Miami Beach

Opera, poetry and philanthropy in Miami Beach Hotel

EL Nuevo Herald

It might be surprising to walk into the lobby of the The Betsy Hotel on a weekday and be met by a group of Miami residents and guests enjoying scenes of romance and drama interpreted opera style by the young singers of the Miami Summer Music Festival Opera Institute.

It’s also unusual for travelers, registering or later leaving the hotel, each week to intertwine with writers stemming from different parts of the world who stay as hotel guests in The Writer’s Room, a studio-style room reserved solely for inspiration.

It is all part of Jonathan Plutzik’s vision. Plutzik, who is the proprietor of the four-star hotel, has implemented what he calls the PACE model (Philanthropy, Arts, Culture and Education). The model includes the substitution of sheets of poetry for chocolates on room pillows.

For Plutzik, it’s like a mission forming part of his history and his childhood memories. Hyam Plutzik, his father, was a Jewish American poet who was a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He died in 1962 when Plutzik was 7 years old.

The Writer’s Room was inaugurated in 2012. It was designed with the help of a team from the Craig Robbins company. The Writer’s Room was recently the recipient of the Knight Foundation Challenge grant. Inside the room, in front of the window, Plutzik has placed a desk which belonged to his father.

This particular week the guest staying in the room, from Sunday to Wednesday, was Caridad McCormick, a writer born in Los Angeles and whose parents are Cuban.

“The silence and walks on the beach helped me to find inspiration. I had time to think and put my second poetry book, Tortilleria, in order,” said McCormick, who is also an English teacher at Miami Dade College. “It’s a sort of analysis of what being gay in Cuban culture means, my childhood, the legalization of gay marriage.”

When she left the room, a new resident entered — Fernando Olszanski, a writer born in Buenos Aires who has been living in Chicago for 20 years. In 2011, he won second place at the International Book Awards in the category of Best Fiction Story.

“I love the idea of celebrating the work of writers in this way. You can’t enjoy the summertime so much in Chicago and here the contact with nature feeds the spirit,” said Olszanski, who is now in the editing stage of his fifth fiction book, Red on White and other tales.

Usually, to gain the keys to The Writer’s Room for a few days, writers must register their information and apply via The Writer’s Room’s website.

“Being a professional writer is a requirement. Since the room’s inauguration more than 300 writers hailing from different countries have stayed in it,” said Pablo Cartaya, a book author and director of the Betsy’s Writer’s Room Literary Programs.

The stay is generally three days long but can be extended to five for writers traveling from other countries.

“We only ask the writers to participate in one community activity so that the experience can also enrich the general public,” Plutzik said.

Plutzik was a New York resident until a short while ago and recently moved to Miami Beach.

“I already registered to vote; it was my first step to formalize my moving here,” said the businessman, who now also belongs to a work team to improve Ocean Drive.

He retired from his position as vice president of the Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) in 2003 after 25 years of service. He was later the president of Firaxis Games, Inc., a video game company and is a current member of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).

In 2005, Plutzik and his wife Lesley Goldwasser, a Wall Street executive born in Zimbabwe, Africa, visited Miami Beach and bought and remodeled The Betsy Hotel. They were led by Italian designer Diamante Pedersoli, who also designed Ralph Lauren’s home, in a colonial yet tropical style.

The 65-room hotel will expand to almost double its size in a few months. Plutzik has acquired the neighboring Carlton Hotel and is currently working on the expansion.

The next cultural event on the hotel’s agenda is The Betsy’s A Capella Festival, held Oct. 23-25. In its second year, it will focus on high school students and community singers. The activities are open to the public and is free.

Follow Ivonne Gomez on Twitter: @Ivonnegomezcam