Two referendum issues on the Nov. 6 ballot may have caused a political divide between the senior partners of the Aventura-based Turnberry real estate empire: Jackie Soffer and her brother Jeff Soffer.
Miami Beach voters will decide whether to approve an 800-room, city-owned hotel that Jackie Soffer wants to build next to the Miami Beach Convention Center. The operator of the hotel would be barred from opening a casino there or owning a casino property anywhere in Miami-Dade County.
Florida voters will decide whether to approve a statewide referendum on Amendment 3, which would give voters the exclusive right to approve expansions of casino gambling. Jeff Soffer, who bought the Mardi Gras casino in Hallandale Beach earlier this year, opposes Amendment 3.
Jackie Soffer reportedly considered her brother a potential opponent to the Miami Beach hotel referendum because he runs Turnberry’s Fontainebleau hotel, which has its own substantial convention business and opposed a 2013 effort to win approval for a city-owned hotel next to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Jackie Soffer runs Turnberry’s Aventura Mall in northeast Miami-Dade.
The Fontainebleau also has paid Tallahassee lobbyists to push for legislation that would expand gambling in Florida and bring a casino to its oceanfront location at 4441 Collins Avenue.
Last month, a political committee formed by a consultant linked to Jeff Soffer began sending mailers to Miami Beach voters urging them to reject the referendum on a city-owned hotel next to the convention center, warning that “A Mega-Hotel means Mega Traffic.”
The consultant is Ben Pollara, a founding partner of the political consulting arm of Llorente Heckler, a lobbying firm. Jeff Soffer is a longtime client of the firm, and Pollara has been working with Soffer on a campaign against Amendment 3.
Jeff Soffer says he hasn’t supported Preserve Miami Beach’s Future, the political committee that sent the mailers urging Miami Beach voters to reject the city’s hotel referendum on Nov. 6.
Jackie Soffer’s partners in the convention-center hotel project are angry about Pollara’s role in efforts to defeat the hotel referendum because they hired his firm, Llorente Heckler, to run their campaign to convince Miami Beach voters to approve the referendum.
Pollara met Sept. 22 with Jackie Soffer’s partners in the hotel project, developers David Martin and Craig Robins, whom she married in 2015.
The developers demanded to know who was behind the mailer campaign against the hotel referendum, but Pollara declined to identify the supporters of Preserve Miami Beach’s Future.
Pollara agreed to arrange for a shutdown of Preserve Miami Beach’s Future but said the campaign against the hotel referendum would continue.
Indeed, another political committee called Floridians for Veterans Service has circulated mailers against the hotel referendum that incorporate some of the same language in the mailers distributed by Preserve Miami Beach’s Future.
Individual donors to Floridians for Veterans Service include Michael Corcoran, a Tallahassee lobbyist whose clients include Turnberry, the Fontainebleau and Jeff Soffer’s casino in Hallandale Beach, which has been renamed the Big Easy.
Corcoran donated $100,000 to Justice for Florida, a political committee that shares a Fort Lauderdale office with Floridians for Veterans Service.
After Corcoran made his $100,000 donation to Justice for Florida, the committee gave $20,000 directly to Floridians for Veterans Service and gave about $45,000 to other political committees that, in turn, gave $32,000 to Floridians for Veterans Service.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Jeff Soffer twice declined to say whether he supports the convention-center hotel project that his sister is pursuing. [Miami Herald] – Mike Seemuth