Back in April 1997, then–Union-Tribune columnist Neil Morgan was the town’s chief cheerleader for developer Sam Marasco and his plan to build a taxpayer-subsidized shopping mall and pedestrian bridge across the border from San Ysidro to Tijuana. “Sam says he wants to build a sort of rainbow at the sordid San Ysidro border crossing, the busiest and one of the tawdriest and deadliest crossing districts in the world,” Morgan wrote. “Mayor Susan Golding is keen for a bi-national zone ‘in which people crossing the border would be able to move around after their identification is approved. We have discussed the need to make the entrance of our two countries a more appropriate one — one that looks like the front door to our two countries rather than the back door.’”
The so-called International Gateway of the Americas pedestrian bridge also had the backing of Alan Bersin, ex–U.S. attorney and onetime Clinton administration “border czar” — who owned a warehouse on Otay Mesa near the border — but was opposed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which concluded it would be too difficult to police. Ultimately the bridge idea was scrapped, and Marasco built a modest mall on the U.S. side, which he sold to his partner in 2004. Later he tried his hand at developing a city-subsidized shopping complex in Barrio Logan but was kicked off that project by the city council after years of controversy and delay. Marasco, who lives in North County, then targeted Brownsville, Texas, where he again tangled with federal officials, this time over whether the U.S. would build its border fence along the Rio Grande River near a proposed mall he was seeking to develop there; the feds proceeded.
So it may come as no surprise that the real estate developer has recently branched into a fresh field of endeavor, marketing a new line of alcoholic spirits in partnership with one of the nation’s biggest pornography producers. As CNBC first reported last week, L.A.-based Vivid Entertainment has teamed with Marasco’s White Star Marketing group to promote Vivid Vodka, for which Vivid Entertainment — the home of Sunny Leone, Jenna Jameson, and Sunrise Adams — will be paid a royalty from sales. “They liked the business plan,” Marasco, president of White Star, told CNBC. “They saw it as an opportunity to generate some revenues off of their brand name, which they’ve spent a good amount of time managing and building.” The new booze brand will make its debut in the bars of Las Vegas on May 1. “Our game plan is to introduce the vodka product immediately and at the same time try to lay plans for additional spirits in the future,” Marasco said. “We think the name is fantastic.” Vivid is controversial in some quarters because its president, Steven Hirsch, has opposed a move by the L.A. City Council to mandate use of condoms by porn actors to combat a potential AIDS outbreak among sex workers there. Of late, the company, said by Forbes to have grossed $100 million in 2005, has been suffering revenue drops caused by internet porn pirates.