Longform

The View from Buddy's

Page 5 of 6

"You've got to remember that 90 percent of the people are so good and so nice. They're trying," Carlin says. "It's ten percent of the bastards who want to take it all away from everyone." The storeowner's ruddy face goes redder as he rails against the welfare system and assorted politicians.

Eventually his ire gives way to a wistful description of his own Depression-era childhood in Connecticut, one of six children in a poor Irish immigrant family. "You've just got to work, then at least you've got that happiness," he sighs.

Carlin sits on a stool by the window, a pile of small brown paper bags at his elbow. A thick layer of dust covers the bottles stacked around the wood-paneled room. Within his reach are a cluster of lollipops, also wearing thick caps of dust. Carlin used to give the candy to the children who'd accompany mothers cashing checks. Some of those children have come back to see the storeowner with their own children in tow, Carlin says. Most, he notes with a satisfied smile, have moved away from the neighborhood.

Carlin doesn't see any reason to dust the bottles and clean up the store. He still sells a few pints and cashes checks, but he won't be here much longer. Late this past year he sold the building to Eugene Rodriguez, who plans to turn the whole area around NE Fourteenth Street and North Miami Avenue into a production facility for television, fashion, and film.

The kinetic 37-year-old Rodriguez is the owner of Big Time Productions, a successful Miami Beach company located in the old Paris Theater on Washington Avenue. One day this past summer he was cruising in his Mercedes convertible, looking for a lot where he could park the fleet of Jeeps and campers he uses for his business. Spotting the Sears Tower, slated for conversion as part of the Performing Arts Center, he turned west off Biscayne Boulevard.

"I couldn't believe it," Rodriguez says of the worn structures he found at the North Miami Avenue crossroads. "All of those beautiful 1920s buildings were just sitting there intact." The entrepreneur moved quickly, buying the old ice factory, the bank building, the apartment building, and Buddy's Bar -- 100,000 square feet in all. He has a bid in with the city to purchase Firehouse Number Two.

Rodriguez envisions the area as a studio city for producing Latin-American television programs, fashion layouts, music videos, commercials, and possibly films. He plans to rent out the former apartments as offices to industry-related businesses, with a restaurant on the ground floor -- a kind of Hollywood-style canteen where executives and talent can network over lunch. The renovation of the ice factory where Leroy Smith used to fetch blocks of ice for his mother will boast nine sound stages, and is nearing completion. The crew of Oliver Stone's next movie is already using one area to build sets.

Rodriguez bought the buildings cheap, but he expects to spend about ten million dollars on the sound stages alone. He's already put about $30,000 into cleaning out the apartments, a kind of archeological dig in which crews spent weeks unearthing old clothes, furniture, appliances, personal documents, and petrified food from the stinking rooms.

"My economic venture is to turn this place around," Rodriguez contends. "I see it as attracting special people. It's exciting to create this blank slate and see who fills it up. It's getting back to that pioneer spirit of Miami that inhabited this area 100 years ago. There needs to be an area that has room, that has style, that has history, that has a good location," he says. "This is the original Miami, and I think it's really cool that all that history is there."

As he sits at his window, Carlin can hear the men at work in the apartment building next door. Rolling his eyes toward the holes in his ceiling, the storeowner mentions that he wishes Rodriguez luck, and hopes he finds some good security guards.

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Judy Cantor