SUNNY ISLE Sunny Isles Beach is one of Miami-Dade's newest municipalities. But it has thrived as a community since, the 1950s, when it became an oasis of low-rise hotels and motels marked by decorative motifs. Today it's undergoing a massive transformation, as condos grow sky-high along its coveted beachfront. * In Frank Capra's 1959 movie-musical "A Hole in the Head," Frank Sinatra stars as Tony Manetta, the owner of a struggling hotel called the Garden Of Eden -- shot on-site at the still-kicking Cardozo Hotel on Ocean Drive. The plot of the movie revolves around Manetta's attempts to convince his friend, a wealthy New Yorker played by Keenan Wynn, to turn South Beach into a theme park reminiscent of Disneyland. Along the way, Manetta attempts to woo a beautiful woman staying at his hotel. He takes her for a ride in his flashy convertible for a big night on the town -- to what is today known as Sunny Isles Beach. As Manetta and his date, Shirl (played by the sultry Carolyn Jones) drive north on A1A in his convertible, the sky over the car is filled with a montage of neon hotel signs: Tangiers, Sahara, Oasis, The Mandalay and Castaways, among others. These Sunny Isles properties, shown in their heyday in the movie, were portrayed as glamorous outposts for the well-heeled and fashionable. Today, more than 40 years after Capra wrapped the production, the face of Sunny Isles Beach is a far cry from the scene portrayed in the Sinatra flick. The hotels that once shared the spotlight with Sinatra and company -- many of which were fronted with fanciful decorative statues of mermaids, covered wagons, Tahitian masks and pyramids -- have mostly fallen to the wrecking ball, In their place are soaring towers of luxury homes, and the few campy hotels remaining are slated for destruction by developers wooing residents with condos priced anywhere from $250,000 to $10 million. Yet the city -- which incorporated in 1997 -- is exuding a different type of glamour, the kind that comes from having a skyline that's literally bursting with high-rise development. All along its coastline, sleek skyscrapers of enormous height are forever changing the complexion of the city, replacing moderate- income visitors with wealthy residents. Such is progress, and Sunny Isles is in the thick of it -- to the tune of thousands of residential units coming online in the next several years. The tiny city's renaissance translates into billions of dollars invested in a strip of beachfront only 2.5 miles long and three blocks wide. "The charm of an old motel is if the old motel stays in the same condition as when it was charming," says Jose Milton of J. Milton & Associates, a developer who was one of the first to build in Sunny Isles, back in the mid-1990s, with Sands Pointe and The Pinnacle. "These motels were never even kept close to that. What you have in their place is a great thing. It's impressive." The developers who are transforming the city have the full support of its administration. Sunny Isles Beach mayor David Samson, in fact, totally agrees with Milton's assertion. The spry 86-year-old -- who has lived in the area since 1972 and helped incorporate the city -- is adamant that Sunny Isles live up to what he says is it's full potential: to house world-class development within its borders. "Sunny Isles, when I moved here from Chicago, was going in one direction -- down," Samson says. "I'm happy to tell you that today I'd put this city up against any." Still, he says, "everything has a history, but I don't want any of the so-called things that remind you of that history to be included in the beautification of this city." Dezerland One case in point that illustrates Sunny Isles' dramatic change is the $640 million Trump Grande. It's a condominium and hotel complex developed by father-and-son team Michael and Gil Dezer and the ubiquitous Donald Trump, with whom the Dezers hooked up last summer and for whom the mammoth development is named. Actually, the Dezers -- who own about 40 acres of oceanfront land in the city, as well as their Dezerland resort in Miami Beach's North Beach area -- are a good place to start when discussing Sunny Isles' metamorphosis. Starting with the Thunderbird Hotel on Collins Avenue, the development team began buying properties in Sunny Isles more than five years ago, and have been on a tear ever since. At the moment, the Dezers are working on building three towers (the Trump Grande condominium-hotel plus two more condo towers) for a total of 1,000 units on more than 1,000 linear feet of oceanfront. The development is collectively called Trump Grande Ocean Resort and Residences, and it's well under construction. Gil Dezer says the hotel component of the three buildings (to be managed by Sonesta Resorts) will be ready for occupancy in March. They've about sold out the condo-hotel and the second condo tower; sales are brisk in the third tower as well, with about 65 percent of the 332 units already gone. How the family started on its quest to redevelop Sunny Isles is something the younger Dezer, 27, fondly recalls. "It was December of 1997, and we [the family] were sitting in our house in New York," Gil says. "It was snowing outside and my father called a family meeting. He sat us down and said, 'There's a place in Miami called Sunny Isles and I see a potential there.'" Gil says the family's real estate portfolio in New York didn't carry mortgages (they owned everything outright), so his father wanted to "bring his good name and good credit" to South Florida and start buying up a lot of the property in Sunny Isles. On the site where Trump Grande is going up, incidentally, the Dezers have $140 million in land and construction loans alone. "He said, 'Does anybody have any objections?'" Gil recalls. "He asked us what we thought about it. I hate to admit it, but we were like everybody else, saying, what the hell are you looking at these run-down hotels for? I looked at some of them and said, 'You're spending $10 million for that?'" But, sitting in Trump Grande's oceanfront sales center (formerly the Colonial Inn), describing the three-story, 9,000 square-foot condo he's building for himself in the second tower, Gil admits that his father's gamble paid off. "He's really a visionary," he says. "He had the foresight to come in here, and he really blew this place up." The family today owns property stretching from 158th Street to 198th Street on Collins Avenue. With no more hotels to purchase in the city, the Dezers are turning to what's left: small condo-hotels, such as the Golden Nugget. "We're buying the owners out unit by unit by unit," Gil says. "It's a major pain in the ass, but we've set up an entire department in our organization that handles that. So far, we've been able to put together two and a half buildings since 1999. It takes a while." Apparently. He says the first wave of condo owners just wants to sell, then there's the second and third rounds of people who are a little tougher. "Then you've got the last five people or so who think they're crackerjacks," Gil says. "We have ways to get them out." He won't discuss the strategy, but says it's perfectly legal. "But, luckily for us, we also run a hotel operation. We run the Thunderbird as a hotel. When we buy them out, we don't just let the units sit there -- we have a rental operation as well. So we're trying to cover our expenses, not trying to make money ... because when you spend $100,000 on a little studio, you're not going to make any money. That's the strategy that allows us to hold the properties until we're actually ready to do something with them." In the meantime, he says the family has some tentative plans in the works for other projects at various sites -- including the possibility of teaming up with another developer at the site of the Desert Inn condo-hotel -- but for now they'r e concentrating mostly on Trump Grande. At the very least, the family's vast ownership in the city puts them in an enviable position, with other developers approaching them for land. "It happens a lot," Gil says. "We have one property that we're almost done buying out and we're talking to two different developers right now." Indeed, the land on which The Related Group's Ocean II sits -- on the north end of the city -- was one of the family's parcels. "We can control our competition," he says. Skyward Ho! One thing that neither the Dezers nor other developers in Sunny Isles Beach are overly concerned with is a slowdown in South Florida's condo market. "The obvious economic problem is a national problem," says Milton. "You know, if you're an international buyer and the country you're going to invest in is about to go to war, would you feel comfortable with that? I think the US is under a microscope right now. However, are we enjoying the best real estate market in the US at the moment? I think so. I'm confident in saying that." It's simply business as usual regarding oceanfront property, and beyond the Dezers are a stable of major developers who are more than holding their own with successful projects either under construction or under development. The Trump Group -- headed by Jules Trump, the developer of Williams Island across the Intracoastal and no relation to the Donald -- is building Acqualina at 178th Street and Collins Avenue. This highly elegant building, which has a small, 65-room hotel segment to be managed by Rosewood Hotels, is built up to the 24th floor and will deliver in early 2004. Sales director Michael Goldstein says that during the second week in January, the development logged $19.5 million in sales - 16 units with solid 20 percent deposits on them. All of the 198 units in the building start at more than $1.4 million, a high price point even for South Florida. "We've been used to a pace of seven to 10 sales per month," Goldstein says. "The season's obviously picked up." Goldstein says one of the major differences between Acqualina and other developments in Sunny Isles (besides its self-conscious image as the top-of-the-line product) is that he expects about 68 percent of the owners to live in the building full-time. "The foreign market is virtually nonexistent for us," Goldstein says. 'About 75 percent of our owners are US citizens." There's a greater mix of tenants at La Perla, says Richard Lamondin, one of the executives at the Cornerstone Group, the firm developing the condo. "We've got Lots of locals who are selling their homes in Aventura or other areas and who want to be on the beach. We have a number of people coming in from Mexico and Latin America. I think that's one of the reasons our market is brisk, because of the diversity of the buyers." Down the street, the 328-unit, $140 million La Perla might also be getting a more diverse mix because of the development's price points, which range from the mid-$200s to the mid-$500s. "We recognized that people wanted to live on the ocean for less money," Lamondin says, adding that since the condo's sales effort started in July of last year, 228 out of the 326 available units have sold. "We looked at the market and saw that everyone was building 3,000-square-foot units," Lamondin says. "We chose to design smaller units, at an average of 1,475 square feet. Compared to what everyone else is building, it's a price-conscious choice." Jose Milton sees things a bit differently. He says that the more modestly priced units are not attracting international buyers. "I would say that your lower-end price point is your local buyer," he says. "The Sunny Isles buyer is, depending on your price point, 30 to 50 percent local." Milton should know the market. His mid-1990s pre-Dezer projects were literally groundbreaking; the Pinnacle itself stands out as a stunning architectural statement, a futuristic shark's tooth that can be seen from miles away. Milton is currently doing consulting work for his brother Frank, who's gearing up a sales effort on Sayan, an Indonesian-themed condominium to be built at 162nd Street and Collins Avenue. With only 90 residences in the entire 30-story building, Jose Milton says Frank has created a very private, intimate condo. The development, which should break ground in June of this year (with an 18-month build-out), offers condos that range in price from $467,000 to $3.8 million. Yet another condominium under development in the city is Turnberry International's Turnberry Ocean Colony, slated to rise on the south end of the city near the Oceania complex of highrises - also early entries in the high-rise game, on the site of the once-famed Castaways. Turnberry International got its feet wet in the market when it took over development of the last Oceania tower a couple of years ago, with only a couple of units left. "In fact, we did that to gain access to the 650 feet of beachfront that the original developer owned on the beach side," says Bruce Weiner, Turnberry's president. "It worked out well for everyone." The company, well-known in South Florida for developing much of Aventura, plans two 37- story, 130-unit towers with a private club, dining, spa and fitness center. Weiner says that although a sales center won't be open until mid-February, Turnberry's already taken 10- percent deposits for 65 units. Units will range in size from 2,200 to 5,700 square feet, with an average selling price of $1.4 million apiece. The company is going for a high-end buyer who's more concerned with square footage than living economically on the ocean. "I can't say whether or not these buyers are going to live here year round," Weiner says, "but I can say that we do turn away straight investors. Some buildings are built for the masses and some, well, some are built for the classes." Return of the Hotels Beyond just straight-up condos, Sunny Isles is also experiencing an influx of condo-hotels, a niche that, with certain exceptions, fits the city's predominantly seasonal residential base. Such buildings are also attractive to foreign buyers, who usually spend scant time in their units and are happy to put them in a poo1 of rental rooms in order to recoup some of their investment. "Condo-hotels are very good for our type of clientele," says Edgardo Defortuna, whose Fortune International is developing the $81 million M Residences, a 210-unit "hotel residence" at 187th Street and Collins Avenue. The units, says Defortuna, will range in price from $170,00 to $600,000. "We have people from everywhere wanting to buy into the building. We've got a big group of Euros from Spain and Italy, as well as people from Latin America - Mexicans and Colombians. Maybe for the condo market the international buyer has dribbled off, but for this type of development it's very attractive." Defortuna says he plans to begin construction on the building in early March, and will deliver units to his buyers fully furnished. Another condo-hotel is Homewood Suites by Hilton, on the west side of the city. Managed by Miami-based Cardel Hospitality Group, Homewood Suites opened about six months ago and is the first condo-hotel that Hilton has been involved with in the United States. "It's definitely an experiment from Hilton's side," says Carlos Rodriguez, Cardel's president and CEO. Rodriguez says about 60 of the 100 units in the building wilt go into the rental pool (there are 56 already in it), with over 80 percent of the units -- which range in price from $250,000 to $350,000 -- already sold. "Condo-hotels are extremely appealing to second-home buyers," says Rodriguez. "But you have to look for resort destinations where people want to go on vacation, and Sunny Isles fits that criteria. You try to develop a condo-hotel in the middle of Airport West and it wouldn't work." Indeed, says Enrique Soltanik, an Argentine developer who's doing the 21-story Fantasy on the Ocean, a condo-hotel at 157th Street and Collins Avenue. "Sunny Isles is one of the most beautiful and newest cities in South Florida," he says. "Not only that, but the condo hotel concept is very interesting for people who live outside the country. When they're not here, they're still getting a return on their investment." The Rest of the Story With such a flurry of development happening, there's no doubt that Sunny Isles is facing some sizable challenges. For one, the retail component of the city is beginning to lag behind the quality of its residential development. As it stands, basically all of the city's retail is housed on the west side of A1A in a series of strip malls controlled by Maryland-based R.K. Associates. There are few national tenants outside of a Burger King, an Eckerd Drugs and an Einstein Bagels, and most of the retail is fairly modest, if well kept -- discount clothing shops, convenience stores, inexpensive restaurants, bikini outlets and so forth. What concerns city officials is that the influx of wealthy people moving into the city won't be spending any money there, what with the tony Bal Harbour Shops looming directly south and Aventura Mall sitting directly west. "We have to create a city venue which will give people a dynamic retail experience," says Bill Lone, executive director of the Sunny Isles Beach Resort Association and also an executive of the city's economic development council. "We've got the whole west side yet to redevelop." Lone says it's a chicken-and-egg-type situation. "Do you bring in the national retail and then attract the residential base? How do you make it happen?" On the plus side, two Washington Mutual bank offices are opening on the strip. "We definitely need a different type of retail area," says Mayor Samson. "I envision a continuous five- block retail plaza along the west side of A1A. [R.K.] hasn't been able to bring in nationwide tenants that would then bring people here to shop. I don't know if [they] will do anything, but I do hope that someday they will listen to what I have to say. It hinges upon [R.K.'s] cooperation, and that the west side should follow the east side." Sunny Isles is also addressing how to incorporate more green space into the city, which, being so small, doesn't have a lot of land for parks. But Lone says there are about seven acres of land devoted for parks as it is, including the Gilbert Samson Oceanfront Park at 174th Street and Collins Avenue. There is also a fishing pier in the southern half of the city at 163rd street - a throwback to old Florida days - and a small fleet of deep-sea fishing boats on the Intracoastal side of A1A a few blocks to the south. In order to upgrade itself, the city has undertaken a comprehensive capital improvement plan. "Now's the time for lipstick and rouge," Lone says. "We just completed a $14 million beach re-nourishment program last year and are currently working on the roads and other infrastructure." In addition, the city requires developers to maintain the corridors on the sides of their buildings which allow public access to the beach. In the end, Samson says that there will be about two dozen points of beach access along A1A in Sunny Isles. Symbolic of the city's new role as an up-and-coming luxury high-rise community is a new city hall being built at 18050 Collins Avenue, the former site of a Tony Roma's restaurant. When completed next year, it will house all the divisions of the city government, including the police department, as well as a branch of the Miami-Dade County public library system. Perhaps the biggest challenge the city faces in the immediate future is a lawsuit filed against it by the Town of Golden Beach, Sunny Isles' neighbor just to the north. The town, a posh enclave of more than 350 luxury single-family homes, is concerned that Sunny Isles' explosive development will infringe upon its low-rise lifestyle. At the center of the controversy is the fact that Sunny Isles recently revamped it's zoning codes, allowing no height restrictions on condo buildings that are coming online. However, Sunny Isles does require sizable side setbacks. The result? A crop of well-spaced, tall buildings instead of a concrete wall of short, squat ones. Golden Beach's suit asserts that it was unaware of Sunny Isles' plans to change its zoning, but Lone says the city posted notices of hearings and that Golden Beach should have been well-aware of what was going on. Golden Beach is also concerned that the condos - and the subsequent influx of people - will bring added traffic, noise and congestion to the area. Calls to Golden Beach attorneys weren't returned, and Samson would not discuss the suit, but Turnberry's Bruce Weiner had this to say: "To me, it's an interesting suit. I'll tell you the confusing thing. It seems to me that there were so many thousands of hotel rooms here - with people coming and going at all times - that are now going to be replaced with permanent housing. And half of these condos are going to sit empty for most of the year anyway. I don't get the fuss." It remains to be seen how the suit will be resolved. But Samson, who leaves office in 2005, is proud of what he helped create in Sunny Isles. "You ain't seen nothing yet," Samson says. "I envision that for 100 years to come, people will fight to live in Sunny Isles." RELATED ARTICLE: Are You Experienced? Not until you've eaten lunch on a Saturday afternoon in-season at Wolfie Cohen's Pascal House. * As a South Florida native, I've made the culinary pilgrimage to Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House -- the deli Mecca of South Florida -- too many times to count. I've eaten tens, maybe hundreds, of matzo balls there over the years, and I don't even want to think about how many pounds of corned beef. But delicious food aside, the actual dining experience at the 59-year-old Rascal House -- bedecked in loud turquoise and orange vinyl and its almost-scary pitchfork-wielding cartoon character icon -- is an experience like no other. In fact, a recent jaunt proves that while Sunny Isles may be transforming, some things haven't change. It's a chilly Saturday morning, and my guest and I are relieved when the doors at Rascal House swing shut behind us. Immediately, we're in another world: The smells of hot coffee, fresh rye bread and that pervasive-yet-indescribable whiff of Jewish deli swirl around the cavernous main dining room. I know we aren't going to get a table easily, though, as my eyes meet those of the stern-looking hostess. She's manning the lines of people -- grandmotherly old ladies, young families and single diners with newspapers tucked under their arms -- allowing access to the dining room only when given the signal that a booth or table is ready. Soon enough it's our turn, and our patience is rewarded when our octogenarian waitress sets down stainless steel bowls of pickled tomatoes and coleslaw. I already know what I want: a half-corned beef sandwich on dense, springy, soft rye bread. Today, though, I'm daring and ask for a cup of mushroom-barley soup instead of my usual matzo ball. My companion looks a little bewildered at all the choices, but finally settles on a brisket sandwich and a side order of potato pancakes. The business of ordering aside, we settle in for some vigorous people-watching. It's non-stop action, as waitresses and busboys bob and weave around each other carrying coffee pots and huge trays laden with sandwiches, bowls of soup and golden Danishes. The tables around us are buzzing with chatter, and I hear snippets of conversations about bridge games, condo associations and the unusually cold weather. I snap to attention when our waitress sets down my soup and sandwich, and get busy slathering the bread with spicy brown mustard. I swipe a ridged potato pancake off my companion's plate and top it with a dollop of sour cream. My first bite transports me to another time and place. Maybe that's the draw to Rascal House: Experiencing a bit of South Florida's history, one bite at a time. Sunny days Historical photos are a window to Sunny Isles' past. Visitors to Sunny Isles in the late-1940s and early-1950s fell in love with the low-rise, breezy atmosphere of the tiny seaside community. Celebrities such as Burt Lancaster, Grace Kelly, Benny Goodman and Guy Lombardo were taken with the sunshine and beauty of one of South Florida's prettiest beaches. Today, the city keeps record of the Sunny Isles of yesteryear with this collection of historical photos -- mostly taken before all of the well-known hotels and motels were constructed in the late 1950s and 1 960s. The bottom left photo shows the Mandalay Hotel, which is still standing today at the southern tip of Sunny Isles Beach. The photo directly above it shows the view looking west from the not-pictured Atlantique Motel, taken in the mid-1950s. The man standing in the picture is probably waiting for a charter-fishing boat to come in from a day of angling. The top right photo shows the docks of the infamous Castaways hotel, which has since fallen to the city's current renaissance. But it's good to keep in mind that the Sunny Isles of yesterday lives on -- if only in memory. Building castles in the sky: from motel row of just a few years back, Sunny Isles Beach is now transforming itself into a city of mega high-rises with a soaring tax base and a new influx of younger, far more affluent residents. The sky's the limit South Florida CEO, May, 2004 by Richard Westlund and the Parthenon, and Rome's monumental Coliseum. Today, Sunny Isles Beach is making its bid for a place in history with a glamorous row of soaring oceanfront towers. Taking advantage of one of the last available strands of beachfront in South Florida, well-known developers are building "castles in the sky"--luxurious residential condominiums and hotel suites--far above the Atlantic surf. In a frenzy of new construction, more than a dozen towers are now rising in this fast- changing Northeast Miami-Dade community, sandwiched between Haulover Park to the south and the ultra-wealthy single-family-home enclave of Golden Beach to the north. "The location is really spectacular," New York real estate mogul Donald J. Trump told SouthFloridaCEO. Known for his recent TV role on "The Apprentice" and high-profile love life, as well as his successful Manhattan investments. Trump--in partnership with the New York-cum-South Florida real estate Dezer family--is among the developers who are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Sunny Isles Beach. "I have always loved the location." Trump said. "and over the past few years it's become the hottest place in Florida." One reason developers have become so fond of the city is that their oceanfront buildings can rise up to 55 stories, higher than anywhere else on the beach in South Florida. But their new towers also need to be relatively thin, providing views of the ocean and beach access for community residents. It's an approach that worked well in Cancun, Mexico, where modern mega resorts are separated by stretches of sandy beach. "Our philosophy has been to build tall and skinny buildings with wide view corridors," says Sunny Isles Beach Mayor Norman S. Edelcup, who succeeded the city's late founding mayor, David Samson, last October. "We believe this approach is better than having short and squat buildings that block the ocean views. It allows us to accommodate developers, while making our city pleasant for residents. That approach is working well for us." Few people have done more to carry out the city's vision than architects Charles Sieger and Kobi Karp. Sieger, a principal in South Miami-based Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership, designed some of the earliest towers, including the Pinnacle and Ocean I, II and III, as well as severl now under construction, including Ocean IV and Sayan. "Every one of these projects are different, reflecting the developer's preferences, our creative ideas, and the constant changes in the marketplace," says Sieger, who assisted the city in rewriting its zoning codes to encourage the taller, skinnier building concept. "That creates a more interesting skyline and allows more light and air down on the street level," he says. "Sunny Isles is in the forefront of the nation in writing zoning codes that promulgate high-rises in an acceptable urban fashion. The result for the city is an attractive urban fabric along the edge of the ocean." Karp, president of Kobi Karp Architecture and Interior Design (KKAID) in Sunny Isles Beach, has designed half a dozen of the new residential and hotel towers for various developers. "What we strive to do is create unique individual buildings with their own character and personalities," he says. "Like people, buildings have to relate to their environment and their surroundings." Karp is a strong proponent of the city's tall, fluted approach to new development. Among the new wave of buildings he has designed are La Perla, the M Resort Residences and Jade. "Wouldn't you rather be 6-foot- 4 and weigh 200 pounds than to be 5-foot-9 with the same weight?" he says. "The tall, thinner designs allow for more open space and more green space between buildings, which is critical because of the community's relationship with the water. It is more costly for the developer to construct a skinny building, but the extra height provides some compensation." A CHANGING LANDSCAPE Back in the 1980s, a trip to Sunny Isles Beach was like a journcy to the past. A string of colorful, but decaying hotels from the 1950s and 1960s lined the oceanfront. Along "motel row." properties like the Castaways. Thunderbird, Marco Polo and Sahara offered whimsical design twists to passing motorists (you can still see the camels in front of the Sahara) and bargain-priced rooms inside. At one point the row of hotels were considered quite glamorous, so much so that they were featured in the Frank Sinatra movie "Hole in the Head," when old blue eyes takes his date out for a night on the town in Miami. But in recent years, most visitors were middle-class families, flying in from Canada or driving here for a Miami beach vacation that might cost a mere $39 or $49 a night. If the service was erratic or the elevators malfunctioned, at least they could get a cool tropieal drink at the bar for a buck or two. Sunny Isles Beach hoteliers also began to cultivate the European market, according to Bill Lone, owner of the Lone Group Advertising firm, who serves as executive director of the Sunny Isles Beach Resort Association. "They were able to offer preferred rates to visitors from Europe who typically stayed a fortnight [two weeks]," he says. That European exposure helped attract a German investment firm, which purchased the Castaways in the mid 1980s, demolished the signature, sprawling low-rise hotel, and began building Oceania, a luxury high- rise residential development that now consists of five residential towers. A few years later, condominium converter Crescent Heights renovated the 500-room Marco Polo, successfully selling units for $39,900 a piece to local residents and out-of-towners seeking a weekend getaway property. Another mid-1990s pioneer was Jose Milton, whose company, J. Milton & Associates, developed the oceanfront towers Sands Pointe and Pinnacle, as well as the Intracoastal Yacht Club, a high-end waterfront rental complex on the west side of the community. Lone credits Milton with being a "spark" that helped ignite interest in the community. "At that time, the banks were not attentive to Sunny Isles Beach," he says. "Sands Pointe was an immediate success, and then the Pinnacle made a clear design statement to the market. After that, developers began saying. 'Can you top this one?' and that type of competition has been good for the community." The transformation of Sunny Isles Beach began to pick up speed after the city incorporated in 1997. One of the first projects was Millennium, a 33-story joint venture between two Venezuelan-owned companies that sold almost half of its 117 residences to Latin Americans. Suddenly, the stars over Sunny Isles Beach came into alignment and the race was on to create a new city of towers. Among the reasons for the boom: Natural assets. Although the city's total area is just 1.0 square miles, it has two miles of beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. Rising land values. With land in South Beach exorbitantly priced, developers could purchase oceanfront land in Sunny Isles Beach, afford to tear down existing structures, and still reap significant profits. Height liberalization. When prices rose, so did permissible heights. As real estate attorney Clifford A. Schulman, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, P.A., points out. "The land in Sunny Isles Beach is more valuable to developers because you can build high-rises." A pro-development civic environment. Once Sunny Isles Beach incorporated, city officials could implement their vision of creating a modern, affluent community dominated by tall, high-end residential towers. A central location. Halfway between South Florida's two biggest cities. Sunny Isles Beach attracts air travelers from both Miami and Fort Lauderdale international airports. The near build-out of Aventura. Developers who had invested in Aventura's Intracoastal condominium towers found it a natural move to head east across the William Lehman Causeway and continue building in Sunny Isles Beach. Continued promotion and behind-the-scenes marketing. Major US developers became more comfortable with the idea of investing in an up-and-coming community.Community investment in infrastructure. City and state dollars went into renourishing the Atlantic beach, refurbishing Collins Avenue and building new side-walks, water and sewer lines. Since becoming a city in 1997. Sunny Isles Beach's tax base has risen along with its higher skyline. From approximately $1.1 billion six years ago, the city's tax base hit $2.7 billion in 2003, on its way to a projected $5 billion before the end of the decade. The population of Sunny Isles Beach has also climbed quickly, from less than 15,000 at the time of incorporation to an estimated 17,000 today. Residential developers have built 3.277 new units in the past five years, with another 3,012 units proposed or under construction. Not bad for such a small, narrow coastal community. "By incorporating as a city, Sunny Isles Beach achieved self rule, and was able to bring the benefits of its new growth to its residents," says Lone. Among the benefits of the additional tax revenue: free shuttle bus service for residents, a growing collection of city parks, and a new four-story City Hall slated for completion later this year. The city's award-winning police force has also made a name for itself, significantly reducing the city's crime rate. "We have a dedicated local police force that is resident and tourist friendly, and focuses on crime prevention," Lone says. "Today, we are virtually a crime-free community." PLAYING THE 'TRUMP' CARD Undoubtedly the biggest investor in the new Sunny Isles Beach is the Dezer organization, led by the father- son team of Michael and Gil Dezer. Through their own purchases of existing hotels, investments in new high-rise developments, and partnerships with Donald Trump and Jorge Perez' Related Group of Florida, the Dezers have pumped more than $300 million to date in Sunny Isles Beach. "Day by day we see the changes taking place," says Gil Dezer, president of Trump Dezer Development. "It's amazing how quickly you can see the whole skyline changing. The city had a great vision and it's coming to be a beautiful place to live." Last year, the Dezers teamed with The Related Group in a 50-50 partnership to build Ocean IV, a luxury condominium to the south of the Related Group's sold-out Ocean I, II and III towers. Sales at Ocean IV are going strong, with construction due to start later this summer. "Ocean IV is the most successful building we've done in Sunny Isles Beach," says Tom Daly, a developer who partnered with the The Related Group on Ocean I, II, III and IV. "We sold 271 units in four weeks and have only a few remaining." Condos at Ocean IV are priced from $400,000 to $2 milion. An even larger-scale collaboration is underway between the Dezers and Donald Trump. When completed, their Trump Grande Ocean Resort and Residences will encompass three buildings. They are: Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort, a completed 372-unit condominium hotel; Trump Palace, a 278-unit, 55-story condominium tower now under construction with scheduled completion in mid 2005; and Trump Royale, a 333-unit, 55-story condominium tower scheduled for completion in December 2006. "We're doing well with these buildings, and Donald Trump has helped us immensely," says Dezer. "We're already sold out at Trump Palace and are 85 percent sold at Trump Royale, which is due to break ground this summer." Prices for the three Trump towers range upward from the $600,000s, with penthouses going for between $1.5 million and $25 million. As Donald Trump said when he announced the joint project. "I believe this is an amazing tract of beachfront property with phenomenal potential. It is the equivalent of owning everything on Fifth Avenue from 52nd to 57th Street. With virtually no remaining prime oceanfront property in Florida, there is no doubt that this project is going to be a great success." MOVING EAST FROM AVENTURA When noted Williams Island developer Jules Trump announced his plans for Aqualina several years ago, South Florida's real estate world held its collective breath. Would an ultra-luxurious development, whose castles in the sky cost well over $1 million each, succeed in a "transitioning" neighborhood like Sunny Isles Beach? The answer was clearly yes. "We are sold out and expect to start closings this fall," says Michael Goldstein, president of sales. "The values at Aqualina have already gone up, now that people see the quality here." Aqualina's buyers include Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa, who purchased an 11,500-square-foot penthouse. Jules Trump, a partner in The Trump Group--and no relation to Donald Trump--sees Aqualina, and its in- house Rose-wood hotel, as setting the tone for the revitalized city. "Sunny Isles Beach is becoming a very cosmopolitan community with an outstanding quality of life," he says. "It's accessible to great shopping and restaurants, and it has very good city government." Another developer who crossed the causeway from Aventura is Turnberry Associates. Known for its legendary Turnberry Isle Resort and Golf Club in Aventura--as well as Turnberry Place, its new Las Vegas project--the long-time South Florida developer is now building Turnberry Ocean Colony. "Aventura has been a super success story for 15 years, but it doesn't have a beach," says Bruce Weiner, president, Turnberry Development. "The natural spillover from Aventura is Sunny Isles Beach. That's been a primary driving force for us." As for who the new residents are, says Weiner. "About 60 percent of our buyers will be primary residents who already live in South Florida. This will be home to them." With two 37-story towers, each with 130 oceanfront units, and a luxurious resident-only beach club and spa. Turnberry Ocean Colony's residences average about $1.5 million. Construction began in January on the first tower and beach club, with sales on the second tower set to begin this summer. A HOST OF HIGH-RISES Referring to Sands Pointe and Pinnacle, Yosi Gil, partner with J. Milton & Associates says, "Our first developments helped put Sunny Isles on the map." Today, the developer is continuing its string of successful projects with Sayan on the beachfront and King David on the Intracoastal. The latest of the company's oceanfront towers, Sayan is "luxury to the extreme with an oriental style," says Gil. "Our boutique-style setting still offers the same upscale indulgences as neighboring buildings, but with a more personal, privileged feel." All 90 units in the 30-story tower have been sold at prices starting around $500,000. Ground breaking is expected in June with a 15-month timeline for completing construction. A few blocks to the west, King David is 90 percent sold, according to Gil, with remaining units priced from $285,000 to $475,000. After that, J. Milton & Associates plans to build another five to six towers in the city. Just north of Sayan, near the historic Newport Pier, is La Perla, a 42-story oceanfront development by Cornerstone Premier Communities. The 316 two- and three-bedroom residences at La Perla are priced from the $300,000s. Cornerstone president Richard Lamondin says construction began in April with completion scheduled for mid 2006. "La Perla is 100 percent sold, and we're now under construction. We have a lot of local residents buying units as a place they can retreat to on weekends. Like everyone else, we've seen a lot of international interest, from Europe, Mexico and Latin America." Further north, New York-based Wave-Stone Properties and The Helix Group are making their joint debut in Sunny Isles Beach with Sole, a boutique resort designed to capture buyers looking for "urban chic." Thomas Feeley, founder and principal of WaveStone Properties, says, "With our first entry into the market, we wanted to bring something different. Sole offers a casual, cutting-edge beachfront lifestyle." Sole will have 147 one- and two-bedroom units, priced from $280,000 to $850,000. WaveStone broke ground on Sole in April, and is currently in negotiations with several high-end boutique hotel operators. Another planned tower is The Sea, a 45-story building with 238 units by Sunny Isles Development LLC. "We have submitted our request for site plan approval, and are already doing extremely well in presales," says vice president Isaac Kodsi, whose father Joseph Kodsi is the developer. With units priced from $800,000 to $2 million, The Sea will offer the same level of luxury as a more expensive building, while maintaining a more uniform pricing level, Kodsi says. Fortune International, led by Edgardo Defortuna, is making its second major investment in Sunny Isles Beach with Jade Beach, a 55-story luxury tower with 248 units. After recently receiving site plan approval from the city, Fortune launched its sales campaign with residences priced from the $400,000s to more than $6.5 million. Fortune also purchased an oceanfront site just to the north of Jade Beach and is starting the planning process for another luxury tower. "We feel there is so little beachfront land left in South Florida, that being able to get 300 or 600 feet on the site [when counting the second building] makes us extremely bullish on the location," says Edgardo Defortuna, president. "Even if interest rates rise, we feel the Sunny Isles Beach market is very safe, because people from around the world will continue to want to be on the beach." HIGH-END RESORT DEVELOPMENT Not all the new high-rise development in Sunny Isles Beach is strictly residential. Several new luxury projects have adopted the condominium hotel concept, where buyers purchase suites that can be rented out by a hospitality management company. Other residential projects incorporate an upscale hotel operation within the development. For instance, Sonesta is the hotel operator at Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort, and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will manage the boutique hotel at Aqualina. For unit owners, having a hotel onsite means access to more personal services--think concierge, housekeeping and room service--as well as resort facilities like a fitness center, spa or multi-purpose pool deck. From a design standpoint, architect Karp says he takes a different approach to resort-oriented developments compared with strictly residential projects. "In a resort, we want the units to feel like a four-star hotel on the ocean with substantial amenities throughout the property," he says. "This is usually above and beyond what a lifestyle condominium may wish to offer." The new wave of developers in Sunny Isles Beach has been largely successful in attracting top resort companies to its projects. Fortune International, for instance, recently signed London-based Le Meridian to operate the hotel component at its first Sunny Isles development, M Resort Residences, a condominium hotel with units priced from the $300,000s to more than $800,000. In fact, Fortune plans to change the name of the European style property to Le Meridien Sunny Isles Beach Resort when the 210-unit development is completed by December. Le Meridien will also include the newest location of the elegant Bice restaurant, with indoor-outdoor dining for 250 people. Hilton is entering the Sunny Isles Beach market with Fantasy of the Ocean, a 21-story full-service condo- hotel by Argentine developer Enrique Soltanik's company, DSP Developments. Fantasy of the Ocean will operate as a Hilton hotel, with 198 hotel suites that are being sold fully furnished from $345,000 to $645,000. "Sunny Isles has great potential and this project poses a sensible growth opportunity for us, so we are very pleased to be here," says Mike Williams. Hilton regional marketing director. Lone notes that the arrival of all these high-quality "flags" (hotel operators) signals the arrival of Sunny Isles Beach as a luxury resort destination. "It's a really dramatic turnaround," he says. A decade ago, Sunny Isles Beach had about 41 lodging properties with a total of 5,100 rooms. With the volume of redevelopment, that number fell to about 2,500 rooms, but is already rebounding. "We expect to wind up with about 4,000 rooms in just 14 properties," Lone says. "What's most important is the way these higher- end properties will enhance the city's economy." CONTINUING THE EVOLUTION With more than a dozen new towers planned or under construction, Sunny Isles Beach may be reaching its peak in terms of the volume of new development. "Most of the properties on the ocean that were under single ownership have been purchased for development as high-rise condominiums," says Schulman, who has advised several major developers over the years. "Now, there is a significant movement to buy up units from older properties under condominium ownership and convert them to high-rise projects." That condo unit buy-out process may take several years. But after the last of the older properties are purchased and demolished, the era of new development on the oceanfront strip will come to an end. Nevertheless, Sunny Isles Beach plans to continue its redevelopment momentum by revitalizing its low-rise retail centers west of Collins Avenue and creating a new mixed-use town center concept along Sunny Isles Boulevard (163rd Street) that would be modeled after Boca Raton's Mizner Park. "One of our top priorities is the new zoning for the town center to encourage a redevelopment of that area," says Edelcup. "We see this as a mix of retail, office and residential space with an open pedestrian plaza." To the north, the city's new zoning ordinance allows heights of four to 19 stories along the inland side of Collins Avenue--a step designed to create higher density retail, restaurant and residential uses across the street from the oceanfront towers. "The new residents and visitors coming into Sunny Isles Beach would be able to walk across Collins Avenue and find shops that enhance that high-end lifestyle," says Lone. However, when it comes to attracting national retailers. Sunny Isles Beach has a disadvantage. It lies midway between the Shops of Bal Harbour and the Aventura Mall, both long-standing high-end shopping destinations. "We think there's potential for a lifestyle-retail development," says Weiner, whose company owns Aventura Mall. "[But] it will be hard to get major tenants to come to a site between the two regional centers." On the residential side, more redevelopment may also occur along the Intracoastal Waterway, where zoning allows residential condos up to 15 stories high. "A lot of condo buyers actually prefer the Intracoastal side because there's more activity below them, and more things to see from their balconies at night," notes Schulman. Meanwhile, the city's single-family homes and condominiums continue to increase in value, despite the volume of new construction, according to Armando Diaz, president of Oceanview International Realty. "We have seasonal buyers coming here from the Northeast, and the Latin American countries," says Diaz. "There are also a large volume of Russians buying here, and three of our agents at our Sunny Isles Beach office have Russian backgrounds." Perhaps the biggest challenge for Sunny Isles Beach will be retaining its existing population base--mostly retirees with a large Jewish contingent--while becoming a younger, more affluent city. It means keeping Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House as the traditional heart of the community, while building new parks and a school to accommodate the fast-growing number of children. But no one benefits more from the city's growth than potential residents, according to Edelcup. Not only will the city have greater revenue to provide services, but the new condominium towers, resorts and restaurants add a new dimension to the city's quality of life. Reflecting on the city's future, he says, "I believe we will have the crown jewel in South Florida when we are finished." RELATED ARTICLE: PLANS FOR THE FUTURE WITH MOST OF THE BEACHFRONT SPOKEN FOR, THE NEXT AREA FOR RADICAL CHANGE IS 163RD STREET The extraordinary transformation of Sunny Isles Beach has mostly taken place along the ocean. But the "gateway" to the city from the mainland is the 163rd Street corridor, also known as Sunny Isles Boulevard, now a collection of mostly rundown retail storefronts. Plans by the city include creating a mixed-use town center that would be modeled after Mizner Park in Boca Raton. The center would include retail, office and residential space, with an open pedestrian plaza. Dollars for the ambitious project will be drawn from the city's enormous new tax base created by the high-rises. RELATED ARTICLE: RETAIL, RETAIL WITH ITS TRANSFORMED OCEANFRONT, SUNNY ISLES' NEXT CHALLENGE IS TO UPGRADE, RETAIL Located halfway between the Shops of Bal Harbour and the Aventura Mall, both long-standing high-end shopping destinations, Sunny Isles Beach has been at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting national retailers. New zoning ordinances have been designed to allow heights of four to 19 stories along he inland- side of Collins Avenue (right), to create higher density retail, restaurant and residential uses. The idea is to allow the new high-rise residents to walk across the street and find shops that "enhance the high-end lifestyle," says civic leader Bill Lone. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] RELATED ARTICLE: A CHANGING DEMOGRAPHIC LONG THE LAND OF RETIREES AND MOTEL CUSTOMERS, SUNNY ISLES IS UNDERGOING A RADICAL CHANGE IN ITS POPULATION One of the big challenges for Sunny Isles Beach will be retaining its existing population base--mostly retirees, with a large Jewish contingent--while becoming a younger, more affluent city. It means keeping Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House restaurant, while buidling new parks and a school to accomodate the fast- growing number of children. Overall the population has grown from around 15,000 in 2000 to about 17,000 today; in particular, the number of school-age children has grown from around 400 to more than 1,500. This will require a K-8 public or charter school by 2006 or 2007. The city is also planning a new park with an enclosed gymnasium, basketball court and rooms for arts and crafts. Overall, the population is a unique ethnic mix, with 10 percent of Russian background, 6 percent Italian and 5 percent Polish. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] RELATED ARTICLE: SUNNY ISLES BEACH: THE FACTS Population: 15,315 (year 2000); 17,000 (2004 estimate) Males: 7,093 (46.3%), Females: 8,222 (53.7%) * White Non-Hispanic (58.8%) * Hispanic (36.6%) * Other race (2.3%) * Two or more races (2.3%) * Black (2.0%) (Total greater than 100% because Hispanics counted in other races) Land area: 1.0 square miles Zip code: 33160 Median resident age: 50.4 years Median household income: $31,627 (year 2000) Median house value: $298,400 (year 2000) City website: www.sibfl.net Factoid 1: More than 250 Sunny Isles Beach residents are Holocaust survivors. They were honored recently at a city- supported event held at Temple B'nai Zion. Factoid 2: Sunny Isle Beach has one of the largest contingents of Russian residents of any South Florida community. In addition to visitors and part-time residents, nearly 10 percent of residents are of Russian background. Sunny Isles Beach also has a large contingent of Italians (almost 6 percent) and Poles (5 percent). Sunny Isles Beach Tax Base 1997: $1.1 billion 2001: $1.6 billion 2002: $2.2 billion 2003: $2.7 billion 2008: $5.0 billion (projected) Hottest Home Sales: Exclusive Zip Code Analysis UPDATED: 12:00 pm EST November 23, 2004 South Florida is one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. And now, Bob Mayer has found which exact zip codes of South Florida are the hottest. With the help of the Keyes Company, we commissioned an analysis of the Multiple Listing Service. That's a database of home sales across South Florida. Then, we ranked zip codes in four categories: market Want to live in this hot zip code? Camp out! That's what people did this month, waiting for these South Beach condos to go on sale. I asked, "Did you ever think that you would live to see the day where people in South Florida would sleep on the street waiting to buy a condo?" "It's amazing. "It's the biggest boom in South Florida since 1979, 1980." Our analysis found that zip code 33139 -- South Beach -- sold the most properties in the last 12 months. "We have primarily locals buying in lower to middle tiers, and the out-of- towners tend to buy the luxury apartments in South Beach,". He warns, the demand for South Beach living is only going to increase. Why? "Between June 2003 and June 2004, the amount of available condos in Miami Beach decreased by fifty percent,". "Now is the time to grab what's left." Number two most sold? 33178 -- Doral/Miami. Where are prices rising the most? Head east - not to Las Olas, not to South Beach, but to this modest area in Broward County, zip code 33009 Hallandale. Pappas said, "I think everybody sees the Coral Gables, the Aventura, sees the high-priced markets, the Pinecrest, the Las Olas, and they're looking for what I call the next price tier jump." Prices in Hallandale Beach are certainly jumping. This area went up an average of nearly 50% per square foot in the last two years. "People are looking for the older communities where there is value," said Pappas. The most expensive areas in our analysis? The waterfront mansions of Las Olas area of Fort Lauderdale, and the green-covered homes of Coconut Grove. Average price? About $600,000 to $700,000. Where are homes selling the fastest? Zip code 33066 -- Coconut Creek -- an average of only 33 days on the market. Pappas says, it's because these homes are still affordable: "Five years ago, 70% to 80% of the homes in South Florida were under $250,000. Today, less than 25% are under $250,000 that are on the market. So, through this appreciation, it's hard to find affordable housing. And I think that may be an area that you can." For example, we found two bedroom, two bath condos listed for only $130,000. Best zip code in overall combined ranking -- 33076 -- Coral Springs and Parkland, just south of the Palm Beach border. "It's just been incredible," said Helfman. "The prices in this development started in about the mid-$100s, now they are in the mid-$300s." The price comes with lake views and a country-club lifestyle. "You get the feeling of luxury with a little less price and more for your money out in that marketplace," Tribes to push for full range of casino gambling By John Holland STAFF WRITER Posted March 10 2005 Tuesday's vote approving slot machines gives the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes unwelcome competition, but it also gives them leverage in their push to bring not just slot machines, but craps, blackjack and other Las Vegas-style gambling to their Florida casinos. Federal regulators said Wednesday the state must now "negotiate in good faith'' with the tribes on a gaming agreement, called a compact, that would allow expanded gambling in exchange for a chunk of the profits. If Florida doesn't negotiate fairly, the Secretary of the Interior could ultimately give approval for anyway, said Sean Pensoneau, spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Commission. Such a move is unprecedented, he said, since states usually reach agreements. "It's still early, but the NIGC thinks that this greatly strengthens the tribes' position that the state must negotiate a compact,'' Pensoneau said. "If a class of gaming is available in the state, then the tribes should be able to offer that class of gaming.'' The tribes and federal government must wait to see how the state legislature crafts the new law. On Tuesday, Broward County residents voted to allow slot machines at pari-mutuel tracks in Dania Beach, Pompano Beach and Hallandale Beach, while Miami-Dade voters rejected a similar measure. The situation is uncertain since only one county, Broward, approved the slots, and because the vote didn't specify which level of slots would be allowed. Class 2 machines currently in tribe casinos are based on a bingo-style formula in which odds change as each number is pulled. The federal government defines Class 3 games as having odds that remain constant, including craps, blackjack, roulette and traditional slot machines. "That's one of the open items," Gov. Jeb Bush said on Wednesday. "There's nothing in the initiatives that says we have to have Class 3 slots." While Pensoneau said any federal ruling would apply to all casinos run by the Seminoles and the Miccosukee, Bush said that's not necessarily true. "We still don't have complete clarity. The Miccosukee Tribe gambling facility is in Miami- Dade, and they didn't pass it, so I think we're on new turf here,'' said Bush, who is staunchly opposed to gambling. He also said that if legislators approve only Class 2 slots for the pari-mutuels, the tribes may not be entitled to any changes. Although slot machines and craps are vastly different games, they are both considered Class 3. The tribes argue that if one form of Class 3 is allowed, they are entitled to all forms. So far, only the Miccosukee have approached Bush about the compact, and the governor said the state will negotiate when the time comes. "We have an obligation in law to begin negotiations for a compact, but it's very hard to do that until we get all this settled,'' Bush said. Miccosukee Chairman Billy Cypress could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Seminole Tribal Councilor Max Osceola said the tribe has been trying to reach a deal with the state for 15 years and will reopen negotiations shortly. "We still want a compact, but I don't know whether this vote will help us or hurt us,'' Osceola said. "Basically, we want to make a deal that will make the state a partner and let them share the profits.'' In 1979, the Seminoles became the first tribe in the country to open a high-stakes bingo hall, overcoming several legal challenges by the state and former Broward County Sheriff Bob Butterworth. The ruling said tribes can offer the same level of gaming as states, equating state-run lotteries with Indian bingo-style games. Although tribes are considered sovereign and free from state oversight or interference, they still are accountable to federal law and courts. Fearing Indian gaming would become rampant, Congress in 1988 created the Indian Gaming Act that forced tribes and states to negotiate compacts for table games like craps, blackjack and roulette and traditional slot machines. Bingo-style games did not need such approval. Florida refused to sign a compact and the Seminoles sued, arguing their rights were violated. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Florida, saying states, like all Indian tribes, are immune from unwanted lawsuits. The ruling didn't hurt the Seminoles, who operate large bingo casinos in Hollywood, Tampa and Coconut Creek, and lesser ones on the Brighton and Immokalee Reservations near Lake Okeechobee. The Miccosukee operate a casino and golf resort in Miami-Dade. But the Seminoles want to expand, and argue Tuesday's vote opens the door. Although the Seminoles can't sue in court, they can appeal to the Department of Interior, which regulates Indian tribes. Osceola said the Seminoles will not unilaterally install Class 3 slots or gaming, but plan to file a petition with the federal government. "We're not going to just go out and do what we want, because that would be cutting off our nose to spite our face,'' Osceola said. "There's a process, and we'll follow it. But in the end, I think we'll wind up with a Class 3 license.'' Staff Writer Mark Hollis contributed to this report.
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