“The process starts again today when city commissioners receive a study calling for a new hotel, retail complex and/or parking to replace the Casino shops.”
Except that the developer picked to build the project failed to come up with either a detailed building plan or a convincing financing package.
On April 30, 1996, The Herald wrote, “After more than 15 years of trying, Hollywood city commissioners hope they are finally going to succeed in luring a developer to take over the Casino property at Johnson Street and the Broadwalk.” The city sent out invitations to potential investors in 275 sand pails, complete with sunglasses and suntan lotion. Good for warding off sunburn, maybe, but not black magic.
The city sorted through the best five proposals and settled on the “Diamond on the Beach” concept from Boulis, who promised he would build a 14-story hotel and 82,000 square feet of retail space on that jinxed real estate. Not even Boulis, founder of the Miami Subs Grill chain, the Sun Cruz casino boat fleet and builder of restaurants and resort hotels across South Florida, could beat the curse.
After signing the lease for the Casino property, Boulis’ marriage dissolved, feds raided his headquarters, the U.S. attorney forced him to get out of the casino boat business and pay a $2 million fine. The fellow to whom he sold his gambling boats failed to come up with the money. And, of course, Boulis was gunned down moments after a meeting about his dashed plans to build the Diamond on the Beach.
All the city got out of the Boulis deal was a lawsuit and a tussle with Peebles, another audacious developer, who tried, futilely, to take over the project.
Meanwhile, the folks down at City Hall supposed that if they could tear down the old Casino building and chase out the 18 mom-and-pop businesses, it would make the property seem more enticing; hurry things along. “We had been paying rent to the city for years,” remembered Michael Dahan, whose family had five clothing stores operating in the Casino. “The city decided they would rather have grass.”
“All the tenants were upset. I was doing a good business there,” former shop owner Edmond Sutton told me. Dahan and Sutton both talked Friday about how the rush to evict the city’s rent-paying tenants and demolish the old building had no discernible effect. The land stayed empty. The curse held.
In 2001, along came Swerdlow with an offer to build a hotel and a fancy swimming complex with a museum, where he’d relocate the International Swimming Hall of Fame from its digs on Fort Lauderdale beach. All Swerdlow wanted in return was for the city to finance the $30 million pool project and condemn other tracts of private property to make way for one of his condo projects. So much for that.
It was then, in a 2001 column, that I first suggested that a curse had become the only plausible explanation for so many failures. More evidence was to come. In 2005, the city picked the 14-story, $70 million Marriott Ocean Village Resort & Spa over three other hefty proposals. Another four years were frittered away before that deal disappeared into the ether.
And now comes the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort. That is, if the project can beat both the curse and the July 9 deadline.
Dahan, evicted 15 years ago to make way for ghost projects that never materialized, has his doubts. “I’ll wait until I see the first dump truck.”