* This blog may read like a rant, but I mean what I’m saying in it.

According to an article about real estate in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, a conversation similar to the following one took place in an office somewhere recently:

Prospective Condo Buyer: “I offer $1,300,000, cash, for the unit”
Greedy Real Estate Mogul: “Sorry, no can do!”

This person’s offer was $50,000 less than what the developer wanted for the unit in the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, a new luxury high-rise condo building across from the Philadelphia City Hall… a discount of slightly less than 4 percent.  Big deal.  You have to probably be sufficiently snobby and hard-to-deal with to live in a building like this.  The building’s web site notes how a “privileged few” will live there at the city’s “best” residential address.

In my opinion, the developer should have taken it, rather than saying no.

The “Greedy Real Estate Mogul” is Mr. Craig Spencer, who is the Chairman of the Arden Group.  The company’s web site describes in plain language how the company makes money:

” The Arden Group pursues undervalued opportunities where, due to market fundamentals, current mismanagement, lack of sufficient capital or market timing, assets can be purchased at a discount to replacement cost, repositioned and sold at a profit.”

If this company buys assets at a discount, why shouldn’t it offer a small discount to people who want to buy parts of what it owns?  Hmm…

Doesn’t Mr. Spencer have enough money already?  I mean, he is a majority owner of the Philadelphia Soul and can afford to live in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania — one of the richest cities in the U.S. with a median income of almost $160,000 a year per person!!!  If this man wants to do real estate investment in Philadelphia, he should live in Philadelphia too.  He does just enough community service and urban redevelopment (redevelopment of Dilworth Plaza) to generate positive public relations for his company without making any real financial sacrifice due to his massive resources.

I think our city would be better off with less of a difference between the poorest and richest sections.  Some people who live and/or work in Philadelphia will never be able to live in a building like this one unless they win the Powerball lottery, which is just not right.  There wasn’t quite this level of residence quality stratification in the past.  We wonder why Philadelphia has so much crime…. maybe income inequality and housing stratification are some of the reasons.

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Starbucks Red

December 1, 2008

Here’s my $0.02 on Starbucks Red, a new Starbucks program that will generate awareness of HIV/AIDS and monetary contributions to the Global Fund for AIDS in Africa.  It’s a great idea, but I think they could have done even more.

Only three beverages in the store will generate contributions to the charity: espresso truffle, gingerbread latte, and peppermint mocha twist.  These beverages cost approximately between $4 and $5 depending on size and speciifc beverage ordered, and the amount of the charity contribution is only 5 cents.  While that may add up over time, it is a relatively trivial amount for most people that buy premium handcrafted beverages at Starbucks.

Here are my recommendations to Starbucks:

  1. Stop using the Red Campaign for a primarily profit-seeking and business motive.  Starbucks has been impacted by the slowing economy just as other businesses have, and undoubtedly its executives are thinking of ways to extract more revenue and profit out of customers.  People should be interested in this campaign becuase of the good work it seeks to do in other parts of the world and for its societal benefits, not becuase they think the beverages taste good.
  2. Extend the 5 cent contribution to all beverages in the store, not just the selected premium beverages.
  3. Offer a mechanism in the store and online where customers can make an additional contribution to the fund, using their own money.
  4. Consider making the Red program a permanent addition at Starbucks, not just a time-limited program to take advantage of people’s slightly more charitable tendencies during the holiday months.  If Starbucks created a mechanism tied to each user’s Starbucks Card that made people aware of how much they themselves have contributed to Red ( or perhaps an alternative charity for those individuals who are religiously or socially opposed to making contributions that support HIV/AIDS work ), they might be driven to become regular customers who would enjoy being reminded of how an everyday activity such as drinking coffee can have benefits that far transcend helping with one’s sense of being awake during the day.