On October 20, blogger Al Crespo published a story lambasting SkyRise developer Jeff Berkowitz as "duplicitous" and a "hypocrite" for seeking public funds for the massive and controversial building project, which stalled in the county commission yesterday over a proposed $9 million subsidy.
Now, Crespo says the developer is hitting back by threatening a lawsuit if he doesn't take down the piece. "You want to sue me for something I said?" Crespo told Riptide. "It's America."
SkyRise is intended as a new South Florida icon. If built, the paperclip-shaped tower will stand 1,000 feet -- making it easily Miami's tallest building -- and feature an observation deck, bungee jump, rides, and high-end restaurants.
In an August referendum, voters approved the $430 million project, but the vote came after an ad campaign, paid for by Berkowitz, where Miami-Dade Mayor Tomás Regalado promoted the development as a boon to the city that wouldn't cost Miamians anything. In radio ads, the mayor famously promised, "Taxpayers win without putting in a cent."
But, the Miami Herald later reported, Berkowitz had quietly requested a $15 million subsidy from the county months before the vote. "Most of these towers around the world have been built with government assistance," Berkowitz told the newspaper in October. "I'm of the opinion that something this important should have some level of government participation."
Crespo didn't mince words in his column about that news. In a post titled "Another Bad Deal for Miami", the blogger excoriated Berkowitz, calling him a "lying developer."
Last Friday, Crespo says, a lawyer representing Berkowitz delivered a legal notice to his home, which the blogger then posted on his website. "This letter ... constitutes a demand for immediate retraction of these false and libelous statements," it says and then lays out bullets of what it claims are Crespo's libelous attacks and warns that Crespo's "failure to remove the Article ... will confirm your malicious intent."
Crespo stands by his piece and says he's prepared to fight in court. "The issues are far greater than me," he says. "If I lose the suit, it could be very detrimental to every blogger who wants to do what I do."
Yesterday, commissioners split a vote on whether to allocate the county funding, effectively deferring a decision until the next commission meeting.
Julie Feigeles, the attorney representing Berkowitz, did not respond to Riptide's request for comment on the letter.