Google Calls Georgia Artist

Darvian Chester of Columbus, Georgia decided to jump into action when he saw that Google did not honor Juneteenth on June 19, 2019 with its daily ‘Google Doodle’.  Darvian has given new meaning to be the familiar phase, ‘You can either be part of the problem or  part of the solution’.  See the full AJC article by Maureen Downey by clicking on the link below.

https://www.ajc.com/blog/get-schooled/georgian-who-created-viral-juneteenth-doodle-could-end-working-for-google/vXSZnNj275qTNzcjZ0W3QK/?utm_source=newspaper&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=8849317&ecmp=newspaper_email&

Don’t Ask, Demand Transit Funding From GA General Assembly

 

Billions in transit funding needed to build and connect MARTA as additional counties “get with the program”. Billions found for toll lanes.  And, former Gov. Deal even kicked on $400 million for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  @AJC article explains it well. Read & demand more funds for all More MARTA projects to connect to future regional projects as the other 19 counties complete their transportation plans later this year.

If the state can find hundreds of millions for the GA 400 BRT Transit project, then they can also find hundreds of billions the rest of the region for much needed Light Rail (LRT) & Heavy Rail transit projects. OUR legislators always find funding for their pet projects!

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Our voices and our votes matter!  We can no longer simply allow state elected officials to vote as they please. ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport’.  Democracy is a representative system of government.  Those elected are paid with our tax dollars. So, they work for us!  Do not get it twisted!!  What happens in the halls and chambers of the Georgia State Capitol determines our quality of life both now and in the future. Traffic gridlock is at an all time high and getting worst as  tens of thousands of new residents annually moving to Georgia…especially the metro Atlanta region.

And, we all know, as proven by research done by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and numerous other organizations, the solution to Atlanta’s growing traffic nightmares is to heavily invest in a regional transportation plan. So far, we see that toll lanes around I-285, except the southern (Airport) section has been funded.  Anything wrong with that plan?? 

And, MARTA is struggling to find local and federal matching funds for its long list of worthy transit expansion projects. The state can no longer dance around their fiscal responsibility to correct the fact that they controlled, yet did not fund MARTA during its’ first 45 years.  Yet, these same state officials love to brag, Georgia is the #1 state to do business!  Really??  How many more companies are being told the dirty secret about why Georgia chose to “starve” its only commuter transit system…to reveal the real reason why Georgia was the only state to not fund its’ transit system until January of 2018. The AJC, the Saporta Report (in the Atlanta Business Chronicle)!and many others have revealed these dirty little racist decisions.

It has been 47 years of injustice and outright sabotage to the regional and state transportation plans. Are we as taxpayers going to sit back and let this current 30-40 year transportation plan suffer the same fate?  Or, are we going to stand up, speak out, and demand state lawmakers right this wrong with by finding hundreds of billions to expand and build a “real” transportation system as our northern, Midwestern, and western states; and countries overseas that includes:  Germany, European countries, Rio de Janero, Japan, China, etc. that allow residents and tourists to avoid the traffic and take public transit. It is smart, efficient, and expensive. Yet so worth it if Atlanta really wants to be a world class city.

Georgia State Legislators are elected every two years.  There are 180+ state reps and 56 state senators.  That means they are all up for re-election in 2020.  So, do we tell them they must change their views and votes to fully support transportation funding?  Do we find and fund opposition for those who refuse our demand?  This is a chance we can make next year, if we start right now!  We can no longer ask or beg. We have the power of our vote to make sure our 2020 votes send a message all the way down our presidential year ballots!!

Are you in?  Will you commit now to make sure everyone who voted against HB 930 and those against fully funding and securing additional P3 (public private partnerships) transit expansion funds?

This is a huge opportunity for us to draw a line in the sand and make sure our state lawmakers know to support our transit expansion NOW, or to spruce up their resumes for their next job.

What are your thoughts??

https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/are-toll-lanes-really-the-answer-atlanta-traffic-mess/IH4lSj3oA6u6OIhXH4MLCI/?utm_source=newspaper&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=8628667&ecmp=newspaper_email&

Urban Food Forest, Free Produce by 2021

 

As reported by WSB- TV2.  This is a “must read!

Atlanta creates first food forest in Georgia, largest in U.S.

By: Raisa Habersham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Updated:

ATLANTA – Atlanta residents will have greater access to fresh food thanks to a public “food forest.”

City Council, on a unanimous vote, approved the transformation of 7.1 acres of property near the Lakewood Fairgrounds and Browns Mill Golf Course into a public park and garden. The food forest is the first in Georgia and the largest in the United States, Councilwoman Carla Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill has been in the works since November 2016 when the city accepted an $86,150 grant from the U.S. Forest Service Community Forest and Open Space Program. The federal agency has contributed a total of $164,000 to the project, which has additional support from non-profit groups Trees Atlanta and The Conservation Fund.

The green space, currently vacant property, will feature trees, shrubs and vines that produce fruit along with walking trails, a community garden and restored forest and stream-side areas by 2020, according to the legislation.

Smith said residents will be able to pick their produce from trees in the public park free of charge.

“It’s just like going into a park and picking muscadines from a bush,” she said.

Smith said the land was previously owned by Ruby and Willie Morgan, who later sold the property to a developer intending to build townhomes. The plan fell through and the property had sat in disarray until The Conservation Fund purchased it in 2016, she said.

The food forest is part of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ plan to ensure 85% of Atlanta residents are within one-half mile of accessible fresh food by 2021.

In 2017, 36 percent of Atlanta was classified as a food desert, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A quarter of Atlanta residents must travel more than a half-mile to get fresh fruits and vegetables, the USDA said.

The city will purchase the property from The Conservation Fund for $157,384, according to the legislation. The property will be managed by the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

Trees Atlanta, which is already conducting educational programs at the site, has contributed $121,500 to hire part-time staff, including a food forest ranger and community workforce educator. The city will also create a trust fund for outreach efforts related to the food forest.

This article was written by Raisa Habersham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

For more WSB TV2 amazing articles, visit:

The Gulch – Who Do You Believe? Who Really Benefits?

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Moderator Karen Greer, Mayor Bottoms, and CIM Advocate Team.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held a community forum to hear from residents due to opposition to The Gulch $5 Billion redevelopment plan proposed by California developer CIM.  The Mayor came in, took her seat and left after the Forum.  While she read an opening statement and answered a couple of the audience questions (that were read by the moderator), she was never seen engaging with residents.  No pictures. No handshakes. Nothing.

The plan which the City Council refused to vote on, until they have more time to review the 600 page document recently delivered to their homes, has residents furious.

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Discussing 600 page Gulch Proposal with another opponent at Mayor’s forum.

Most residents were not allowed in the forum because City employees and a group of folks in green t-shirts, supporters  of the CIM proposed Gulch deal, took up most of the seats.  How is that really a forum for residents?  The overflow room was filled with residents upset they could not get in.

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One of many ATL police officers after forum as GA Stand Up Exec. Dir., Deborah Scott, shares her opposing view with reporter.

In opening rules, outlined by moderator Karen Greer, attendees were told we would be removed by police officers, stationed around the room, if we got out of line (paraphrase).  I have attended many controversial forums/town halls, all across the country. Never have I heard those words.  Despite that, there were a few times when folks yelled in disagreement to what was being said.

Why are residents furious?  Well, after so many other “good deals” and promises that include:

– The original Braves Stadium & Turner Field

– Friendship Baptist Church & Mt. Vernon Baptist Church buyouts

– Falcons Stadium, Mercedes Benz (MB) Stadium & their $23 million bridge across Northside Drive

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Karl Barnes (white jacket) ATL native and GA Tech alum among few residents who got into the Mayor’s Gulch Forum.

Each of these deals were also “good deals”  for the community and now we are all on the hook for cost overruns (the original MB bridge cost was $10 million. Several months later, the cost rose to $23 million with $1million in lights.).

Each time, residents are on the hook despite their elected officials assuring them, ‘it is good for Atlanta because it will bring jobs’.  Well, from what most reports and articles reveal, the minimum wage, temporary stadium jobs are what residents can verify.  No one can verify any substantial contractor or management jobs for residents.  However, residents continue to be displaced and given empty promises.

With a severe shortage of affordable housing units in Atlanta, each “good deal” drives out current residents while paving the way for new residents in homes priced out of reach for most.  Being the number one U.S. city for income inequality, there are only two places for most ATL residents to move:

1) further from the city with no or limited access to public transportation

2)  under an I-20 bridge with other homeless people

If a portion of our tax dollars could be used, as many advocates have asked, for:

– programs to repair/update homes of current residents,

– a program to “grandfather” current residents’ from tax increases.

– more affordable housing units than Invest Atlanta and the BeltLine can currently deliver.

That would give thousands of residents access to reasonable and affordable housing units.

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Alvin Kendall, local attorney, gives the project overview as the Mayor Bottoms looks on.

Alvin Kendal, City of Atlanta liaison for the CIM Project gives a complicated presentation without a power point.  More on Kendall and his conflict of interest on this project from the AJC at:  https://www.ajc.com/news/local-govt–politics/watchdogs-question-rec-authority-leader-hiring-for-gulch-legal-work/QOvTwH6RnByIyAzlXvfRfL/

Much of the information he gave failed to give the whole story of the 30 year tax consequences to residents, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and Fulton County Commissioners.  Three entities, ATL City Council, APS and Fulton County have to approve the plan for it to materialize.

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Joe Beasley at podium at last week’s four hour long City Council Work Session attended by only half of the Council.

You see, I also attended last week’s City Council Work Session with “CIM Armani suit-wearing lawyers”, as former Senator Vincent Fort describes them.  Above, Internationist human rights activist, Joe Beasley, speaks against The Gulch Project.

If programs and legislation can be passed to benefit big corporations and stadium owners, why not for residents so they will not be driven out of their homes?  Is that too much to ask for while these corporate folks get to use “our” hard earned tax dollars?  Residents can make a change when they VOTE  in EVERY ELECTION.

Why is it that planners and people, including most of our elected officials, usually go into neighborhoods and tell them “what is best for them” and “how” their communities should look?  Even when Town halls are held, case in point, as with planning for MLKing Jr. Blvd, the neighborhood clearly objected to putting in medians.  This both limited left lane turning for cars and fire trucks.  Hmmm.

As WAOK Radio Host Derrick Boazman shared, ‘this Mayor’s Forum was not genuine and she is not standing up for the best interest of residents who elected her’.  Despite having a hand full of questions, Greer only read about 10-12. Most of them were not answered.  Real audience members were frustrated and began to shout out in frustration causing commotion.  Meanwhile the mayor sat with an unchanged expression.  And, to top it all off, most of us were shocked when the forum seemed to abruptly end.  Most of the time was not used to answer questions, but to give Gulch proposal rhetoric about how good this deal is for Atlanta.  If it is that good, tell the truth, answer all questions, and stop rushing.

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Registering & educating voters at GA State MARTA Station. Back of t-shirt reads, “Register to Vote”.

So how do Atlanta residents and residents across the nation get control of their neighborhoods and protect them from predatory developers?

Glad you asked.  The short answer is to unite to vote out those who do not favor the residents who elected them.  And, to vet and fund candidates. Do not wait to see who runs.

On Tuesday, November 6, residents can take their power back by not just voting.  Everyone also needs to educate themselves on the 20 plus items on Georgia ballots (use Google, discuss with friends), BEFORE Election Day, so you can vote down the entire ballot with confidence while encouraging friends and family to do the same. Print a sample ballot from:  www.mvp.sos.ga.gov

In the meantime, those who are in office may be able to be recalled when they do not represent their voters. In the words of Sean King, contributor to the Tom Joyner Morning Show and Black America Web, “When we organize, we win!.”

 

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Lots of people hanging around after Mayor’s Gulch Forum. Sign reads “Red Light The Gulch”.

So, it is obvious that Atlanta residents did not get their questions answered at the Mayor’s Forum.  So no transparency.

Who do you believe about The Gulch Plan?  The Armani suit-wearing attorneys who represent CIM, a firm with no Blacks on their executive team (according to their website http://www.cim.com)?  Who benefits?  You decide. You can make sure your voice is heard:

1) Organize a protest big or small.

2) Contact Mayor Bottoms at (404) 330-3100 or email from this link:

https://www.atlantaga.gov/government

3) Contact EVERY City Council Member, not just yours. Keep in mind, three are at-large or citywide :  Bond, Dickens, and Westmoreland.  If you do not know the name of your council member, ask when you call (404) 330-6030 or check this link for their individual contact info:

http://citycouncil.atlantaga.gov

 

(1. Also see my earlier blog on The Gulch.

2. Please let me know if you see errors. Another sets of eyes is always good!)

 

 

 

BeltLine Group, “The Haves” Are Claiming Victory

If the BeltLine Group, “the haves”, that is well-organized wins; that means south and southwest Atlanta loses. That includes transit dependent riders, who do not own or have access to a car, lose.  We are Atlanta!  We are the home of Civil Rights!  How can this be allowed to happen??

Please read the info below and contact MARTA Board members AND all Atlanta City Council members via email, phone, social media AND snail mail. Contact them ASAP, and definitely before September 28 since the MARTA Board is scheduled to vote on October 4.  “The have nots” need a modified plan of the first proposed project list that connects 126 neighborhoods and adds the Fulton Industrial MARTA Station.

Remember:  “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings!!  So we still have time to get what we want, need, and have paid for; yet we still being denied equity…equal distribution of the $2.5 Billion available through the Atlanta half penny sales tax.

 

BeltLine Rail lands front page in the AJC

We’re heartened to see that the public’s views are being heard. The AJC articletoday states the More MARTA project list is being revised in talks between Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the MARTA board. Some remaining funding may go to to the BeltLine as a result of these discussions. BeltLine Rail Now! is optimistic about this development. However, it’s not clear how much funding would remain, or how that funding would be applied. We look forward to learning those details.

We encourage you to keep making your voices heard! Sign our petition and contact your City Council representatives, Mayor Bottoms’ office and MARTA before the board votes on October 4th. Let them know you want transit that connects all 45 neighborhoods along the BeltLine to jobs, destinations and opportunity.

70 Atlanta Residents Say Bad Gulch Deal

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Yesterday’s Atlants City Council meeting heard over three hours of public hearing from residents on a variety of topics. However, over 80% were appealing to the Council to either slow down or scrap the Gulch Project being proposed by the “Armani suit wearing” development team, CIM Group, from California.

After receiving the 600 page proposal document, myselfnand others have more questions than answers.  As I put on my banker hat to review this complex deal with Georgia Stand Up, the nonprofit for which I am the Public Policy Coordinator, a researcher from Georgia Tech and independent attorneys; I am shocked and embarrassed that this 30 year deal gives away prime Atlanta property with no ownership or financial gain for residents other than inflated projections of jobs and benefits. It reveals $1.7 Billion in tax payer funds being diverted from our schools and desperately needed neighborhood infrastructure projects that includes sidewalks so our kids do not have to walk in the street to get to the library in places like Campbellton Road on the southwest side.

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Senator Vincent Fort warned, “Someone one is going to jail from decisions made three years ago involving the Airport contracts, the BeltLine and the Emory annexation deal so they could get a MARTA station.  And, someone will go to jail three years from now if you approve this deal…which one if you will it be?  Or do you have the guts to represent the people who elected you?

As the Work Session questions by Councilman Amir Farokhi revealed, there are 1,500 construction workers per year. The document as taken 1,500 and multiplied it by some factor of 20 (years) to derive the false number of 35,000 construction jobs. Questions by Council member Matt Westmoreland also sought to get to shed light on what is contained in these 600 pages.  I am both sadden and disappointed that our mayor is pushing a deal by a developer who has a history of bad deals.

You see, the Mayor needs eight votes to pass legislation.  Word on the street is she had six firm votes, possibly seven.  When it was confirmed that Councilman Ivory Young would not be able to attend or vote by phone in yesterday’s meeting due to his stem cell medical treatments, the vote was removed from the agenda.

The diverse group of speakers were clear in their call to not rush this deal through the legisltive process and be more transparent.  The call was so strong that yesterday’s scheduled vote on this deal was cancelled.  And, Mayor Bottoms has called a meeting on Wednesday, September 26, at City Hall at 6pm.

Georgia Stand Up Executive Director Deborah Scott reminded City Council when they ran for Office, none of them, not even the Mayor mentioned the Gulch as an area of importance at any of their debates or in their platform issues.  She went on to say all of them mentioned community development, transparency, and affordable housing and she has tapes of those forums to prove what they said.  “So why is it that this project is all of a sudden so important, …slow this process down!  Give everyone a chance to see what this is all about and be transparent.”

In the words of Sean King, “When we organize we win.”  So thanks the organizations that include Georgia Stand Up and the Housing Justice League.  Thanks also to community leaders who also came to speak against this plan that includes:  Former City Councilman & WAOK Radio Host, Derrick Boazman; Former GA State Senator Vincent Fort; Internation Human Rights Advocate, Joe Beasley; APAB Officer James “Jim” Martin, and NPU-R member Edith Ladipo.

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Joe Beasley warned that this is a volatile situation and residents are tired of their elected officials not representing their best interest.  He went on to warn that it is going to blow up if you do not change who you represent when you vote on issues harm residents.

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Despite this challenging day, City Council President Felicia Moore did a great job to move the speakers along several hours of passionate public comments.

My comments included that as the Jewel of the south, Home of Civil Rights, we have to get the Gulch deal right . Atlanta has an opportunity to set the standard across the state, region, and nation on how to do an economic development deal that is in the best interest of the residents.  If we get this right, even more people will want to move, do business and visit Atlanta. We do not have to do business with the devil, the CIM Group because there are more ethical developers.  And, we definitely do not have to give away the bank!

As Atlanta residents come together to demand that their council members represent their interests and not the interest of the developers, we/they will get a different result than had we remained silent.  This is democracy at its’ finest!!  So, start and continue conversations on your social media and within your circle of friends about The Gulch Project, More MARTA, Fort McPherson, and recent eminent domain issues.  Today’s action or inaction today has massive consequences tomorrow, next year and decades from now, so “stay woke”, stay informed and show up to shape the future.

For more details on this “bad deal”, read today’s (9/18/18) page one story in the AJC:  “Mayor Delays Council Vote on Gulch Deal” by Stephen Deere (sdeere@ajc.com) and J. Scott Trubey (strubey@ajc.com).  In this article, Deere and Trubey outline each aspect of this complicated 600 page proposal in laymen’s terms.

The Gulch Project Analyzed by AJC

The cost to Atlanta tax payers for the proposed Gulch Project initially was $1.2 Billion.  Now the number has climbed to $1.7 Billion.  As with most construction projects, the amount will grow…and be blamed on cost over runs.

https://epaper.ajc.com/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=Atlanta%20Journal-Constitution&edid=74bcedfd-ccd2-434d-84e7-fd09f032634d&pnum=1

As the City Council tries to read and comprehend the 600 page document known as:  the Atlanta City Council Legislative Package, Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms and CIM (the California developer), are in a big hurry to close this “good” deal.  As I put on my former banker hat, one thing I know for sure is that when people try to rush things, mistakes are made.  If this really is a “good” deal, give City Council members a chance to review and analyze the massive 600 pages from CIM, the developers on this deal. Council members need to understand the package and be able to:

1) get their questions and concerns answered,

2) fully understand the package,

3) determine if it really is a good deal,

4) revise the affordable housing section to make it truly affordable for ATL Westside residents, and not use Sandy Springs-Marietta income numbers

5) be able to explain their vote to their constituents,

6) vote in the best interest of their constituents.

There are three entities that have to sign off on this deal: Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County.  On Monday, September 17, protesters are expected to converge on the Mitchell Street side of City Hall before the scheduled 1:00pm City Council meeting.

With the recent revealed ties that CIM has to Jared Kushner and President Trump, this deal may be in trouble.  See the link and article below.

https://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2017/05/26/57043/la-based-cim-group-ties-with-kushner-and-trump-wor/

For your convenience, I have copied the full WNYC May 2017 article.  Though somewhat long, it is an easy and jaw-dropping read!  Please leave your comments on his post.

Donald Trump and Jared Kushner Meet With Business Leaders, January22 2017
Donald Trump and Jared Kushner Meet With Business Leaders, January22 2017
( Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press / Associated Press )
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The Watchtower in Brooklyn Heights is one of the most noticeable edifices in New York. It’s a complex of buildings on a bluff above the East River, with a sign on top that flashes the time and temperature. It used to be the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But today, workers are preparing to give it a makeover. Like so much else in Brooklyn, the Watchtower has been sold to developers. It changed hands last August, shortly after Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for President.

The timing is relevant, because the buyer was Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. At $340 million, Kushner’s purchase of the Watchtower was one of the biggest real estate transactions in Brooklyn history.

Kushner didn’t buy the Watchtower alone. He had help from a company called CIM Group, a private equity firm based in Los Angeles. Over the years, documents show, CIM has done at least seven real estate deals that have benefited Trump and the people around him, including Kushner. Those deals included stabilizing the scandal-plagued Trump SoHo hotel, a key Manhattan holding for Trump and his children Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.

At the same time, records show, CIM Group, with approximately $19.7 billion under management, has pursued an array of lucrative government contracts, pension investments, lobbying interests, and a global infrastructure fund, all of whose fortunes could benefit from a Trump presidency.

While both Kushner and Trump have distanced themselves from their businesses, neither man has divested. Ethics experts including Kathleen Clark of the Washington University School of Law say that because of the two men’s ongoing business interests, the web of connections with CIM is troubling, even if no laws are broken.

“Trump gives new meaning to the idea what’s good for Donald Trump is apparently good for America,” Clark said. “He doesn’t actually seem to have a conception of the public interest outside of himself or his company or his family. That’s astounding.”

The White House declined to comment for this story, but in the past has defended Trump and Kushner’s business ties, saying they’ve been vetted and are in compliance with laws and regulations. CIM declined to comment on potential conflicts.

What is CIM?

CIM Group is certainly known at the top echelons of New York real estate. But the company itself — its character, its founders — seem to leave few traces beyond the properties in which it invests.

“CIM stands out as being very secretive,” said Konrad Putzier, a reporter for the Real Deal magazine and website who has covered the company for several years. “The fact that we don’t even know what CIM stands for says it all.”

A spokesman said in an email “CIM stands for CIM…that is all.”

CIM was founded in Los Angeles in 1994 by Shaul Kuba and Avi Shemesh, two Israelis, and Richard Ressler, a former New Yorker with private equity in his family — his brother Tony Ressler co-founded industry giant Apollo Global Management with his brother-in-law, Leon Black.

CIM’s strategy is to get good returns for investors by investing in undervalued urban real estate. The firm quickly became known in California for courting influential politicians and donating tens of thousands of dollars to a series of statewide political action committees.

In 2004, the firm acquired a package of properties that included the Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre) in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards are held. They purchased the real estate at a deep discount, after the previous owner ran into financial difficulties.

A few years later, CIM persuaded the city of Los Angeles to arrange a $30 million HUD loan to reconfigure the theater to stage shows from Cirque du Soleil. The arrangement was supposed to last a decade and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic activity. Cirque’s show, however, fizzled after little more than a year.

CIM has plenty of friends in Los Angeles, but it also has plenty of critics. Dennis Zine, a retired police officer and former city councilman, helped the company win the right to develop the derelict Reseda Cinema, which appeared in the opening sequence of Boogie Nights. Zine said CIM promised big things, but then neglected the project, embarrassing him in the process.

“They burned their bridge with me,” Zine said.

CIM Moves into New York

Throughout the early 2000’s, CIM kept rolling up cash, in part by drawing investments from public pension funds like those in New YorkState  and California. In 2010, when CIM made its first foray into New York, the two states had more than a billion dollars with CIM. Neither pension fund would discuss the reasons for their investments.

It was a great time for investors with an appetite for risk and the potential big payouts. The financial crisis had wiped out big banks like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Those that were still around were barely lending, and many New York developers were struggling to pay their bills.

One of those was Harry Macklowe, who had acquired the site of the old Drake Hotel in Midtown Manhattan but lacked the money to build. Court records show Macklowe had tried to work out a deal to finance the project with Paul Manafort, who would later become Trump’s campaign manager, and a Ukrainian oligarch named Dmitry Firtash who had friendly relations with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But those negotiations went nowhere.

Then, in January 2010, CIM partnered with Macklowe to erect what is now known as 432 Park Avenue, the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere.  One unit later sold for $95 million.

Later that year, CIM saw another opportunity: the Trump SoHo.

Though the condo-hotel project had been announced on “The Apprentice” finale in 2006, it was troubled from the start. Neighbors were immediately alarmed and upset with the idea of an outsized tower in the low-rise, chic district.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, recalled that the project was plagued with problems. He said there were “deadly construction accidents, bodies being exhumed on the site from a 19th century abolitionist church, falling objects from the building.”

Just after a gala ribbon-cutting for the Trump SoHo in the fall of 2007, the New York Times reported that one of principals in the building partnership, Felix Sater, had been convicted of assault for cutting a man with a broken margarita glass in a bar fight. He’d pled guilty to a stock fraud scheme. Another principal, Kazakh-born Tevfik Arif,was arrested on child-prostitution charges in Turkey. He was later acquitted.

It was, as Berman described it, “just an endless array of scandals and connections between the financiers and Russian andCentral Asian mobs.”

Condo buyers sued Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr., saying they lied about how many units had been sold. The Manhattan District Attorney began investigating whether there had been criminal fraud. The lawsuit was eventually settled, with the plaintiffs required to sign non-disclosure agreements. With few witnesses, the D.A. dropped its probe.

By 2010, the partners behind Trump SoHo, were falling behind on their construction loans, and the lenders were threatening foreclosure.

That’s when CIM stepped in with a reported$85 million lifeline.

Important Partners

The same month CIM saved Trump SoHo, December 2010, CIM bailed out the project’s  co-developer, Tamir Sapir, on two other properties he owned: 11 Madison Avenue and the William Beaver House in Lower Manhattan. In all, CIM spent more than a half-billion dollars and gained a stake in some prime New York City properties.

“There was a short window of opportunity that they just seized,” said the Real Deal’s Putzier.

CIM also soon embarked on its first venture with Kushner, an office building at 200 Lafayette Street. The New York Post reportedthat when they sold the building in 2013 — after $30 million in renovations — the new buyer paid three times as much as Kushner and CIM had initially invested. CIM and Kushner also appeared to turn a quick profit on another jointly-purchased office building, 2 Rector Street.

“The connection with Kushner, it’s very fitting,” Putzier said. He noted that the Kushner Companies own 20,000 apartments and 13 million square feet of office and industrial space, “but…they’re a family company, so when they do a lot of deals they usually need a partner with a lot of equity to help them, and that has often been CIM Group.”

Kushner Companies agrees. In a statement, President Laurent Morali — who replaced Jared Kushner as the firm’s top executive after Kushner went to work in the White House — said “CIM is a strong longstanding partner with a developer’s DNA. They can work through complicated situations, are thorough and strategic, yet also make quick decisions.”  The feeling is mutual: CIM said in a statement that it has “strong, collaborative relationship with the team at Kushner, which has proven to be a valuable local partner.”

CIM also said it “has only one business relationship with a Trump-related company” — the Trump SoHo. The Trump Organization declined to comment for this story; it manages the property under the terms of a licensing agreement.

“The headline attraction of being somehow even tacitly aligned with the President of the United States could provide an incredible fundraising opportunity if they play it right, if they spin it the right way,” said Serge Reda an adjunct professor at Fordham Business School. While the specifics of CIM’s pitch to investors are unknown, Reda said it would be expected that a private equity firm would discuss its record.

When CIM started making deals with the Trumps and the Kushners, its executives had no idea their business partners would one day occupy the Oval Office. But now they do, and ethics experts say that puts CIM’s connections to the First Family and its significant government business dealings in a new light.

The full extent of CIM’s government ties is not known; much of its business is private, though some investments are publicly traded. In public disclosures, CIM said it received annualized rent of $37.7 million from the General Services Administration and other federal agencies. The company said that losing business from a downsized government “could have a material adverse effect.”

CIM also depends on the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which provides a path for foreign investors in American real estate to obtain U.S. green cards. According to the non-partisan research group Opensecrets.org, CIM spent $430,000 on federal lobbying in 2015, putting it among the top ten real estate firms lobbying on that issue. CIM listed preserving the EB-5 program as a major lobbying priority.

This is the same program that Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer, one of his siblings who now runs the family business, was recently promoting in China.

There’s one more program CIM might benefit from, which could dwarf its profits from EB-5, rents or pensions. According to SEC disclosures, CIM has an infrastructure investment fund which it acknowledges is sensitive to “regulation” and “political events.”  If Trump gets an infrastructure bill passed, funds like this could earn many millions from projects like roads and tunnels.

Kushner is at the center of the administration’s building plans. In March, the White House announced that he would head an “Office of American Innovation” whose mandates include “creating transformational infrastructure projects.”

“Whether the parties are doing something untoward or not, the situation creates doubt, and it will follow the President throughout his term as long as he owns his business,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington or CREW. “It’s a question we shouldn’t be having to ask.” His group is suing the president for violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Last December, as the president-elect was preparing to move to the White House, the firm did one more deal with Trump-world: CIM helped Kushner Companies buy 85 Jay Street, a parking lot in Brooklyn, for an eye-popping $345 million.

Watch that space.

 

 

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