Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disney for car buffs

Prolific collector opens huge Florida museum

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MIAMI -- Holy warehouse district, Batman! What are your Batmobiles doing here?

And that DeLorean from "Back to the Future." And Magnum, P.I.'s red Ferrari. And James Bond's arsenal of cars, helicopters and submarines. Not to mention the multiple miniature carousels, jukeboxes, bicycles, mo-peds and micro-cars.

Real estate developer -- and extraordinarily prolific collector -- Michael Dezer knows the answer.

"I am," said the 70-year-old, "a collector of collections."

After decades of accumulating, he's brought the whole collection of collections together in more than 250,000 square feet of brightly painted, broadly themed warehouses in North Miami to display publicly. The showcase opened to the public last week.

Divided into two buildings, which each cost $25 to tour, the museum boasts more than 1,000 pieces, including at least 600 cars. "Cars of the Stars," featuring vehicles that appeared on the big and small screens, will be most recognizable. But car buffs can also explore American oldies, European classics, bikes, motorcycles, electric cars, micro cars, military vehicles and -- starting in April -- a James Bond wing valued at $15 million.

Dezer opened a dealership in Las Vegas last year and plans to open a second museum there later this year; eventually, he intends to rotate vehicles between the two collections.

There's also an on-site art gallery, which opened late last year with two exhibitions: one dedicated to the work of former model and photographer Bunny Yeager and another featuring art that originated in Berlin. Future plans include a wax museum and outdoor drive-in theater.

Dezer, whose cellphone ringtone honks like a classic car's horn ("aaaaahhhr-ooooo-gha"), previously kept some of the vehicles in a private collection at the Trump International Beach Resort that he developed with son Gil in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla. Other of the family's properties, including the Howard Johnson Plaza Dezerland Beach & Spa in the northern part of Miami Beach, incorporate classic cars and 50s themes in their design.

"I've lived in Dezerland all my life," Dezer said. "It's time to share it with the public."

He expects the museum to draw car fanatics, sure, but also baby boomers and families -- and, he hopes, party planners.

Built with events in mind, the museum features a synagogue and several rooms that can host birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, bar or bat mitzvahs or circumcision rituals.

An indoor "drive-in" theater with seats in old cars will be available for photo slideshows or videos of the honoree. When not in private use, the screen will show old Bond movies.

Dezer doesn't think the North Miami location -- abutting railroad tracks west of Biscayne Boulevard and strip malls -- will be a drawback to visitors.

"Disney was nowhere, and it became a destination," he said. "We are not that far from anywhere. We think we are in a great location. It's an unusual location that you can have such a large building."

Just to make sure, the museum will send shuttle buses to Dezer-owned hotels and other lodgings, and will work with tourism offices, concierges, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and event coordinators to get the word out.

The tourism bureau plans to promote the museum as part of Miami Museums Month in May and also as a local attraction and meeting venue. Rolando Aedo, the bureau's chief marketing officer, said the museum gives tourism boosters something new to pitch.

"This is yet another opportunity for staying in Miami and extending that trip by another half-day or day," he said. "It's further extending the visitor's experience."

-- Miami Herald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2012 F9

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