Rebel Without a Causeway

Attention aspiring South Beach power brokers: Wanna learn how to game the system like a pro? Hollywood macher Michael Bay was more than happy to provide an easy lesson, schooling one of Kulchur's clubland spies as she shimmied up to the Bad Boys 2 director inside Lincoln Road's Rumi lounge.

"So you're the guy who was able to get the whole MacArthur Causeway shut down," our blond scenestress cooed. "How'd you swing that?"

Bay rose to the bait. "Are you kidding me?" he scoffed. "I told the city either they close down the causeway, or I'll pack up the whole film and leave."

City officials -- on both sides of the Biscayne Bay -- were loath to call Bay's bluff, particularly with a much-touted $20 million supposedly flowing into the area from his movie. In fact the sheer chutzpah of Bay's insistence on shooting a Bad Boys 2 scene on the causeway -- detouring upward of 90,000 cars off the Beach's major traffic artery, during morning and evening rush hour, from August 5-8 -- became a selling point for local film figures eager to promote Miami.

"This is maybe the only state and city in America where this kind of cooperation will get you the ability to close down a major roadway," boasted Miami-Dade Film Commission head Jeff Peel to the Hollywood Reporter. "We checked around -- called Los Angeles, Vancouver, and New York -- and everyone thought we were nuts to ask for this closure."

Got that, Hollywood? Every other city in North America tries to balance the well-being of its residents with the economic benefits of film production. But not us: Miami, "nuts" and proud of it!

Professions of insanity aside, Peel's attitude highlights a larger problem, namely a glaring lack of foresight at city hall. After all, Peel's philosophy is one clearly sanctioned by Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer: Bring in the production dollars -- period. That much was clear at the July 31 Beach city commission meeting, just five days before the MacArthur's closing.

As James Quinlan, head of the Beach's Office of Arts, Culture and Entertainment, and overseer of its film office, outlined Bad Boys 2's plans, the single objection from the dais was over a lack of input. Beach commissioners Matti Bower and Richard Steinberg were piqued at only having a month's notice, instead of having been consulted earlier in the spring -- when the Beach's police, fire, and sanitation departments were apparently brought on board. But neither voiced any opposition to the issue of actually closing the city's chief link to the mainland. Mayor Dermer, too, seemed primarily upset with losing out on the possibility of claiming credit for landing Bad Boys 2 and its economic bounty. "You have to give bit parts to all the commissioners," Dermer quipped to Quinlan as he helped prepare a PowerPoint presentation, adding wryly, "That's very important."

Quinlan would soon find out just how important. The next few weeks saw Dermer's administration hammered across South Florida and on the national stage. Angry residents caught in the MacArthur gridlock questioned the city's priorities, promising some political payback come November 2003 and the mayor's likely re-election bid. Local media coverage amplified the furor, as did critical reports in outlets as varied as People, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.

If you can believe the Herald's report on August 26, Quinlan suddenly chose to resign, a move Dermer termed "a personal decision" and without any connection to the Bad Boys 2 imbroglio. Beach city manager Jorge Gonzalez similarly chimed in, saying Quinlan merely "wanted to pursue private ventures." The only negative sendoff came from commissioner Bower, who -- coincidentally, of course -- had been pedantically gunning for Quinlan for months; she too is up for re-election in 2003. It's worth noting that Quinlan has consistently received high marks from both city leaders (Bower aside) and the industry-at-large.

Reached by Kulchur, Quinlan himself declined to comment. But several city hall employees close to the situation were unequivocal in fingering Bad Boys 2 for Quinlan's exit. "Dermer went ballistic on him, just reamed him out," said one. "[Quinlan] was told he could either resign, or he could be fired. If you had to start going out on job interviews, which option would you choose?"

Though Quinlan's departure may provide Dermer and Bower with an easy scapegoat, as well as electoral cover, it does little for Miami Beach itself. "Look, if you don't want to allow the causeway closing, just say so," grouses another city hall figure close to the Bad Boys 2 negotiations. "But don't give the go-ahead, and then -- right when things heat up -- change your mind. What kind of message does that send? What producer in their right mind is ever going to come back here after you've pulled the rug out from them?"

What's still missing is a more nuanced articulation of the film industry's role on Miami Beach, an understanding that promoting the city as a destination -- to anyone, tourists or film crews -- needs to be carefully offset against the city's own quality-of-life concerns. Such an outlook only enhances the Beach's appeal; it's the very refusal to sanction an "anything goes" approach to development that first established the Beach's international draw.

This deteriorating vision is further highlighted by the imminent departure of two more key city hall employees who regularly liaise with the entertainment world. Assistant city manager Christina Cuervo -- the Beach's point woman for dealing with the nightclub industry -- announced she's jumping ship to the Herald at this month's end as that paper's new vice president of human resources. (According to one of her colleagues, it's a position that will significantly bump up her current city paycheck of $135,000, as well as give Cuervo a role in the development of the Herald-owned land surrounding downtown's Performing Arts Center.)

And Alexis Edwards, Miami Beach coordinator for the county's Office of Film and Entertainment -- widely lauded for her ability to handle the high-maintenance personalities who often come attached to Hollywood pictures -- had already given her own October notice earlier in the summer. Coupled with the loss of Quinlan, it's a move set to leave the Beach's film office in the hands of the interim director, police Maj. Tom Weschler. The thought of sending a man with a loaded revolver to meet with Hollywood studio reps may be amusing, but it doesn't exactly send an encouraging message.

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Brett Sokol
Contact: Brett Sokol

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