If an entrepreneur gets his way, South Miami’s business district will host a music festival every Saturday for three months next year. The highlight of the plan is an evening roof-top concert to help generate revenue at a city parking garage that a former mayor once called "the garage from hell.”
Mark Richman, who is leasing the garage from the city and owns commercial property in South Miami, wants to use music to attract patrons. He met with weary commissioners Thursday night to discuss a roof-top renovation at the five-story garage, at Southwest 73rd Street between 58th Avenue and 58th Court.
Richman said the cultural event he calls “Music In The Air” would bring live music to 15 restaurants such as R.A. Sushi and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. He presented a drawing for his plan to build a stage, install portable toilets, set up several lounging areas and a bar on the garage’s roof-top. He said he plans to invest $100,000.
“It will be a fabulous event starting Jan. 5 for 10 Saturday nights. There will be music in the restaurants, and at 9 p.m. we will have the big show,” Richman said. “I’m envisioning soft music, classical — not hip-hop or rock-n-roll — and I promise there will be no noise after 11:45 p.m.”
Mayor Philip Stoddard, Vice Mayor Josh Liebman and Commissioner Walter Harris were open to the idea. Commissioner Bob Welsh and Commissioner Valerie Newman said they love live music, but were concerned about the logistics and lack of infrastructure.
“I don’t realistically see this as the solution to bringing income to the garage,” Newman said. “Alcohol on a regular basis on the roof is a concern to me, access to the elevators, clean stairways, the lighting, and having city employees collecting a flat-fee” were some of her concerns.
About eight years ago, Richman leased the five-story garage with 425 parking spaces for 50 years. He pays about $76,000 a year in rent. He also pays the city 12.5 percent of any revenue earned in excess of $150,000. And the city is allowed to issue parking tickets inside.
The garage has been an ongoing challenge for both the city and Richman. It was in the works for about a decade before it opened late 2007. First there was a contested development bid, then title problems, then one of the principles of the company overseeing the project was arrested for running a scam, there were disagreements over the rent, and a long legal dispute between Richman and the city that ultimately settled.
Richman’s bumpy relationship with the city includes getting in trouble for having a worker collect a flat fee in cash from customers on nights and weekends without keeping a proper record. The city contract requires that he use "automated collection procedures to ensure accurate reporting of gross parking revenues."
“I would like to see a better system to collect the fee,” Newman said. “That’s where I would like to see you put your money.”
Taxes on the $9.4 million building have also been an issue with the county and federal authorities. City-owned properties are usually tax-exempt, but when city property is privately operated the rule doesn’t apply.
After the Miami-Dade County property appraiser’s office decided in August 2010 that the property could be taxed, the city went after Richman for $227,000 owed to the county. Richman appealed the county’s decision and lost. He paid the taxes earlier this year.