Brad Knoefler's abandoned warehouse turned locals' night club's days are numbered. Grand Central is here and jumping today, but it sits on land that is owned by developers who are building Downtown Miami's largest project-- a massive development called World Center. But no one is dancing at the club today. Today, there's a gathering of people to discuss social justice - or the lack of it.
As a candidate for City Commissioner, I want to hear all sides of every story. Word on the street is that this project will be a major job creator in the district. It'll be a hub of energy and activity with both retail and residential space. But the other word on the street is that the city sold out in order lock the developers in. Money that was originally slated to go toward Community Redevelopment and massive tax incentives were given away without the strings attached that would ensure jobs for the locals who desperately need them.
I listened to the various speakers at today's discussion. They spoke of the benefits of local labor and unionized labor. They spoke of groups who help train short and long term workers. Their accomplishments and knowledge were immense. Their intentions were good. They want a seat at the table where developers would be required to listen and do the right thing.
Perhaps I should have kept quiet and just listened. But I noticed that this table discussion (actually a room of about 30 people) had some empty seats. The developers were not at this table. As noble as this cause is, today's table was a one-sided discussion. Of course, the developers are having their own one-sided discussion somewhere else. For me, this is a major symptom of the gridlock that keeps so many parts of our community and government from moving forward together. The opposing sides on so many issues in our country are polarized, angry, feeling cheated, or feeling taken advantage of.
When the discussion opened up to attendees to ask questions or make comments, I stood up and mentioned that I hadn't heard any sympathy for the developers today. The room was silent. Of course there is no sympathy for the developer-- why should anyone in this room feel for them? They are making millions without doing what is right for the community.
I rephrased my observation. In any negotiation or conversation, there are two sides. Would you, even though you may be right and may feel cheated-- would you walk a mile in your adversary's shoes? What does the developer want? They want a successful, profitable, timely venture. Their incentive is to be quick and efficient. But you are asking them to do what is right, despite their incentive. A conflict has already begun. In classic negotiating style, both sides retreat to their camps and build their case for why they are right. Hopefully, they will meet in the middle.
This model of negotiation is more like war. Fight for your side. My suggestion was to revisit the negotiation model. Eliminate the table where we sit across from each other trying to extract our interests from the other side. Instead, let's sit on a couch, next to each other, looking at the same project with a mutual goal in mind. But maybe both sides are entrenched. Maybe we're way past that. Why would the developer come to the couch if he can have his cake and eat it too without the need to address the other side? If the developer doesn't need to engage, he must have strength and influence to bypass the system. But influence over whom?
Local government should be the guiding hand or referee. How much oversight power they should have depends on how liberal or conservative you feel about government involvement in business. They have rules in place for how buildings can be built and how incentives can be used. The government, in this case the City Commission, will be pulled in two directions. Builders want as much freedom and rebates as they can get with as little restriction as possible. The community wants their locals guaranteed jobs without the city giving away the tax benefits that could otherwise benefit the same community.
If your government isn't there to bring all sides to the table -- I mean the couch, then maybe that is the root of the problem. Perhaps we shouldn't blame the developer for simply trying to do what is in its nature and incentive to do. Perhaps we should be more concerned about having officials in place that have an open view of all sides. Officials that act as mediators and matchmakers, finding common ground and placing the right incentives in place to generate the desired outcomes. This is not the same as putting an opposing advocate in office to simply fight for right. Remember that there are five city commissioners in Miami. A fighter will simply be voted down every time, and their noble dissenting vote will be fruitless.
It's all about the art of negotiation and consensus. I don't mean someone who's going to give in half-way on everything. I'm talking about an ability to empathize with the other side and use that empathy to achieve consensus. Not compromise-- but consensus.
I had one other request to the room today. Not to vote for me, but just to vote. With less than 6,000 out of the 80,000 residents voting, we cannot blame the developers for having such influence on the government. We can only blame the apathy of our un-cast votes that allows a government that does not have our best interest at heart.
My son came with me to the meeting today. Will such early exposure to the inside workings of the system leave him jaded or inspired? It might just be the angelic back-lighting, but I think he looks pretty inspired.
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