Dan Gelber uncut: Miami Beach mayor caught on tape courting developers for Ocean Drive takeover

On a recorded Zoom call, mayor makes clear he would push for referendums that would allow for 25-foot tall to 50-foot tall buildings in Art Deco Entertainment District

From left: Dan Gelber, Mayor of Miami Beach and Philip Levine, Former Mayor of Miami Beach (Getty Images, iStock)
From left: Dan Gelber, Mayor of Miami Beach and Philip Levine, Former Mayor of Miami Beach (Getty Images, iStock)

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and his predecessor, Philip Levine, courted unidentified developers to raise money for city commission candidates who favor Gelber’s agenda for Ocean Drive, and offered them carte blanche access to city staff for redevelopment proposals in the Art Deco Entertainment District. He also promised to push through unpopular ballot referendums that would increase height and density in South Beach’s most famous street.

It was all recorded in a Zoom call from last month.

The Real Deal obtained a nearly 10-minute spliced recording of the 60-minute Sept. 13 Zoom call. Gelber and Levine are heard addressing a group that includes Miami Beach developers.

“I know the projects you have done,” Gelber said. “You have always thought of our city as a canvas…What I would really love you to do is tell us what you need to reimagine the areas we need to be reimagined….If you want something on the ballot, I will put it on the ballot. I will support the idea, even if it is not particularly popular.”

Gelber and a Miami Beach spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fabian Basabe, a Miami Beach resident who was recently disqualified from a Miami Beach city commission race, was on the call and recorded it, according to the Miami New Times, which also obtained a copy of the audio and was first to report on it.

In addition to Gelber, Levine and Basabe, the hour-long virtual meeting included Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak and a group of developers, according to Miami New Times. Basabe edited down the call to roughly 9 minutes and 23 seconds when Gelber and Levine were speaking.

Gelber is the main proponent of a Nov. 2 ballot measure that would roll back last call for alcohol in nightclubs and bars in the Art Deco Entertainment District, to 2 a.m. from 5 a.m. Longtime Ocean Drive businesses such as Mango’s Cafe and the Clevelander South Beach accuse Gelber and city leaders of using crime and mayhem in the entertainment district as an excuse to shut them down.

During the Zoom call, Gelber said he encouraged developers to present redevelopment proposals for Ocean Drive, promising them cooperation from Miami Beach Planning and Zoning Director Thomas Mooney. “If we can add 25 feet or 50 feet to Collins Avenue spaces to give you a little more room, you have to let us know,” Gelber said. “There is a lot of capital that wants to come to the city. We are of great interest to the world right now. That is what I would love for all of you to exploit.”

Gelber suggested the developers could even put referendums for increasing height and density of buildings “on the ballot forcibly, without city commission approval.” The city charter allows residents to place items in the ballot via petition and sidestep the city commission.

Levine, who was Miami Beach’s previous mayor and ran unsuccessfully for Florida governor in 2018, said the group would put together a political action committee that would raise money to elect candidates that agree with Gelber’s vision.

“We would utilize that money to elect folks that would move the city in a positive, safe direction,” Levine said. “We need to utilize whatever influences we have to push those six commissioners to follow the vision of the mayor and the manager to make the city safer.”

Miami Beach law bans developers and real estate professionals who contribute to city commission candidates from doing business with the city. State law also prohibits municipal and government employees from participating in political activities, which Gelber was mindful of during the Zoom call.

“We cannot talk about a PAC, Gelber said. “I really shouldn’t be here talking about it with city personnel.”