Thursday , 18 September 2014
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A Voice of Reason

A Voice of Reason

A Voice of Reason

JOSHUA WALLACK

Dear Friends,

Many of you know who I am, and know me to be a straight shooter. I am hopeful you will read this with an open mind and heart, and reflect on your feelings afterward.

In this era of distractions, iPads, and the 24/7 news cycle, many times it’s hard to rise above the noise and see what is the clear and right thing to do. Those instances are few and far between, but it is our responsibility at this time to rise up and meet the challenge. More than anything, I love Miami Beach; its past, its present, and hopefully, its future. As a child I attended North Beach Elementary, Nautilus, and Beach High, and rode my bike up 41st Street with my friends. I swam in the Fontainebleau’s pool, roller-skated in Lummus Park, and took the ‘K’ bus from 9th street across to the Omni so we could attend as many ‘Canes games at the Orange Bowl as we could.

My grandparents bought the building that is now Mango’s Tropical Cafe in 1955. My family’s DNA is woven into this town and always will be.

I lived in mid-Beach, always had friends from 1st street to Surfside, and, like many of you, I was here when this was a much different place. I lived it as a resident.

Today, in addition to serving as COO of Mango’s, I am Vice-Chairman and a member of the Executive Board of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, a 2-term Member of the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board, and I am a member of the Board of Directors of The Miami Beach Police Athletic League, The Miami Beach Nightlife Task Force, and the Ocean Drive Association. As well, I have the pleasure to serve on an Executive Committee and a Vice-President of Community Partnership for Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Foundation. Clearly, I am devoted to this island we call home: its Residents and its Tourism Economy.

Here is the Truth…from someone who knows very well.

Many of us in Miami Beach remember the different eras we’ve had: “Heaven’s Waiting Room” in the ’60s and ’70s, and the decline and dangerous time in the early and mid- 1980’s. Everyone remembers Time Magazine’s “Paradise Lost” article, which spoke of shootings, cocaine trafficking, and rampant crime. Some hotels did well during the 3 months of “season.”

Then, the late, great Tony Goldman purchased 18 properties in 18 months, and through his early vision we rediscovered the magnificent Art Deco architecture. The Clevelander opened in 1987, and people sipped cocktails at the Carlyle Hotel’s café.

These important pioneers gave way to a slow dig out in the early 1990’s, when Gianni Versace, Madonna, and Sly Stallone moved in. Mark Soyka opened the News Café, my father David Wallack opened Mango’s and the Promenade had live reggae on Tuesdays. People were starting to walk around a little at night.

A real key “boom” came in 1992, when controversial pioneer Chris Paciello and sidekick Gerry Kelly, opened the first real Ultra Nightclubs (Liquid, Bar Room, Level) that are now the stuff of legend on South Beach. Some of us were there when Madonna danced the night away with us regular people. Something great was happening.

City Commission after City Commission clashed with the fledging, hand-to-mouth businesses, squeezing them on noise and code enforcement. We were building something out of nothing. And after more than 20 years, we have evolved into what Miami Beach is today, a boutique hotel ‘Billion Dollar Sandbar’ with the best nightlife in the World. The hotels, restaurants and nightclubs are our Theme Parks. Our Tourist Corridor stretches from 5th street encompassing Washington, Collins, and Ocean Dr, and though we still have a long way to go to refurbish much of it, it has the infrastructure to be stable and grow. This Tourist Corridor of Miami Beach, unlike most any other city, collects Resort Tax which funds the City’s budget INSTEAD of raising property taxes on its Residents. Essentially, whenever the city needs money, it gets most of it from South Beach, not you the resident, as well it should. Tourism and jobs are what’s right for the Economy. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. Investors are coming in and buying old hotels and doing renovations into the hundreds of millions. Then, the new properties each need to hire 300-500 or so people to operate, and when they do, they begin paying resort tax from day 1.

Residents who purchased a condo for $500k years ago that is now worth $2M (for no other reason than they bought on South Beach where it is simply, South Beach), and then show up at City Hall to complain about tourist related business, tend to be very hypocritical. Every resident of Miami Beach should want South Beach to responsibly thrive and grow; this is what keeps our taxes lower.

So here it is, articulated as best it can be. This is the stone cold truth. I am not running for anything and I don’t need your vote or your money.

One of the growing pains of the new Tourist Economy has been a lack of understanding, education, and partnership between Miami Beach’s Residents and Tourist Economy. But it is our Tourist Corridor, South Beach, that pays resort tax that amounts to 60% of the City’s budget. The City collects the other 40% from residential property taxes. So its 60-40, with residents having their tax burden decreasing, not increasing, by the growth of our Tourist Economy. In fact, our Commission just lowered property taxes again due to the Beach’s resort tax collection.

Any candidate running for office that shuns Tourism (or simply doesn’t understand its complexity), does not deserve to hold public office here. Period. It is highly inaccurate to refer to Miami Beach as ‘becoming Las Vegas’. Las Vegas has 150,000 hotel rooms, and we have 15,000.

“We are becoming Las Vegas!!” That alarmist cry is an insult to your intelligence. We are nothing like Las Vegas, not even close. Anyone who would say such a statement should seriously reconsider their position on the matter.

Speaking of Vegas, one thing Las Vegas does have, which our neighbor Orlando (145,000 hotels rooms) has as well, and is something we need, a “Convention Economy”.

Traditionally, Miami Beach’s ‘season’ is in the spring. March and April are still our ‘peak periods’, where the City collects millions and millions of dollars in resort taxes it desperately needs. Until just a few years ago, ‘off season’ was June 1st -February’s President’s Day Weekend, with the exception of Christmas-New Years’ week. The off-season lasted 9 months. That’s very bad.

With the rise of the chic hotels and nightclubs, our Tourism Industry has performed and come through for all of us for these past 10-12 years, we have now a niche season in the summer. At 100 degrees, and hurricane season, June, July and August have become stronger months. Just in the past few years, as Northeasterners come down here instead of the Hamptons, Atlantic City, and along the Jersey Shore. Go Miami Beach!

In September, when kids go back to school and families shake off vacations, our Tourist Corridor goes through the floor. Through the FLOOR. Dead slow. September, October, November? Let’s hope you still have some money left from March and April.. Most people don’t. These are long, hard months that hurt families.

The current state of Miami Beach’s Tourist Season is mid-Feb thru August (inseason), September-mid-Feb (off-season). Now, that’s 6 months and 6 months. This is still not good enough to create more jobs and grow our Economy. What do we need? Simple.

We need a Convention Economy.

In Orlando, September is the slowest month of the year (with all US families returning to school). However, by the 1st of October, Convention Season is in full swing as Corporations and Trade Shows from all over the world begin to convene. Any hotelier will tell you, Conventioneers are some of their best customers. They are usually professional, and they need hotel rooms, 3 meals a day, drinks and entertainment (6pm and on). They shop in stores, they eat in restaurants, and they happily pay full rate for all of it.

This $10 Billion a year “Convention Economy” buoys Orlando’s October, November, December, January and February, and the Convention Season ends each year right around President’s Day (Spring Break). This is the pattern in their 11 month $50 Billion a year Tourist Economy, with September being the ‘off’ month.

This brings me back to our “outdated”, “non-competitive”, and “oft-delayed” Miami Beach Convention Center. Hardly the economic engine it is supposed to be, it’s more like a car on blocks in our front yard with weeds growing out of the hood. It is shameful that we have allowed it to deteriorate like we have, with a lousy refurbishment last done during the late 1980’s.

Could we really have a Convention Economy, certainly not a mega-scale like Orlando or Las Vegas, but a ‘boutique Convention Economy’ in Miami Beach? Could we have businesses hiring in October instead of laying off workers? Hmmm, let me think about how.

Oh yes of course, a reimagining and redevelopment of our Miami Beach Convention Center. Why haven’t we done that yet? Oh wait, we have.

As a member of the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board, I have sat for years listening to our Center’s Sales Team as it goes over the crumbs of business it gets. Crumbs.

How many studies have we received from Meeting Planners and Consultants over the years stating to even be considered for Trade Shows the need for a Convention Center Hotel and an expanded campus. And they are absolutely right. We absolutely need a Hotel, it’s a FACT. Like 2 + 2 = 4 is a fact.

Any political novice that is running to stop Miami Beach from having a Convention Economy is against Jobs, Growth, and Prosperity. Period.

Ask the shop owner on Washington Ave, the deli on 41st street, or a retailer on Lincoln Road if they could use some more customers on a slow Tuesday. They would beg for them! How are they supposed to pay their employees, their taxes and themselves. They need customers, and they need us all to be leaders at times like this and to understand what our call of duty is.

Many of the candidates that are running for office this November are prescribing the same recipe that our Congress has for the last few years, “gridlock” and kill any worthwhile project with no alternative in sight. Easier to say no. Congress has an 18% approval rating. The campaigns based on stopping the Convention Center redevelopment are shameful.

Mayor Bower and this Commission navigated through absolute turmoil and voted Tishman/ACE to rebuild the Convention Center. It is always best to really understand things before you weigh in with your vote. The losing bidder, Portman & Associates, is a legendary global design builder as well.

Tishman and Portman. It’s like we had Apple and Microsoft here. And we picked Apple. Tishman built the World Trade Center in 1967, and after its destruction on 9/11/01, began the process of rebuilding it again. Its “Freedom Tower” now stands in lower Manhattan at 1776 feet. I get goose bumps. Here in Florida, Tishman was hired by Walt Disney World in the late 1970’s to build EPCOT®, and part of the deal was a ground lease for a hotel/convention center, which they wisely constructed the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin, which they own and operate today. This is one of the most substantial development groups in the Country and we are very lucky to have them on our Project. I am extremely proud that the developer of the new iconic World Trade Center in lower Manhattan was chosen to develop the Miami Beach Convention Center! Then, of course with the Mayoral and Commission races in full swing, the Convention Center (the centerpiece for our new ‘Convention Economy’ which we don’t have but we want), has been attacked by “pro-resident” want-to-be politicians who are really just attacking residents by delaying the economic engine that would further lower their taxes and strengthen our economy. LOWER OUR TAXES. I don’t know about you, but I want my taxes lower, I want the City to have a Convention Economy to meld with its overall Tourist Economy, I want the City to build more Parking Garages on strategic sites it owns so people can park their cars, and I want a government that is pro-business and pro-jobs. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS for all who want to work.

Doesn’t everyone remember 2008 and theGreat Recession that we are just creeping out of? In 1992, James Carville famously kept reminding candidate Clinton“It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Bubba listened big time and became President of the United States.

It’s still the Economy. It will always be the Economy. But we must understand what makes our Miami Beach economy work. It’s the overall Tourist Economy (brand-driven by our Beaches, famous hotels, and Nightlife), and the ‘never had before but potentially within our grasp’ Convention Economy, to buoy us through the slow Fall and Winter months.

Don’t allow lobbyists and lawyers posing as civil servants to chase the Tishman firm out of town, and cow-tow to ‘activists’ who email you and claim to be protecting the City’s “prized assets”, which are 2 parking lots adjacent to the desolate Convention Center. Those parking lots are doing NOTHING for you. NOTHING. Are they generating tax revenue that the City can use to make Residents’ lives better? No. They are generating jack squat.

People always talk about “Highest and Best Use” of land. I can tell you from experience that the highest and best use of these parking lots would be as part of a redevelopment of the Convention Center. Both teams spent millions to modify their plans based on resident input. And now it all is getting flushed (or trying to by a slate of candidates and politicians that wish to continue to deceive voters and keep residents pitted against the businesses who employ and support them with their resort tax dollars)? Why did we attend the meetings then? Were we fools to be involved in the process as we were?

I say to You, the Sunset Island Mom. You, in the condo on Collins Avenue. You, the businesswoman on 41st Street. You, the Community Activist. You, the new parent. You, the retiree. You, the new homebuyer. You. Me. We. We all deserve the Truth!

The Truth is we need The Tourist Corridor to grow and thrive. And we need the Convention Center built. And we need the City to use all the money it collects (and will collect) from this thriving Tourist/Convention Economy (that we don’t have yet but we could) to fix and enhance our infrastructure, which would be the flooding concerns, fixing streets, and more parking garages.

It’s not “forget the Convention Center so we can fix our flooding”. What A Total Joke. That is a campaign trick to make you into a fool.

We need to fix our flooding as well as other infrastructure upgrades so we can continue to do our business here and enjoy a wonderful quality of life in our City.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.

To the Future of Miami Beach,

Joshua Wallack, Vice Chairman
Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce

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