Barry Sternlicht leads donors for Ocean Drive Miami Beach 2 a.m. referendum

Clevelander and Mango’s Cafe property owners bankroll opposing campaign for 5 a.m. cutoff

Barry Sternlicht leads donors for Ocean Drive Miami Beach 2 a.m. referendum
(L-R) Starwood Capital's Barry Sternlicht, Burch Creative Capital founder J Christopher Burch and Douglas Elliman chairman Howard Lorber with Ocean Drive hotels (Wikipedia, Elliman, Google Maps)

Starwood Capital Group’s Barry Sternlicht is the biggest real estate player to financially support a campaign in favor of a 2 a.m. last call at bars and nightclubs on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.

A non-binding question on Tuesday’s ballot in the city of Miami Beach asks residents if the commission should move up the last serving of alcohol by three hours from 5 a.m. If the referendum is approved, Miami Beach elected officials will move ahead with implementing the new closing time.

At stake is the future of longtime nightlife venues such as The Clevelander South Beach Hotel and Mango’s Cafe. Owners of both establishments claim Ocean Drive venues will suffer significant business losses by cutting down on prime drinking hours in the Art Deco Entertainment District. Miami Beach leaders, led by Mayor Dan Gelber, are pushing for the 2 a.m. last call by claiming the measure will curtail crime and mayhem that has plagued the city’s signature oceanfront street in recent years.

According to campaign finance reports filed by Yes for a Safer Miami Beach, the political action committee supporting the 2 a.m. last call, Sternlicht donated $25,000 on Oct. 18. At a May city commission meeting, Sternlicht said Miami Beach has gained a reputation as being an out-of-control place. Starwood, which co-developed 1 Hotel South Beach with Lefrak, is building its new headquarters at 2340 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.

An affiliate of Bethesda, Maryland-based Host Hotels & Resorts, which purchased 1 Hotel South Beach from Starwood and Lefrak for $610 million in 2019, also gave the committee $25,000 last month. Miami-based global conglomerate Vector Group donated $5,000. Vector is the parent company of New Valley LLC, which owns the brokerage Douglas Elliman. J Christopher Burch, co-founder of fashion brand Tory Burch and CEO and founder of Burch Creative Capital, also gave $5,000.

The PAC also received $35,000 from New Leadership for Florida, a state-registered political action committee chaired by Christian Ulvert, Gelber’s campaign manager. Between April and June, New Leadership received large contributions from high-profile real estate and business moguls who have purchased Miami Beach homes in recent years, according to Yes for a Safer Miami Beach’s finance reports.

Alex Sapir, president and CEO of The Sapir Organization; Tampa Bay Rays co-owner Barbara Frankel; Modell’s Sporting Goods President and CEO Mitch Moddell; and Douglas Elliman Chairman Howard Lorber each gave $5,000 to the PAC.

In 2018, a trust controlled by Sapir’s wife, Yanina Sapir, purchased a waterfront home on the Venetian Islands in Miami Beach for $17.8 million. In August of last year, Frankel and her husband paid $15 million for a waterfront mansion developed by Todd Michael Glaser and former Miami Heat star Rony Seiklay. Four months later, in December, Modell bought a two-bedroom unit at the Icon South Beach for $3.5 million. And in June, Lorber shelled out $12 million for a Sunset Islands waterfront home in Miami Beach.

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Jay Levine, the former CEO of Springleaf Financial Services, and his wife Tammy Levine gave New Leadership a combined $10,000 on April 24. The couple purchased a waterfront home on the Sunset Islands for $8.9 million in December.

Restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick also gave $10,000 three days later. About the same time, Zalaznick and his wife also bought a Sunset Islands mansion for $15 million from former New York Mets Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.

On June 16, Shutterstock founder and billionaire Jon Oringer donated $25,000 to New Leadership. In October of last year, Oringer and his wife paid $42 million for a waterfront mansion on North Bay Road in Miami Beach.

The 2 a.m. ballot question is even more contentious than any of the city races for elected office.

Over the past month, Ocean Drive workers and their supporters have mounted large protests against Gelber at a press conference and at city hall. The committee against the 2 a.m. last call has also outraised the Yes for A Safer Miami Beach group by a whopping amount: $675,000 to $96,500.

Mango’s and Montreal-based Jesta Group, which owns The Clevelander and the adjacent Essex House Hotel, each donated $325,000; and Two by Two, owner of Twist Nightclub at 1057 Washington Avenue, gave $25,000.

Four of Gelber’s opponents have also hit him with a fusillade of criticism following the leak of an audio recording in which the mayor courted a group of local developers to submit proposals for redeveloping the iconic neighborhood. The nearly 10-minute clip was part of a longer Zoom conference call on Sept. 13 that included Gelber, Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak, former Mayor Philip Levine and the developers.

Gelber is heard telling the group that he would be willing to place height and density building referendums on the ballot, even if the measures were not popular. During the call, Levine suggested the group form a political action committee that would raise contributions for city commissioners that support Gelber’s Ocean Drive agenda. Mayoral opponent Ronnie Eith filed an ethics complaint against Gelber alleging he may have violated a city law prohibiting elected officials from directly or indirectly soliciting developer donations.

None of the developers who were on the Zoom call, including the Nakash family which owns the Hotel Victor and the former Versace mansion on Ocean Drive, have donated to Yes for a Safer Miami Beach.