Sunny Isles Beach is one of Miami-Dade's newest municipalities. But it has thrived as a commun ity since,
the 1950s, when it became an oasis of lo w-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 Fran k Capra's 1959 movie-musical "A Ho le in the Head," Fran k Sinatra stars as Tony Manetta, the
owner of a struggling hotel called the Garden Of Eden -- shot on-site at the still-kicking Cardo zo 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 wo man staying at his hotel. He takes her for a ride in
his flashy convertible for a b ig night on the town -- to what is today known as Sunny Isles Beach.
As Manetta and his date, Shirl (p layed by the sultry Caro lyn 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
fro m 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 p lace are soaring towers of
lu xury ho mes, and the few campy hotels remaining are slated for destruction by developers wooing
residents with condos priced anywhere fro m $250,000 to $10 million.
Yet the city -- wh ich incorporated in 1997 -- is exuding a d ifferent type of glamour, the kind that comes
fro m having a skyline that's literally bursting with high-rise development. A ll along its coastline, sleek
skyscrapers of enormous height are forever changing the complexion of the city, rep lacing 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 t iny 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 o ld mo tel is if the old
motel stays in the same condition as when it was charming," says Jose Milton of J. M ilton & 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-o ld -- 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
fro m Ch icago, was going in one direct ion -- 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."
One case in point that illustrates Sunny Isles' dramatic change is the $640 million Tru mp Grande. It's a
condominiu m and hotel co mplex developed by father-and-son team Michael and Gil Dezer and the
ubiquitous Donald Tru mp, with who m the Dezers hooked up last summer and fo r 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
mo ment, the Dezers are working on build ing three towers (the Tru mp Grande condomin iu m-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 collect ively called Tru mp 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 fo r 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 Yo rk," 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
Yo rk 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
Tru mp 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, s aying, 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 Tru mp
Grande's oceanfront sales center (formerly the Colonial Inn), describing the three -story, 9,000 square-foot
condo he's building for h imself in the second tower, Gil ad mits 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 St reet to 198th St reet on Collins Avenue.
With no more hotels to purchase in the city, the Dezers are turning to what's left : s mall 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 build ings 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 d iscuss 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 fami ly has some tentative plans in
the works for other pro jects 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 Tru mp
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 competit ion," 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 Flo rida'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 ab out to go
to war, would you feel co mfortable with that? I think the US is under a microscope right now. Ho wever,
are we enjoying the best real estate market in the US at the mo ment? I th ink so. I'm confident in saying
It's simp ly business as usual regarding oceanfront property, and beyond the Dezers are a stable of major
developers who are mo re than holding their own with successful projects either under construction or under
The Tru mp Group -- headed by Jules Tru mp, 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-roo m hotel segment to be managed by Rosewood Hotels, is built up to the
24th floor and will deliver in early 2004.
Sales director M ichael 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 h igh 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 d ifferences 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 fu ll-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 ho mes
in Aventura or other areas and who want to be on the beach. We have a number of people coming in fro m
Mexico and Latin A merica. I think that's one of the reasons our market is brisk, because of the diversity of
Down the street, the 328-unit, $140 million La Perla might also be getting a more d iverse mix because of
the development's price points, which range fro m 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. Co mpared to what everyone else is building, it's a price-conscious
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." M ilton should know the market. His
mid-1990s pre-Dezer pro jects 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 Fran k, who's gearing up a sales effort on Sayan,
an Indonesian-themed condomin iu m to be built at 162nd St reet 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 fro m $467,000 to $3.8 million.
Yet another condominiu m under develop ment in the city is Turnberry International's Turnberry Ocean
Colony, slated to rise on the south end of the city near the Oceania comp lex o f 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 develop ment 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, din ing, 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. Un its will range in size fro m 2,200 to 5,7 00 square feet, with an average
selling price of $1.4 million apiece. The co mpany is going for a high -end buyer who's more concerned with
square footage than liv ing 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 fo r the classes."
Return of the Hotels
Beyond just straight-up condos, Sunny Isles is also experiencing an influ x 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 poo 1
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 fro m $170,00 to $600,000. "We have people
fro m every where wanting to buy into the building. We've got a big group of Euros fro m Spain and Italy, as
well as people fro m Latin A merica - Mexicans and Colo mbians. 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
Another condo-hotel is Ho mewood Suites by Hilton, on the west side of the city. Managed by Miami -based
Cardel Hospitality Group, Ho mewood 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 fro m 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 -- wh ich range in
price fro m $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 So ltanik, 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 develop ment happening, there's no doubt that Sunny Isles is facing some sizab le
challenges. For one, the retail co mponent of the city is beginning to lag behind the quality of its resid ential
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 influ x of wealthy people moving into the c ity 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 develop ment 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 th en attract the residential base?
How do you make it happen?" On the plus side, two Washington Mutual bank offices are opening on the
"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 b locks to the south.
In order to upgrade itself, the city has undertaken a comprehensive capital improvement plan. "No w's the
time fo r lipstick and rouge," Lone says. "We just completed a $14 million beach re-nourishment program
last year and are currently wo rking on the roads and other infrastructure." In addition, the city requires
developers to maintain the corridors on the sides of their build ings 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
Symbo lic o f the city's new ro le as an up-and-coming lu xury h igh-rise commun ity is a new city hall being
built at 18050 Co llins Avenue, the former site of a Tony Ro ma's restaurant. When completed next year, it
will house all the div isions of the city government, including the police depart ment, 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 lu xury
single-family ho mes, is concerned that Sunny Isles' explosive development will infring e upon its low-rise
lifestyle. At the center of the controversy is the fact that Sunny Isles recently revamped it's zon ing codes,
allo wing 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.
Go lden 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 Go lden Beach should have been well-aware of what was going on.
Go lden Beach is also concerned that the condos - and the subsequent influ x 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 roo ms 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 A RTICLE: A re 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 mat zo 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-o ld 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
It's a chilly Saturday morn ing, and my guest and I are relieved when the doors at Rascal House swing shut
behind us. Immed iately, we're in another world : The s mells of hot coffee, fresh rye bread and that
pervasive-yet-indescribable wh iff of Jewish deli swirl around the cavernous main din ing 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 -- allo wing access to the dining room only when given the signal that a booth or table is
Soon enough it's our turn, and our patience is rewarded when our octogenarian wait ress sets down stainless
steel bowls of pickled to matoes 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 co mpanion looks a litt le 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 co mpanion'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.
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 at mosphere
of the tiny seaside community. Celebrities such as Burt Lancaster, Grace Kelly, Benny Goodman and Guy
Lo mbardo 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 h istorical 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 fro m the not-pictured Atlantique Motel, taken in
the mid-1950s. The man standing in the picture is probably wait ing for a charter-fishing boat to come in
fro m a day of angling. The top right photo shows the docks o f the infamous Castaways hotel, wh ich 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, S unny 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 Ro me's monumental Co liseu m. Today, Sunny Isles Beach is making its bid for a
place in h istory with a glamo rous 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"--lu xurious residential condomin iu ms and hotel suites --far above
the Atlantic surf. In a frenzy o f new construction, mo re than a dozen towers are now rising in this fast -
changing Northeast Miami-Dade co mmunity, sandwiched between Haulover Park to the south and the
ultra-wealthy single-family-ho me enclave of Go lden Beach to the north.
"The location is really spectacular," New York real estate mogul Donald J. Tru mp 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-cu m-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
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, provid ing views of the ocean and beach access for co mmunity 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 writ ing
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 deve lopers. "What we strive to do
is create unique individual bu ild ings with their o wn character and personalities," he says. "Like people,
buildings have to relate to their environ ment and their surroundings."
Karp is a strong proponent of the city's tall, fluted approach to new development. A mong 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
allo w fo r more open space and more green space between buildings, which is crit ical 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 CHA NGING LA NDSCAPE
Back in the 1980s, a trip to Sunny Isles Beach was like a journcy to the past. A string of colorful, but
decaying hotels fro m the 1950s and 1960s lined the oceanfront. Along "motel ro w." 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 roo ms inside.
At one point the row of hotels were considered quite glamo rous, so much so that they were featured in the
Frank Sinatra movie "Ho le in the Head," when old b lue 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 fro m Canada or driving here
for a M iami beach vacation that might cost a mere $39 or $49 a n ight. If the service was errat ic or the
elevators malfunctioned, at least they could get a cool tropieal d rin k at the bar for a buck or two.
Sunny Isles Beach hoteliers also began to cultivate the European market, acco rding to Bill Lone, owner of
the Lone Group Advertising firm, who serves as executive director o f the Sunny Isles Beach Resort
Association. "They were able to offer preferred rates to visitors fro m 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 lo w-rise hotel, and began building Oceania, a lu xury h igh-
rise residential develop ment that now consists of five residential towers. A few years later, condomin iu m
converter Crescent Heights renovated the 500-roo m 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. M ilton & Associates, developed the
oceanfront towers Sands Pointe and Pinnacle, as well as the Intracoastal Yacht Club, a high -end waterfront
rental co mplex on the west side of the community. Lone credits M ilton with being a "spark" that helped
ignite interest in the co mmunity. "At that time, the banks were not attentive to Sunny Isles Beach," he says.
"Sands Pointe was an immed iate 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 Millenniu m, a 33-story joint venture between two Venezuelan-o wned companies that
sold almost half of its 117 residences to Latin Americans.
Suddenly, the stars over Sunny Isles Beach came into align ment 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 exorb itantly priced, developers could purchase oceanfront
land in Sunny Isles Beach, afford to tear down existing structures, and still reap significant profits.
Height liberalizat ion. When prices rose, so did permissible heights. As real estate attorney Clifford A.
Schulman, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, P.A., po ints out. "The land in Sunny Isles Beach is more
valuable to developers because you can build high-rises."
A pro-development civic environ ment. Once Sunny Isles Beach incorporated, city officials could
implement their v ision of creating a modern, affluent commun ity dominated by tall, h igh-end residential
towers. A central location. Halfway between South Florida's two biggest cities. Sunny Isles Beach attracts
air t ravelers fro m both Miami and Fort Lauderdale international airports.
The near build-out of Aventura. Developers who had invested in Aventura's Intracoastal condominiu m
towers found it a natural move to head east across the William Leh man Causeway and continue building in
Sunny Isles Beach. Continued promotion and behind -the-scenes marketing. Major US developers became
more co mfortable with the idea of investing in an up-and-coming co mmunity.Co mmunity 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 beco ming a city in 1997. Sunny Isles Beach's tax base has risen along with its higher skyline. Fro m
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, fro m 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 commun ity.
"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
complet ion later this year.
The city's award-winning police fo rce has also made a name for itself, significantly reducing the city's
crime rate. "We have a dedicated local police fo rce that is resident and tourist friendly, and focuses on
crime prevention," Lone says. "Today, we are virtually a crime -free co mmunity."
PLA YING THE 'TRUM P' CA RD
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 Tru mp 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 Tru mp Dezer Develop ment.
"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 lu xury
condominiu m 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 build ing 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 fro m $400,000 to $2 milion.
An even larger-scale collaboration is underway between the Dezers and Donald Tru mp. When completed,
their Tru mp Grande Ocean Resort and Residences will encompass three buildings. They are: Tru mp
International Sonesta Beach Resort, a co mpleted 372-unit condominiu m hotel; Tru mp Palace, a 278-unit,
55-story condomin iu m tower now under construction with scheduled complet ion in mid 2005; and Tru mp
Royale, a 333-unit, 55-story condominiu m tower scheduled for complet ion in December 2006.
"We're doing well with these buildings, and Donald Tru mp has helped us immensely," says Dezer. "We're
already sold out at Trump Palace and are 85 percent sold at Tru mp Royale, which is due to break ground
this summer." Prices for the three Tru mp towers range upward fro m 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
fro m 52nd to 57th St reet. With virtually no remain ing prime oceanfront property in Florida, there is no
doubt that this project is going to be a great success."
MOVING EAST FROM A VENTURA
When noted Williams Island developer Jules Tru mp announced his plans for Aqualina several years ago,
South Florida's real estate world held its collective breath. Would an ultra-lu xurious development, whose
castles in the sky cost well over $1 million each, succeed in a "transitioning" neighborhood like Sunny Isles
The answer was clearly yes. "We are sold out and expect to start closings this fall," says Michael Go ldstein,
president of sales. "The values at Aqualina have already gone up, now that people see the quality here."
Aqualina's buyers include Ch icago Cubs star Sammy Sosa, who purchased an 11,500-square-foot
Jules Tru mp, a partner in The Tru mp Group--and no relation to Donald Tru mp--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 commun ity 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 Go lf Club in Aventura--as well as Turnberry Place, its new Las Vegas
project--the long-time South Florida developer is now build ing 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 Develop ment. "The natural spillover fro m 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 ho me to them."
With two 37-story towers, each with 130 oceanfront units, and a luxu rious resident -only beach club and
spa. Turnberry Ocean Co lony'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. M ilton & 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 "lu xury 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 co mpleting construction.
A few b locks to the west, King David is 90 percent sold, according to Gil, with remaining units priced fro m
$285,000 to $475,000. After that, J. Milton & Associates plans to build another five to six towers in the
Just north of Sayan, near the historic Newport Pier, is La Perla, a 42-story oceanfront development by
Cornerstone Premier Co mmunit ies. The 316 two - and three-bedroom residences at La Perla are priced fro m
the $300,000s. Co rnerstone president Richard Lamondin says construction began in April with co mplet ion
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 everyon e else, we've seen a lot
of international interest, fro m Eu rope, Mexico and Lat in A merica."
Further north, New Yo rk-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 fro m $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 fro m
$800,000 to $2 million, The Sea will offer the same level of lu xury as a more expensive building, while
maintaining a mo re uniform pricing level, Kodsi says.
Fortune International, led by Edgardo Defo rtuna, is making its second major investment in Sunny Isles
Beach with Jade Beach, a 55-story lu xury tower with 248 units. After recently receiv ing site plan approval
fro m the city, Fortune launched its sales campaign with residences priced fro m the $400,000s to mo re than
$6.5 million. Fortune also purchased an oceanfront s ite just to the north of Jade Beach and is starting the
planning process for another lu xury tower.
"We feel there is so litt le 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 fro m around the world will continue to want to be on the beach."
HIGH-END RESORT DEVELOPM ENT
Not all the new h igh-rise development in Sunny Isles Beach is strictly residential. Several new lu xu ry
projects have adopted the condominiu m hotel concept, where buyers purchase suites that can be rented out
by a hospitality management co mpany. Other residential pro jects incorporate an upscale hotel operation
within the develop ment.
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 o wners, having a hotel onsite means
access to more personal services --think concierge, housekeeping and room service--as well as resort
facilit ies like a fitness center, spa or mu lti-purpose pool deck.
Fro m a design standpoint, architect Karp says he takes a different approach to resort-oriented developments
compared with strictly residential pro jects. "In a resort, we want the units to feel like a four -star hotel on
the ocean with substantial amenit ies throughout the property," he says. "This is usually above and beyond
what a lifestyle condominiu m 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 Merid ian to
operate the hotel component at its first Sunny Isles development, M Resort Residences, a condomin iu m
hotel with units priced fro m the $300,000s to more than $800,000. In fact, Fo rtune plans to change the
name of the Eu ropean style property to Le Meridien Sunny Isles Beach Resort when the 210 -unit
development is comp leted 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 So ltanik's company, DSP Develop ments. Fantasy of the Ocean will
operate as a Hilton hotel, with 198 hotel suites that are being sold fully furn ished fro m $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 lu xury 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 roo ms. W ith the volume of
redevelopment, that number fell to about 2,500 roo ms, but is already rebounding. "We expect to wind up
with about 4,000 roo ms 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 condominiu ms," says Schulman, who
has advised several major developers over the years. "Now, there is a significant movement to buy up units
fro m o lder properties under condominiu m ownership and con vert them to high-rise projects."
That condo unit buy-out process may take several years. But after the last of the older p roperties are
purchased and demolished, the era of new develop ment on the oceanfront strip will co me to an end.
Nevertheless, Sunny Isles Beach plans to continue its redevelopment mo mentum 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 o f 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 co mes 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 fo r a lifestyle-retail develop ment," says Weiner, whose company
owns Aventura Mall. "[But] it will be hard to get majo r tenants to come to a site between the two regional
On the residential side, mo re redevelopment may also occur along the Intracoastal Waterway, where zoning
allo ws residential condos up to 15 stories high. "A lot of condo buyers actually prefer the Intracoastal side
because there's more activ ity below them, and mo re things to see from their balconies at night," notes
Meanwhile, the city's single-family homes and condomin iu ms 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 fro m the No rtheast, and the Latin A merican countries," says Diaz.
"There are also a large volu me 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 co mmunity, while building new parks and a
school to accommodate the fast-growing number o f children.
But no one benefits more fro m the city's growth than potential residents, according to Edelcup. Not only
will the city have greater revenue to provide services, but the new condomin iu m 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 A RTICLE: PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
WITH M OST OF THE BEA CHFRONT SPOKEN FOR, THE NEXT A REA FOR RA DICA L 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 main land 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 fo r the ambit ious project will be drawn fro m the
city's enormous new tax base created by the high-rises.
RELATED A RTICLE: RETAIL, RETAIL
WITH ITS TRANSFORM ED OCEANFRONT, SUNNY ISLES' NEXT CHALLENGE IS TO UPGRA DE,
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 Co llins Avenue (right), to create higher density retail, restaurant and residen tial uses. The idea is to
allo w the new h igh-rise residents to walk across the street and find shops that "enhance the high -end
lifestyle," says civic leader Bill Lone.
RELATED A RTICLE: A CHANGING DEMOGRA PHIC
LONG THE LAND OF RETIREES AND M OTEL CUSTOM ERS, SUNNY ISLES IS UNDERGOING A
RADICAL CHANGE IN ITS POPULATION
One of the big challenges for Sunny Isles Beach will be retain ing its existing population base --mostly
retirees, with a large Jewish contingent--while beco ming 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 nu mber of ch ildren. Overall the population has grown fro m around 15,000 in 2000 to about 17,000
today; in particular, the nu mber of school-age child ren has grown fro m 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 roo ms for arts an d crafts. Overall, the population is a unique
ethnic mix, with 10 percent of Russian background, 6 percent Italian and 5 percent Polish.
RELATED A RTICLE: 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 mo re 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
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.
Sunny Isle Beach has one of the largest contingents of Russian residents of any South Florida co mmun ity.
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 Po les (5 percent).
Sunny Isles Beach Tax Base
1997: $1.1 b illion
2001: $1.6 b illion
2002: $2.2 b illion
2003: $2.7 b illion
2008: $5.0 b illion (pro jected)
Hottest Home Sales: Exclusive Zip Code Anal ysis
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:
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 anal ysis 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 fift y 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 nearl y
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 t o 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 pri ce comes with lake views and a country-club lifest yle. "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
Posted March 10 2005
Tuesday's vote approving slot machines gives the Seminole and Mi ccosuk ee 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-st yle gambling to their Florida
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
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 count y, 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 Mi ccosuk ee, Bush said that's not necessarily true.
"We still don't have complete clarity. The Mi ccosuk ee 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
staunchl y 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
So far, only the Mi ccosuk ee 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.
Mi ccosuk ee Chairman Billy C ypress 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. "Basicall y, 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 interferenc e,
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 Mi ccosuk ee operate a casino and golf resort
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 r eport.