Spotlight email 240508 Amy Billig

In the Spotlight,

  • The Long and Lasting Shadow of Amy Billig
  • At Long Last, a Grove United?
  • The BID Gets a New Executive Director

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Older man with a mustache and gray hair, named Josh Billig, wearing a light purple shirt, leaning on a tree branch, looking thoughtfully into the distance in a wooded area.
Josh Billig, reflecting on the unresolved disappearance of his sister Amy Billig, who went missing in 1974, during a quiet moment in a grove near their childhood home. (Patrick Farrell for the Spotlight.)

Coconut Grove in the late 1960s and early 1970s was the subtropical capital of American counterculture, a bayside Bohemia of free-spirited artisans, tie-dyed vagabonds and hippie weed smokers who gathered daily in Peacock Park.

As a young teen, Josh Billig felt much at home in that colorful world.

“I loved the Grove in the 70s,” he recently recounted as he sat outside in the walled garden of his home in the Grove. “My father had opened an art gallery, and I would walk around downtown like a little street urchin, popping in and out of shops. I was very gregarious, and I felt like I knew everybody – the Hare Krishnas, the street people in the park. And there was music everywhere, too. It was a fun place.”And then suddenly, everything changed. It was March 5, 1974, a little more than 50 years ago, when 17-year-old Amy Billig, Josh’s older sister, vanished without a trace. She has never been found.

The Amy Billig case is an American tragedy, an oft-told, troubling tale in which the lack of certainty about what happened to the high school senior thrust her parents and her only sibling into an unwanted spotlight while spawning lurid, unsettling conjecture. Amy was kidnapped while hitchhiking, goes one popular theory. She was seized by an outlaw motorcycle gang. She was raped, trafficked as a sex slave. She was murdered by a serial killer, her body cut up and fed to the Everglades alligators. 

A half century on from that fateful date, this is what is known for sure: On a Tuesday afternoon Amy Billig, her long dark hair flowing past her shoulders, dressed in a denim skirt and cork-soled sandals, set off from the family’s home in the South Grove for her father’s gallery in Commodore Plaza, a journey of about a mile. Her plan was to get a couple of dollars from her dad and then meet friends for lunch. She did not make it to her father’s gallery, and was never seen again.

Residents from across the grove rally at City Hall in February 2022 to protest the proposed break up of Coconut Grove into separate commission districts. (Deb Dolson for the Spotlight)

Coconut Grove residents are poised for a collective sigh of relief this week as the community’s historic boundaries are set to be restored under a single City of Miami commission district.

The City Commission on Thursday will take up a resolution to approve a settlement in a long-running lawsuit that challenged the city’s existing commission districts as the product of racial gerrymandering. Under the settlement the city will adopt a new voting map drawn up by the coalition of five residents and four community groups that filed the suit. 

The city also agreed to create a Citizens’ Redistricting Committee to oversee future election maps and to place a charter amendment on the November 2025 ballot that would prohibit gerrymandering that favors candidates and incumbents.

Many local residents are thrilled by the prospect of a Commission District 2 that once again encompasses all of Coconut Grove and its roughly 21,000 residents. 

“Everybody was really pretty upset,” said North Grove resident John Schoendorf, recalling when he and his neighbors learned they were no longer part of District 2. “We felt very strongly, like the people in the West Grove, that we shouldn’t be disconnected.

Mark Burns Coconut Grove BID Executive Director May 2024

On Friday April 26, Mark Burns, 44, was sworn in as the new executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District (BID). The Spotlight met with him one week later to get his views on where the BID has been, where it’s going, and what his priorities will be as executive director.

The interview appears below. But first, some background:

The Coconut Grove BID was established on April 1, 2009, as a semi-autonomous agency under the charter of the City of Miami. The chair of the BID is, by definition, the current commissioner for District 2 – now Damian Pardo. The board of directors is comprised of nine business leaders and property owners in the BID’s Center Grove commercial area. The BID is accountable both to its board and to the Miami City Commission, which approves the BID’s annual budget (most recently, nearly $4.6 million). Revenues come from a variety of sources, notably participating businesses, parking fees, user fees, and special events.

The BID’s basic mission is to promote a healthy business climate in its Center Grove district. That includes capital projects, marketing, patrols by “ambassadors” who maintain cleanliness and safety, special events, and providing information about the district’s shops, restaurants, resources, and events. One of the BID’s most important recent projects was the repaving of the sidewalks on Grand Ave., Main Highway, and McFarlane Rd.

Spotlight: What in your background makes you a good person to lead the BID?

Burns: I think my background uniquely prepared me for this job. The first ten years of my career were in property management. I have a history of dealing with business owners. Trying to enable them to succeed was always a big mission for me. A big part of this job, I feel, is getting out and getting in touch with the business owners. Then you have the maintenance aspects. When you’re in property management you’ve got contacts with vendors and marketing all the way down to maintenance – keeping things clean, keeping things repaired, all of that.

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