Trading One Set of Challenges for Another: Story #1 from a Rust Belt Ex-Pat

It’s been twenty-two years since I moved from the Rust Belt to West Palm Beach, Florida. Born, raised and schooled in Michigan, I was in a relationship at the time and it seemed that all we talked about was where and when we were going to move out of the state. Being 28 years old, I

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was at a point in my career as an urban planner where the grass really did seem like it was greener someplace else. I had tired of the challenges cialis brand dosage associated with economic restructuring and decline. Enduring the cloudy, wet
and cold winter months was another factor which contributed to the desire for a warmer climate. As it turned out, a series of events conspired to make a move possible. Since then, it’s been quite the roller coaster ride which leaves me now contemplating either a move back or taking on more work in the area.

In May of 1989, the American Planning Association national conference was held in Atlanta. I decided to attend and actively seek out planning related jobs at the conference. Lo and behold I find out that Florida had initiated it’s state-mandated comprehensive planning program which required all counties and municipalities to prepare new comprehensive plans according to state standards. The key part of this effort was rolling out something called “concurrency” which required that public facilities be in place at the time that development came on line. This “growth management” was a foreign concept coming from my economic development experience in Michigan, but I jumped at the chance to work on the other end of the development spectrum. Upon returning to Michigan, I juggled four different offers from Florida municipalities and ended up picking a job as a staff planner for the City of West Palm Beach. The salary was a little less than what I was making as a planner in East Lansing, but without state income tax, it was about a breakeven proposition – plus the benefit of not having to deal with snow.

I moved in August and soon found that summers in south Florida immerse you in a womb-like effexor online environment. You get used to sweating profusely walking from your car to an air conditioned building. You also get accustomed to watching swirling white cloud formations as seen from satellites indicating the location of Atlantic basin hurricanes. Over the next 22 years, I would get to know Frances, Jeanne and Wilma as obnoxious uninvited guests that overstayed their welcome. So, like my professional
challenges, I traded one side of the spectrum for the other. Still, being able to ride my bike dressed in shorts and a t-shirt from November through March is a definite plus.

Florida, and Palm Beach County in particular, carries with it a boom and bust economic cycle. At the end of the 1980s, the development boom was on fueled by easy lending standards which sowed the seeds of the savings and loan crisis of the early 1990s. A glut of office and retail space swamped the market. It was as if everyone tadalafil 20mg looked at the same market study showing the need for office and retail space and built thousands of projects at the same time in response. A similar boom occurred in the
1920s and the resulting bust presaged the Great Depression of the 1930s. History repeated itself in the first half of the last decade and we are still shoveling out the debris from foreclosures and residential over-building. So much so that it is becoming one of the reasons I may consider a move back.

From the windows in West Palm Beach’s City Hall, you could see the island of Palm Beach across the Intracoastal Waterway. This wealthy coastal enclave attracted the who’s who of 19th and 20th Century corporate America as a winter get-away location. Looking out across the water, I always thought that part of my future lay there. In 1993, that dream turned into reality.
Mar-a-Lago is an 18 acre ocean-to-lake estate and was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post and E.F. Hutton in the mid 1920s. A National Historic Landmark designated by Congress, it sat empty for many years after Mrs. Post’s death in 1973. The property was transferred to the U.S. government, but little money was available for maintenance. The Post Foundation and remaining family did not want it and it was a white elephant on the real estate market.

Enter Donald Trump in 1985 who bought the property as a vacation home. In the early 1990s, facing his own financial difficulties, he decided to subdivide the property. He applied to the Town of Palm Beach to do so and was turned down by the Town’s Landmark’s Preservation Commission, with one less lot than the town had approved roughly 10 years before. He took the Town to court and, in the process, offered the possibility of creating a nondiscriminatory private club as one of the means to drop micardis his legal challenge.

These goings-on appeared in the local paper and piqued my interest. I immediately thought Mar-a- Lago would be a great private club as it would be so similar to how Mrs. Post used the property in her day. It would also build a constituency for maintaining the property in a similar manner, without the threat of subdivision. The day of the public hearing at the Town, I took a day off of my work as a planner for West Palm Beach and spoke in favor of the application to make the property a private club.

Mr. Trump was in the audience and, at a break after my talk, came up introduced himself – although he needed no introduction. He graciously thanked me for my support. The Town eventually approved the application for the private club, with many onerous conditions. Months passed and my phone rang with a call from New York. It was Mr. Trump and he would like me
come on and help meet those conditions placed by the town. I said “Yes!” and it was a beginning of a ten year long adventure which included preparing the house for commercial assembly occupancy, sprinkler system, fire alarm, world-class spa, tennis courts, beach cabanas and eventually Trump International Golf Club and clubhouse on county-owned property on the mainland.
At the end of ten years, my job was essentially finished and I left on good terms. He has called me back for this, that and the other. The most notable was preparing research regarding his erecting a large flagpole without a Town of Palm Beach permit. In part due to my assistance, he and the town were able to reach am amicable agreement on the matter.

Since then, I operate my own planning and public relations firm in Lake Worth, Florida – which is just south of biaxin West Palm Beach. It has its own unique history and I have adopted it as a “patient” – I’ve been on various city boards and had two close losing races for a City Commission seat. I maintain a blog on Lake Worth politics and follies, as well. I would like getting involved in an adaptive re-use project of a historic property in the “Rust Belt” – but would likely still
live where I have for the past twenty-two years.

-Wes Blackman

This story is part of a series Rust Wire is running of first-person stories from people who have left the rust belt. If you are interested in contributing, email

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