Urban Journeys - Monkey See, Monkey Do
by David Rambeau
I've heard of four economic development proposals in recent days, three of which had the foolish underlying theme, Monkey see, monkey do, and would be doomed to failure, if by some coincidence they happen to gain the capital to put their proposals into operation.
The first idea was to bring together a black group to buy some downtown Detroit buildings, like Dan Gilbert is doing. What a joke. Gilbert, with tons of cash, investing and business experience, successful businesses coming out of his ears, and a chain of command with himself alone at the top making decisions, is marshaling an array of financial forces and influence to reconstruct downtown to his development interests.
He is making low risk, great reward moves that were recently solidified when the light rail for Woodward and the new bridge between Windsor and Detroit were approved. Just these two transportation projects alone will virtually guarantee that his purchase of nearly two dozen skyscrapers and parking lots in downtown Detroit will be profitable.
So some blacks on the sidelines, with big eyes, mouths gaping, and greed drooling over their lips and onto their shirts, have seen what the Big Kahuna is doing and think they can do it too, that the big-time action is just waiting for them to pool their chump-change and strut into some real estate office and say, "gimme a heap of them downtown chitlins." Mosquitoes with an elephant complex.
Another friend of mine has also been bitten by the big business bug. She fantasizes winning the lottery and buying property downtown, rehabbing it into condos and street level shops and making millions. How original. Of course, she isn't going to win the lottery, and ruefully admitted as much. She's going to keep her good job, pay off her bills, produce some quality community-based projects and enjoy life. If, by some unknown stroke of Fate, she happens up on some major cash, she at least has some history in small-time income property ventures, including rehabbing and real estate expertise, as well as a unitary decision-making situation, so if she doesn't dive into the deep end of the pool, she could make something happen on a small-scale basis.
Another fellow I know has been circulating interest in a huge abandoned site in the New Center area for a telecommunications project. Not likely. Why? He's too late with too little. The market in the area has changed. Property prices in the neighborhood where he's interested in buying have crested and are on the rise. He has missed the low point by several years. Moreover, the cost of the building is just the first step. The next step is purchasing some very expensive equipment to even begin to think about production. Next, he will need highly skilled workers to do whatever he has in mind. He will need cash-flow to pay the workers, who will be looking for every chance to leave his venture to go to work for "The Man".
Even if he gets all of these ducks in order, he will need some products to sell in a market that is closed to newcomers, of whatever color, but especially to blacks, so he would have to create his own distribution and sales systems which are the hardest steps on the road to riches that he envisions. Can it be done? Sure it can. Lightning strikes all around the planet every day. But will it strike here, and will it strike him? And can he get investors to put up the money with the assurance it's going to hit him and his project? You be the judge.
The fourth fellow approached me about a building he's been trying to acquire for at least five years, maybe more. A church acquired the property and couldn't work their magic, so it has set empty ever since. My buddy who has property in the area tried to squat the building, but that got the owner's attention. The owner took him to court and my buddy quit the property without a fight, even after he had secured the building, turned on the utilities and cleaned out the debris that had been left by the previous owner. But now the church people who still couldn't develop anything after they evicted my colleague, have put the building up for sale at a very low price.
Maybe it's cheap because of the roof that was in bad shape back when the this process started, or maybe because of vandalism. Whatever the reason, the solidly built, brick building is still there for the taking, and my friend is playing it cool, waiting for the right moment to make a cash offer. Even if he doesn't get the building in question, there are a number of others on the same block to choose from. But once again, something that makes money will have to be put into the building, and he will need some help and support. And that's the reason why he approached me about being involved in his project because I certainly don't have any cash to invest.
Just so you don't think that I think I'm better or smarter than my opportunistic brethren or sistren described above, let me tell you about a black theater conference project I'm working on scheduled for Saturday, 22 June 2013, from noon till 6 p.m. at the International Institute on John R and Kirby in the International Institute located in the Cultural Center.
My colleagues and I produced our first conference in June 2012 and plan to hold another on in June 2014. We intend to grow in size to rival the very successful black theater conferences held in Winston-Salem and Atlanta. We, too, are in need of skilled help: proposal writers, photographers, an entertainment lawyer, a research writer, a publicist, a book-keeper and an audience. So if you can visualize a productive place for yourself in this venture, please contact me at your earliest convenience. For reference about our work, access our website: Concept East Theater on Facebook.com.