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Miami's 30 Most Influential People

By Luis R. Rigual | October 7, 2020 | People Lifestyle Feature

Whether it’s through savvy insight, professional contributions, philanthropy or impressive grants, influence shapes a city and its residents’ lives in extreme degrees. Here are 30 individuals who make our town buzz with excitement in both big and small ways.

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There’s no talk of retail, of revitalization, of community, of design, of Miami, really, without mentioning Robins, the DACRA founder and developer who has given the city its cherished Design District and the annual Design Miami/ fair. The man just doesn’t slow down, but his drive is our gain. Recent additions to the DD include new Alexander McQueen, Off-White and Kenzo Kids boutiques. “The idea is to keep adding to the neighborhood so there’s always new energy and new things coming,” he says. “But the most important thing is that the Design District be a place for everyone.”

2&3 Alex Rodriguez & Jennifer Lopez

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Yes, entertainment’s hottest couple is now ours more than ever before. Not only did they spend much of the pandemic lockdown in their home in Coral Gables (one of many), but in August they plopped down $40 million for a 14,762-square-foot estate on Star Island with 10 bedrooms and 12 baths. These two are no strangers to Miami. Rodriguez was raised here before professional baseball came calling and opened an outpost of his TruFusion fitness studios in Coral Gables in 2018, while Lopez has been making the Miami rounds since her days with Puff Daddy. Could their nuptials in the 33139 be in the cards? We’ll just have to wait and see.

4&5 Mera & Don Rubell

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Long before Art Basel put Miami on the global culture map, the Rubells (widely considered two of the world’s top art collectors) opened a private museum in Wynwood to showcase the art they had been collecting all over the map for decades. Last December, they upped the ante with the debut of The Rubell Museum, a 100,000-square-foot space that houses the 7,000-plus artworks the couple has amassed. The new institution immediately became a must in Miami’s art fold and has been called the harbinger that will turn Allapattah into Miami’s next hot neighborhood. “For more than 50 years, we have been on an incredible mission: searching for new art and art that has been overlooked,” notes Mera. “With the new museum we [are] able to share the remarkable range of art we fell in love with along the way.”

6. Jessica Goldman Srebnick

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Reinventing neighborhoods is not for the faint of heart, but Goldman Srebnick has continued the mission started by her late father, Tony Goldman, and managed to establish Wynwood into one of the world’s largest open-air museums thanks to mural contributions by some of art’s biggest names. As the CEO of Goldman Properties and founder of the creative think tank Goldman Global Arts, Goldman Srebnick is forever finding ways of integrating real estate with culture. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Last December Assouline published Walls of Change: The Story of the Wynwood Walls in honor of the area’s 10th anniversary to much fanfare. The 240-page volume showcases the more than 100 murals and artists that have given Wynwood its spirit and transformed the warehouse district into a must-see destination. As for her role, Goldman Srebnick is succinct: “It’s about human connection, memories, personal stories, reflections and impact. It’s about hope.”

7. David Tepper

Just how influential is Tepper when it comes to finance? In May, when the billionaire hedge fund investor told CNBC that he thought the current stock market is the most overpriced he’s ever seen, his comments sent stocks to a session low. The founder and president of Miami Beach-based Appaloosa Management is also the owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers team, as well as Major League Soccer’s Charlotte FC.

8. Bernardo Fort-Brescia

Homegrown Arquitectonica is no longer our own. The firm, which opened in Coconut Grove in 1977, now belongs to the world thanks to projects in 59 countries and multiple accolades from organizations near and far. That all has to do with Fort-Brescia, an AIA Silver Medal winner, and his vision, which has defined the look of modern Miami and pioneered the globalization of the architecture profession.

9. Tua Tagovailoa

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Football fans’ eyes are very much on the Miami Dolphins’ new rookie quarterback, who scored a four-year contract worth $30 million back in May. And how could they not be? The 22-year-old cuts an interesting figure and anecdotes about him read like a novel. His parents say he used to fall asleep with a football under his arm every night as a small child. He was routinely throwing 30-yard passes at 8 years old when his fellow players could barely make 10. He is notably a left-handed quarterback even though he’s right-handed, a skill his father taught him. And sport insiders keep saying he’s the best hope the Fins have of entering a new successful era. As for all the high expectations from fans? “That’s something that’s out of my control,” he told Sports Illustrated in April. “I can’t control whether the fans like me or dislike me. For me, it’s all about worrying about what you can control.” We see touchdowns (and, dare we say, a Super Bowl ring) in this guy’s future.

10. David Martin

Having cultivated a residential and commercial real estate portfolio in excess of $8 billion with his father Pedro at Terra, Martin is literally shaping Miami one high-rise at a time. He’s been integral in the renaissance of Coconut Grove, where two of his most popular towers, One Park Grove and Grove at Grand Bay, are located, with another, Mr. C Residences, coming soon. And his interests lie beyond just building. He enjoys the process of collaboration and has done so with names such as Rem Koolhaas, Renzo Piano, Bjarke Ingels, Meyer Davis, Chad Oppenheim, William Sofield, the late Isabel Toledo and others. These days, he’s turned his focus to North Miami Beach with Eighty Seven Park, a landmark building with 68 residences the likes of which that area has never seen. “We have always strived to construct projects that have a positive impact on their surroundings,” says Martin, “and, by extension, the people who live and work there.”

11&12 Emilio & Gloria Estefan

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The Estefans are ingrained in Miami’s fabric perhaps more than any other high-profile couple in the city. Their artistic contributions aside (dozens of hits, multiple Grammys and, as of August, a new album from Gloria), they are tried-and-true locals when our city needs them most. Earlier this year, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis when restaurants were forced to shut down, they partnered with CVS Health to match their out-of-work employees from their eateries in Miami, South Beach, Vero Beach and Orlando with employment. As far as entertainment goes, Gloria’s triumphs have always been obvious to the public while Emilio’s have been more behind the scenes. He not only helped make his wife a global superstar, but he also significantly shaped the careers of singers such as Ricky Martin, Shakira, Thalia and, his new Star Island neighbor, Jennifer Lopez.

13. Jorge Pérez

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As prolific as magnates get, Pérez is fully invested in Miami’s future when it comes to both real estate and culture. Since his Related Group was founded in 1979, more than 80,000 condos have been built, most of those in Miami, and his buildings (the latest of which is the upcoming Solemar in Pompano Beach) are some of the most iconic high-rise addresses in South Florida. A lover and collector of art, he donated $35 million in cash and art in 2011 to what’s now the Pérez Art Museum Miami. In 2016, he donated an additional $15 million to the institution and has pledged to give PAMM his entire collection after his death. Last year was a big one for Pérez: He established the CreARTE Grants Program, which awards $1 million in grants per year to artists and organizations, and he also opened El Espacio 23, a private museum in Allapattah that focuses on exhibitions with social overtones. As he puts it: “What I’m trying to accomplish is to make Miami a better city through art.”

14. Sarah Arison

They say talent runs in families... and so does the desire to give back, apparently. Arison is proof of that. While her privileged upbringing gives her the option to do anything she wants, she has decided to continue her grandparents Lin and Ted Arison’s mission of artistic philanthropy. As president of the Arison Arts Foundation, she oversees grants to support emerging artists and the institutions that foster them. Locally, that includes the National YoungArts Foundation and the New World Symphony. She’s also heavily involved with institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sundance Film Festival, the American Ballet Theatre, the Brooklyn Museum and Lincoln Center. As of late, her love of culture has led her to moviemaking, serving as a producer in films such as Desert Dancer, The First Monday in May, The Price of Everything and Aggie. “My grandparents are an inspiration in everything I do,” she says. “I just want to continue what they started with the same mentality—helping as many young artists as possible, in every way possible.”

15. Matthew Whitman Lazenby

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Miami would not be in the global spotlight of luxury retail if it were not for Bal Harbour Shops, the 55-year-old open-air center that’s one of the country’s highest-selling malls per square foot. Founder Stanley Whitman had a vision back when he opened the venue in 1965, and that’s continued through today thanks to the efforts of grandson Whitman Lazenby, the president and CEO of the Whitman Family Foundation, who represents the company in development, leasing, operational and asset management at BHS and the much newer Brickell City Centre. Always looking to improve the shopping experience, it’s obvious Whitman Lazenby understands the business he is in. “Luxury demands a long-term view,” he says. “It should evolve over time.”

16. Wendy Kallergis

Miami is nothing without tourism. No one understands that better than Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. This entity is an organization comprising 160 hoteliers and 300 allied members across Miami-Dade. Kallergis has held her position for over a decade and understands her role through and through, from the bottom up... literally. She began her career in catering, and one of the highlights in that profession was overseeing the state dinner for Bill and Hillary Clinton at The Biltmore in Coral Gables during the Summit of the Americas in 1994.

17. Mitchell Kaplan

In a time when brick-and-mortar bookstores are disappearing, Kaplan’s Books & Books locations continue to thrive. That’s because they’re not just stores, but gathering spots for lovers of the written word, thanks to its owner’s on-point programming of author visits. Kaplan also gave us the Miami Book Fair, the annual November gathering for literature fanatics that offers events all year round and has recently pivoted to an online platform in the savviest of ways.

18. Seth Bloomgarden

When it comes to climate issues, Miami is always mentioned, especially these days when Biscayne Bay is in such dire condition. The chairman of the Miami chapter of the Surfrider Foundation works hard at the nonprofit to advocate for clean waters in these parts. The organization, which was founded by California surfers in Malibu in 1984, maintains more than 250,000 volunteers; Miami came on board in 1997. Surfrider’s main effort is the Blue Water Task Force, which works with another organization, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, to test the water quality at the bay, local beaches and inner coastal areas to determine its safety. They then raise those concerns to local government and the public to implement solutions. Another part of their mission is to restore fragile sand dunes along the South Florida coast. “We are committed to protecting our ocean, preserving our coast and keeping plastic from polluting our waterways,” says Bloomgarden. “The beach belongs to all of us.”

19. Dan Gelber

Politics in Miami has been a thorny subject long before the current presidential administration made the divide between party lines so
vitriolic, but the Democratic mayor of Miami Beach seems to get love and respect from constituents on both sides despite what’s happening in DC these days. Now into his second term, which ends in November 2021, Gelber was first elected in 2017 with 87% of the vote over the other three candidates, and ran unopposed in the last election in September 2019. Public service runs in Gelber’s blood: His father is respected former Miami Beach Mayor and judge Seymour Gelber and his mother, Edith, was a public school foreign language teacher. Among the mayor’s accomplishments is getting the city to designate two new historic districts (North Shore and Normandy Isle), the largest historic designation in more than 20 years, and also being the first municipality in the country to ensure extra security in every public school in the city after the Parkland tragedy.

20&21 Dr. Phillip & Patricia Frost

It’s hard to fathom what Miami children’s imaginations would be like without the contributions of the Frosts. Two of the country’s most ardent philanthropists, the couple gifted us with innovation in the form of the new campus of the Frost Museum of Science, which was made possible thanks to a $35 million gift in 2011 and an additional $10 million later for the venue’s state-of-the-art planetarium. The impact of the Frosts’ generosity when it comes to education is invaluable. In 2004, they endowed the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, and in 2006 they were the lead donors of the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University. In 2015, UM opened the Patricia Louise Frost Music Studios, a space for music students and faculty, and recently they initiated a scholarship program for graduates of Florida State and Israel universities pursuing master’s degrees in science, engineering and mathematics.

22. Pat Bosch

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Perhaps no one understands the mighty power of the pen (whether these days that’s a traditional sketch pencil or a digital one) than the design director of Perkins and Will’s Miami studio. In her role she’s not just a creator of structures but also a communicator, offering design solutions that emerge out of smart dialogues with her clients. And what clients they are! Current projects she is overseeing include phase two of the student housing at Florida International University Parkview, the Vox Miami/SoMi Station mixed-use development in South Miami, Ransom Everglades School’s STEM Building in Coconut Grove and the Doral campus of the Jackson Health System. And that’s just locally. Her mantra? “I don’t want to build monuments to my ideas, but rather timeless and permanent reflections of what is best in each and every one of us—our creative forces, our souls, our visions.”

23. Alberto M. Carvalho

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Often cited as an example of what a superior professional in his profession should be, Carvalho has been the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the country’s fourth-largest school system, since 2008, and a man the city cherishes. In fact, when he was set to leave for a much more high-profile chancellor position in New York in 2018, he changed his mind overnight, admitting that he was “breaking an agreement between adults to honor a pact I have with the children of Miami.” Moves like that have made Carvalho a so-called “education rock star,” beloved by teachers and parents. He showed his innovative leadership skills when the pandemic made at-home learning a reality last spring and has promised a return to regular schooling for Miami-Dade students as soon as it’s feasibly possible and safe.

24. Jeffrey Soffer

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Few real estate portfolios can match the caliber and bottom line profits of that of Fontainebleau Development, which covers the hospitality, retail, residential and commercial sectors. Soffer has evolved his company from a regional leader into one of the most dynamic entities of its type today. Anyone who was here in the fall of 2008 remembers the $1 billion expansion of the Fontainebleau hotel (and its A-list opening bash, complete with a Mariah Carey concert and a televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show). Since then, Soffer’s undertakings have only become more ambitious, with eventual ownership of the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, a 300-acre property that’s the only place for well-heeled travelers to stay in while in Aventura. In terms of vertical residential development, Soffer’s two latest projects include the Turnberry Ocean Club Residences in Sunny Isles Beach, where amenities rival those of any five-star hotel in the world, and SeaGlass Jupiter Island, a 10-story, 21-unit project where residence prices start at $5.9 million.

25. David Grutman

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The man whom Rolling Stone once called the “11th most important person in electronic dance music” has traded late nights and VIP room shenanigans for a thriving career as a restaurateur. Although his Groot Hospitality company’s portfolio still includes LIV and Story (two mega-clubs that continue to thrive today, multiple years after their debuts), it’s his restaurants that get more attention these days. Komodo is his take on Asian cuisine. OTL in the Design District remains a popular casual gathering spot. Planta South Beach proved that vegetarian food can be appealing to the most hardcore of carnivores. Swan Bar & Bevy, a collaboration with Pharrell Williams, solidified his Midas touch reputation. And his latest, Papi Steak in South of Fifth, proved he can be as prolific as he is successful. “My goal is to bring our trademark lifestyle brand to every corner of the world,” says the husband and father of two. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds.” For a look at Grutman’s day-to-day life currently, follow his Instagram, where he’s given us a glimpse at his next goal: a head-to-toe physical transformation with a no-joke fitness regimen.

26. John Lin

In the dark spring days of the COVID-19 pandemic when Miami shut down and later during the days of rioting that followed the death of George Floyd, this upscale event planner used his Instagram account as a source of information offering what was really going on in our city, separating fact from fiction like a pro. Those of us who couldn’t be glued to our local news were instantly addicted and extremely grateful for the way he summarized complicated issues to help us navigate hard times.

27. Michael Schwartz

There are many chefs in Miami doing amazing things, but few have been at it as long as Schwartz. He dazzled foodies by pretty much introducing Miami to farm-to-table eating more than a decade ago. He’s influenced and helped various other culinary professionals go on to bigger things on their own. And he keeps at it, surprising us with new venues and tastes year after year.

28. Adler Guerrier

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Many Miami-made artists make a name for themselves in our city only to leave for greener pastures in New York or Los Angeles when their careers get hot. Represented by the David Castillo Gallery, Guerrier is Miami strong. He received his BFA at the New World School of the Arts and recently had a solo exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. He’s also exhibited his work (a so-called “visual dialogue of materials and techniques”) at Vizcaya and The Bass. For his latest contribution to our city, he teamed up with For Freedoms, a platform for creative engagement, to create a billboard titled “claimed for living, for love and trouble” to bring attention to the support of racial equality. The artwork will be up at the Moore Building in the Design District through the end of the month.

29. Tracy Wilson Mourning

Broadcast journalist. Motivational speaker. Author. Wilson Mourning is a prolific woman, but those who know her understand her favorite role (outside of being a mother) is that of mentor. In 2002, she founded the Honey Shine Mentoring Program, which is dedicated to improving the lives of young girls with less-than-blessed lives in Miami. Through workshops, after-school programming and summer camps, the initiative fosters educational support and positive experiences for females ages 8 to 18. “It’s my calling and my mission to teach and learn through mentoring,” she says. “[This program] is not only spiritually fulfilling, but it also feeds my passion for inspiring future leaders. I invite and encourage other women to join me in shining their light to brighten the paths of our young girls.”

30. Karolina Kurkova

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She’s been a Victoria’s Secret Angel, a Vogue cover star many times over and is considered one of the world’s top-earning models according to Forbes, but Kurkova is not the type of woman to rest on her laurels. In 2019, the Fisher Island resident added wellness entrepreneur to her many titles with the launch of Gryph & IvyRose, a line of herbal elixirs, probiotic powders and bath and body products that address the particular needs of young children. This is not a vanity project. Along with her partners Orion Nevel and Rachel Finger, Kurkova, a mother of two, consults with doctors and other experts to ensure the brand’s offerings are top-notch. Most recently she launched a mask collection, Billie Blooms x Karolina Kurkova, with friend Ashley Liemer. With every purchase of a mask, the brand makes a donation to Feeding America, to which they have gifted more than 10,000 masks since they launched in April.



Photography by: From Top: photo by nick garcia; Photo by Carl Timpone/BFA.com; mera & Don Rubell photo courtesy of rubell museum; jessica goldman srebnick photo by nick garcia; Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images; photo by omar cruz; photo by nick garcia; photo by nick garcia; photo courtesy of Perkins and Will; photo by nick garcia; jeffrey soffer photo courtesy of fortune development; david grutman photo by manolo doreste; photo courtesy of Adler Guerrier & miami design district; photo by Tami Jill