The Real Deal Miami

The Closing: Moishe Mana

September 21, 2017
By Ina Cordle

Moishe Mana (Photo by Marsha Halper)

Moishe Mana, the developer and philanthropist who began his multimillion-dollar empire with just a borrowed van — founding Moishe’s Moving in New York City in the early 1980s — is never afraid to speak his mind. The 60-year-old tells The Real Deal, “When you do the right thing, you can look at anyone in the face and tell him ‘fuck off.’” And he’s been doing as much recently. As an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, the firebrand offered to donate $2 million to charity if Trump would release the past five years of his tax returns. He’s also offered to pay the legal fees of those suing Trump for sexual assault.
And while he makes waves on the national stage, the Israeli-born Miami resident also has big plans for his adopted hometown. Mana now owns more than 40 acres in Wynwood, with more than 10 million square feet of development rights. His stated goal is to create a cultural center for Miami. In addition, he’s acquired more than 45 properties in the Flagler Street area of downtown Miami, with the potential to develop another 10 million-square-foot project.

Outside of South Florida, Mana’s projects include the creative space Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District of New York City and the 2.5 million-square-foot complex Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, New Jersey, where artists live, create, display and sell their work.

Among his other businesses is GRM Information Management, a corporate document storage company, which has more than 5 million square feet of warehouse space in the United States, South America, China and Tanzania, and Moishe’s Mini and Self Storage, an extension of his moving company.

 TRD heard more from the man himself about his plans for Miami and beyond.

DOB: Dec. 3, 1956
Hometown: Tel Aviv, Israel
Lives in: Miami

Where did you grow up and what did your parents do for a living? I grew up in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, and my parents were doing whatever it takes to make a living — a variety of things, including brokering real estate.

What was your childhood like? It was a good childhood because what you do not know does not hurt you. I grew up in a poor neighborhood, but I grew out of it. It was not an easy childhood because I was a different kid, always asking difficult questions.

How did you end up in South Florida? For the last 20 years, I used to come back and forth from New York. I like Miami, I like Boca [Raton]. I had a house in Boca where I used to play soccer and ride horses. I came as a tourist, a part-time resident.

How much have you spent on real estate in South Florida? Over $350 million.

How much debt do you have on that? I have no idea. Let’s put it this way: When I run for the presidency, if I run for the presidency, then I will have to disclose it.

What are your plans for building in Miami? We are still in the stage of concentrating strongly on making a global trade hub happen. Miami doesn’t have industries. It’s not a diversified city. I am working very diligently with my team, working on putting together the horses that are going to push this wagon, the global trade hub. It is a big project, it is 10 million square feet in size. We are soliciting businesses and soliciting partners. I want the future corporate headquarters of Chinese firms — instead of going to Texas, or Atlanta or New York — to come to Miami ….The purpose is to make it the Silicon Valley of South America, to build the digital infrastructure of South America out of Miami.

What is your favorite place to travel? Today, when I travel, I travel in connection with business. I don’t travel just to sit down and do nothing. I just came back from Panama. We want to build the logistics center for our trade hub out of Panama. There is no reason to bring the cargo to America, so the cargo will go direct from China to South America and from South America to China. When we do the sales here in Miami — banking, legal — then the cargo needs to be landing somewhere, and it will be in Panama. From there, it will be distributed to Colombia or Chile or wherever, so it doesn’t have to come here. But the deal will be made over here in Miami.

What are your feelings now about President Trump? I think we are now, as a society, in a dangerous situation. Democracy is very vulnerable; it is not as strong as we thought. He’s doing a stress test on our democracy, on our institutions, our society. It’s very scary to see people standing aside and doing nothing or even supporting him. The Chinese are about to take over South America, building infrastructure, building bridges, building banks over there…Instead of being in banking, and heading trade like we used to do, we are going into the coal business. This is the most ridiculous thing.

You offered to pay the legal fees of Trump’s sexual assault accusers. Whatever happened with that? The whole thing faded away, but now we need to put the money where we can educate the people before the democracy we are sitting in collapses on top of us. Because at the end of the day, we are one world, and our issues are much more global than local. No one nation can stay by itself. When Trump says “America first,”this is totally, totally insane. To go back in time to the ‘20s and have America become Germany of the ‘20s and Germany become America of the time — that is what we are doing.

On a much lighter note, have you ever purchased anything extravagant for yourself? I am simple. I like simplicity. I don’t demand much. I like my lifestyle simple.

What is the best advice you have received? My life is not built on one piece of advice. It is built on being good, being productive, being honest with my feelings and having a conscience, having awareness, having morals. When you do the right thing, you can look at anyone in the face and tell him “fuck off.” Jared Kushner, we kicked him out of Mana Contemporary. We didn’t want to do the curation of the arts for him, and I didn’t care. People told me, “Moishe, why did you do that? Keep quiet. You’re going to lose business.” I don’t care. I say what I say and I believe in it. Morals come before work, they come before anything.

—This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.