How to stay on course as Miami heads for a renaissance?
At new years we often assess the prior year. Leaving long-term significance to historians, let’s disposed of 2020 with a plain “Good Riddance.” Enough said.
Looking to what 2021 might bring Miami, however, requires nuances. The path ahead is far brighter, but everything comes with caveats. We prefer clarity. But as 2020 shows, this is the real world, and even cheery predictions come with footnotes.
The brightest Miami forecast I’ve heard is from the visionary CEO of Baptist Health, Brian Keeley. A conversation with him last week was the most bracing I’d had since the virus engulfed us in March. In a nutshell, he sees Miami headed for a renaissance in the second half of 2021.
His reasoning is that inoculations will control Covid-19 enough to build community and global confidence, unleashing vast pent-up demand for the hospitality industry, airlines and all health care services beyond those used for the coronavirus.
A basis for added confidence is that while flu vaccine in normal years is about 50% effective in prevention, the three or four vaccines coming into use for Covid-19 are 95% effective. He says that amazingly good news – coupled with social distancing, wearing masks and other measures we now use – can bring life to close to normal.
His big concern is that people won’t get inoculations as soon as they can. Non-participation could slow the end of the Covid-19 threat.
If that sounds bullish, well, that’s exactly what Mr. Keeley says he is now. But he added that three weeks earlier, before the approval and rollout of vaccines, he didn’t see this bright light at the end of the tunnel.
The light he sees is people boarding planes and flying to and from Miami, hotels filling rooms, unemployed hospitality workers back on the job, health medical industry demand expanding, our housing sales boom accelerating and construction rebuilding. These all have been pivotal to Miami’s economy for years, so the picture is bright of Miami back in the front economic ranks and roaring ahead. What’s not to like?
The answer depends on the caveats. We subscribe to this glowing outlook if:
■Vaccines are rolled out quickly, available broadly, administered widely and are as advertised.
■Coronavirus mutations that surfaced abroad do not spread quickly and current vaccines can deal with them effectively.
■A second round of recovery funding comes out of Washington now, a third round follows with the new administration, and the funds go where they’ll do the most good.
■Inauguration day comes and goes as it would in normal times.
■No unanticipated wild cards played in Washington or elsewhere are powerful enough to disrupt local, national or global affairs as Covid-19 did this year.
Beyond those big if’s lurk a bunch of concerns that could clog the path to the Miami renaissance that Mr. Keeley sees.
■Political and cultural divides need rapid closing at all levels, from national to extremely local. We are a nation divided, and we know that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Those divisions center at the great political gap that has turned neighbor against neighbor and color our beliefs in what is or isn’t verifiable. How can we again agree on basics to build a bridge across the divides?
■Nobody has a handle on the depths to which governments at all levels will sink in the great coronavirus economic dive as they bleed revenues while spending to buoy up services and meet citizens’ economic needs. What spending cuts will we face even as we pull out of the nosedive, and how much will both services and taxpayers suffer as a result?
■The renaissance Mr. Keeley sees focuses on gains by our front-running businesses. How will those gains reach small businesses that are the spine of Miami-Dade? How long will gains take to trickle down from big business spending and employment and how will small businesses survive in the interim without special spending or subsidies?
■How will the unemployed, the underemployed, and the economically burdened citizens of this community survive and how long before they thrive in a recovery? So many lag on rent and everything else. What happens when eviction moratoriums expire, and how will landlords – often small businesses – regain their own footings that the moratoriums disrupted?
■Miami has depended on other nations not just for air travel, hotel rooms, real estate sales and rentals but also for investments and trade. The virus and national xenophobia have disrupted those links. How will they be restored, and will they be weaker, as strong as before, or even stronger in a renaissance?
■Will northern migration to Miami for reasons of taxes, weather, creature comfort and working from anywhere be as strong or even stronger in a go-where-you-please world?
■Local governments have climate control aims. As they assesses the economic depletion we will continue to face, will future sea level concerns fall victim to the economic needs of the here-and-now?
■Transportation needs were in our sights as the virus hit. Today, as many work from home or are jobless, roadways are clearer and mass transit emptier. Will transportation upgrades be sidetracked for more current needs? And will changing habits make some transportation gains luxuries rather than necessities?
■Changing habits may alter whether we go to work or travel for business. Are working from home and Zoom meetings destined to not only clear roadways and empty large swaths of office space, but also slow construction and shrink hotel meeting bookings?
While Zoom saves time and money, can you cut deals better in person? And what would a physician see in an office visit that is invisible on Zoom?
■Forty years ago Miami was labeled a cultural desert. Before the pandemic it had bloomed into a garden of arts and culture. But often-underfunded arts organization can’t easily withstand downturns. How will concerts, exhibitions and especially Art Basel look after recovery? It’s no use being able to attend arts events again if we can’t afford to produce them.
■Miami was not blessed with deep leadership before. Once recovery begins, will new, younger leaders emerge with strong vision for the future?
If Miami is truly about to enter a renaissance, remember that Renaissance life followed the Middle Ages. Be prepared for change, and hope we don’t have to say “Good Riddance” again next year.