Two years ago, Nitnin Motwani was met with jeers and suspicious scowls when he visited meetings at Overtown churches. The real estate developer was considered persona non grata with the idea of getting public funds for his Miami Worldcenter project.
With the first phase of the $1.7 billion development firmly underway, Motwani gets fewer catcalls. He still shows up at meetings and has won over a few skeptical residents.
But for a group of millennals, mostly Black men and women, his project has put them on career path that most never expected. They are in their second year of a four-year apprenticeship where — if they’re successful — they can become licensed electricians.
The program is giving a group of Black millennials a shot at careers in electrical construction, an area they never considered. About 40 apprentices, many of them Black and from Miami Gardens, Overtown and Liberty City, get on the job training and classroom instruction.
From the looks of things, Motwani, the managing partner at Miami Worldcenter, and his team have created an amalgamation of civic-minded processes and steps that include job training and, job fairs that give low-income residents — some with criminal pasts — a chance for a better life. Insiders say that contractors and subcontractors who bid for work on the massive project are checked on whether they are bringing Black men and women on their team.
“We’re learning as we go,” said Motwani.
He and project manager Rene Perez brought in Miami Dade College and Miami-Dade public schools to oversee the training programs, and has enlisted historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church to host job fairs. And they’ve brought in Henry Crespo Sr., as troubleshooter, to set up job fairs and make sure that news updates about opportunities get out to residents.
“We're the first to change the game” of massive redevelopment in low-income areas, Motwani said.
The Worldcenter developers got agreements from Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami for more than $80 million in tax rebates over 12 years to create jobs for residents of Overtown and other neighborhoods. local residents Miami Worldcenter is receiving $88 million in tax rebates over 12 years for creating jobs for local residents of Overtown and other Miami neighborhoods.
An agreement between the developer and the Southeast Overtown Park West CRA called for Worldcenter to hire apprentices and more experienced journeymen at wages above what they would receive in construction.
Power Design, a St. Petersburg-based electrical contracting company, is responsible for the electrician program. So far, 20 journeymen and 40 apprentices have been hired. Of those, said Crespo, 45 percent of the journeymen and 70 percent of apprentices are Black.
Jerome Charles of South Dade said the work experience has opened his eyes to bigger things.
Charles, a 31-year-old father of five, said he’s used to construction work as a general laborer. This is different.
“A job is a job,” Charles said. “But a career … that’s for tomorrow.”
Miami World Center is one of several mega-construction projects that will reshape the Miami skyline. This one stretches across 27 acres with condos, apartments, an open air mall with a mix of retail and commercial space. Project manager Rene Perez said the mall will be a pedestrian friendly area similar to Lincoln Road Mall.
The first part of the development and the area where the apprentices are learning their craft, is a 500-unit Paramount Miami World-center condo tower. Also coming is an 1,800-room Marriott Marquis hotel and convention center.
The apprentices work with journeymen workers — those who have at least five years experience and are licensed. All of them are overseen by a Black project manager from Orlando, who is more like a father.
“If they fail, I’ve failed,” said Chris Riley, an executive with Power Design.
Beyond construction, Motwani’s team has reached out in other ways. Overtown resident Irby McKnight said that after Hurricane Irma, Worldcenter provided fresh food to serve meals over several days at Greater Bethel AME Church.
“I was in the kitchen cooking,” said McKnight, who said Motwani “has done a lot in the community.”