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Written by Terence Cantarella   
April 2009

Angry neighbors take aim at Vagabond Motel owner Eric Silverman

From a swanky, family-style motel in the 1950s and 1960s to a red-light, pay-per-hour operation in more recent decades, the historic Vagabond Motel at 7301 Biscayne Blvd. went from being a jet-age emblem of newfound middle-class affluence and mobility to a modern-day symbol of urban decay, blight, and social deprivation. So when current owner, former Hugo Boss president Eric Silverman, began converting the architectural gem into a retail venue and farmers market last year, many locals hailed the concept as an ingenious form of adaptive reuse and a welcome contribution to the rejuvenation of Biscayne Boulevard.

Now, though, a handful of nearby residents and business owners allege that crime and prostitution have found their way back to the Vagabond’s environs. A lack of renovation and inadequate lighting at the motel, they say, is the cause -- a charge that Silverman denies.

The following letter -- written by Belle Meade resident William Castillo, endorsed with 29 signatures, and excerpted here -- was sent to the Miami City Commission on March 15. It lays out, in unambiguous language, the full range of their complaints:

“We, the undersigned, continue to be alarmed at the state of dilapidation and disrepair of the Vagabond Motel at 7301 Biscayne Blvd. It has all of the hallmarks of a slum, and the slum owner, Mr. Eric Silverman, has been unresponsive to us, the City of Miami, and locals as to the blight it has become. Considering it is touted as the ‘icon’ of MiMo architecture and the City of Miami Upper Eastside District, we fail to understand why the city is allowing the owner to not comply with local ordinances and laws regulating building structures that homeowners and business owners must obey.

“The east side of the property in question lies along NE 6th Court from NE 73rd to 74th streets. It is the only block that is completely dark at night on NE 6th Court due to Mr. Silverman’s unwillingness to install light bulbs in the light fixtures already affixed to his property. He has also failed to install outdoor lighting on the east side of his property like so many of us have done on our homes and businesses to protect our neighborhood from crime. Mr. Silverman has complained to local police that he doesn’t install outdoor lighting because the ‘thugs’ shoot them out with guns. We haven’t had that experience at all. And if Mr. Silverman finds it convenient to blame thugs for criminal activity on his property, then he is proving our point all too well on the type of activity that takes place on his very own property….

“As a result of Mr. Silverman’s abandonment of duties as a property owner, the prostitutes, their male clients, and drug traffickers accumulate behind the Vagabond Motel in the stealth of night…. Prostitutes have been caught by homeowners servicing their clients in cars at night parked behind the Vagabond Motel.

“The homeless, prowlers, and addicts cracked out on drugs meander NE 6th Court at night away from the bright lights of Biscayne Boulevard (one block west from NE 6th Court). They lurk or sleep on NE 6th Court, posing a threat to the neighborhood. The east side of the Vagabond Motel is their safe haven due to the darkness and the slum appearance that invites them.

“The knocked out holes on the walls of the motel (about three dozen), hanging plywood, many broken windows, lack of landscaping, mangled fencing, and complete disrepair of the Vagabond Motel on the NE 6th Court side are a sad reminder of what Biscayne Boulevard used to be.... Instead of the Vagabond Motel being a beacon of architectural greatness, it is a window to a very ugly and shameful history of Miami. The Vagabond Motel today is not in any way, shape, or form a proud historical landmark. It is a slum, a trashy property, and a sanctuary for criminals.... However, Mr. Silverman sleeps comfortably at night far away in his ranch in Davie, Florida.

“…Mr. Silverman has taken to going to local media outlets (e.g. Biscayne Times, New Times) to libel us by name, portraying himself as a poor victim to our very legitimate concerns as Miamians. This is an outrage! He will stop at nothing in retaliation and, as a result of this precedent, we genuinely believe he might retaliate further with harm to our properties and to us personally for bringing light to this issue. We will not be silenced.

“We expect and demand from our elected city officials to hold Mr. Silverman to the same standard that we are held as homeowners and business owners. We care neither how this is done nor about Mr. Silverman’s personal financial situation. No one cares about ours but we are still expected to perform. So should he. All we want is a safe neighborhood, and that won’t happen until the Vagabond Motel is brought to codes…. You must stop empowering Mr. Silverman from ignoring these requirements. You are making special exceptions for him that endanger our neighborhoods, which is completely unacceptable. We expect corrective action from you on this very important issue before any more crime takes a toll on our families.”

Silverman counters the letter’s content with a mix of exasperation and puzzlement. On lighting: “I’m not aware of anybody shooting lights out. We put lights in and had them stolen three times. I’m going to try and put them in again.” On crime: “I’m not aware of any crime going on behind the motel. I have a security guard that lives on the premises and he hasn’t seen or heard anything. I walk the property every day and never find any drug paraphernalia or condoms on the streets around my property.” On code violations: “They should be resolved soon. I spent three days at city hall last week and am working with the city. I’m putting in my best effort to resolve any open points.”

District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff says he has been keeping an eye on the Vagabond: “As far as I know, the city is looking into the status of [Silverman’s] permits…but people often don’t come into compliance until they can afford to, or the liens become so much that the city forecloses on their property. And like it or not, Eric’s in a financial crunch with the debt he has on the property and the poor economy. The best thing we can do is try to get him to comply as quickly as possible.”

The BT was unable to speak with the letter’s author, William Castillo, by deadline, but one of the petition’s signers, a Boulevard business owner who initially supported Silverman’s farmers market concept, and who wished to remain nameless in this report, had this to say: “I think it looks horrible. It looks like it belongs in Davie, not on Biscayne. The market should be inside and there shouldn’t be a bunch of different signs and banners all over the place. It doesn’t do the historic building justice at all.”

“We’re trying, in a very difficult economic environment, to do something positive,” asserts Silverman, “and the majority of locals have expressed great support. I don’t even know how to answer the complaint letter. I read it and will do the best I can, but I’m here for very long hours every day and I honestly just don’t see the stuff that these people are seeing.”

 

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