When people think of Arthur Hertz, the longtime chief executive officer of Wometco Enterprises, memories of “old Miami” intertwine.
“The man was indeed a Miami legend,” said Coral Gables native Robert Alexander. “When I think of Wometco, I think of the former gargantuan — at least in my eyes as a child — Dadeland theater with the balconies where I saw ‘Star Wars’ as well as many other movies. Makes me also remember the Miracle Theatre and the smell of popcorn. Old Miami. There was no other place like it.”
There was no one else exactly like Hertz, either. The businessman, called “a 305 icon” by one of many community leaders, died Wednesday.
The Miami High Class of 1951 and University of Miami Class of 1955 graduate was 83.
Hertz joined Wometco Enterprises in 1956 as an accountant. By the early 1980s, he was its executive vice president, chief executive officer and chairman.
Wometco was founded in 1925 by brothers-in-law Mitchell Wolfson and Sidney Meyer. Wometco acquired the 5-year-old Miami Seaquarium in 1960 and owned the popular Rickenbacker Causeway attraction until its sale in 2014 to Palace Entertainment.
For years, Hertz fought to expand the 62-year-old Seaquarium, which, in its heyday in the 1960s, was the film site for 88 episodes of the TV series “Flipper.”
“Seaquarium is tired. It’s an old facility with no modernization for the last 20 years. If we’re going to retain it, we’ve got to rebuild,” Hertz told the Miami Herald in 1991.
But his attempts were thwarted by Key Biscayne residents, who battled the expansion. He’d ultimately give up the fight. “We’d win in the lower courts but lose in the higher courts,” Hertz told the Herald in 2013 during discussions of its sale.
Animal rights groups also objected to the Seaquarium keeping dolphins and killer whales, like Lolita — a venue mainstay since 1970 — in captivity. Hertz countered, “Lolita has been part of the Miami Seaquarium family for more than 42 years, and is as active and healthy as ever. Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium,” he told the Herald in 2012.
In Hertz’s earlier years with Wometco — as he became vice president in 1964, senior vice president in 1971 and executive vice president and treasurer in 1981 — the company operated WTVJ Channel 4 (now NBC 6), Wometco Cable TV, two movie theater chains with 83 screens in South and Central Florida, vending companies, and Wometco de Puerto Rico, which operated 45 Baskin-Robbins and 18 Dunkin’ Donuts stores.
A group of investors bought Wometco Enterprises in 1984. Hertz was elected executive vice president/COO and a director of WEI Enterprises Corp. one of its successor companies, and executive vice president and director of Wometco Broadcasting Co., the other successor company.
In 1985, Hertz and WEI officer Michael Brown led a management buyout of WEI Enterprises’ entertainment and vending operations and named the new company WOM Enterprises (now Wometco Enterprises).
When Wometco was broken up, Hertz was in charge of selling the various divisions but he decided to keep the Seaquarium and the credit union to help employees, said retired TV journalist Ike Seamans, whose personal and professional history with Hertz dates to 1970.
Aside from the Seaquarium, Hertz’s focus was on community organizations and boards on which he served, many as director or chairman. These included the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Visit Florida, Orange Bowl Committee, Dade County Public Health Trust, Jackson Memorial Hospital Foundation, Florida Tourism Commission, the former Spec’s Music and the Miami Parking Authority.
On April 24, the Miami Parking Authority — for which Hertz was a past board chairman and who served for more than 30 years — along with the Miami City Commission, named Southwest 16th Street, between 32nd and 37th avenues, Arthur Hertz Way.
“He was highly respected for his ability to distill complex financial issues into easy-to-understand concepts. But, beyond his many business qualities, he was a gentleman and a man of his word. Mr. Hertz was a man of impeccable ethics and he expected our board to maintain those ethics,” said Thomas Jelke, MPA chairman in a statement.
Seamans called Hertz “a hell of a man” who “saved my career in journalism.”
“When I started at WTVJ in 1970, Art was the financial vice president of Wometco. I was walking in the hall as a young guy and he came up and introduced himself with an ‘If I can help you in any way…’ He was what you called a mensch. He talked to everybody — from the janitors to Ralph Renick,” the well-known news anchor. “You never knew how important he was because he identified with everybody.”
In 1979, Seamans joined NBC News as a correspondent. Hertz was one of the first to offer congratulations and, some time later, Seamans sought counsel from his old pal.
“I was thinking of getting out of the business and I went to Art for advice,” Seamans said. “I said, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘Don’t do it. You are a natural-born reporter. In the business world you will never be happy. Reporter is what you do.’ So I took his advice and went on for another 25 years.
“He was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Seamans added. “NBC sent me back to Miami and I reestablished my name in this town. He was one of the guys who, when you did a good story, he’d call you and say ‘That was great.’ There was no reason for him to do that. Other top executives didn’t do it. Art would like to hang out in the newsroom. We all loved him.”
Hertz, who lived in Coral Gables, received numerous accolades.
In 2007, he was given the Tourism Professional of the Year award from Miami’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. In 2012, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce presented Hertz with The Henry M. Flagler Award for Visionary Leadership. The same year, he was awarded the Meritorious Inn Key Award by the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association.
He earned Iron Arrow, the highest honor given to a UM grad.
“Miami and The U has lost a genuine champion dedicated to the betterment of our community. His caring attitude, philanthropy and dry wit made him a presence on the UM Board and the numerous other organizations that helped so many,” said Richard Fain, chair of UM’s Board of Trustees.
Hertz was also a benefactor of the medical campus’ educational programs and Wolfson Department of Community Service program.
“His support allowed our students and faculty to conduct community health fairs and free clinics in the areas of greatest need. We are forever grateful,” said Dr. Laurence B. Gardner, interim dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“Arthur … has been a highly respected personal friend and colleague for the past 40 years,” added Merrett Stierheim, Miami-Dade County’s former manager. “Arthur was a go-to-guy for advice and help and a great family man. His passing is sadly Greater Miami’s loss.”
Hertz’s survivors include his sister Evelyn Saxon and brother Richard Hertz, his sons Stephen and Andrew Hertz, grandchildren Joshua Myles and Alexander Maxwell, and in-laws Jana and Lynn.