Parking Violation

(Originally published on MOLI 4/24/8)

The Cesar Pelli-designed Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is a tumbling marble reef overlooking Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Since it opened in 2006, the publicly and privately funded venue has struggled to attract audiences to a downtown known for its seediness and crime, and to meet its operating costs. In the last year — already in its short history — it has gone through massive changes, including a name switch (from the Carnival Center, when banker Adrienne Arsht outgifted the cruise line) and new director. Under Lawrence Wilker, the center seems to be making great strides forward.

Unfortunately, Tuesday night, I had the kind of terrifying, mystifying, criminal experience that keeps people away from this part of town.

The evening started magnificently. After a dinner at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drinks — the kind of meal that Frank Bruni recently raved about, when he picked Michael’s as the fourth best new restaurant in the country — Mom and I went to see the 25th anniversary edition of Forbidden Broadway at the center’s Studio Theater. It was the first time this hilarious and sometimes quite hard-hitting satire of musicals has played South Florida. Created and written by the witty Gerard Alessandrini, Forbidden Broadway is a show for people who hate to love and love to hate the theater. Gina Kreiezmar is a brilliant mimic — of Liza Minnelli, Sarah Brightman, Patti LuPone, Ethel Merman, etc. — and quite a good singer. I was all set to write a nice little review.

Then we walked out to the PAC parking lot to find out my car had been stolen.

I’ll try to make this long story short: After calling 911, it turns out my PT Cruiser had been towed at the request of the American Parking Company, the operators of PAC lot F. After a very stressful couple of hours, of dealing with police and PAC security and Galactic Towing and American Parking, my husband had to pick us up and take us to the tow lot in Liberty City — not a part of town you want to take your mom, who’s in from out of town late at night — and pay $101 to get my vehicle back.

Now, I know tow company scams are rife in big cities. But this one is particularly heinous. My car was not illegally parked. I was in a designated Arsht Center lot, as you can see on this map. Dozens of other patrons parked there that night. It’s one of the lots Wilker is referring to when he tells the press there is plenty of parking around the center. The lot is owned by the Florida Grand Opera, one of the center’s resident companies. The tow truck pulled up to take more cars when I was on the phone with the police, but at that point, the show was over, and the other patrons managed to get away without being robbed.

After I filed off an angry email to the Arsht Center’s publicist Wednesday, Larry Wilker called me to apologize for this incident. He said he was “angry and mortified and embarrassed.” FGO COO Mark B. Rosenblum also emailed me, saying he has “asked American Parking to stop the current towing policy. We will be reviewing all policies and procedures, and making adjustments as necessary.” They are also reimbursing my $101.

That’s great; I appreciate it. I doubt the center or the FGO is a direct part of this towing scam (although it does seem to me that towing a few cars is a way American Parking can make money on what would otherwise be a slow night, and FGO does presumably profit from its financial relationship with American Parking). But this is just the kind of thing that’s going to keep people away from downtown. Other patrons saw what happened to us. Word gets out — um, I am a journalist. Wilker told me there had been one other incident. That he knows of.

The other day, I blogged about the superiority of the cultural nightlife on the west side of the Dade County causeways. I stand by what I say. But I’m also once burned.

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