Proposed $2.4 Million Condo Lobby Renovation Sets off Melee in Midtown

"People should either be caressed or crushed," Niccolò Machiavelli once wrote. "If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do."

Seth Cohen clearly did not get the civics lesson. In summer 2012, the then-43-year-old New Yorker went South Florida apartment shopping. After much deliberation, he dropped $1.5 million on a 4,000-square-foot penthouse in the hottest spot in town: Two Midtown Miami. Then he put his name on the ballot for condo association president and won. Cohen had instantly become prince of the 5-year-old tower, with its white walls, turquoise pool, and trendy restaurants. Machiavelli would have approved.

But Cohen was neither loved nor feared by his fellow condo owners. And in April of this year, his crown slipped. After completing an expensive upgrade of the elevators and pool furniture, he proposed a $2.4 million renovation of Two Midtown's lobby. Condo owners received notice in the mail, along with a $6,844.27 bill.

"I rubbed my eyes to see if I was seeing correctly," says Iliat Llamozas. "I looked at the rendering of the lobby and couldn't figure out how the association was going to be able to spend that much money on the renovation.

"The design was horrible," she says. "It had chairs that looked like chairs from The Munsters and bookshelves and two fireplaces. Bookshelves! I mean, nobody reads books anymore."

Llamozas called her brother, Rafael Borges, who was one of the first people to buy a place at Two Midtown. Borges had initially told his sister to vote for Cohen. Now he felt betrayed.

"We never had any problems with anyone ever until this board member joined," Borges says. "But these renovations are absurd. This guy is a bully."

Borges had a huge banner printed with the words: "Shame on you, Seth Cohen." On April 29, he and several other condo owners stood on the curb in front of Two Midtown to protest the special assessment.

Cohen called the cops, but the protesters had a permit. When one of the residents pulled out his iPhone to record Cohen, the condo association president snapped.

"Victim advised [that Cohen] came over to him and slapped his phone from his hand, causing the phone to hit the ground and break," according to a Miami Police report accusing Cohen of vandalism.

The protest was a turning point for Two Midtown. Scores of residents wrote to the board to complain about Cohen and the special assessment. And on May 8 — the day Cohen expected the board to approve his lobby plan — the board instead axed the idea. Borges is now maneuvering to have Cohen bumped off the board.

"If he's not recalled, we run the risk of continuous luxury expenditures that are against everyone else's interests," he says. But Cohen isn't going quietly.

"We have a legal issue ongoing with these few owners," Cohen tells New Times. "As a result of their violation of condo rules and regulations, as well as some illegal activities, we've had to take some legal actions."

Whatever happens with the condo war, it isn't exactly surprising. After all, Machiavelli predicted as much half a millennium before Midtown existed. "A man's property and honor," he wrote, "are the points upon which he will be most keenly sensitive."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.