A prominent Turnberry Associates executive is being dragged into the Whitman family’s legal battle against Bal Harbour Assistant Mayor Patricia Cohen.
Last month, Bal Harbour Shops LLC sued Cohen and the village in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, alleging she is violating Florida’s public records law because she has failed to turn over text and email messages on her personal electronic devices in which she may have negatively discussed the luxury mall’s expansion plans, which the assistant mayor opposes.
Now, Whitman family attorney John Shubin told The Real Deal that there is some evidence Cohen’s opposition may be connected to her personal relationship with Jackie Soffer, who oversees Turnberry’s retail, hospitality and office divisions, including Aventura Mall, a Bal Harbour Shops competitor. Soffer, who, together with her family owns Turnberry Associates, is also married to Craig Robins, founder and CEO of DACRA, developer of the Design District, which also competes against Bal Harbour Shops.
For instance, Shubin’s law firm obtained an October 31, 2012 email that was retrieved from another village official’s electronic device in which Cohen makes it obvious where her loyalties lie, Shubin said. The email, which Shubin provided to TRD, was sent from Cohen to a real estate broker hired by Bal Harbour to inquire about purchasing the site of a SunTrust Bank at 9600 Collins Avenue.
“Can u imagine a world class public green space with possibly gorgeous works of art right smack in the middle of Collins instead of that hideous suntrust bank???” Cohen wrote. “WE need to create something special besides Bal Harbour Shops which is gradually losing its exclusivity thanks to Craig and Jackie’s GENIUS MOVE!!!”
The SunTrust property was ultimately purchased by Shops LLC, which has offered to give the site over to Bal Harbour, as well as another nearby parcel. In exchange, Bal Harbour would get the land where village hall is currently located, and it would be incorporated into the Whitman’s plans to spend more than $400 million renovating and expanding the luxury shopping center. The Village Council will consider the Whitman’s proposal on first reading on Wednesday.
Shubin also noted that at a status conference last week regarding the lawsuit, Cohen’s attorney Kent Harrison Robbins revealed that he and his client have to sift through 1,784 personal emails she sent to a member of the Soffer family. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get through those, how long it’s going to take us to redact the personal conversations,” Robbins said, according to a transcript of the hearing. We will do what we can.”
Shubin said Robbins is trying to delay turning over those emails. “It is certainly interesting that someone who has been so outspoken in their opposition to Bal Harbour Shops, without having heard one piece of evidence, has had so much communication with someone who has a financial interest in Aventura Mall,” Shubin told TRD.
In an email response to TRD, Robbins said he has so far reviewed 300 of the 1,784 emails and determined that a majority were between Cohen and Brooke Soffer, Jackie’s sister who owns various retail stores at Turnberry properties, including Aventura Mall and the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Robbins said “just a handful” of emails were to Jackie Soffer.
Robbins also dismissed Shubin’s theory that the 2012 email hints at Cohen going against Bal Harbour Shops out of loyalty for her friends, the Soffers.
“Patricia Cohen is hopeful that Bal Harbour will create something special that will enhance its cachet that does not rely on the well-being of the Bal Harbour Shops,” Robbins said. “No municipality should rely on just one single activity for its economic and social vitality.”
Turnberry general counsel Jonathan Kurry told TRD that Shubin’s inquest for the assistant mayor’s personal emails and text messages will prove the accusations being made about Soffer and Cohen are “pure nonsense.”
“The Whitman family and Bal Harbour Shops are doing nothing more than attempting to distract Bal Harbour residents from making an intelligent, informed decision regarding whether they want to support the doubling in size of their mall,” Kurry said.