|By Brittany Wallman, South Florida
Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Aug. 7, 2006 - FORT LAUDERDALE -- It has been almost a year since self-made billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, owner of El-Ad Group, cast his sights on Fort Lauderdale beach and sank some of his fortune there, igniting a buzz about a new condo-hotel development.
But the boards covering the former Club Atlantis and Margarita Cafe remain. Blondie's Sports Bar is plated in metal shutters, closed. The Elbo Room hasn't had much more than a paint job in years.
For the foreseeable future, residents and visitors following Las Olas Boulevard to its terminus at the ocean will see blight.
Redevelopment plans are officially on hold for the 5-acre block that serves as a welcome mat to the beach, where coconut palms and sand and sea converge with beers in plastic cups, where a mere 2.2 acres sold for $56.3 million last October, because of what could be.
"Right now we have to readjust, re-assess the entire project," said Shaoul Mishal, president of El-Ad Group Florida. "It's a totally, totally 180 degrees environment today than we were nine months ago."
Whether the city would allow El-Ad to erect a condo-hotel complex on most of the block that spans an area from northbound State Road A1A back to Seabreeze Boulevard, and from Las Olas Boulevard north to Poinsettia Street, is unknown. But in recent years, six condo-hotels and one condo tower have been approved for the beachfront, and another condo-hotel is working toward approval.
Tshuva, 57, is on Forbes' list of the 400 richest people in the world. He's the fifth richest person in Israel, with a net worth of $2 billion.
His New York company bought the Plaza hotel in New York City two years ago for $675 million.
El-Ad swept in last year as real estate boomed, but it ran smack into the unforeseen: another landowner with his own dreams, and a 1938 dive bar called the Elbo Room.
Lior Avidor, who with his business partner owns two large properties on the block, feels betrayed. And a little bit foolish.
A year ago he was wooing El-Ad Group to the beach. Now, he's at "war" with them.
After moving here from Israel as a young man, Avidor, 38, worked his way up on the block from T-shirt salesman to business owner to significant landowner, with his friend A.J. Yaari, whom he has known since he was 15.
Developers coveted the block.
"Everybody wanted the diamond," Avidor said from his Cafe del Mar restaurant, a few doors north of the Elbo Room.
Avidor turned to Mishal and Tshuva. He knew Mishal; the two have little girls in temple together. Tshuva flew in from New York to see.
"I pick him up, bring him to breakfast, take him and give him all the information, for free, for free," Avidor laments.
Avidor wanted to own and operate the ground-floor businesses in the eventual development, and promised to use his relationships on the block to help El-Ad buy it up.
Mishal declined to comment on his dealings with Avidor. But Avidor said he shared all his research with El-Ad, and persuaded property owner Ed Toomey to sell them his long-held land. Toomey, who had resisted real estate paramours for decades, owned nearly half the block. Deep into the talks, Avidor said, El-Ad asked him to buy the Elbo Room on his own.
No deal, Avidor said. The Elbo Room had three layers of ownership: an underlying landowner and a leaseholder, who issued a sub-lease to the Elbo Room.
El-Ad left Avidor behind.
'"You're having a war with me,'"Avidor said he told Mishal. '"Without me, you don't have anything here on the block. You'll stay where you are.'"
Avidor and Yaari bought more of the block -- a piece smack in between two pieces of land owned by El-Ad.
Avidor won't budge, he said, until the deal is right. "Because my heart is here," he said, "and my life is here."
"Elbo Room is here to stay!" reads an alert on the bar's Web site. "We are not closing!"
Rumors have been flying, leaseholder Michael Penrod said, ever since El-Ad sniffed around.
Penrod said he, his siblings and his father aren't interested in selling their lease. They would perk up only if El-Ad paid them to close during construction, and then gave them a new home in the luxury building, in the same corner.
The old pink and green, two-story concrete bar is a cultural landmark, the only bar to have survived more than six decades of change at the beach.
"The Elbo Room is sort of an icon, and we want to keep it there," Penrod said from one of the family's Nikki Beach bars, in San Tropez. " ... It's not really about the money; we think it's something special."
"I'm a businessman," Mishal said. " ... I can tell you one thing: In business, everything is possible. ... There is always a price."
What looked like a sure thing last October looks hazy now, Mishal said.
"Honestly, it could happen, and it could not happen," Mishal said of El-Ad's plans for a "six-star" mixed-use complex with condominiums, hotel rooms, shops and restaurants. "The market is completely different. Nobody knows."
The properties bought by El-Ad are boarded and closed. And El-Ad can afford to sit.
"Fortunately, we are very strong financially and very big," said Mishal. "We have huge backing behind us financially."
Al Miniaci, who owns a corner of the block, said he thinks one large project would do the block justice. He's willing to wait for El-Ad's offer, for now. "Eventually, something will happen, and we want something to happen," he said.
In the meantime, City Manager George Gretsas said he "asked [El-Ad] to be good neighbors" and to reopen the boarded businesses.
"But they have not complied," Gretsas said.
"I'm the one who's paying $150,000 a month interest," Mishal counters. "Not the city manager."
Then he relented, saying he was "open" now to leasing the storefronts short-term.
"I will try to satisfy, even though I don't have to, but I will try to make it as good for the city as it is for me," said Mishal. "I will try."
Brittany Wallman can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4541.
Copyright (c) 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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