Miami has simply gone mad for Thomas Kramer, that debonair German millionaire who's gobbled up South Pointe like so much brautwurst during Octoberfest. Everyone's talking about the man. And since the New Times cover story, "Tycoon Thomas," appeared on December 16, callers have swamped the paper's office with Kramer sightings.
One of the more curious was noted a couple of weeks ago. The six-foot-four-inch Kramer was spied among the tourists at downtown's Bayside Marketplace, going nuts over a hard-rubber troll half his size, which he spotted in front of Davison's of Bermuda, a nifty nautical clothing shop. I must have this troll, Kramer implored, brushing aside suggestions from anxious clerks that he wait a few weeks for a brand-new troll to be shipped from Norway. Instead Kramer demanded the banged-up floor model. And what Kramer wanted, Kramer got -- for $1800.
Another recent shopping spree, informants report, took place at J.W. Cooper, a Western-wear store in Cocowalk, where Kramer gamely purchased thousands of dollars worth of cowboy duds.
Spending copious amounts of cash has been Kramer's favorite pastime since his arrival here a year ago. Most notably he has parted with close to $40 million buying up property in Miami Beach, principally in the city's blighted southern tip, South Pointe. Kramer has promised to transform the area into a low-rise, high-priced resort community inspired by the exclusive Italian coastal village of Portofino.
Last month the would-be developer stated he was ready to sell some of his recently acquired properties, raising concerns about his commitment to the area. But Carolyn Miller, owner of the realty firm Riteway, says that while Kramer has listed his two parcels in Indian Creek Village, he has yet to place any of his South Beach holdings on the market. "His plans to sell vary based on what day you ask," Miller explains. "He's different. Very different. Unusual."
The normally shy and retiring German mogul and financial wunderkind appears likely to remain in the news for some time. Earlier this month he was featured on the cover of the Miami Herald's Tropic magazine, and will again hit print in an upcoming issue of a new South Beach monthly, Ocean Drive. In addition, readers back home in Germany will be getting Kramer updates soon. In the past week, at least two German magazines have contacted New Times for photographs and information about Kramer's activities in Miami Beach. For years the exuberant playboy held the attention of the German press, which fawned over his meteoric rise as a commodities trader, then gossiped mercilessly over his financial downfall and his secret marriage to publishing heiress Cathrine Burda.
Kramer limped into exile after a failed real estate venture sent his company hurtling into bankruptcy. The blue-eyed whiz, nicknamed Sonnyboy by Munich journalists, settled in Miami Beach last year, eager to repeat his rise to fame and fortune. Instead he descended to Hell.
His only completed venture to date, Kramer's South Pointe nightclub called Hell has not won rave reviews. Rather it has bestowed upon him a scandalous reputation. During the club's October 24 opening, Kramer allegedly groped at women and doused them with champagne. He reportedly insulted gays and told those he considered ugly to stay away from Hell. A month later a model named Shelly Hall came forward to file a police report, claiming Kramer had grabbed her breasts that night and laughed as she tried to pull away and told him to let go.
Hall was told by Miami Beach police officials on December 9 that she would have to file a complaint with the Dade State Attorney's Office if she wanted to pursue the matter further. As of this past Friday, State Attorney Janet Reno says her office has not heard from Hall. Attempts by New Times to contact Hall were unsuccessful.
But other problems remain at Hell. Bill Manning, code enforcement supervisor for Miami Beach, reports that he has received more than a dozen noise complaints from neighboring residents. On November 19, Manning says, the club was slapped with a $100 fine for excessive noise. "It was pretty loud," Manning clarifies.
Shortly after the Hell opening, Manning met with one of the club's managers to discuss the decibel level. (Manning doesn't remember the manager's name.) "He sounded very cooperative, but evidently those were just words," the code enforment official shrugs. "We just recently had another complaint."
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It wasn't noise trouble that closed Hell for several weeks in December, but cracks in the floors and columns of the 65-year-old building, known as the Leonard Beach Hotel before its dark-side reincarnation. Kramer had hoped to open a new restaurant, The Gate, in the patio area adjacent to Hell, using a kitchen in the rear of the club. However, the floor began cracking last month after staff moved new equipment into the kitchen.
Miami Beach building inspectors also discovered structural problems on the second floor, which once featured rooms decorated in tribute to the seven deadly sins, and the third floor, which housed a private room for Kramer. The main floor was repaired in time for the club to open on New Year's Eve, but the top two floors will remain closed for at least another month, according to Miami Beach building chief Paul Gioia. "I think it's age," Gioia says of the building's structural woes. "This is a very common problem for buildings on the Beach."
Kramer also has encountered turbulence on the home front. Several of his Star Island neighbors have taken offense at his allegedly conducting business in his rented house. Manning, the code enforcement supervisor, says there is concern about the number of cars parked outside the house, located on Star Island Drive. He says a code enforcement inspector will investigate the complaint. Though Kramer uses the home to buy and sell commodities, Manning says such trading does not technically qualify as a business.
Kramer is, however, being forced to move his business activity out of South Pointe Tower. Kramer bought approximately twenty condominiums in the high-rise building last year and converted one of them into an office for the Portofino Group, his development company. He has been ordered to "cease and desist" using the space as an office, says Dr. Clyde McCoy, president of the building's condo board. "This is a residential building and he's not allowed to carry on any business here," McCoy notes. Kramer is expected to move the Portofino headquarters into one of his several buildings zoned to allow business.