People & Local Issues:
Meet Ray Breslin "The Mayor of Collins Park". We talk with mayor Dan Gelber to discuss Ocean Drive. And we spoke to business owners of Washington Avenue to discuss it's future.
Ray Breslin "The Mayor of Collins Park"
Meet the man that's making Collins Park beautiful.
By: James Cubby
Miami Beach is a small town and it's often said that it's the same one hundred people that you see everywhere. It's also said that it's a much smaller group of people who get things done. Ray Breslin is not only one of the one hundred, but he's one of the leaders of that smaller group. Known as “the mayor of Collins Park,” Breslin, the President of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association, is one of the movers-and-shakers who gets things done and has the Mayor of Miami Beach on speed-dial.
Walking with Ray Breslin through Collins Park, he proudly points out each building and shares the history. He also notes the changes and improvements that have been made, many because of his guidance. Breslin first came to Miami Beach on vacation in 1994. Later he bought an apartment and moved here in 1998 with his long-time partner, Patrick Pecoraro, with no plan. He fell in love with his neighborhood, Collins Park, and made it his mission to make it a better place to live. First, he was concerned with the state of streets and sidewalks. So, he decided to take action and see if he could get them fixed. Breslin enrolled in Miami Beach's first
Neighborhood Leadership Academy. Upon graduation he immediately became involved working to improve his neighborhood. A community activist was born.
"I’m always working to make our community a better
place to live."
Organizing the Collins Park Association was one of his first wins. “It's the first neighborhood association that has gained notoriety,” says Breslin. Neighborhoods like
Collins Park have been changing along with the rest of Miami Beach. “When I first moved here much of Collins Park was boarded up.” Today Collins Park is known
as one of the cultural centers of Miami Beach with institutions like the Bass Museum, the Miami Beach Library, Miami City Ballet, and Collins Park – the site of
many outdoor festivals and concerts. Collins Park, the park located in front of the Bass Museum, has become the site
of frequent events produced with the aid of the Collins Park Association. Collins Park organizes 5 Artscape Concerts per year.
"There's always something to do
in here. Miami Beach is great because of the diversification."
Breslin feels that it's important for people to be active in their communities. Of course, not everyone has the time every organization is looking or volunteers. Clean Miami Beach for
example. Millennials are too busy.” Breslin knows that community activism has power . “It can fell a project – for example the 23 Street Bridge project.” While the city of Miami Beach is small, there are many thriving neighborhoods, some more than others. Breslin has a great sense
of neighborhood and is always promoting the businesses located in the Collins Park district which covers 17 to 25 Streets, Ocean to the Convention Center. “Neighborhoods are different here. In New York City you can get everything you want within 6 blocks. That's my goal, to make a community where you can get everything you want in 6 blocks.” Breslin is a visionary, he's
always thinking of “what could be.” “I'm always working to make our community a better place to live. Make it the best. Everything I do is for me, but others benefit.” As a resident of Miami Beach, Breslin is proud of the city and often gives tours to visitors. With so many attractions, I asked
Breslin what he considers the main attractions of Miami Beach. “Weather” was at the top of his list, followed by “the beach, arts and culture, and shopping.” Breslin enjoys showing of his
neighborhood attractions and there are many. His tours usually include: Collins Park, the Abbey Hotel, the Richmond Hotel, One Hotel, Bass Museum, Botanical Gardens, Holocaust Museum
and the Miami Beach Convention Center. After the Collins Park tour, out of town visitors are often taken to Mangos, the Betsy, A Fish Called Avalon, the Wolfsonian Museum, and the Jewish
Museum. “There's always something to do in here. Miami Beach is great because of the diversification”
"We need to be known as the
city that's easy to do business with"
In the last couple of years Collins Park has seen much renovation and many of the historic hotels have been restored. The Plymouth and the Greystone, two recently
reopened hotels, top Breslin's list of favorite buildings. He speaks of the buildings as if he's talking about his children – sharing their history and proud of what they've
become. One of his pet projects is the Rotunda built in 1962 located on the east side of Collins Park, formerly part of the old library. Now sitting vacant, Breslin hopes that the space will be transformed into either an events space, gallery or a café.
Breslin continues his work and doesn't settle. “ plans to make it (the neighborhood) more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. I want to see green bike lanes.” Miami Beach continues to grow and Breslin believes change is good.
“Because of the GEO Bond Project the streets have been beautified. One of the biggest changes has been the gentrification of the city.” Miami Beach is still has a long way to go and with community leaders like Ray Breslin, change is happening. “We need to be known as the city that's easy to do business with.”
What's next for Washington Ave.?
The one time hotspot in South Beach has seen better days.
To say that Washington Avenue has seen better days would be a huge understatement. Gone are the days
of celebrity driven parties at Mansion and Cameo, and the early 90’s party days on 6th street at Bash
and the Living room. These days Washington avenue is the forgotten section of South Beach that
has declined to homelessness, cheesy tourist stores and tons of vacant stores waiting to be revived again.
But wait, this isn’t an article to put down a section of South Beach that had so much life in the past, this
is a piece that will inform the city of how we can make it better and what business owners on Washington
avenue have to say about their business on Washington Avenue.
Before we get into interviewing business owners, let me express my opinion on how to
REVIVE WASHINGTON AVE.
A. There needs to be “one of a kind destination events and community events” that engages the residents into visiting Washington Avenue. There needs to be a bigger budget to invest in weekly gatherings and events that will attract weekly visitors. This includes advertising Washington Ave not only locally but to the surrounding cities.
B. Bring large, fun weekly events. I remember a few years ago there was a “bike night” on Washington
avenue, tons of motorcycle would show up, they would eat at the restaurants, purchase drinks at the bars
and make it a big night. How about producing a Washington Avenue food festival for all ages, it’s fun and
it allows the restaurants to be promoted.
But what do I know, I just grew up here, now let’s hear from some Washington Ave business owners.
A. How has Washington Ave changed in the past 10 years.
in 2005, When we first opened Bella Cuba Restaurant for business just North of Lincoln Rd. on Washington Ave, anything north of Lincoln Rd. was almost assured to fail. Over the years, our block on Washington Ave. has really flourished, with the construction of the New World Center and the beautiful SoundScape Park, the renovation of the world class Miami Beach Convention Center and more recently the demolition of the old Citibank building making way for a new Hotel, our block has really come a long way.
B. In your opinion, how can the city help Washington Ave. businessses?
Most of Washington Ave. today is known for the number of irrelevant stores such as the tattoo stores, smoke shops, empty storefronts, and homeless people vacating the street. The street feels dirty and unsafe to walk on during the day and especially at night. Widening sidewalks, Upgrading storefront facades, introducing a mix of different businesses owned by local artists or local start ups at realistic rent prices and better security / policing of the street would really help.
C. How is the outdoor seating helping your restaurants
Outdoor seating has been our saving grace during these challenging times. We were able to remain open thanks to our sidewalk cafe. Outdoor seating on Washington Ave. should remain in place and developed further as it brings new life and a safer atmosphere to the street.
D. What changes or additions would you like to see on Washington Ave that would help your business?
make more pedestrian-friendly by resurfacing cracked sidewalks, widening of the sidewalk on parts of
Washington Ave. , eliminating homeless issues, better security / policing, replacing storefront facades to have modern glass fronts, and get rid of the ugly and faded canapes hanging outside lots of buildings, the introduction of more Tourist Accomidation (hotels, rental apartments) on the street. reduce traffic, introduce more locally-owned Arts, Local Specialized Crafts businesses or businesses that need a small storefront but have an online store, or small startup brands that need a storefront in an area with a high flow of international visitors.
E. With the bad reputation that South Beach has gotten in the past years, Should the city bring in more
events targeting an older crowd?
Yes definitely. without question, in 2005 this was the case, there older crowds, who brought their families, locals came to South Beach to walk around because it felt safe and pleasant to spend a day or evening doing activities around South Beach. You would regularly spot celebrities frequenting a business or walking by you. It was a very different type of visitor than the type of visitor we see today. We need better programming to attract back those families and affluent visitors to SoBe again. We need to refocus how, to who, and where we market Miami Beach in other States around the country. What we have been doing in recent years is not the way forward for Miami
F. Do you think banning liquor sales after midnight will help Washington Ave?
There should be liquor sales allowed in the Entertainment Districts restaurants, bars, and nightclubs past midnight.
In the future Washington Ave. will have several hotels with an increased number of visitors staying on Washington
Ave. perhaps it would be a good idea to only allow liquor sales to Resorts & Hotel bars after midnight outside the
G. Any new ideas that you have that will "better" Washington Ave?
Find a special category or industry that can be developed and rolled out on Washington Ave. and promoted to
make Washington Ave. a destination for visitors in Miami.
H. Anything you would like to add to this article that you would like people to know about Washington Ave or
Over the 15 years, we've been on Washington Ave. the street has had its ups and downs, It sure has a remarkable
story. The Northern end of Washington Avenue has been nicely renovated with the addition of the New World
Center and the Convention Center with numerous renovated our under-construction Hotels. More recently on
the other end of the street closer to 5th street, the opening of the Anglers Hotel and several other new hotels
under construction on nearby blocks will again transform Washington Avenues' future. Bella Cuba is one of the
last remaining Mom and Pop operated Cuban restaurants in Miami Beach. We look forward to continuing to
grow with our street and our community.
"It was a very different kind of visitor than the ones we have here today."
"It was a very different kind of visitor than the ones we have here today."
A. How has Washington Ave changed in the
past 10 years. It's changed for the better.
The Washington Ave BID has helped improve the
streets & they also help the local businesses
focusing on their needs to help in the continuous
beautification process of Washington Ave.
B. In your opinion, how can the city help
Washington Ave. businessses?
Lower the rates of parking not just for locals &
tourists but for Miami Beach employees.
C. How is the outdoor seating helping your
restaurants? Currently it's the only seating I have.
So it's not only helping it's saving us. At this point
I still am keeping my dining area closed. I just am
not comfortable with bringing anyone inside but
my employees. Their health & lives matter most
to me. It's my responsibility to protect them.
D. What changes or additions would you like to
see on Washington Ave that would help your
business. I would like to see more lighting, I think
stationed street maps would help listing all
businesses for free, more marketing & promoting
for small businesses.
E. With the bad reputation that South Beach has gotten in the past years, Should the city bring in more events targeting an older crowd? I don't think South Beach has a bad reputation. I think any urban and or entertainment district area after midnight people can get loose & everyone should just be careful. As far as bringing more events I think yes absolutely. The beautiful thing about South Beach is that there is something to do for everyone of all ages.
F. Do you think banning liquor sales after midnight will help Washington Ave? No
G. Any new ideas that you have that will "better" Washington Ave? I think we should use more local artists for any empty spaces, parking garages, sides of buildings, older buildings and any small businesses that need help with a fresh look. We have so much good local talent that needs to be put out there. I'm a firm believer in working together as a community. TEAM Together Everyone Achieves More
H. Anything you would like to add to this article that you would like people to know about Washington Ave or your business? Come visit South Beach & get the best local Cheeseburger, Baby!
"Lower the rates of parking for the locals and tourist"
A. How has Washington Ave changed in the past 10 years.?
What was once a haven for the nation's best entertainment and hottest clubs, Washington Avenue fell victim to a decision made to concentrate on Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road over a pendulum of time. I completely understand the thinking at the time. However, what was not known, is that Washington Avenue would be left dangling. Because of this, many businesses and property owners felt abandoned.
A year and a half ago, Washington Avenue property owners
organized to form a Business Improvement District (BID) to
preserve, stabilize, market, and improve Washington Avenue. Since that time, and prior to COVID-19, there was a 15% increase in pedestrian traffic and a 20% decrease in vacancies. The BID lit the median between 5th & 17th Street to add lighting and a feeling of safety and hosted a Live Music and Arts Series the 3rd Thursday of each month that featured a diversity of Jazz, Rock, Latin, R&B, Comedy,
and Spoken Word at 12 different locations. In collaboration with the Music Series, the BID hosted a Wine and Beer Taste each month that offered locals and tourists alike flavors from around the world. The BID hosted “Hallowave” a family fun-filled Halloween event where children had the opportunity to trick or treat and meet 24 of their favorite princesses and superheroes like Moana, Superman,
Black Panther along the one-mile stretch of Washington Avenue. We also added a Dog Costume Contest for our four-legged friends! Although the Avenue has gone through many changes over the last decade, we are optimistic about the future.
B. In your opinion, how can the city help
washington ave businessess?
The City has been a great partner to the BID.
They understand we have a vision, goal, and
passion to enhance the Avenue which also
enhances Miami Beach. Our wish is to find a
way for new businesses to open faster, figure
out a way for employees to park at a reduced
rate, and how collectively we handle the
growing issue of transients. This is not just a
Miami Beach challenge, but one America needs
to figure out.
C. How is the outdoor seating helping the restaurants?
The BID has received an overwhelming response to the Sidewalk Seating Campaign. The campaign created a
way for restaurants to provide seating outdoors. Remember, for a long time it was delivery only and most businesses on “The WAVE” (Washington Avenue) were not structured to survive like that. You now see the beginning of beautiful sidewalk cafes being built that also changes the vibe of the avenue. We realize there are those who do not like it because it changed the structure of the street. However, our obligation is to protect business owners who spent their life savings to live the dream in Miami Beach.
"Our obligation is to protect the business owners who spent their life savings to live the dream in Miami Beach"
D. What new campaigns are you working on to revive Washington Ave. ? The BID is excited about our direction. Fortunately, we had a solid plan prior to the pandemic and therefore look at the current situation as a hip up to manage positively versus something that will cripple our efforts. We believe that Miami Beach is a place where people come to change their life. Here they can decide if they want to start a new career, have a baby, get married, get divorced, exhale, and discover who they are and what they want their future to look like. Our plan is to create a portal for tourists as well as locals to discover that plan. The best way to do that is to create a portal for them to be in an environment where they feel comfortable, alive, and dream. So all of our campaigns are designed to do just that.
E. Any new projects we should know about? The WAVE opened a beautiful and seductive Anglers Hotel just before the pandemic. We also plan to open an incredibly designed and stylish 202 key eight-story Moxy Hotel on 9th and a $32 million “No Name Yet” Fashionista Hotel on 6th. The hotels are equipped with indoor/outdoor terrace, restaurants, rooftop, a sizzling scene with a large pool, and a movie screening area offering epic views. I wish I could mention details and the level of entertainers planned, but I am sworn to secrecy. However, you will love the new look.
The WAVE will also introduce Urbin Hotel. It will be the first co-living/working hotel on Miami Beach. The hotel
will be located on 12th & Washington and feature micro-retail units, restaurants, a wellness center, a pool, and
enhanced pedestrian experiences with an open plaza. This project was recently approved.
Another project recently approved is the transformation of the Paris Theatre by the new Owner, Massa
Investment Group, for $13 Million. Mr. Hospitality Group will accommodate fine dining, entertainment, and an
upscale clientele. Washington Avenue and Miami Beach are positioned to attract exclusive and valuable international events and conventions in the world. Transformation is happening before our eyes.
International Producer/Director living in Miami Beach.
Richard Jay-Alexander:Diva Whisperer
Richard Jay-Alexander has worked on stages from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House but has also brought his talents as a director to Miami Beach. In 1998, he presented a series with Ellen Wedner at the Colony Theater called “Manhattan Nights in Miami” featuring performances by David Campbell, John Bucchino, Mary Cleere Haran, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Steven Brinberg (as Simply Barbra) and Barbara Cook. Most recently he directed The South Florida Symphony
Orchestra production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess presented in three performances at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Knight Concert Hall in Miami. Richard's credits could fill the pages of the publication, but Miami Beach Life Magazine visited him in his waterfront home in Surfside to chat about his life, his work, and Miami Beach.
Richard Jay-Alexander, known for directing and staging concerts productions around the world for stars such as Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lea Salonga, Ricky Martin, Betty Buckley, and Donny & Marie Osmond, calls Miami Beach his home.
A resident of Miami Beach since the '90s, Richard
Jay-Alexander has an impressive career working
as a Broadway producer and director, dancer,
singer, actor, and most notably staging and
directing concerts. Recently dubbed “Diva
Whisperer”, he's the favorite and first to call
when stars like Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler,
Julie Andrews and Kristin Chenoweth need
a concert director. Among his impressive
credits, Jay-Alexander ran Cameron
Mackintosh's North American operations
for twelve years, the same Mackintosh
know for productions including Les
Misérables, Cats, The Phantom of the
Opera, Miss Saigon, Five Guys Named
Moe, Oliver! and Putting It Together.
In 2008, Richard directed the concert
production of Les Miz at the Hollywood Bowl.
"Miami Beach welcomed me with open arms."
Born in a suburb of Syracuse, New York of Cuban parents, Richard's love of theater began in elementary school. He first traveled to Miami Beach with his family when he was 10. He remembers sneaking into the ballroom of the historic Deauville Hotel where they stayed and watching acts like The Fifth Dimension and The Four Tops. In 1975, he moved to New York City to pursue acting and oddly enough began his Broadway career in 1977 as a production assistant on
the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess. His performing debut on Broadway was in the original cast of Zoot Suit in 1978.
The following years he racked up credits as a performer, stage manager, director, and producer.
As a record producer, he has worked with Bernadette Peters, Johnny Mathis, and Mary Cleere Haran. As a director/producer, Richard Jay-Alexander has earned star billing along with the many incredible performers that he's directed.
"All my dreams have come true. I will be a student until the day I die. I'm always learning."
In the '90s, Richard returned to Miami Beach
regularly where he had bought a home in Surfside. Often seen among the A-list crowd that traveled from nightclub to nightclub during the heyday of South Beach, he reminisces about the vibrant nightlife scene that has since disappeared. “Party, party, party,” is how he remembers that time hanging out with the likes of beach locals such as Debbie Ohanian
(designer and owner of the '90s store Meet Me in Miami) and artist Carlos Bentancourt. “I met so many fantastic people here.”
“Miami Beach welcomed me with open arms,”
says Richard. “and I feel very fortunate to have
found my logical family here.” Among his many
friends, Richard speaks highly of his dear friend
legendary press agent and publicist Charlie
Cinnamon who passed away three years ago.
He, along with photographer Manny Hernandez
and Lee Brian Schrager, organized a special tribute
exhibition to his life last year at The Jewish
Museum of Florida-FIU. “He was my best friend.”
Cinnamon had an incredible career and the thought
makes Richard think of his own. “I'm just starting to
think about my career. Time is short. How many
summers do I have left?”
"I met so many fantastic
While Richard always returned to Miami Beach, his career was always outside Miami. When in town, for the most part he remains in his neighborhood. “I love this house. I love this neighborhood.” Visiting Richard Jay-Alexander's home is like entering a shrine to Broadway with every wall space and corner filled with photos, posters, awards, and mementos. “A lot of the stars that I've worked with have visited here. There are lots of
memories here.” With such an impressive career and no ending in sight, Richard loves his life. “All my dreams have come true. I will be a student until the day I die. I'm always learning. That's why I like working with Barbra, she still wants to be the best.”Undoubtedly Richard Jay-Alexander will continue his work as
“Diva Whisperer” and recently directed Deborah Cox, star of The Bodyguard, for concerts at the Arsht Center and opening this year's season at Trust Arts in Pittsburg. Missing the old days of New York City, Richard has found a home in Miami Beach. “I lived through the AIDS crisis. Now I'm here and I'm lucky to be alive.” And we're lucky to call Richard Jay-Alexander a Miami Beach local.
People that make North Beach.
James Quinlan and Gerry Cea are North Beach.
(Click to view story)
(Click to view story)
Meet the Artists.
Art Deco Artisan market bringing art to SoBe.
Meet Daniel Ciraldo.
Meet the guy who's preserving our past & future.
Rolling Loud is back!
Meet the guys that make it happen.
A look at Miami Beach in the 50's
Myron Lubell, shares the 50's thru his eyes.
Meet Noa Lindberg
Local actor talks about the "Hollywood" life.
Sammy, bringing music to the beach
Meet the music man of Miami Beach.
What's next for Byron Carlyle?
What does the city have planned for this iconic building?
Beach High: More than just a school.
Beach High has had better days, lets see what we can do to help the only public high school on Miami Beach.