of church and state between the editorial and advertising side."