Not to descend too deeply into hoodoo, black magic, sorcery, the dark arts, but after 87 years of unholy debacles, “cursed” has come to seem a plausible explanation for a certain five-acre tract on the Hollywood shore.
One grandiose plan after another foundered on the city-owned parking lot known as the Casino property. Civic leaders have sought proposals for resort hotels or touristy “marketplace” complexes or both. Over the years, notable developers have offered up more than 20 packages. None materialized, providing, at least, circumstantial evidence supporting my theory of the Casino curse.
Developers well known for successful projects, like Michael Swerdlow, Don Peebles and Gus Boulis, came to Hollywood beach with plans as big as their egos. All were thwarted. Boulis had just left a meeting over his own collapsing plan for the Casino property when he was ambushed by mob assassins.
Hollywood city commissioners ought to be considering bids from exorcists, witch doctors and voodoo priests to sanctify the swath between Michigan and Johnson streets. Instead, on Wednesday, the commission voted to give yet another developer a chance to overcome the hex.
This latest proposal would fill the unlucky space with something called the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort. The name comes from the ubiquitous bar song and corporate empire of Jimmy Buffett (who, incidentally, exorcised the infamous “Curse of the Bambino!” during a concert at Fenway Park in 2004, allowing Boston to finally win a World Series two months later). Buffett’s not-very-laid-back beach shack will cost $147 million. That is, if Jimmy and his partners don’t suffer the fate of so many of their predecessors. The Margaritaville developers have already missed an April deadline to procure a financing package. The city agreed Wednesday to give them until July 9 to begin construction before cosigning yet another plan to oblivion.
Back in 1925, Hollywood founder Joseph Young completed a wildly ambitious, very expensive swimming and entertainment complex on this same site, with an Olympic-sized saltwater swimming pool, baby pools, 80 shower baths, diving towers and a shopping arcade.
It was beautiful. For about a year. The Casino was smashed by the tidal surge during the 1926 hurricane. Young was bankrupted. His damaged swimming and shopping complex was never restored to its original majesty.
Thirty years later, the city demolished the pool and converted the building into a kind of shabby beachside shopping center. In 1982, the city decided the old Casino structure should give way to something grander. A year later, the city had two proposals for hotels, which were merged into a single, not very exciting pitch for a Holiday Inn. And not the catalyst for a beachfront renaissance the commissioners wanted.
The city ordered studies and master plans and five years later three more proposals were on the table — two for fancy shopping-entertainment operations, meant to emulate Miami’s Bayside Marketplace; another with all that and a 14-story hotel.
The city went with the hotel scheme. Then the Casino curse struck. When the city police chief ran a background check on the winning bidder, he discovered the Casino property’s latest savior was a convicted stack swindler with organized crime connections.
More studies. More proposals. On July 29, 1994, The Miami Herald wrote that the time, surely, had finally come. “This could be the final season for beer, T-shirts and French newspapers in Hollywood’s Casino shops, the 50-year-old oceanfront landmark that city planners see as the key to beach redevelopment. For more than a decade, developers have talked about turning the city-owned land at Johnson Street and the Broadwalk into hotels, parks or tourist malls like Miami’s Bayside Marketplace.