No detail escapes Stanley Whitman's attention on his daily stroll through the Shops
No detail escapes Stanley Whitman's attention on his daily stroll through the Shops

Stanley Whitman's Wonderful Life

Three inches. That's all that separates Stanley Whitman from perfection. For now. Whitman is standing on the second floor of his Bal Harbour Shops -- he built the mall, he owns it -- observing his latest improvement project, an expansion of the walkways delivering shoppers from the parking garage into the mall. No one ever complained about the width. The owner just decided it was something he wanted. “Can you believe all that trouble for just that extra little bit of room?” he asks with obvious satisfaction, as workers chip away at the terrazzo floor. Whitman also is installing a new floor on the second level (“to match the one on the first”) and repairing two of the reflecting pools he fills with tropical fish. Constant attention to every detail of the property's appearance is what make the Shops, in Whitman's opinion, “the only really, truly, honest-to-God, world-class property in Dade County.”

Located in the beach village of Bal Harbour -- the small, affluent community of high-rise condominiums and private cul-de-sacs extending from 96th Street to Haulover Cut and bordered on the west by Bay Harbor Islands and on the east by the Atlantic -- the Shops constitute one of the most famous, exclusive, and profitable shopping districts in the nation. The mall's two department stores, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, anchor a two-story network of open-air walkways funneling shoppers into upscale emporia such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Fendi, and Prada. At age 81 Whitman makes the trip from his Miami Shores home to his office in the Shops every business day, and not because he has to. “I committed the classic real estate mistake of falling in love with the property,” he confesses.

The developer may have stayed true to his mall -- he has passed up opportunities to build others -- but the gleaming façade of the Shops does not constitute the sum of his impact on the village of Bal Harbour, or on the larger landscape of South Florida.

Whitman, recycling the old line about General Motors, maintains that what is good for his mall is good for the community and vice-versa. Since opening the Shops in 1965, the developer has taken an unusually active role in shaping the world beyond his front gate. “The civic stuff is the root of what I'm all about,” he says, proudly noting his efforts in pushing through the construction of I-95 in the Sixties. Over the years the Miami Herald has published not one but two celebratory features chronicling his achievements. His name is included in the Bal Harbour founder's circle, and three years ago he was honored with his own day by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas “for contributions which serve to enrich the fabric of the community.”

But not everyone in the shadow of Whitman's mall lives happily ever after. If his vision has garnered a world-class clientele, praise from public officials, and valentines from the mainstream press, neighbors claim the developer has virtually colonized the area around Bal Harbour Shops.

A blue-and-white banner hanging outside the village's Church-by-the-Sea bears witness to the charge: “TO THE BAL HARBOUR MALL OWNER: THIS CHURCH IS NOT FOR SALE.” Minister Priscilla Whitehead suspects the developer is using a parking-fee dispute to try to roust her congregation so he can take over the property.

Paul Novack, mayor of neighboring Surfside, sympathizes with the church, adding that the developer's ambitions extend well beyond Bal Harbour. The Surfside of Stanley Whitman's dreams, Novack observes, is a city of entrance ramps leading to his mall, or as he puts it: “whatever facilitates the sound of cash registers.” If so, Novack, Whitehead, and the surrounding community have cause for concern. As Whitman himself freely admits, he has money, influence, and even history on his side.

At first glance one wouldn't necessarily take Stanley Whitman for a millionaire developer. True, his usual attire of short-sleeve sport shirts, khakis, and expensive loafers might evoke the country club, as might the tennis whites he occasionally wears to the office. But his demeanor is all wrong for the part. Whitman is effusive and down-to-earth. His speech is peppered with locker-room poetry. He refers to one ex-Bal Harbour councilman as having “about as much sense as my dead boxer bitch.” He moves remarkably well on two recently installed artificial knees. His blue eyes, framed by neat, thin strands of white hair, are compelling, as if their owner were forever on the verge of conveying some crucial piece of information. In a different setting, he could be mistaken for an aging fight trainer.

But that would be way off the mark. Stanley Finch Whitman was born into South Florida's ruling class, its first one, actually. His father, William, was a millionaire businessman from Chicago who made his money in printing. “He was the inventor of almost all the equipment used in the printing presses and the newspapers around the world,” his son says, stealing a fond glance at a portrait of the old man hanging in his office.

William Whitman -- who was born in 1859, earned his first million by 1890, and would be almost 60 years old before becoming a father for the first time -- retired in 1915 with his wife, Leona, to a sparsely inhabited stretch of swampland optimistically named Miami Beach.

Stanley was born three years later, during a family visit to Evanston, Illinois. He was greeted by parades in nearby Chicago. The celebrations weren't for him (the United States and its allies had just claimed victory in World War I), but they were a portent of the charmed life that lay ahead.

Whitman considers himself a native Floridian and jokes that his Illinois birth was an indiscretion on his mother's part. “If she had waited just a few weeks,” he cracks, “I would have been born down here.” He grew up in an oceanfront mansion on 32nd Street and Collins Avenue, sharing the house with his parents, two brothers, a downstairs maid, an upstairs maid, a cook, a gardener, and a chauffeur. “We were pioneers,” he says. “We had the second telephone ever on Miami Beach.”

South Florida society in the Teens and Twenties consisted largely of transplanted Midwestern industrial kings who made their money in automobiles and mechanized farming, people like Carl Fisher, Harvey Firestone, and James Deering. The Whitmans fit right in. Stanley remembers playing as a child on the grounds of what eventually became the Firestone Estate at 44th Street and Collins Avenue. (The Fontainebleau Hilton now occupies the property.) And no Whitman birthday party was complete without a visit from Rosie, Carl Fisher's pet elephant. Fisher, a leading developer and booster, used the beast to advertise the area to tourists, photographing her alongside visiting politicians and celebrities. “Every time one of us kids had a birthday, we got to ride Rosie,” Whitman remembers.

In Florida William Whitman launched a second career in real estate development, building both an apartment house and a hotel in the vicinity of his Collins Avenue mansion. “The first hotel built on Miami Beach after the 1926 hurricane,” recalls his son. He also developed Española Way, the Spanish village on South Beach, and, according to Stanley, at one time or another owned most of the ocean frontage between 29th and 44th streets.

Stanley's mother Leona, though 30 years younger than her husband, had a mind and will of her own, especially when it came to real estate. William Whitman warned his young wife to stay in her place when it came to business. She respectfully disregarded this advice. “And she made a killing!” her son reports with relish. “I think she was a better investor than any human being I've ever met.” And a shrewd investor until the very end: “For the last ten, fifteen years of her life [she died in 1983], she would drive down ... and spend a lot of time on South Beach and come back and tell me: “Stanley, you should buy property there.'”

She, of course, had owned real estate there years before. In addition to their other holdings, William and Leona Whitman controlled a couple of prominent Lincoln Road properties back in the Twenties, when the street was still an open thoroughfare and one of the premier shopping districts in the nation. “Absolutely one of the highest-quality streets in the United States,” Whitman says. By “highest quality” he means the best stores, the best merchandise, and what members of a certain social background used to refer to as “the best people.”

Stanley left South Florida for college in 1936. He chose Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, for no other reason than it was the only school to recruit him. His father died during that first semester away from home, and Whitman recalls the characteristic straight talk he got from his mother. “Son,” she told him, “I don't give a damn about good grades. You just go there and learn about life. That's what you're going to school for.” Whitman admits, with the delight a man might afford himself after a lifetime of having and making money, that he took her advice too much to heart. “I didn't study. I never opened a book in four years.... I think the only reason I graduated from Duke University is because they needed the money and there was a terrible, terrible depression. I don't think there's any other explanation.”

Duke may have been feeling the impact of the Great Depression, but to Whitman, a child of privilege, it was a vague rumor. “I have no recall of seeing any distressed people,” he admits. “Nobody had any money then, we know that. The only one who had any money was my father. The only thing the Depression meant to him was that he could buy a lot more for a lot less.”

A big, likable kid, Whitman was elected president of his fraternity at Duke and eventually got the school's May queen -- “a beautiful girl, a nice girl” named Dorothy -- to go out with him. As luck would have it, they share the same birthday. They've been married 58 years.

In 1941 Whitman's seemingly easy journey through life was temporarily interrupted. With war spreading across Europe and the Pacific, he enlisted in the United States Navy. He was practical, if not particularly enthusiastic, about the decision. “The country was going to go to war,” he explains. “If this is the case, why wait to be drafted and be a private in the U.S. Army? It's that simple. The war was coming, so get in the service you want to be in.”

He chose the navy. The decision kept him close to home and out of harm's way. Whitman served as an instructor at a Miami training facility and commanded a small fleet of submarine chasers off the Atlantic seaboard. Whitman didn't see any combat, but that was the whole point of his job. “We never went out on a search-and-destroy to get enemy submarines,” he says. “You do that, you're being diverted. You'll get court-martialed if you try that stuff.”

Thanks to widespread prosperity and the increased popularity of air travel, Miami Beach experienced a major postwar boom. A raft of young entrepreneurs settled the area, determined to take advantage of the growth. One of these was Robert Graham (no relation to Sen. Bob Graham, whose family also was involved in land development). His goal was to create an ideal planned community -- George Merrick's Coral Gables, but on the ocean. From the beginning it would be modern and private. Wiring would run underground, eliminating the need for unseemly electrical and telephone poles, and the town's residential center would be accessible from only three entrances. The name, like the village itself, was an inventive leap, the word “Bal” being a shotgun union of “Bay” and “Atlantic.”

But before development of Graham's seaside utopia could begin, he needed 25 males of voting age to incorporate the community. In 1946, he put out the welcome mat. Whitman recalls Graham's huckster ingenuity. “To induce some men to move to the area, he went to Sears, Roebuck and Co. and bought the cheapest furniture he could find and put it in these wooden barracks buildings left over from the war.” The war may have been over, but Stanley Whitman's campaign to become the most influential man in the fledgling community was just beginning.

It didn't take Whitman long to set his sights on a share of the development corporation Robert Graham had set up to build a community shopping center in Bal Harbour. The opening of the Shepard Broad Causeway in 1951 meant shoppers and tourists could be brought from the mainland directly to the center's future site on 96th Street. Whitman bought half of Graham's interest in the corporation in 1955; the second half in 1957. With the deal came seventeen acres of land at the corner of 96th and Collins Avenue. Whitman considered his purchase a kind of civic intervention.

“Graham was negotiating with Food Fair [a supermarket chain]. Had that deal been consummated,” Whitman says, “nothing would have ever happened here. It would have been a convenience center with shoe repairs, post offices ... like what you see in Surfside.” The thought still mystifies him. “What shopping center developers were all doing at that point in time was leasing to Publix and Food Fair. And they wouldn't have one, they'd have two or three, and they'd have a big F.W. Woolworth. All these large stores unable to pay any kind of rent. That was not my prototype.” He pauses long enough to raise his fist over his desk. “My prototype came [he knocks] from [knock] Lincoln [knock] Road.”

Whitman could have built a community one-stop shopping center, a place where local residents, young families, and retirees mingled casually while taking care of basic household needs. What he envisioned, though, was a shopping district built around the affluent out-of-town tourist dollar. Like the Lincoln Road he remembered. But better. Set apart. Elite.

His involvement in the project was complete -- and obsessive -- from the beginning. He fired his first two architects, Victor Gruen and Welton Beckett. Both men had an international following, and their ideas for what the center should be (not to mention their egos) clashed with the young developer's. He eventually hired a local architect named Herb Johnson to design the plans he wanted. The final version called for an open-air mall with intersecting walkways overlooking a courtyard. Landscaping was central to the look and feel of the place. Tropical plants enhanced the courtyard. Palm trees camouflaged the Collins Avenue entrance, already set back from the street. Waterfalls, fountains, and reflecting pools filled with exotic fish were added over time to emphasize the otherworldly dimension of Whitman's paradise.

Bal Harbour Shops opened for business in 1965 and was -- what else? -- an instant success. “I'm really the only [mall] who ever made money from the get-go,” Whitman says. Indeed Bal Harbour Shops produces some of the highest yearly sales of any mall in the United States, about $1200 per square foot. Local supermalls like Dadeland and Aventura? “We absolutely bury them,” crows Randy Whitman, Stanley's son and Bal Harbour Shops' leasing agent since 1975. “We do double what they do per square foot. Maybe better than double.” Pam Stubing, a retail analyst with Ernst and Young in New York, says the reason for the Shops' profitability, simply put, is its customer base. “These are very select upper-middle-class, upper-class people, people with servants.”

Bal Harbour Shops is an endless procession of famous names and consuming thrills: Versace. Gucci. Louis Vuitton. Though he would never say so, Whitman created what essentially is a Disney World for monied adults. Whitman, like Walt Disney, belongs to a generation born in the first decades of the century and raised on a distinctly American can-do philosophy. Progress -- scientific, technological, social -- could be reduced to simple questions of engineering. Disney built a new and improved version of the Coney Island amusement parks of his youth: cleaner, safer, controlled. In Bal Harbour, a place that bills itself as “a tiny magical enclave on the ocean,” Stanley Whitman engineered the ideal shopping experience of his youth. He lured stores that could only be found in places like New York and Paris, transplanted them to a well-monitored, artificial environment, and surrounded them with private parking and security guards uniformed like traditional Bahamian police, or gendarmes, in military-style black trousers, red tops, and white helmets. (The official logo of the Shops is a silk-screened silhouette of a helmeted gendarme). The Shops are New York's Fifth Avenue, or the original Lincoln Road, minus the unpleasant smells, obnoxious sounds, panhandlers, or chance encounters among people from different social worlds.

Whitman ultimately engineered not just a mall but an illusion of abundance, perfect contentment, and civility: his own magical kingdom.

At lunchtime on a recent Tuesday afternoon, Whitman walks past the small congregation of black-vested waitstaff milling outside Carpaccio, the Italian restaurant on the Shops' ground level. He says hello to them by name. Whitman knows everyone's name. Not just store managers and representatives. Waiters. Waitresses. Maintenance staff. Security personnel. Walking through the Shops with Whitman, one is tempted to see him as the kind old patriarch of an extended family.

The charm of this initial impression, however, quickly gives way to darker implication: direct accountability. If you screw up, Stanley Whitman will hear about it. And everyone knows it. The mere mention of Whitman's name is enough to send any mall employee, right down to the parking attendants, into a whirl of solicitous servitude. “He's very much involved with the rules,” notes one current store manager, describing the owner.

David Migicovsky states the case more emphatically. The Whitmans, he says, “run the place with a noose around your neck.” Migicovsky speaks from experience. For two decades he operated the popular Coco's Sidewalk Café in the Shops. He says he was squeezed out the door by a succession of shorter and shorter leases and a forced relocation from the first floor to the second that dramatically reduced his business. Two years later Migicovsky's dislike for the Whitmans and his fear of their influence -- Stanley Whitman's, in particular -- remain palpable. “Whitman's arteries,” says Migicovsky, suggesting the extent of the developer's hold on the life of the community, “stretch everywhere.”

Migicovsky is speaking figuratively, of course. Maybe. In the Sixties and Seventies, Whitman, as a member of the Dade Water and Sewer Authority advisory board, more than tripled the amount of fresh water Bal Harbour received from Miami Beach and communities across the bay. He was chairman of the South Florida Highway Users Federation when that organization was mobilizing support for the construction of the northern extension of I-95, a project that ultimately made it easier for shoppers to make their way out to Whitman's mall. The group turned out supporters of the highway extension to public hearings that otherwise would have been attended mostly by people who didn't want or couldn't afford to have a freeway built through their back yards.

“The bleeding hearts are still lamenting about what was done to Overtown, this premier black community,” Whitman concedes. “Yes, it's too bad, but my God, I-95 saved Dade County....” He stops himself. And offers his own hard-luck story. Or tries. “I didn't like it,” he remembers, “when the government came and took my property in the Florida Keys for a [state] park, but they did, they did ...” His voice trails off. His attempt at empathy is abruptly derailed by the limitations a charmed life can impose. “Of course,” he notes, “I paid $25,000 for that land, and the government gave me $750,000 for it.” What he didn't get is the highway he really wanted. That one, the proposed Opa-locka Expressway, would have run from NW 27th Avenue all the way to Biscayne Boulevard along North Miami's 125th Street, essentially delivering customers right to the Shops.

If Whitman didn't get his road, he still benefited from the friends he made along the way. Back in the late Eighties, for example, the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) wanted to close the Shops' Collins Avenue entrance. Whitman called William Lehman, a friend and regular tennis partner, who also happened to be a powerful United States congressman from North Dade. According to Lehman's journals, the congressman spoke with Bill Taylor, DOT's man in Washington, D.C., about Whitman's problem. The entrance is still there.

Whitman says those days of city-building and political arm-twisting are behind him. But his actions and recent history suggest otherwise. He unfurls one of countless aerial-view maps of Bal Harbour he keeps behind his office desk. “You see this,” he says, pointing to a bus stop on the southern side of 96th Street, across from Saks Fifth Avenue and just beyond the Surfside town line. “Surfside got DOT to come and put a bus bay in. This street, before they screwed it up, had traffic condition B, which is about as good as you can get. Now it's down to D, which is about as bad as you can get.”

The thrust of Whitman's complaint is that by installing a bus bay at the corner of 96th Street and Abbott Avenue and prohibiting southbound traffic on Abbott during morning and afternoon rush hours, the town of Surfside is encouraging a bottleneck at 96th and Harding Avenue, the intersection that forms the cornerstone of the Shops.

“Traffic flow has actually improved,” counters Surfside Mayor Paul Novack. “It's volume that has increased.” He dismisses Whitman's complaint as typically self-serving. “Bal Harbour Shops would like to see surrounding residential streets serve as entrances to the mall,” he says flatly.

Others read a more sinister motivation into Whitman's opposition to the bus bay. “The people who are getting off those buses in front of Stanley Whitman's mall,” says Rev. Priscilla Whitehead, whose Church-by-the-Sea also is located in front of the bus stop, “are not the sort of people he wants to see there.” Indeed many of them attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Gray Panther gatherings at the church. They are people who cannot afford cars of their own. They are not people who frequent Bal Harbour Shops.

Whitman is undeterred. “If the village of Bal Harbour doesn't prevail in [its fight to get the bus stop removed],” he says, “it's going to end up in court, just as sure as God made little apples.”

It might sound absurd that Whitman would try to put the kibosh on a bus bay that doesn't even lie in his city. But he enjoys the belief, conferred by his upbringing and his pioneer sensibility, that he is entitled to shape his environment in the manner he desires. If Bal Harbour resembles a small village, with its all-in-one post office/police station/town hall and its Church-by-the-Sea, Whitman's mall truly is the village green, the prosperous, beautifully maintained central focus of the community.

And Whitman makes sure it stays that way. As a founding and current member of the Bal Harbour Village resort tax committee, Whitman -- who is appointed, not elected, to the committee -- helps decide how millions of tourist tax dollars are spent. He is especially partial to municipal beautification projects. Because the only two public streets in Bal Harbour are Collins Avenue and 96th Street, these projects often have the direct effect of enhancing the look and value of Whitman's property.

A current proposal before the village council calls for resort tax money to fund the landscaping of the 96th Street median -- not just the Bal Harbour half of the median but the Surfside half as well. In public discussions among Bal Harbour city council members, the less-affluent town of Surfside is usually depicted as a deadbeat cousin, in this instance for refusing to pony up $189,000 to beautify its side of the street. Some village council members support the proposal; others resent having to cover Surfside's share of the project. Not to worry, says Whitman. Visitors to the area will soon be greeted by a fully landscaped traffic island separating the east- and westbound lanes on 96th Street, one that, in Whitman's words, “looks like Bal Harbour.” Like his mall. Neat. Clean.

While Whitman's official role on the resort tax committee is substantial, his influence is even greater behind the scenes. The committee consists of five members: Whitman; Carpaccio manager Alex Kalas; A. Anthony Noboa, manager of the local SunTrust Bank; Jaime Valdes, manager of the Sheraton Bal Harbour, across the street from the Shops; and village council member Jim Boggess. So Whitman essentially has not one but two votes on the committee, as it is unlikely that Carpaccio's manager will oppose any proposal put forth by the man who holds his lease.

Noticeably absent from the committee is a representative from the Seaview Hotel, one of only two hotels in Bal Harbour and one of only three businesses that actually produces resort tax revenue. Seaview manager Raj Singh, who used to be on the committee, calls it a case of taxation without representation. Why is he no longer on the committee? Singh, calling that “a very good question,” nevertheless declines to answer. “I have to make a living in this community,” he explains. Singh was the most vocal opponent of Whitman's now-completed Collins Avenue landscaping proposal. He wanted resort tax money to go toward advertising for his hotel instead. Whitman considered that shortsighted. And now Singh finds himself on the sidelines. In Bal Harbour Whitman's engine of progress moves forward not through conflict resolution or compromise but by manufactured consensus. Neat. Clean.

The Bal Harbour village council is composed of five members, one of whom is appointed by the others to serve as mayor. Whitman has never had any interest in running for the council. Spend enough time with him and you'll come to the conclusion that most elected officials run for office because they didn't get enough affirmation as children. Whitman did and doesn't mistake rank with power.

“My dad has a very strong personality,” admits Randy Whitman. “He's a bit of a manipulator.”

And Whitman Sr. sees nothing wrong with that. “If I'm not on the council, I can go and talk to them and lobby each one of them,” he explains.

Village Mayor Andrew Hirschl calls Whitman “a taxpayer like everybody else,” meaning he has no undue influence on village government. But the developer describes his role as being “continually in contact with the council.” His voice expands and wraps itself around the word. “I know I have spent more time, more hours of work on village business, than any council member. It's no contest.”

A few years ago, Whitman wanted to reopen Bal Bay Drive, a private street that winds behind the Shops. The opening would have given residents direct access to Collins Avenue and, not coincidentally, provided shoppers with an additional entrance to the mall. After studying Whitman's plans for the street, the village council rejected the proposal. The entrance, they said, would encourage too much traffic too close to a residential area. Mayor Hirschl cites this as a prime example of the village protecting the rights of its residents, even if it means saying no to Whitman. But the developer with the personal touch suggests he still might get his entrance. “Many on the council have come back since the proposal was voted down and said, “Ask for it again, Whitman, we'll give it to you.' I haven't gone back to them.”

To say Whitman has the village hall in his back pocket may or may not be an accurate description of political reality in Bal Harbour, but it is a geographic certainty. The small building sits on 96th Street, behind the Shops.

The Church-by-the-Sea, on the other hand, historically has been the thorn in the developer's side. That's because Robert Graham sold church members their land in 1946, making it one of the few adjoining plots the developer was unable to offer Whitman. By the time Whitman completed his land deal with Graham in 1957, the church had been in operation for almost ten years. Whitman built his mall around it, on three sides.

Fast-forward to the present. The church and Whitman are involved in a protracted struggle over what the church considers its right and Stanley Whitman his sacred trust: parking. In a town where public parking is virtually nonexistent, Whitman reserves 1800 spaces for his well-wheeled clientele by charging a rate of four dollars per hour to park in the multi-tiered garage that rises up behind, and virtually surrounds, the church.

Since opening the Shops, Whitman, who takes pride in being what he says is the first mall owner ever to charge for parking, had issued free parking vouchers to the church. Then, last March, he slipped church leaders a bill for $23,000 for February parking. The church refused to pay, citing a gentlemen's agreement between Whitman and the church founders: perpetual parking in exchange for the church's support of the mall's development. Stanley Whitman, however, is the only living person who might have been at such a meeting all those years ago and he calls the church's claim “a big fat lie.” And besides, he adds, “you could have twelve rabbis and ten priests sitting and listening to a real estate transaction such as the one the church is describing, and it won't do you any good if it isn't on paper and it isn't signed.”

Whitman says he provided free parking as a favor to the church. Now he's changed his mind and is petitioning the courts to affirm his sole property right to the parking lot. And he's keeping track of how much the church owes him. The village council, predictably, has stayed out of the matter. “Our position is one of quietly watching,” says Mayor Hirschl.

Rev. Priscilla Whitehead, an energetic woman who carries around a small notebook in which she scribbles extensive notes on her dealings with Whitman, cites the developer's prediction that church attendance “would wither and die” without parking as proof of his real goal: acquiring the church property. She may be right. If the church is forced to sell the land, Whitman gets first crack at it. He holds what is called a right of first refusal, a provision Robert Graham was able to secure for him way back in 1957. Whitehead has a less legalistic name for it: “Old-boy network, behind-the-scenes stuff.”

Whitman will admit he wanted the property as recently as “four or five years ago” for a five-star hotel. But, he adds, that was when South Florida had no five-star hotels. Now several are on the way, and Whitman has never been one to settle for having merely one of the best of anything. Still he doesn't rule out the possibility he may have some other use for the land. “Someday it might turn around,” is all he will say of his desire to acquire the property, a statement that sounds less hypothetical than anticipatory. Things, after all, do have a way of ultimately working themselves out in Stanley Whitman's favor.

The church, for its part, intends to outlive Whitman's whims. The banner that hangs outside is the congregation's final word on the subject: “THIS CHURCH IS NOT FOR SALE.” It's also part of a public campaign designed to shame the developer and rally public support in Bal Harbour. So far, though, no luck.

If anything Whitman's campaign against the church has grown more brazen. On a Wednesday afternoon in mid-September he called Bal Harbour police to the Shops when Whitehead and a church custodian attempted to exit the parking garage without paying (church members and staffers had continued to use the lot, declining to pay until the court ruled on Whitman's petition). Police took down the car's license plate number and allowed the minister to leave without incident. “This is all just a game to Stanley,” muses a frustrated Whitehead.

Perhaps. But it would appear to be one the developer is intent on winning. Whitman has since barred church members from using the lot at all. On Sunday mornings, when the Shops are closed and services are held at the church, heavy chains secure the entry gates to the mall garage.

And the banner outside the church? “They can put up there that I'm a damned Nazi; makes no difference to me,” says Whitman. But maybe it does. After all, the banner constitutes the only visible sign of resistance -- or even asymmetry -- in Whitman's neat, clean, wonderful world.

“What motivates me?” The answer appears to elude Stanley Whitman, but only momentarily. Then, like almost everything else he's wanted in life, it comes to him. “A friendly environment,” he declares. “That's all. I don't mind people telling me how great I am.”


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