Miami Beach

Miami Beach candidates attack each other over Rebecca Towers senior housing facility

Rebecca Towers North at 200 Alton Rd., Miami Beach
Rebecca Towers North at 200 Alton Rd., Miami Beach Miami Herald File

Miami Beach candidates are feuding over a supposed development deal that some say would displace hundreds of seniors living in the waterfront affordable-housing complex Rebecca Towers.

No such deal has materialized, but posts by political blogger Elaine de Valle were followed by campaign email blasts sent from commission candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and a press release from incumbent Mayor Philip Levine’s challenger David Wieder that accuse Levine’s political handler — also a well-known Beach lobbyist — of trying to push the South Beach redevelopment project.

On Monday, Levine released a YouTube campaign video with an embedded quote ensuring voters, “I will protect Rebecca Towers, and our seniors, with everything I’ve got.”

David Custin, political consultant to Levine and three candidates who have appeared with the mayor on the campaign trail, was registered as a lobbyist for the adjacent Miami Beach Marina from late February to early September, at a rate of $10,000 a month. His purpose, according a log kept at the city clerk’s office, was to represent a firm in the “redevelopment of property and City approvals for Miami Beach Marina & Rebecca Towers.”

That phrase set off a political back-and-forth in the Beach, sparking rumors that the marina’s operator wanted to strike a deal with the city to raze the towers and relocate the seniors living in 400 units between the two buildings. The murmurs based on the registration have been echoed in campaign attacks in recent days.

Custin called the rumors lies, telling the Miami Herald that a company working with the marina’s operator, listed as TC Miami Beach LLC, hired him as its representative while company chiefs mulled over plans to upgrade the marina. As an incentive to gain city approval, the company considered adding parking for Rebecca Towers.

Custin said the plan never moved forward, and the concept was abandonded by the summer.

“They decided it wasn’t feasible, and they just dropped it,” he said.

The principals for TC Miami Beach LLC are brothers James and Kenneth Tate of Tate Capital. The operator of the marina is RCI Marine, whose president Robert Christoph Jr. leases the land on which the marina lies from the city’s redevelopment agency.

Christoph and the Tates are partners on another marina redevelopment in Fort Lauderdale, where they are in a partnership with a few other entities to expand the Bahia Mar Resort & Marina.

Christoph, president of marina operator RCI Marine, said in an email that the idea of renovating the marina was considered “not economically viable” by late April, and Custin’s consulting agreement was terminated by early May.

“The concept was to improve the marina, the upland area, and provide a public benefit by offering additional parking and amenities for neighbors (including Rebecca Towers),” he wrote. “We NEVER discussed removing the residents from the area.”

David Custin reported earning $30,000 for three months of representing TC Miami Beach LLC.

Custin’s entry on the city’s lobbyist log noted his representation of the TC Miami Beach from February through September.

The marina is not listed as one of his clients in the October log because he withdrew from lobbying for the marina in an email dated Sept. 4. He reported being paid $30,000 for three months of representation — even though he says he never actually did any lobbying.

“A lot of times, clients will hire me to get my advice on governmental issues,” he said.

He and the marina maintain that no plans were ever discussed with elected officials. Miami Beach city commissioners say they never met with Custin to talk about the marina or Rebecca Towers. No proposal ever went to a city board.

The buzz about the towers became fodder for political ads from mayoral candidate Wieder and Gonzalez, who is one of six candidates running for the commission’s Group 4 seat.

In an Oct.1 letter to Rebecca Towers’ executive director Miguel Del Campillo, Levine criticized the candidates.

“I want our seniors to rest assured that I would never do anything to jeopardize their trust and confidence in my dedication to serve their best interests,” he wrote. “In fact, following my reelection, I pledge to explore options to increase and enhance senior housing in Miami Beach.”

Custin is running the campaigns for Levine and three commission candidates: Ricky Arriola, Betsy Pérez and John Elizabeth Alemán. Pérez is running against Gonzalez and four others.

Are we to believe the mayor had no contact with Custin pursuant to the marina?”

mayoral candidate David Wieder

Wieder’s camp put out a news release condemning Levine and Custin based on the blog posts. On Monday, Wieder said he didn’t spread the rumors but simply commented on them.

He also said he hadn’t seen or heard anything other than the blog and Custin’s registration to prove seniors would have been put on the street.

“I can’t tell you other than the fact that he’s been receiving a huge amount of the money each month from the developer,” he said.

Gonzalez questioned Custin’s intentions.

“I doubt that he was getting paid $10,000 per month to build more parking for Rebecca Towers,” she said.

Custin said his candidates’ opposition fabricated the accusations from the one line on his registration.

“They made it up,” he said.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech