The city of Orlando continues to fine President Donald Trump's business partner, Michael Dezer, at $200 a day for permit violations at the renovation of the former Artegon Marketplace shopping center on International Drive.
The project, now known as Dezerland Action Park, has been officially shut down by the city since it issued a stop-work order Feb. 8.
There are public safety concerns about fire code and other issues at the sprawling indoor mall, said Mike Rhodes, the city's deputy director of economic development. He said the project has received minor permits but is still seeking approval for many.
"They haven't given us enough information about exits for fire permits, for one thing," Rhodes said. "It's unusual for a project this size to start work without permits."
Dezer himself, who has developed multiple Trump Towers, has been overseeing the work, cruising around the mall on a purple-pink motorized scooter. He claims to have moved the world's largest Vespa collection to the mall, among 1,500 vehicles like movie prop Batmobiles and a hearse decked out like the one from Ghostbusters.
The lack of permits hasn't stopped ads for events at the facility.
A Facebook ad currently proclaims that Dezerland will host "Central Florida's largest Beer, BBQ and Food Celebration" on April 20, called the Orlando Beer & BBQ Festival 2019, with free parking and free admission.
Dezer and his employees in Orlando have claimed several opening dates for the Dezerland Action Park and Orlando Auto Museum at the site. Its website currently says "opening Spring 2019."
"We met with Mr. Dezer and told him the process to re-establish occupancy there," Rhodes said. "They have a permit for their new sign, and have requested several others, but just haven’t provided enough information. They’ve done major alterations indoors without permits."
Rhodes confirmed that the city did tell Dezer and his general manager Michael Rich, that the zoning at the site – light retail – was OK for an auto display or dealership, but "we told them you don’t have permits." Gilson's Brazilian Restaurant, an aspiring tenant at the mall, has also filed for a permit, but had not received it as of Wednesday.
The mall itself sat empty for a year until Dezer came along and bought it, on 100-plus acres in the heart of Orlando’s tourism corridor, for nearly $24 million. Almost immediately, he started moving cars from his South Florida collections, and planned to open a variety of attractions there, including a go-cart track and vintage pinball arcade.
On a separate matter, Dezer has submitted a new master plan for the entire property, including a future apartment building to the south of the mall building. Those plans are now set for public meetings for Technical Review at 2 p.m. on March 5, at the city’s Master Planning Board, 8:30 a.m. March 19, and finally the City Council at 2 p.m. on April 22.
Dezer has one of the most extensive private vehicle collections in the world, including one of the world’s largest James Bond collections. His museum in South Florida had a section dedicated to the James Bond movie From Russia With Love
Although Dezer's manager didn't initially respond to questions about the festival, he texted a reporter after this story published to say the BBQ festival would be strictly outdoors on Dezerland's expansive parking lots.
The city's PIO, Karyn Barber, said there's no need for a permit to advertise an event or hold an event on private property, if it doesn't impact traffic.
"However, staff is aware of the event promotion and has reached out to the applicant regarding the event and to advise them of event permit requirements," Barber said in an email.
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