Articles and Press


Miami Herald, The (FL) March 20, 1994 Section: LOCAL Edition: FINAL Page: 1B ANOTHER WORLD GEOFFREY TOMB Herald Staff Writer EXCLUSIVE, RITZY FISHER ISLAND TO HOST PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY Less than two blocks south of the St. Tropez-like swirl of South Beach lies a very grand duchy, an island on the aquamarine ocean where peacocks run wild, where one of the world's largest yachts is docked, where each of the 430 residences has a golf cart. Reachable only by boat, air, phone or fax, this principality of plutocrats, with its own 50--member uniformed security force, is Fisher Island, a land close at hand yet far, far away from it all. It is to this 216-acre private island that President Clinton comes today to seek 18 hours of sunny solitude away from the prod of Whitewater, health care and hectoring reporters. After Air Force One touches down at Miami International Airport at approximately 3 p.m., the president and first lady will travel by presidential helicopter to the island, where no public events are scheduled and all media have been banished. And for a few hours, the Clintons can be just Bill and Hillary -- among an international elite well versed in power and privacy. "One of the main reasons why so many CEOs, sports figures and movie people say they come here is because they are not asked for their autograph," said Frank Weed, managing director of the property, Island Developers Ltd. "They can be among their own socioeconomic class." Among that set: residents tennis pro Jim Courier, actors Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. Sports mogul Wayne Huizenga is a club member who routinely helicopters in, and the island hotel has hosted the likes of Demi Moore and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Weed said the Clinton visit is being made with the stipulation that "our residents and members would not be inconvenienced or their vacations and lifestyles interfered with." For South Florida and Miami, the presidential R & R recalls earlier times when the area was a residence for presidents, from Truman to Kennedy to Nixon to Bush. To Clinton, it means a chance to play golf Monday on a championship nine-hole course with sculpted Scottish-style bunkers, to jog on one of three palm-lined layouts and to sleep in a seven-bedroom, $6.3 million home overlooking South Beach. The Clintons will re-emerge Monday afternoon for a back-to- business speech on health care to senior citizens at Century Village in Deerfield Beach. This event will be followed by an evening address to the 1994 Florida Presidential Dinner at the Sheraton Bal Harbour Hotel. The Clinton's choice of overnight accommodations will only help promote sales of homes on Fisher Island, which have been selling quite well. Already this winter, since December, 43 units have been sold for more than $80 million, Weed said. A half-dozen costing $3 million or more were purchased. The most expensive unit is the one where the Clintons will stay, an 8,500-square foot condominium in a nine-story building called Villa del Mare, located at the northeast corner of the community. It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is separated from South Beach by Government Cut. In addition to the $6.3 million asking price, any potential owner will be required to pay $8,500 a month for maintenance. Average maintenance costs are from $1,500 to $2,000 per unit, which covers the $5 million payroll of 560 employees, security and the naval force of ferryboats. Maintenance fees cover the cost of a deckhand who hoses down each car as it drives off the ferry to remove any salt spray. It also provides a private elevator connecting the building's underground parking garage with the Clintons' apartment, which has also been used by Vice President Al Gore. Indeed, security is one of the prime benefits of Fisher Island as a presidential retreat. "Fisher Island resolves a lot of complicated security needs," said Miami businessman Howard Glicken, co-host of Monday's dinner and the member of the Fisher Island Club mostly responsible for the presidential visit. Glicken is an old friend and ally of Gore's. A former investment banker, Glicken, who lives off Old Cutler Road with his wife Barbara, heads a national chain of fancy billiard rooms known as Jillian's. He is the key to unlocking Fisher Island's vaunted security. A laser-security system protects the entrance to the island marina where cruise ship mogul Ted Arison, also owner of the Miami Heat, parks his 202-foot yacht Mylin IV. Access to the island -- via one of three 120-foot, 22-car ferryboats similar to those used on Martha's Vineyard off Nantucket, Mass., or by boat or helicopter -- must come at the invitation and clearance of a resident or club member. To stay in one of the 62 hotel rooms at the club, where rates run from $400 to $1,075 a day, one must be invited or be on official business. Fisher Island was not always this exclusive. Originally the southern tip of Miami Beach, it was separated in 1905 when the federal government cut a shipping channel from the Atlantic into Biscayne Bay. Still known as Government Cut today, the channel led to development of the Port of Miami. The island was briefly owned by Miami's first black millionaire, Dana Albert Dorsey. Dorsey bought the island in 1918, with the idea of developing it into a beach resort for blacks. He sold it to Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher 18 months later. Fisher held title to the island in the 1920s and said he wanted to be buried there. Instead, he traded the 216 acres to William K. Vanderbilt, who gave up his 250-foot yacht and crew for the title. Vanderbilt spent $1.2 million for a winter residence there, complete with guest cottages, swimming pool and giant fish pond. That home is now the core of the building and grounds, complete with 16 resident peacocks, of the Fisher Island Club. Pheasants also roam the grounds. Plans to develop the island first began to bubble in the 1970s, led by William Rebozo, nephew of Key Biscayne banker Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, a longtime Miami host to President Richard Nixon. County officials fought Rebozo's first plan, to build a bridge. After a series of court victories, development began in 1984. Ups and downs in the real estate market caused an ebb and flow on Fisher Island and eventually cost Rebozo his job. Sales have boomed in recent years. Fisher Island is particularly popular with Brazilians and other South Americans, who like its security, and Europeans, particularly Germans, who find its prices a relative bargain compared to home. One French resident, eager to stargaze from the subtropics, commissioned a full-scale private observatory on the grounds of the island and donated it for resident use on Wednesday nights. A few hundred feet from the stargazing observatory, separated by a man-made lake, is where Bill Clinton will spend the night. Not bad for a poor boy from Hope, Ark.