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May 26, 2018

Around the State- Southeast- March 2001

Pat Dunnigan | 3/1/2001
Taking a Gamble?
A casino project being built by the Seminole Tribe of Florida will change west Hollywood's landscape.

By Pat Dunnigan

When completed in 2002, the 750-room Hard Rock Cafe hotel and casino complex in west Hollywood will be roughly 16 stories taller than anything else around it. It will have 20 free-standing retail sites, plus a 3,000-seat venue for musical acts. The $300-million project will easily be the most ambitious yet by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

But the tribe has its work cut out for it. Its property, a 100-acre reservation tract that until recently was the site of a mobile home park, is next to an auto auction site on a strip of U.S. 441 dotted with discount cigarette stores and pawn shops. Tribe members and the project's Baltimore-based developer, Cordish Co., envision a lushly landscaped entertainment complex where visitors are as likely to be latte-sipping book shoppers as gamblers.

Tribal operations officer Tim Cox shrugs off suggestions that the tract is an unlikely spot for a 17-story resort hotel. Location is not an issue, he says, although the site was somewhat preordained by gaming regulations that require the tribe's gambling operations to be on lands that had reservation status before 1992. "As far as we're concerned," Cox says, "it would work anywhere."

The 60,000-sq.-ft. casino will offer so-called "Class 2" gaming: Bingo, low-stakes poker and electronic pull tab machines. The tribe has long sought "Class 3" status in order to offer the more lucrative Las Vegas-style gambling and slot machines, but Florida voters have rejected that idea three times, and Gov. Jeb Bush remains staunchly opposed.

Cox says the Hard Rock casino is not being developed with a Class 3 status in mind. He says the mix of retail, restaurant and entertainment space is being designed with an eye toward luring even visitors who have no interest in the games. "We're hoping the other venues will be able to compete with the gambling," he says.

The project will be the largest Class 2 gaming facility in the country, Cox says. Meanwhile, the tribe is planning to break ground this month on another business operation, a 200-room Hard Rock hotel and casino in Tampa.

In the News

Boca Raton -- Sterling Financial Group, based in Boca Raton, was named Florida's fastest-growing privately held firm by the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business and Fisher School of Accounting. Sterling, founded in 1997 by Charles Patrick Garcia, grew from a one-broker, two-employee operation in 1997 to a $45-million company with 216 registered representatives, 225 insurance agents and 70 employees.

Coral Springs -- A deal to merge bottled coffee-drink maker East Coast Beverage Corp. with telecommunications company and internet service provider Star Talk Holdings has fallen through. The merger would have put Star Talk chief Jack Namer in charge of the combined company.

Fort Lauderdale -- Professional services company Xcelerate CEO Bruce Frcek is resigning amid a reported restructuring that will shift the focus away from dot-com clients and toward more traditional businesses. Chief Operating Officer Shannon Denton will be acting president and CEO.

Temporary staffing and recruiting company Spherion (NYSE-SFN) plans to sell its Michael Page Group, a London-based recruiting company, in an effort to reduce bank debt.

Hoping to get back in the black, Holiday RV Superstores (Nasdaq-RVEE) plans to cut expenses by $2.5 million. The company, which operates recreational-vehicle dealerships -- mostly under the Recreation USA name -- posted a $3.2-million loss for the year ended Oct. 31. The year before, the company had a profit of $2.2 million.

Hollywood -- Commodore Holdings, parent of Commodore Cruise Line, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and suspended its operations, citing a failure to reach an agreement with its lenders.

A proposal to allow the $600-million Diplomat resort to form its own taxing district has been shelved. The plan, which drew complaints from community activists, would have allowed the beachfront project to issue tax-exempt bonds and collect taxes to fund services and infrastructure within the district. The 1,000-room hotel and convention center, owned by the Washington, D.C.-based United Association, a plumber and pipefitter's union, is scheduled to open in late July.

Jensen Beach -- A 5,600-sq.-ft. Gateway Country retail computer store is scheduled to open this month at 2840 Federal Highway. Construction of an adjacent shopping center that will house national retailers Men's Wearhouse, Casual Male Big and Tall, Mattress Giant and Four Eyes Optical is scheduled to begin in April, with a projected opening date in August. The project's developer is WSG Development of Miami Beach.

Palm Beach Gardens -- Golf Digest, a 1.5-million-subscriber magazine owned by the New York Times Co., will open its 14th National Teaching Academy this fall in the Mirasol development. The 5,400-sq.-ft. facility will offer private instruction, video analysis and hitting areas.

Sunrise -- A 32,400-sq.-ft. outpatient diagnostic center has been approved by the city's planning and zoning board. Pending approval by the city commission, the facility will be built on 8.4 acres off Pine Island Road. The center will offer urgent care, primary care, cardiac and cancer care and outpatient imaging services.

American Classic Voyages Co. has broken ground on its headquarters in the Sawgrass Commerce Center. The company will be the lead tenant in the six-story, 240,000-sq.-ft. building, moving both its New Orleans operation offices and Chicago corporate headquarters to the new site. Company officials say they were drawn to south Florida by a $4.2-million incentive package from the state, city and Broward County.

West Palm Beach -- The county's Film and Television Commission reports record revenues of $116.2 million in 2000, a 26% increase over 1999 revenues of $92.2 million. Projects included four movies, commercials for Nike, State Farm and Coca-Cola, photo shoots for People, Rolling Stone and Vogue magazines and an assortment of television specials. Commission head Chuck Elderd credits county relocation incentives and $550,000 in government grants to local production companies.

Discount carrier Southwest Airlines has begun offering 13 daily nonstop flights between Palm Beach International Airport and Orlando, Tampa, Nashville, Tenn., and Baltimore.

Around the State - Miami-Dade

Pondering Penelas
Miami-Dade mayor's choice for county manager may signal his next political move.

By David Villano

When Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim announced his resignation in November, many business leaders saw the appointment of a successor as a litmus test for Florida's largest county. Would local officials recruit a respected outside administrator, signaling a commitment to Stierheim's goal of ending the county's long-held culture of public corruption and influence-peddling? Or would they forgo a national search in favor of a political insider, leaving the impression of "business as usual" in one of the nation's most scandal-prone counties?

In January, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, who's charged with choosing Stierheim's replacement, may have answered that question by offering the post to Homestead Mayor Steve Shiver, a likable 34-year-old real estate broker and general contractor long on political connections but short on administrative experience. Within Homestead's weak-mayor form of government, day-to-day operations are left to the city manager. Shiver, a Republican, holds a largely ceremonial post. While expressing concern that Shiver may be unfit for the job, Miami-Dade's 13-member County Commission approved his appointment nonetheless, 8-5. Miami-Dade County operates a budget of about $4.5 billion and employs more than 28,000.

"His inexperience may be a plus," argues Penelas. "I'm looking for somebody who can modernize county government; somebody who can think out of the box."

But in Miami-Dade, where key policy decisions routinely play out like a soap opera, the business of government is never quite what it seems. Many observers say Penelas' choice is a calculated move to advance his own political ambitions. Penelas has acknowledged that he hopes to put a charter amendment before county voters in 2002 that would boost his powers -- again. In 1992, voters decided to slightly increase the county mayor's duties, but he is still not considered a strong mayor. While the mayor now has veto power over commission decisions and can select the commission chairperson and county manager (with the commission's approval), the county manager still has responsibility for the budget, hiring and firing and other administrative functions. The strong-mayor plan would also allow Penelas to run for the "new" post, thus sidestepping the term-limit provision that would drive him from office in 2004.

When news of the strong-mayor plan leaked, interest in the county manager position dried up. Enter Shiver, a popular figure who could help Penelas gain favor with the Anglo voters he alienated with his handling of the Elian Gonzalez affair. Shiver, a close friend and confidant to Penelas, would likely pose little opposition to the charter amendment.

While Penelas has routinely declined to elaborate on his strong-mayor plan, what is clear is that the one-time golden boy of Democratic politics has found himself with few options for remaining in elective office. Just a year ago he was touted as a possible vice presidential running mate for Al Gore. People magazine dubbed him one of America's sexiest politicians. But after thumbing his nose at federal officials during the Elian crisis, Penelas found himself firmly on the list of Democratic Party untouchables. He won a tough re-election battle in September but sealed his fate within the party by remaining on the sidelines during Gore's Florida campaign and subsequent re-count saga. One widely held rumor has him switching to the Republican Party.

"I don't have any idea what my plans are," says Penelas. "I've never gone on the record with regards to my future. I'm just focused on doing what I can for the people of Miami-Dade County."

Tags: Southeast

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