A year-long investigation by the Not Now Silly Newsroom has uncovered a situation in which valet parking companies continue to rip off City of Miami taxpayers for an untold numbers of dollars.
Last year, when Miami-Dade Cultural Czar Michael Spring untangled the Gordian knot of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, several pieces of that complex puzzle were the various parking lots surrounding the Playhouse. Paradise Parking was kicked off the main parking lot [G on map to the left] -- after having squatted on it for several years -- in exchange for an arrangement where it rents 45 parking spaces from the MPA, at $6 a day per, immediately behind the Playhouse in lots [E] and [F].
It never occurred to me when I went into journalism that I'd be sitting in parking lots noting the movements of cars and valets, but that's part of what I've been doing for the last year. That surveillance led to several articles. After my last series of parking lot stories, a gate at the west end of the Coconut Grove Playhouse parking lot was ordered locked. It turned out the valets on Commodore Plaza had demanded it be left open on busy Friday and Saturday nights in order to make their job easier.
However -- and this is crucial -- the valet companies don't run the parking lots, nor the city for that matter. They just think they do. That's why they run roughshod over West Grove, caring little about the agreements they've already made. They are playing the city for chumps and stealing money from taxpayers.
[For more on these Coconut Grove parking problems, and so I don't have to repeat myself, please read: The Coconut Grove Playhouse Trojan Horse; Part I • Part II • A Playhouse Trojan Horse Update.]Which brings us to the evening of Saturday, May 2nd. There was a big event at the Cruz Building on Commodore Plaza [N], one street over from the Playhouse parking lot. (The Cruz Building, rumoured to have been built with cocaine money in Miami's Go-Go 80s, is rented out for weddings or bar mitzvahs and the like.) Saturday's event must have been bigger-than-average because the single block of Commodore Plaza was bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic in both directions, with an officer directing traffic directly in front of the Cruz building. Many parking valets were taking cars from the swells and zipping off somewhere, as the security officer held up traffic for them.
That got my journalistic senses tingling. Where were the cars going?
The last time I heard of a big affair at the Cruz building, the valets were illegally parking cars on the 2 residential lots [D] on Charles Avenue, immediately across the street from the E.W.F. Stirrup House [C]. The neighbours called the Not Now Silly Newsroom, which led to this reporter asking 11 questions of [allegedly] corrupt Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. He refused to answer any of them and punted them to the Miami Parking Authority. After waiting 2 months, I finally got answers to those questions that fell within the MPA's bailiwick; not all did, so there are several questions outstanding.
On May 2nd, after some surveillance at 6:30 PM, I discovered the valets were taking cars from the Cruz Building and parking them in the MPA lot, which is not a part of the 45 spaces rented from the MPA. Eventually, by 9PM, the MPA lot was filled with cars, many of which were parked by valets. Private citizens would pull into the parking lot, drive around the small circle and, finding no parking spaces, would leave. Every car that left without finding a parking space was money taken out of the Miami taxpayer's pocket by the valet parking companies.
This is more egregious than it sounds for 2 reasons:
- The citizens were behaving better than the valets, who stuck their Cruz Building cars anywhere they'd fit, whether there were lines on the ground, or not;
- At 9PM, parking lot [F], which is rented from the MPA was 100% empty, while parking lot [E], also rented, had only 8 cars in it.
[As a side issue: The Regions Bank parking lot, [B] had 18 cars in it, more than I've ever counted before. I have communicated with Regions Bank only to learn it has sanctioned this valet parking arrangement. The bank cited -- GET THIS!!! -- how it's a convenient arrangements for their own customers because it allows them to drive right up to the night deposit. However, Regions better hope their customers are driving skateboards, because that's all that will really fit.]
In short: The valets fill up every surrounding parking lot first, before they start filling up their own. They're playing the city and Regions Bank for chumps and stealing money from the taxpayer.
When I told this story to Art Noriega, head of the Miami Parking Authority, he hit the roof on Monday morning. Can't wait for my follow-up interview with him.
Let's tie all this up with a pretty little bow for people who need to have their noses rubbed in the corruption before they actually see it.
- The valet companies are connected to Gino Falsetto through Andrew Falsetto at Paradise Parking;
- Gino Falsetto owns Aries Management & Development LLC;
- Aries has a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the 2nd oldest house in Coconut Grove, designated historic, but currently undergoing nearly a decade of Demolition by Neglect;
- Aries owns the Bicycle Shop (through another company), which was the subject of Is Aries Development Coconut Grove's Biggest Scofflaw? and Follow Up to " Is Aries Development Coconut Grove's Biggest Scofflaw?", earlier this week;
- Aries, through other companies, owns the 2 vacant residential lots across the street from the Stirrup House, which had a cute little West Grove shotgun-and conch-style house on each before they were razed;
- Aries torpedoed several plans over the years to reopen the Coconut Grove Playhouse, allowing further Demolition by Neglect of that venerated structure that the community is still trying to save;
- Finally, Aries built the Grove Gardens Resident Condominiums, aka The Monstrosity, which set a new precedent for higher density structures in West Grove;
Is it not obvious to the Powers That Be that a single entity is responsible for most of the deterioration of the area immediately surrounding the Main Highway and Charles Avenue, which has been designated a Historic Roadway?
How does Gino Falsetto get away with all of this right under everybody's collective noses? More to the point: Am I the only one watching?