Moishe Mana has a lot in common with Donald Trump.
Although Mana commissioned a mural depicting the former president as the Joker holding a knife to the Statue of Liberty, the two fill similar roles. Both brash real estate developers made their careers in Manhattan, building around gatekeepers and institutions to create their own insulated communities. Like Trump, Mana understands the power of media and makes exaggerated claims; during our interview he tells me, “I can change a neighborhood,” “I build the community,” and “It cost me tens of millions to make Wynwood the way it is today.”
For someone who boasts of having a philosophy predicated on “collaboration, connection, communication and compassion,” he says “I” quite often.
Mana is currently Miami’s largest landholder, a term his PR team adds to MANA press releases (like Trump, the name of his company is just his last name capitalized). He is credited with revitalizing Manhattan’s Meatpacking District by launching MILK Studios alongside fashion entrepreneur Mazdack Rassi. MILK has since dwarfed into a global arts and entertainment brand with strategic footholds in international cities, but according to Mana, the Meatpacking neighborhood has lost its cache and is no longer cool to shop in.
As tech executives flock to Miami in droves, Mana’s 60-plus property Wynwood Empire is being elevated to the international stage—much like his impact on the Meatpacking District. Paradox spoke with Mana at this year’s Bitcoin conference (held at his namesake firm’s convention center) about gentrification, capitalism as cannibalism, and whether billionaires like him should own so much land.
How did what you did in New York City’s Meatpacking District inform what you’re doing in Miami today?
The Meatpacking District for me was a case study of what’s really happening. Because the meatpacking was a very bad neighborhood when I walked in there. I didn’t know what I was doing. We built the MILK Studios and the MILK Studios made a huge impact on the neighborhood. A few years later, the whole neighborhood dispersed. It took it 10-15 years back. Everything changed and I lost interest in going shopping there. I started really looking at what’s going on and comparing it. Same thing happened in Williamsburg; same thing happened in Dumbo; same thing happened in South Beach. So I totally understood that when I go into a neighborhood, I can change a neighborhood. The question: How do you make sure that it is going to be sustainable? Because as soon as it becomes cool, a hedge fund comes in and cannibalizes the neighborhood, buying the stores and putting the new tenants in, getting the original barber and everyone out, and destroy the neighborhood and destroy the ecosystem and here we have to go look for a new neighborhood again—
But that is capitalism! That is markets entering.
But you can do capitalism in a different way with social impact. Ok? Capitalism doesn’t necessarily need to be cannibalization.
But one could argue it’s natural instinct is to be cannibalistic! You’re talking about conserving something.
Yes, yes. If you want, I can answer all these questions and that’s where the philosophy came from. I love history and I study history all my life, and I compare the future, past to understand what’s happening. So I totally understood the last 100 years we have been cheated out of our lives because once we went to the city we lost the neighborhood we grew up in. And this is for the post-industrial revolution philosophy of vertical investment; real estate, fashion, technology. And as a result of this verticalism of business, we ended up having our own apartment, our own home, our own car; we go to the office for 12 hours, we go home, we don’t really know anyone. In the last twenty years with the digital revolution, I understood we have gone back to community. We go to Facebook for social, and Amazon for purchasing. But nobody did physical and digital. So the philosophy I came up with, now I’m buying a neighborhood, and I’m going to do physical and digital. And you know what? The rent is only one component because I can make much more money from the economy I create within the community. So I build the community because the community are consumers and the community are also producers; so i need to partner with the bars, I need to partner with the restaurants, I need to partner with the technology, I need to capitalize off the consumption of the neighborhood.
Breaking it down to the most fundamental level, you say this is your philosophy. What do you consider to be the ideological foundations of it? What is the philosophy predicated on?
I summarize it into the four Cs: Collaboration, connection, communication and compassion. You’re talking about cannibalism.
At the beginning of the century, the war of the currents between Edison and Tesla, this was the ultimate cannibalism we saw where politics and greed and money were involved. The philosophy developed from there and the race for technology started in vicious ways. And the competition, I’m not able to kill you, so I’m going to buy you out and shut you down. This was what Microsoft followed. The last twenty years, we went into collaboration and you evaluate by the strategic relationships you have and the collaboration that you do with the rest of the world. So we’re much more toward collaboration than just killing each other.
Well, yes, but it’s new forms of cannibalism. You can say that data mining and these predatory ad practices—
There will always be predatory practices, but the world is coming closer and is more connected. People are capitalizing off the collaboration. When you do the collaboration, you have the connection. You need to connect with investors, you need to connect with people who use your technology. You need to connect to the vendors to make your job easier. The communication is important and then we have compassion. Compassion is an important component. I don’t believe in this Milton Friedman ideology and capitalism where there’s no responsibility for corporations. People with money have social responsibilities. We do have social responsibilities for whatever we do and I do believe there should be some balance between the desire to make as much, and the desire for the good of the community. Because it’s in our interest at the end of the day to live as people on this planet. And we cannot just say ‘I’m here to make money and fuck the rest of the world.’
Is Miami having a moment, or is it a movement?
This is a continuation of whatever I’m doing. As a result, I ended up buying a critical mass of properties in every neighborhood I go. And that is the way I build the community. I did it in Jersey City, 17 acres for 2 million square feet, and we’re still doing it. In Miami it’s a different story. I’ve been here 12 years, and I realized back then what’s going to happen today. I totally realized the back offices aren’t going to stay in Midtown, Manhattan. There’s no reason for people to travel an hour to the office. Miami also is a great candidate for the reason: We are across the Panama canal, great weather, great taxation, a diversified community, the most important thing is that we are 2-3 hours from Latin America. Miami is the connecting link between the two Americas and the future of the Americas is one…Futuristically, that’s the only way we can compete: When we connect the economies. 700 million people sitting across the canal, across the continent, who are invisible today. I laugh about immigration debates: To me it’s a joke because America doesn’t understand the bigger picture, that instead of putting money into Afghanistan, we can build the economy of Latin America next to us and we can put the bigger economy together. We don’t need to go to China. You know what they say, “Closing your home doesn’t make your home safe, and throwing your garbage through the window doesn’t make your home clean.” We have to realize it before someone else captures Latin America and puts us out of the game.
You are one of the largest landholders in Miami, if not the largest. Bill Gates has also been acquiring hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland. What does it say when you have specific individuals that are controlling all these acres and acres of property? Should an individual have that much power?
First of all, I congratulate Bill Gates for what he does. He does it for conservation. I’m doing it for something different. I’m doing it to stimulate and build the economy. When I build a critical mass of properties, you need properties to create business. Without properties, you cannot build the philosophy that I just laid out. See what we did? I came here and bought 45 acres and did fashion shows, art shows, event shows; I put millions into it, knowing I’m going to lose; it cost me tens of millions to make Wynwood the way it is today. Even at this event, we didn’t make much money. I look at it as a city issue and not a local event. Same thing with downtown: We bought 70 properties and the reason is to build the Silicon Valley of Latin America, North America, and the Middle East in one place. You cannot build a philosophy in one building: You need a neighborhood to do it. I did not buy prime real estate, I bought real estate that was totally destroyed and totally unwanted and I made something out of it. So, revitalizing, impact on the city, impact on the community, creation of the jobs; my goal is connecting neighborhoods throughout the world and connecting them on all levels.