13 Sep BUILDING A RESILIENT MIAMI: ARMANDO CODINA’S STORY
Armando Codina arrived in the United States at age 14 from his native Cuba via Operation Peter Pan, a program that resettled thousands of children stateside during the Castro regime. Alone, and with no knowledge of English, he was sent to an orphanage and lived in and out of foster care until he was reunited with his mother. Despite these events, he would not allow his life to be defined by those experiences. He worked several jobs to support his mother when she arrived, he started and sold a number of businesses, and even facilitated restoration efforts after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. Still, he moved forward in a city that promised a future. Armando has helped transform Miami through his real estate development businesses while consistently standing up for and defending the city he loves. Armando and Miami have this in common: despite being knocked down they continuously get back up.
Today, Armando is executive chairman of the Coral Gables-based real estate investment and development company, Codina Partners, and is using philanthropy to build a more resilient Miami. He shared his Miami story with us.
What makes this your Miami?
I can’t imagine any other city where I could have landed that would have welcomed me and given me the opportunities that Miami has. Miami, to me, was a frontier town in the good sense. You could come in and make a name. Miami didn’t ask me, “Who are your mother and father?” Miami just wanted to know if I was willing to roll up my sleeves and work and get involved in the community. So I did.
How did you overcome the adversity you faced? What made you push forward?
I am not unique. Over 15,000 Cuban kids were separated from their parents and came here when I did. It was terrible. But, had I stayed in Cuba, had my mother not made the ultimate sacrifice and sent me unaccompanied to the United States, I don’t know what would have become of me. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful. To get through adversity, it takes work ethic and fire in your belly.
When you talk about Miami, you describe a city that “bounces back.” Tell us about that.
Miami-Dade has had its challenges but has overcome all of them.
Twenty-five years ago, Miami was decimated by Hurricane Andrew. We had almost completed the first condo building in Deering Bay. All the units had sold, and then Andrew hit. The interiors were gutted by the storm. There were large boats and dead fish on the golf course. At the time, I became co-chair of We Will Rebuild with Alvah Chapman – my hero – which was an effort formed to help South Florida recover from the devastating storm. Miami absorbed and dealt with the issues created by rebuilding in a remarkable way.
Then in 2008, when Miami was overbuilt for the first time, we were left with a lot of empty buildings. The real estate downturn created a pricing and rental opportunity for people to move to downtown Miami. If you had asked me how long it would have taken to absorb those units, I would have gotten it wrong. Look at the skyline now.
Seeing the changes Miami has gone through, what hurdles do you see still lie ahead?
The two biggest problems facing our community are income inequality and education. I could say that about a lot of other places, that’s not just a Miami phenomenon. We can talk about other important issues that are at the forefront but, fundamentally, we’ve got to deal with those first.
What can residents do make their community more resilient? How do you instill that ‘fire in your belly’ in the next generation?
I found the highest calling is to be involved with your community. The more I got involved, the more I got back. I can never pay it back. My Miami story isn’t about anything I’ve done. It’s about a city that embraced me. It’s about a community that bounces back and teaches its residents to do the same. It’s about our united desire to thrive … that’s what makes us Miamians.
Jessica Rodriguez is a journalist reporting on culture, diversity and issues.