Real Estate

"Concerned Residents"? Developers, Wealthy Execs at Gelber-Levine Zoom Meeting

Dan Gelber (left) and Phillip Levine
Dan Gelber (left) and Phillip Levine Photos via Twitter/Stian Roenning
On Monday, New Times obtained a leaked audio recording in which Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and former mayor Phillip Levine appear to court developers during a private meeting held on September 13 over Zoom and at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Gelber and Levine both told New Times the meeting stemmed from their mutual concern about the future of the South Beach Entertainment District.

During the meeting, which was attended by and recorded by erstwhile city commission candidate Fabian Basabe, Gelber, who is up for re-election on November 2, can be heard offering the institutional support of his office to, if necessary, bypass his own commission in order to get projects approved that did not have the municipal governing body's support.

"I'm prepared to do whatever we need to do and support any idea even if it's not particularly popular," Gelber says on the recording. "I will push to put it on the ballot or you can put it on the ballot...you know, forcefully without commission approval.”

Also on the recording, Levine floated the idea of a PAC to fund future candidates who backed development projects supported by Gelber.


"We need to utilize whatever influence we have to push those six commissioners to follow the vision and the agenda of the mayor and the manager to make the city safer," Levine said. "In other words, nothing can happen unless we exercise our power with those elected officials to have them to [sic] move forward."

Reached later by New Times, Levine said no new PACs had been formed following the meeting, and that attendees were "just a bunch of concerned residents."

But a list of the Zoom attendees obtained by New Times would seem to tell a different story.

Of the 29 known attendees who logged on for the meeting, 16 were prominent real estate developers, hospitality bigwigs, or deep-pocketed investors.


They included billionaire Norman Braman, who has donated at least $11,000 to Gelber's re-election campaign via multiple corporations registered under his name in, according to campaign finance records.

Many of the "concerned residents," it turns out, reside in Zip Codes outside Miami Beach and as far away as New York and Los Angeles.

A spokesman for Gelber's re-election campaign declined comment, and Levine did not immediately respond to a request from New Times. On Thursday, the two men said via a news release that they would speak at a press conference Friday morning to "set the record straight."

To protect the privacy of private citizens who did sign on for the meeting, New Times is publishing an abbreviated roster of attendees that's limited to developers and hospitality groups, listed below in alphabetical order.

Comras Company of Florida

A retail-leasing and development firm, Comras Company of Florida is based in Miami Beach. Its real estate portfolio includes commercial properties across South Florida. According to its website, tenants include Apple, Nike, Sephora, Capital One Bank, and an assortment of boutiques, chef-driven restaurants, and entertainment venues.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Michael Comras, president and CEO of the firm.

Creative Class Group

Creative Class Group is a global consulting firm that advises on economic growth and development for local governments, major corporations, and nonprofits. According to the group's website, it assisted BMW with its Ideas Class advertising campaign, advised Audi on its Urban Future Initiative, and supported Art Basel’s introduction of Art Basel Cities.

The Zoom Gelber-Levine meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Rana Florida, CEO of the group.

Flag Luxury Group

Based in New York City, Flag Luxury Group is a real estate development company whose portfolio includes the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Bal Harbour, Coconut Grove, and South Beach, as well as the Shelborne in South Beach.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Jackie Volkart, dual general manager at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

Fort Partners

Fort Lauderdale-based Fort Partners describes itself as a privately held real estate and hospitality development firm. Its projects include the Surf Club, the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residence Fort Lauderdale, Four Seasons Palm Beach, the Surf Club Residences, and Norman's Cay Bahamas.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Nadim Ashi, who leads the organization.

Fryd Properties

This Miami Beach-based property-management and development firm manages more than $75 million in real estate in South Florida and New Jersey.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Jonathan Fryd, the group's president. Fryd is also a board member of the City of Miami Beach's budget advisory committee. According to the Fryd Properties website, Fryd was previously the director of the Bank of Florida, a board member of the City of Miami Beach Community Development Advisory Committee and the City of Miami Beach Code Enforcement Board, director of the Washington Avenue Association, and vice president of the North Beach Development Corporation.

Lionstone Development

Lionstone Development is a self-described world-class residential development and hospitality group based in Bal Harbour. Projects listed on its website include the Ritz-Carlton Hotel South Beach, EPIC Residences & Hotel Miami, Virgin Hotels Chicago, and "other high-end resorts and residential ventures in the United States and the Caribbean."

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Diego Lowenstein, the group's CEO.

Nakash Holdings

A New York City-based firm that invests in the "fashion, properties, agriculture, aviation, maritime, media, and entertainment sectors," family-owned Nakash Holdings owns Jordache Jeans (cofounded by three Nakash brothers), as well as the Setai Hotel and the Versace Mansion on South Beach.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Ariel Nakash, vice president of the firm.

Robert Finvarb Companies

Miami-based private real estate investment and development firm Robert Finbarb Companies boasts a real estate and hotel portfolio worth more than $1 billion, with projects affiliated with Marriott, Hyatt, and Choice International, according to its website.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Robert Finvarb, the founder.

Shvo Luxury Real Estate

Shvo Luxury Real Estate, a New York City-based developer, operates a portfolio valued at more than $7 billion. Its website lists projects that include the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the Mandarin Oriental Residences and the Getty Residences in New York, and hotels in Miami Beach that include the Raleigh, the South Seas, and the Richmond.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Michael Shvo, the founder.

Starwood Capital Group

A global real estate and private investment firm headquartered in Miami with offices in Arlington, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Greenwich, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., as well as locations in Europe and Asia, Starwood Capital Group holds $95 billion in assets according to Forbes, ranking it as one of the world's biggest real estate investors. Several hotel brands are under the Starwood umbrella, including Tree House Hotels and 1Hotels.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Austin Zurlo, an associate with the firm.

Titan Group

New York-based Titan Group is a strategic advisor to clients in the global hospitality space. Its projects include the Ritz-Carlton New York, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, Epic Kimpton Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, the Sagamore Hotel, and the Wyndham Orlando Resort, along with luxury properties in Shanghai, Bahamas, Cambodia, and Turks & Caicos.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as D.C. Becker, who founded the firm.

Witkoff

Witkoff is a prominent real estate development and investment company based in New York City with offices in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Its portfolio includes the Times Square Edition hotel, PUBLIC Hotel New York, and the West Hollywood Edition Hotel & Residences.

The Zoom meeting was attended virtually by an individual who self-identified as Alex Witkoff, executive vice president of development.
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Michael Majchrowicz is a staff writer at Miami New Times. He studied journalism at Indiana University and has reported for PolitiFact, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Post and Courier, and Tampa Bay Times.