Daily Archives: January 28, 2012

Why Isn’t Adelson’s Questionable Character – And Associations- Part of the National Debate?

Sands CEO backs Gingrich and a Miami casino

Sheldon Adelson is Newt Gingrich’s biggest political backer, and also is pushing Miami to endorse his plan for a downtown casino. He’s gotten lots of press in Florida for one of those causes.

What does Newt Gingrich have in common with a proposed downtown Miami casino?

Both are being backed by the same man: Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson and his wife’s $10 million injection into a political committee slamming Gingrich rival Mitt Romney have emerged as a major subplot in Florida’s GOP primary, thanks to the flurry of television ads funded by their money. Less noticed is Adelson’s direct tie to the biggest controversy facing the Sunshine State’s tourism industry at the moment.

Sands is helping lead the fight to expand Florida’s gambling laws to allow casino resorts in Miami and elsewhere across the state. Adelson hosted local leaders in an office suite overlooking a potential Sands Miami site on the land known as the Miami World Center, a cluster of parking lots and night clubs a short walk from the AmericanAirlines Arena.

“He likes to talk, mostly about him and the things he’s done… He never mentioned any political allegiances,’’ Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said of Adelson. The two of them met in an office suite in downtown’s Everglades residential tower late last year, near where Sands hopes to build a roughly 1,500-room hotel and a convention center twice the size of the one in Miami Beach.

“He didn’t promise anything,’’ Regalado continued. “He just said, ‘I’m here to tell you who I am.”

Though Sands executives have spent years lobbying for a Miami casino, their efforts were overshadowed in recent months by the big media splash made by Genting. The Malaysian-based casino giant bought The Miami Herald’s headquarters in May and launched a full-on campaign to convince Florida to build what was described at the time as the world’s largest casino.

Privately, Sands has been lobbying just as aggressively, with Adelson’s persona looming large in the pitch. Andy Abboud, the head of Sands’ lobbying operation, refers to “my boss” frequently in describing why the Sands approach to business would work in Miami.

Sands touts its plan to lure conventions and trade shows to Miami, citing Adelson’s legenday success in that business. Adelson’s support of the bombastic former Speaker of the House has brought new attention to a billionaire known for blunt remarks and staunch support of Israel.

“I don’t take comments from anybody unless you’re rich,’’ a chuckling Adelson said in a Jan 2011 CNBC interview thatwas quoted in a recent profile of the Sands CEO. “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

The Gingrich campaign did not respond to an interview request for this story, and a Sands spokesman said the company wouldn’t comment. Genting also declined an interview request.

The son of a cab driver, Adelson made his fortune organizing trade shows. He bought a Vegas convention center in 1989 to house his popular Comdex computer show, which once was held at the Miami Beach Convention Center before it became so large. Adelson sold Comdex for $860 million in 1995, then spent $1.5 billion building the Venetian hotel in Vegas. The Palazzo came next, followed by four Asian casino resorts now churning about $4 million in profits every day.

Forbes this year listed the 78-year-old as the eighth richest American, with a personal fortune worth about $22 billion.

Adelson first allied with Gingrich over a pro-Israel bill the then-Congressional leader was backing. The political allegiance continued, and Adelson’s fortune has played a central role in the former speaker’s rise in the GOP primary. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each donated $5 million to Winning Our Future. That’s a so-called “super” political action committee, an organization independent from any campaign but formed to win Gingrich the nomination.

“This is all about Israel, and has nothing to do with gambling,’’ Barry University political science professor Sean Foreman said of Adelson’s support of Gingrich.

At a campaign stop this week in Cocoa, Gingrich said he has Adelson’s support thanks to the former speaker’s muscular approach to protecting Israel in the Middle East. Adelson “believes that the Iranians represent a mortal threat to Israel and to the United States,’’ he said. “And he is deeply motivated by the question of having a commander in chief strong

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enough and willing to make sure that the Iranians do not get nuclear weapons.”

Casino critic Norman Bramam famously seized on the Islamic leaders of Genting’s home country of Malaysia to try and tie Genting to anti-semitism. But the Sands connnection to the controversial GOP leader has gone mostly unnoticed in Miami’s gambling debate.

“I watched the news about Adelson giving all the money, but I didn’t connect it to the hotels he owns,’’ said Nancy Liebman, a former Miami Beach commissioner helping organize opposition to pro-casino bills in Tallahassee.

Adelson’s dual role in the Republican primary fight and Miami’s casino debate haven’t seemed to overlap. Mayor Regalado, a Republican, has supported the idea of casino resorts downtown but said he would have endorsed John Huntsman if the former Utah governor had stayed in the race. Adelson apparently hasn’t put any pressure on Regalado to give his friend Gingrich a boost in South Florida.

“I haven’t endorsed anybody,’’ Regalado said Friday. “But nobody has asked.”

McClatchy Washington correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/27/v-fullstory/2612070/sands-ceo-backs-gingrich-and-a.html#storylink=cpy

Casinos Good for Business? Will they Cannibalize Local Businesses? Key Debate.

Would casino mega resort hurt existing Miami restaurants and shops? Opinion is split

Retailers and restaurateurs are split on the potential impact casino resorts would have on S. Florida, with some seeing them as a boon and others fearing they spell doom.

Joe’s Stone Crab owner Steve Sawitz distinctly recalls his grandfather’s admonitions decades ago against bring casino gambling to Miami. The move could be the “downfall” of independent business, his grandfather cautioned.

That warning resonates with Sawitz today as legislation to allow resort casinos is debated in the Florida Legislature and casino companies jockey for position in the market. Although he acknowledges Joe’s could benefit from casino traffic because of the nearly 100-year-old landmark’s reputation, Sawitz fears that a mega resort with dozens of restaurants and a shopping mall would put many of his neighbors out of business.

“There is not one good reason for them to want you to go outside of that casino,” said Sawitz, the fourth generation of his family to run the Miami Beach restaurant, which also has a location at the Forum Shops in Las Vegas — a far different market, he said. “It’s hard to compete with comped meals and drinks. You’ve got to show me a place where restaurants and retailers outside of the casino do well. I’m not risking my sweat equity of 100 years in their promises.”

The debate over whether Genting’s Resorts World Miami or a destination resort project by Las Vegas Sands would be good business for existing retailers and restaurants has divided the Miami community. Some see it as the death knell for small mom-and-pops, while others envision a windfall of new customers and revenues.

The issue has come to a head since Genting purchased The Miami Herald and surrounding property for nearly a half billion dollars last year, then unveiled plans for the massive, $3.8 billion Resorts World Miami. Under the terms of the agreement, The Miami Herald can remain in its current quarters rent-free through May 2013.

Genting has tried to gain support by touting projections of two to three million new visitors annually and the addition of about 45,000 direct and indirect jobs. For local restaurants and bars, Genting offers the chance to participate in a WorldCard rewards program that would encourage casino guests to visit local businesses.

“Miami has so many unique cultural attractions and we want to promote them,” said Jessica Hoppe, senior vice president of governmental affairs for Resorts World Miami. “We want our customers to go and experience South Beach because we want Miami to thrive and grow. We fully believe that a rising tide lifts all ships.”

That pitch has already drawn interest from more than 50 Miami-Dade restaurants and bars, including Tony Chan’s Water Club, City Hall the Restaurant, Truluck’s Seafood, The Daily and Wall nightclub. Others like The Forge and Garcia’s Seafood Grill are interested not only in the loyalty program, but also in opening an outpost at Resorts World Miami.

“It really does go to show that these folks are serious about sharing the wealth,” said Shareef Malnik, whose family has owned The Forge on Miami Beach for 45 years. He has a handshake deal to bring an outpost of The Forge to Resorts World Miami. “Genting will be a magnet. If it makes our city better, I will get my fair share of increased business over the long run.”

Luis Garcia, whose family owns Garcia’s Seafood Grill and Garcia’s Wholesale, hopes he can convince Genting to create a fisherman’s wharf on the project. But even without that, he thinks tourists will leave Resorts World Miami to visit his restaurant on the Miami River.

“People are going to come to my business because they want an authentic Miami place,” said Garcia, whose family has been in the restaurant business for 25 years. “I like competition. It’s one of the greatest things we have in this country.”

But studies on the potential impact of casinos tell a different story.

A 1996 study on the Regional Economic Impacts of Casino Gambling found the long-term economic impacts of casinos are “generally positive” and result in an increase in real disposable income and jobs. Yet the study also found the only place the effect might be negative is a region with a thriving tourism economy — such as South Florida.

Adam Rose, the study’s author, visited Miami recently and said that because of the strong tourism base, gambling could hurt local businesses. “The key question: Is the casino going to attract people who wouldn’t otherwise go to Miami? said Rose, now an economist at the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy. “If it doesn’t, you’ve got cannibalization.”

Rose’s study suggested that local restaurants and other service providers do not share “as broadly” in the direct gains from a casino opening.

Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn said as much to a business group in Bridgeport, Conn. in the 1990s. “There is no reason on earth for any of you to expect for more than a second that just because there are people here, they’re going to run into your restaurants and stores just because we build this building [casino] here.”

And Robert Goodman’s book, The Luck Business, claims that four years after the introduction of casinos in Atlantic City in 1978, about a third of the city’s retail business closed. During a 10-year period, the number of independent restaurants in the city declined by 40 percent.

A 2005 study on the impact of casino gambling on retail sales growth in mid-size Iowa cities found that between 1996 and 2004, the average annual growth rate of retail sales was .6 percent in four cities with a casino, compared to 3.4 percent in six cities without a casino.

Iowa and Atlantic City are far different from Miami. And it’s also hard to compare South Florida to Las Vegas, where casinos built a modern-day Land of Oz in the desert.

But the potential impact of casinos worries small businesspeople like Alfred Patino, whose wine bar and restaurant Bin.18 would be just down the street from Resorts World Miami.

“We already have a huge amount of competition,” Patino said. “We don’t need 50 more restaurants and bars. I’d rather let the area continue to grow organically.”

Casino or not, there is a valid concern about just how much retail and restaurants the Downtown Miami area can support. While the area has long been considered an underserved market, in typical Miami fashion it’s about to go from bust to boom.

Recent years have brought a flurry of new activity along Brickell Avenue, Midtown Miami, the Design District and Biscayne Boulevard. Swire Properties is seeking construction permits for Brickell CitiCentre, a 4.6 million-square-foot mixed-use project with shopping, a hotel, offices and residential towers. Developer Craig Robins plans to bring Louis Vuitton and Hermes to the Design District as he grows a collection of luxury fashion brands in the area.

Opinion is split on where to put up the stop sign.

Robins thinks any casino in the Downtown area would have a negative impact on his plans and others.

“It’s bad for Miami and I think it’s going to be bad for business,” Robins said. “These projects would be in a position to artificially compete with other businesses and put them at an extremely competitive disadvantage. It could fundamentally damage the character and spirit of the great projects that are already happening in Miami.”

But management for Bayside Marketplace and Mary Brickell Village both say they would welcome a casino and the visitors it would bring.

“Our feeling is that any economic development would be good,” said Pam Weller, general manager at Bayside.

Kerry Newman, a broker with Koniver Stern that handles the leasing for Mary Brickell Village, said ultimately the retailers will decide if the demand is there. “The retailers won’t come in unless they feel they can do the business,” he said.

Fueling concerns over Resorts World Miami is a proposal for what Genting says would be one of the largest casinos in the United States. Plans unveiled last year featured a dramatic design inspired by a coral reef with four hotels and 5,200 hotel rooms, a 3.6 acre outdoor lagoon, more than 50 restaurants and bars, a luxury shopping galleria with about 60 shops and a rotating vendor marketplace. The restaurants and retail together represent nearly one million square feet.

The restaurants alone number about double those at major Las Vegas hotels. Caesar’s Palace leads the list with 26 restaurants and bars, not including those at the attached Forum Shops, and MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay, are close behind at 24.

The project would be akin to “an atomic bomb,’’ said David Wallack, the owner of Mango’s Cafe on Miami Beach and Power Studios in the Design District. “It needs to be on the proper scale so that it doesn’t annihilate everything in the area.”

Genting executives say the size of Resorts World Miami — particularly the retail and restaurant space — will be reduced as the company adjusts its plans based on feedback from the community.

“The design is in a bit of a state of flux,” Hoppe said. “Our desire is not to engulf everything that exists in Miami.”

Representatives of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which also wants to build a Miami casino, said its resort would be more modest in size.

“We’re not going to go head to head with local established restaurateurs,” said Andy Abboud, Sands’ vice president of government relations. “We’ve got to bring new stuff to the marketplace.”

Although Sands has not settled on a Miami location — it favors the Miami World Center site — the company envisions a hotel with no more than 2,000 rooms and about a dozen restaurants. The project would also include one million square feet of convention space and a 500,000 square foot retail shopping mall.

Genting argues that what distinguishes it from Sands or any other Vegas operator is an “open access” program, which encourages guests to leave the hotel. Genting’s WorldCard program allows guests to take the rewards points rung up at Resorts World Miami and “spend’’ them at off-site partner establishments. In most other casino loyalty programs, points can only be used for discounted or free offers within the hotel.

Consumers can ring up loyalty points on the Genting card while dining or drinking at member establishments. There’s no charge to merchants or consumers to participate. Genting doesn’t take a percentage of sales. But the merchant has to float the bill for 30 days before it receives payment from Genting and may lose the cost of a processing fee on the transaction reimbursement.

Steve Haas, the owner of City Hall the Restaurant just up Biscayne Boulevard thinks he will benefit from additional tourist traffic and still maintain his local consumer, which is the core of his business.

“I don’t think locals will actually go there on a regular basis,” Haas said. “I think most of the neighborhood will end up avoiding the hotel. We will go there once in awhile, when people come to visit.”

Is the Herald Building Historic? A center for a better downtown development that is not a Destination Casino? Should We Consider it And Work together to design a better space?

The Miami Herald building’s window grids for hurricane protection. PETER ANDREW BOSCH / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

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These walls around me can talk and they have a heck of a story to tell — our history, Miami’s history.

When it comes to making the case for the historic preservation of The Miami Herald building, it doesn’t matter whether you like or hate the newspaper, or whether you like or dislike the look of the Miami Modern architecture of the building.

It also shouldn’t matter whether you’re in favor of or against the plan of the Malaysian company, Genting, to turn the 13.9-acre property into a mega-casino gambling resort. As revolting as that possibility strikes me on so many levels, it hits especially hard because of the watchdog role the newspaper has played in the city’s history.

But what makes a building worthy of historic preservation is decided by a set of established criteria, not opinions, and The Herald building meets every requirement set forth by the Miami City Charter, says Becky Roper Matkov, chief executive of the Dade Heritage Trust and the preservationist leading the charge to gain historic designation for the waterfront Herald building.

“The Herald has been an incredibly historic force in this community for decades, and this building has been a huge influence in the community,” Roper Matkov says.

The fact that The Miami Herald’s parent company, McClatchy, sold the building to Genting for $236 million last year should not be a factor in determining historic designation, Matkov says.

The building is an iconic example of mid-century Miami Modern architecture, MiMo for short, as is the Bacardi Building on Biscayne Boulevard and the Miami Marine Stadium in Virginia Key, two structures that have already been granted historic designation and protection.

Ground was broken on Aug. 19, 1960, for the $30 million Miami Herald plant. At the time it was completed in 1963, it was the largest building in Florida.

Open house on April 7, 1963, brought 10,000 people to “gape in wonder at the expensive equipment and the immense space occupied by various departments in a splendid modern setting,” retired Herald writer Nixon Smiley wrote in his 1974 book Knights of the Fourth Estate: The Story of The Miami Herald.

The Herald’s six-story building stands in an arts district where other nearby structures such as the Sears Towers and The Boulevard Shops have already received historic designation, and thus are protected from being torn down.

Yet, at least on the surface, when it comes to the fate of the unmistakable yellow-colored building flanking the bayfront between the Venetian and MacArthur causeways, sometimes it seems that few Miamians care.

In a recent survey of Miami-Dade voters commissioned by The Herald and its media partners, 52 percent of those polled opposed historic designation for the Herald building. Another 13 percent had no opinion.

Granted, the topic of architectural details is not a sexy or life-or-death issue. But surprisingly, when The Herald’s management announced plans this week to relocate in May 2013 to the former Southern Command headquarters in Doral, that became one of the day’s best-read and most-shared stories on social media sites.

Like it or hate it, Miamians do care what happens to their newspaper of record, but in a city as young as ours, there’s little understanding about the value of historic preservation.

People with bigger priorities don’t understand why preservation of iconic old buildings is important and how the protection a historic designation confers on a building that tells a story about our history contributes to the future.

But Miami, incorporated in 1896 and one of the youngest cities in the United States, is at a crossroads. Issues such as this will shape the fortunes of future generations who will care or not care about this city, depending on the values we pass on.

If we don’t leave our children and grandchildren our history represented in buildings that tell our story — the Freedom Tower, the Lyric Theater, the Fontainebleau Hotel, The Miami Herald — what kind of citizens will they become?

Like grandparents, old buildings are repositories of lessons, identity and stories that reveal who we are and how we got to be here.

“If you think of all the places that make Miami interesting to visit, all of them required someone to stand up and say, ‘This is worth preserving or restoring,’ and almost everyone else thought it was a nutty idea at the time,” Roper Matkov says. “It just takes a little vision to see how important something from the past can be and how it can be translated into an important landmark for the future.”

The political and economic environment, however, may not be favorable to the historic designation. Necessary documents to supplement the case, such as the building’s original plans, Roper Matkov says, are “missing” or hard to come by. Genting is against the historic designation and is not cooperating with the sharing of deed documents that are now in their possession as the building’s new owners.

But predictable shenanigans like that shouldn’t be a factor. The city charter outlines the criteria for historic designation, which The Herald building clearly meets:

The building is “associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the past.” The company’s late founders, brothers John S. and James L. Knight, were key players in Miami’s development and in hemispheric affairs, and perhaps more importantly, continue to contribute posthumously through a foundation in their name that every year funds multimillion dollar community projects in the fields of the arts, education and journalism.

Likewise, Alvah H. Chapman Jr., the former president and CEO of The Herald and chairman of the previous parent company, Knight Ridder, was a key player in community affairs, and his influence is well-documented. He was the strongest voice of all, ironically, against casino gambling in Florida.

Without question, The Herald has been the “site of a historic event with significant effect upon the community, city, state or nation,” from dignitaries worldwide coming to discuss international issues with the editorial board to the tragic suicide of Miami-Dade Commissioner Arthur E. Teele Jr., who shot himself to death in the newspaper’s lobby in 2005.

The newspaper’s work in defining issues like immigration, racial relations, and growth during the last 50 years fulfills the charter’s requirement that the building under consideration represent “the historical, cultural, political, economical, or social trends of the community.”

Whether one likes the style or not, it’s “an outstanding work of a prominent designer or builder,” architect Sigurd Naess, who designed the Sun-Times building in Chicago, and the structure contains “elements of design, detail, materials, craftsmanship of outstanding quality or which represent a significant innovation or adaptation to the South Florida environment [like the unique cascade of shutters for hurricanes]; or have yielded, or maybe likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.” Those are the requirements for historic designation, which The Herald building, with its stately lobby of steel and marble, meets. It isn’t a judgment that comes from a sentiment of nostalgia for the past, but from documented history and architectural facts.

I am not without bias. On the front lines for the last 32 years, I’ve been part of the reporting and writing of stories that become the first draft of history, the extraordinary and the tragic, and the ordinary daily events that make up a community’s fabric. And as many other Miamians, I’ve witnessed the newspaper’s influence on South Florida, mostly for good, sometimes for worse, but that’s history, imperfect and educational.

These walls around me can talk and they have a heck of a story to tell — our history, Miami’s history.

Save them.