Chair of Central Florida Partnership
Considered by many to be one of the most respected and influential leaders in Central Florida, Aaron Gorovitz is a shareholder in the law firm of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed. A leading real estate attorney, consultant and advisor, he works in every phase of major projects from site selection and comprehensive plan development, to the procurement of Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) and transit-oriented development. In addition, he chairs the Central Florida Partnership and is a tireless advocate of collaboration, intelligent growth and regionalism.
EW: As most of us came here from somewhere else, where did your journey begin?
AG: I grew up in northern New Jersey, very humble beginnings. When my little sister came home from the hospital, my family shared the same bedroom – a bed for my parents, a little one for me and a crib for my sister. But if you asked my parents, they would tell you it was the happiest time of their lives. We had very little, but in other ways we had an awful lot; with strong family values, it was glorious. We didn’t know we had nothing, but we had food, family and friends.
EW: What drew you towards the legal profession?
AG: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I never wanted to be a doctor or an accountant, though I would have liked to be a point guard in the NBA, but that didn’t happen, though it was my first choice. I suppose it was because I enjoyed being an advocate. I started out representing the poor, and now I tend to represent the rich (laughing), but I’m still able to do a lot in the community. In high school, I enjoyed working with people while leading and organizing community activities. It came very natural to me and I never had to work at it. Law has always been my passion.
EW: What are the qualities that you think make a good attorney?
AG: First you have to be a good listener. I was told long ago, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ It is humorous but true. The clients I work best with are individuals or a small group of individuals who can make critical decisions. I represent folks like Alan Ginsberg in town, one of the area’s most generous philanthropists. He jokes that his board meetings take place in the morning while he is shaving, where he looks in the mirror and makes the decisions. Listening, strategizing and executing with those kinds of people is what I enjoy. I don’t do as well working in a bureaucratic setting where it is easy to say ‘no,’ or worse, do nothing.
EW: Explain then the focus of your practice.
AG: What I do is manage and negotiate deals. I started out as a real estate lawyer and still am primarily, but now, my focus is getting large projects approved at zoning boards and then doing the transactional work. I’ve been involved in numerous DRIs in Orange, Seminole and Polk counties, from very large buildings to developments that are thousands of acres. Many lawyers stop at the end of the zoning process, but I am also involved in planning, helping to develop and then selling, from A to Z.
Some enjoy arranging the documents and filling out the forms, but not me. I like, ‘Here is a piece of property’, it can be 10 acres or 10,000; ‘let’s figure out what to do with it, while building community, making money and having fun all at the same time.’
I’ve been traveling internationally a lot lately. Most of my work is with people from those countries doing business here. When involving myself in a project, I realize there are a few things that I get, many things that I don’t get and it’s the few things that I get, that I focus my work on.
EW: How did you get involved with the Central Florida Partnership?
AG: The Partnership is relatively new and the firm asked me to be their representative, which I was happy to do. To my surprise, four years or so into my involvement they called and asked me to serve as chair, and I had never chaired anything in Central Florida. I prefer to work in the background and I like for others to be in the limelight, but Alex Martins was leading the nominating committee and it is hard to turn him down.
Actually I told him I needed a day to ponder my answer, because I wanted to determine if I had the time and the right skills to be effective. I want to be fully engaged and seeing that a lot of my business is in the seven-county region, which I know pretty well, leading seemed pretty natural. What is more, this community has been very good to me. I came here in 1983 and didn’t know a soul, but found it to be very welcoming. In other places you have to be there for two or three generations to join a club or get involved, but here you just have to say, ‘Here I am,’ and raise your hand.
EW: Why is that?
AG: Many, but not all of us, are from other places. Also, relatively speaking, we have had it pretty good. Compared to previous generations and other regions, the area has grown and prospered, so the ‘pay it forward’ and inclusive attitude tends to prevail.
EW: What builds a regional mentality?
AG: If you drive from the beach, particularly coming from Daytona or New Smyrna, you may go through Deland, Deltona, Sanford, Lake Mary, Longwood and Altamonte Springs before getting to Orlando. But your kids, who are with you in the car, don’t realize they’ve gone through a half dozen municipalities or jurisdictions. The same is true if you continue west or go due east to Brevard; we are one large community, with shared community interests. We have seven counties and 86 cities, but the rest of the world doesn’t think of us that way. Therefore, we need to think of ourselves as a community, not as seven counties and 86 cities. I told Jacob Stuart, if a few more people think that way while I am chair, then I will have been successful.
We held two events in Brevard County recently and some asked, ‘Why are we holding our Legislative Delegation meeting over there?’ I explained, we could hold it at the Osceola County Courthouse, where I do a lot of work, and it would take most of us 40 minutes to get there or we can hold it in Brevard and it will take us 40 minutes to get there – plus it is safer on the Beachline! The commute time was surprising to many.
EW: What are the impediments to regionalism?
AG: There is parochialism everywhere, but because our area is newer, that attitude isn’t as entrenched. I am working on a project with some philanthropists who want to sprinkle money in some universities, so we invited them to UCF. Once here they told me, ‘In all the older institutions we talked to, where we wanted to launch new programs, in order to do that we had to undue old programs where a lot of people were invested. But because UCF is relatively new and there is no depth of emotion attached to certain programs in keeping things the way they are, you’re the perfect place for our investment.’
There is an old guard and certain entrenched paradigms that ‘our city’ or ‘our county’ is the most important. Until Jacob, there wasn’t anyone calling for regional thinking. No one ever said, ‘We’re really a seven-county region.’ His view was that we can be better together than not being together.
When thinking regionally, as leaders we have to look at the long-term. In two years, I would feel I had accomplished my purpose as chair if the region continues to come together to act as a region; if you unify as a region, those parochial perspectives begin to dissipate. What is unusual or seems extraordinary today in terms of working together could very well be commonplace. In this, I think our region is ahead of the curve.