Coffee or Cocktail? For African-American Neighborhoods, is the coffee shop the desired ‘third place’? On a lazy Saturday afternoon I found myself channel surfing, landing on the popular T.V. show Friends. Taking a much-needed break from reality T.V., I was again entertained by the sitcom; an actual script with real characters and timed jokes. As I watched I thought about the set of Friends – set in New York City, the characters'  local coffee shop was just as much a character as the people themselves.  The coffee shop Central Perk was the characters' Third Place. The Third Place in the planning world is that place where people gather in addition to their first and second places – home and work. This often translates to your favorite coffee shop, book store, or lounge.

As I watched the cast of Friends split their time between their New York apartments and the fictional coffee shop Central Perk, I thought about other ensemble cast shows of the era  and remembered that they all had their own third place that played its own ‘part’ in the show. However those places where distinctly different between all white or all black casts...hmmm....

FRIENDS

Who can forget the coffee shop (and Jennifer Aniston haircut) that started it all!

SEINFELD

The cast of Seinfeld often gathered in the fictional Tom’s Diner,  squeezing into the same booth show after show.

SEX IN THE CITY

Who can forget the diner where relationship war stories were shared. Enough said.

FRASIER

Café Nervosa was the backdrop for the quirky psychologist, his brother, and friends.

For shows with African-American casts, the third place was a bit different. It wasn't the traditional coffee shop or diner, it was often the after hours spot. (And just a note, photos of these places were more difficult to find, hints that they were less of a 'character' on the show.)

 MARTIN

 Martin, his crew, and his alter egos, often spent time at the fictional Nipsy’s Bar after work.

GIRLFRIENDS

Throughout the seasons, Joan and her Girlfriends often relaxed over wine and good laughs at cool night spots.

NEW YORK UNDERCOVER

And who can forget the dope musical performances at the end the New York Undercover episodes. Well the name of the fictional bar was Natalie’s and it was owned by a character played by Gladys Knight. This portion of the show was so popular that a soundtrack was released during the show's earlier seasons.

So, Coffee or Cocktails?

I had the opportunity to sit in on a focus group in a historically African-American part of Nashville, TN to discuss development opportunities. When pressed for what type of amenities they would like to see in the area, all agreed that a sit down restaurant to relax in the evening with family and friends was the way to go. So that got me thinking…what is the third place in African-American neighborhoods? Is it always the revitalization darling the coffee shop, or something else? If we can answer that question, perhaps we can find a revitalization solution that works for African-American, or other minority, consumer markets.

Culturally Relevant Places

This brings me to the question of, what types of amenities could enhance a sense of place in minority neighborhoods? Google "Culturally Relevant Place Making" and you won't find much. It's not a buzz-phrase in planning circles as of yet, but it ought to be. Cultural Place Making is identifying what creates a sense of belonging for a particular demographic. Identifying what is culturally relevant in terms of the urban environment, could ignite a stronger connection to one's community. Organizations like the Latino Urban Forum are bringing attention to this concept by engaging minorities in the planning process to help them identify what ignites that sense of belonging.

SpeakNow!

If you had a preference of the 'Third Place' what would you choose - coffee or cocktails?

AND

What ignites your sense of belonging in your community? 

 

Check out cable TV any night of the week, and you’ll find a home-flipping or renovation reality show. That world seems very alluring – buy a home, put in the work, and reap big profits. Or find a client, throw a fabulous open house, negotiate, and reap the benefits. I'm sold! Sign me up!!

But not so fast little urban planner; investing in residential property whether as a primary residence or investment property – takes know-how and capital. This is where a realtor comes in. A realtor can help any first time buyer or investor navigate the world of real estate and financing. A realtor with investment experience can also help a buyer/investor make a sound financial decision. As cities and communities see resurgence, the real estate market will also grow, creating opportunities for building wealth. So if you’ve ever thought about diving into the world of real estate or investing, this post is for you!

In June, I sat down with realtor and investor Damani Maynie, in an up and coming area of Nashville called Edgehill, to talk about his own adventures in investing.  Like many of my CitySpeak interviews, the conversation took a very inspirational turn, as his personal investment experiences revealed some powerful testimonies.

Damani, the city is always speaking. What is it saying to you? 

Well, Nashville is becoming a hot place, for professionals and for those in music. And Downtown is really taking off.  But even with that progress, we still have a long way to go in terms of becoming a major city. But I think the efforts of this mayor and the past mayor has aided that. So what the city is telling me is that there are many opportunities for new businesses, and for family and individual economic growth. I think there is a market for retail growth within neighborhoods, especially for places on the outskirts of the city.  I think Nashville and the inner core has got the idea of walkable neighborhoods, parks, and amenities, but I would like to see more of that in places like Antioch, Hermitage, Mt. Juliet.

So tell me your story, how did you get into the world of real estate and investing? 

Well, my stepfather was a contractor. I hung out with him during the summers and did construction work.  I did manual labor on older homes but he also gave me the opportunity to design. I also saw an opportunity to make decent money at this; I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and realized – okay this is something I can do! That’s when I decided to attend TSU (Tennessee State University) to pursue design work. In the meantime I was fortunate enough to secure my first investment and grow from there. So I’ve always loved real estate, investment, and especially design. And in those years I’ve done design, engineering, project management, I’ve invested, and I’ve been a landlord…I’ve done just about everything within the world of real estate! I really enjoy real estate though and my experience allows me to wear many different hats for my clients.

Do you feel any sort of responsibility being an African American realtor? And being African – American what perspective do you bring to your work? 

I guess being African American I feel like it’s my duty to share my knowledge with other African Americans that may or may not know about this world. But as far as the profession, I don’t look at myself as just an African American agent because it’s really about offering the best service. Good service is key, and if you have good service you’ll do well.  And by good service I mean, being knowledgeable, responsive, and having the ability to guide clients to properties that meet their needs, but that are also sound financial investments.  I also have very diverse experiences that I think helps my clients.

Explain that, diverse experiences…

For instance, my investment experience allows me to offer my clients options that can offer equity and room to grow. For example, advising clients to buy a less expensive home and putting in the equity through improvements, instead of buying the home that’s renovated to a ‘tee’ and then paying an arm and a leg for it. And I think this is important in the African American community. Property is a true vehicle to building wealth, for college, retirement.

Edgehill Renovation Before - A true fixer upper...

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Edgehill Renovation After

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Right! For example when I interviewed Will and Sonceria ( “I Live In – An Up and Coming Neighborhood!) I realized that their decision to renovate a home in an up and coming area was a great investment decision… 

Absolutely. In many cases these areas were or are still historically black but many blacks living there are renting, while the property owner lives in the suburbs or out of state. So in many cases we are left out of the loop with regard to profit and sales.

So is this a major concern for you with regard to the housing market?

Yes and broadly, gentrification is a concern. And it’s hard for me because I’m also an investor – one of my primary goals is to make a profit. But I can’t invest in places like Brentwood, so I have to invest in places where I can afford to invest; many of those areas are African American. But at the same time I think it’s good to educate the people who live in those areas, because I feel like a lot of people who live in those areas are getting ripped off. I know a lady who sold her house because a parent passed away, and she would call me whenever someone would call her making multiple offers on her home.  People need to get educated and know their rights. There isn’t any illegal about doing what I’ve described, but the shady part is what they offer people for their homes.

That’s the tough thing about gentrification,  there has to be a willing buyer and a willing seller. So people just need to be educated about the market and the options they may have. I also feel like blacks can help minimize gentrification, by bringing their money and investment to black neighborhoods to maintain the culture and character... 

I agree if young blacks did that they could change the inner city. They need to bring their resources to where the resources are – city services, amenities – because that’s what others are attracted to, the city services.  Many like that fact that they can walk to the park, to the grocery store, and never have to get in the car!  And many people like the suburbs because its family oriented, and there are large lots. However the city is changing, there are family parks, and other family oriented amenities. But the way the city is growing, the Antioch-s and Bellevue-s will continue to grow and those places will become more urban. But all in all, education is extremely important. I try to do that in the communities I work within. I share with owners what their homes are worth, and what other properties have sold for.  Just so people are not tricked by investors. I want people to come to the negotiation table educated.

The Urban Pioneer - Damani's personal home Before...

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Damani's personal home - After

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So tell me about your first experience at the negotiation table; your first investment. 

My first investment helped me go back to school and focus on that. It paid for school, life, everything – it gave me financial freedom. Now that same investment pays for my personal mortgage, family expenses, and it’s allowed me to dive into my real estate career. But it was a great risk – a divine risk.

So what was that risk like? Were you nervous? 

Yea, I was nervous! I had my eye on a small house, but the deed was caught up in the courts. I knew I could flip the house so I could use that money to live on campus. At my age mind you! (Damani was a non-traditional student).  So I wanted a small house but I ended up buying a 4 unit apartment building.  I walked around it and I walked around it, and the units were boarded up, but I went for it. I sent the owner a letter and he called me and said he’d just prayed about selling the building. And so when we went to closing, I didn’t have enough money at closing. The seller at closing wrote me a check for the difference of $1,500. He said, ‘you know what, I like you, I’m going to sell it to you for what I owe and not make a profit’. He was a black man.

This is similar to Will and Sonceria’s story. They bought the house from a black man in Salemtown who believed in them…

Absolutely, it was divine intervention for sure. I lived in one of the units. And that was the blessing. I was going to live in a small dormitory room, but God gave me a whole building! And this building is the cup that keeps on giving!

The Building That Keeps on Giving! - Damani's first investment property

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And I knew that I was being led to invest in this property.  I was like ‘I have to do it’. But, there was a point when I almost went into foreclosure. I couldn’t rent it. Another investor in the neighborhood, told me ‘man just hold on, it will always rent – don’t worry.' When he told me that, I had one more month before I was to go into foreclosure. But it finally rented and I never looked back. I knew God didn’t bring me that far to leave me out there like that. It really tests your faith. I was in school, no job and behind on my car payments. But He didn’t leave me. So when I got the opportunity I started buying more.

So what is your goal for your real estate career?

Wow, that’s a big question!  At the end of the day, aside from growing my business, I just really want to help people. I have seen how real estate can impact my life, how it helped me, so I just want to help others be successful.

Sold!

Damani is now a full time realtor with Village Real Estate.  To contact Damani Maynie visit www.ddm-thepropertyconsultant.com. 

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Damani’s Real Estate Tips

  1. Find a realtor that is responsive. Real estate decisions are often emotional and when you find a property you love, you want to act on it immediately. Your realtor needs to be easy to get in touch with.
  2. When selling your property, make sure you research the market. Don’t fully depend on your tax assessment for property assessments. It’s probably only about 80% of what the property is worth- it’s just for tax purposes. Get a realtor to give you a market analysis. It’s not an appraisal, but it will give you a good sense of what your home could sell for in the market.
  3. If you are underwater, but can pay the mortgage, keep paying your mortgage. Eventually the value of the home will come back. If you just have to get out, contact the bank because they have options. If you want to sell, a short sale (selling the home for less than what is owed) should be your last option because it could disrupt your credit.
  4. Keep an open mind. Sometimes your dream home could be a different housing style, location, or a fixer upper. In all cases lean on your realtor to help guide you through the process.

SpeakNow! - Are you a realtor or investor? What tips would you add to this list? 

November 2012 Target announced that it was closing the Antioch Tennessee store in southeast Nashville. After weathering several other retail closings and the closing of the Hickory Hollow Mall – a large regional mall in southeast Nashville - the announcement of Target leaving sent a shock wave through the community.  “Save Our Target” petitions, and news coverage of protest outside of the store commenced just days after the announcement.

Unfortunately Antioch TN – a fast growing suburban community in southeast Nashville -  is experiencing what many other communities across America have experienced – Suburban Retail Decline.

What is Suburban Retail Decline?

Suburban Retail Decline is as an urban planning issue that surfaced in recent decades. As retail and development continued to sprawl or “leap-frog” to newer opportunities and as urban mixed-use centers became the entertainment and shopping experience of choice, older suburban retail areas filled with vacant strip centers and dying malls that were left unnoticed. In addition to these common land use trends, social and economic trends also added fuel to this fire. The recession coupled with changing shopping preferences and the over saturation of suburban retail in some markets, made it difficult for older suburban retail areas to survive.

Cause: Suburban Sprawl and Retail Competition

Suburban sprawl and retail competition contributes to suburban retail decline. Retailers and developers overlook existing infill sites (sites with existing infrastructure in a developed area) to develop in greenfield sites (vacant sites where new infrastructure may be needed) in outlying areas. In the case of Antioch TN, retail development leap-frogged to greenfield sites in outlying counties, and impacted the Hickory Hollow retail area’s primary and secondary trade areas.

Hickory Hollow Mall retail area in Antioch TN, reached a primary trade area of 20 miles and a secondary trade area of 40 miles. Within this trade area lifestyle centers with traditional suburban retailers developed. To put 20 miles into context, this primary trade area reaches Murfreesboro TN – a growing city 20 miles south of Antioch TN. When The Avenue lifestyle center developed in the city of Murfreesboro with similar retailers, this impacted Hickory Hollow Mall’s trade area. Similarly, Providence Market Place, a lifestyle center in the growing city of Mt. Juliet TN roughly 15 miles from Antioch TN, also pulled shoppers from the Hickory Hollow Mall trade area.

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Cause: The Recession and Changing Shopping Habits

Within this decade, the country experienced a recession. During that time homes and jobs were lost, and as a result, many spending habits changed:

  • Shoppers began to spend money on necessities only. For this reason, grocery and discounts stores such as Wal-Mart, Krogers, and the Dollar Tree are doing well in weak or rebounding suburban retail markets.  Specialty retailers (in Antioch, Best Buy and Pier 1 for example) suffered because those items were not considered ‘necessity’. As a result, many large specialty retailers downsized their store format and/or closed under-performing locations.
  • When shoppers did spend money, it was within a new shopping experience; new mixed use neighborhoods, suburban lifestyle centers, and online shopping. Lifestyle centers – outdoor walkable malls – and emerging mixed use neighborhoods were more appealing than the older indoor mall format. In Antioch TN, when the regional mall began to decline, many Antioch residents sacrificed a 20 minute drive to these new areas, while others shopped online.

The Solutions

There are universal and nationally recognized solutions to the suburban retail decline. They include Re-use, Redevelopment, and Re-greening of existing infill sites.

  1. Re-use includes the re-use of vacant big-box suburban retail buildings. This has been successfully implemented in the Antioch community. Nashville State Community College purchased and re-used a former Dillards. The City of Nashville purchased a former JCPenny and is re-using the building as a park and community center. Several churches in the area have also reused big –box facilities, thus revitalizing dead strip centers. 100 Oaks is a local but also national example of the reuse of dying mall for mixed use center, with medical, retail, and entertainment uses.
  2. Redevelopment includes complete redevelopment of a suburban retail site. Local Nashville example includes the Harding Mall. Harding Mall was a small community mall, that was completely razed and redeveloped into a Wal-Mart.  There are some great national redevelopment examples that set a precedent for redevelopment: http://realestate.msn.com/slideshow.aspx?cp-documentid=27670258
  3. Re-greening includes revitalizing large parking lots with green space. The City of Nashville’s Park, Library and Community Center includes reclaiming three acres of the existing suburban parking lot for a park and walking track.

In all of these examples, public – private partnerships were and will remain crucial to the success of revitalization. In many cases, innovation is also a must have implementation component of these strategies; it takes vision and thinking outside of the box to re-purpose a building or retail site in a changing suburban market.

There are also proactive grass-root steps that suburban communities can take to assist in revitalization efforts:

  1. Maintain an online database of available properties. Work with realtors and local governments to catalog, prep (e.g. appropriate zoning, development incentives), and market properties and buildings for re-use or redevelopment.
  2. Conduct a grass-roots economic and demographic survey. Declining retail areas with vacant and underutilized properties often send the message of indifference and lack of spending power. A grass-roots survey may reveal real market needs, and true spending power.  Survey results may be helpful in attracting new retailers and businesses.  Utilize free tools like Survey Monkey, social media, neighborhood networks and canvasing to get the word out.
  3. Launch a grassroots re-branding campaign. Utilize social media to spread a unified message about the community. Develop a business friendly slogan that builds community spirit and pride.
  4. Support existing businesses. Start a “Shop Local” campaign. Show the businesses that have weathered the storm that you care. Use a free web site creation tool and build a website to list all the local businesses. Doing so will make it easy for residents to find, support and sustain those local businesses.
  5. Start a “Business Watch Program”. Similar to a Neighborhood Watch Program, partner with local police officials to monitor the business district. Use a Business Improvement District – a special assessment district – to pay for additional lighting, signage, and landscaping. Doing so will display a unified effort and will help deter crime.

Conclusion

The residents of Antioch TN must know that they are not alone. Google search “dying malls” or visit Deadmalls.com and one would find dozens of suburban communities that are facing similar issues.  But many have recovered and Antioch can recover as well.  The first steps are the implementation of the above ideas. The next step requires more long-term thinking about the future of this suburban retail area. Fortunately for Antioch TN, in 2013 the City of Nashville will begin updating its Comprehensive Plan – the guiding plan for the city and county. In this process, the Antioch community can think about its community’s role in the City/County and the Middle TN Region, over the next 20 – 25 years; this process will be key in setting guidance for moving forward.

As of the writing of this blog, the future of the “Antioch Target” is uncertain; petitions are still being signed, and no official word from Target has been issued.  What is certain is that there is an engaged citizenry that cares about the future of this community. Hopefully, this blog will provide Antioch TN and other suburban communities, insight and ideas on how to proactively move forward.

What do you think? Join the conversation and Speak Now by leaving a comment below.

Tifinie Capehart is an Urban Planner and Community Engagement Strategist. Need ideas about how to engage your neighbors in a specific community issue? Start the conversation with CitySpeak at info@cityspeaknow.com

I attended a community meeting hosted by a Caucasian development team in an African – American section of town. The audience was primarily older African-Americans. The proposal was on the fringe of their neighborhood, a neighborhood plagued with security and disinvestment issues. The developers pitched the idea, but after several uncomfortable exchanges between the development team and the audience regarding density, traffic, and community character, the conversation, and subsequently the development proposal, died. Re-investment that would have occurred in this community, will likely occur in another neighborhood because of a lack of trust and understanding between the Developer and the Resident.

Developers and Residents both play a special role in the growth of our cities and neighborhoods; therefore communication and understanding between the two parties is extremely important. Developers help facilitate progress. Without development, our cities would remain stagnant and void of innovation and growth. Residents are the soul of our communities, populating our cities and administering their many complex and moving parts. When these two entities meet in agreement, the result is often magnificent (e.g. The Gulch here in Nashville, Atlantic Station, Atlanta). However when there is disagreement between the two parties, this can result in a less than perfect project, or no project at all.

The failure of a project is usually caused by the lack of a relationship between the Developer and the Resident. In many cases, the Resident views the Developer as the foreigner, who has no concern for the community or its needs. The Residents however should view the Developer as the change agent or community partner; through that lense, compromise can occur.

Below are tips to help build the relationship between the Developer and the Resident. Following these steps, the Developer becomes the change agent and community partner, and communication with Residents is enhanced; subsequently moving innovative projects forward and creating sustainable communities.

Dear Developer - Become a Change Agent and a Community Partner:

ENGAGE the Community First:

Engaging the community early in any development process provides the developer insight into what would benefit the community prior to concrete decisions being made.

  1. Contact the local Planning Department to contribute to any planning processes that are occurring in the community or neighborhood where you wish to develop. Get involved in the process, and gather feedback while there is a captive audience, or remain involved to capture ideas.
  2. Hold an informal charette with thought leaders in the community. Thought leaders could include trusted colleagues who live in the subject community, local business groups or chamber members, and property owners directly affected by potential development. This will help gather the pulse and needs of the community prior to spending money on preliminary plans.

CONTRIBUTE to the Community:

Leave the impression that new development is going to resolve an existing problem, not exacerbate it.

  1. From the pre-engagement activities, determine areas of concerns for neighbors (e.g. an unsafe intersection, potholes, stormwater issues, new dog park is needed) and determine what could reasonably be resolved. Offer that solution as a component of the development proposal.
  2. Also from the pre-engagement activities, determine what a community needs, not what you as the developer think's the community may want. For instance, don't pitch a coffee shop when the community desperately needs a bank or dry cleaner.  Offering a much needed service will be remembered as a major contribution to the community.

RELATE to Your Customer - the Existing Residents:

Your customer is the existing residents, not your new tenants. Why? - Because any new development should enhance their neighborhood prior to new residents moving in or new businesses opening. Therefore, define your customer (existing residents) and build your communication and marketing strategy to that audience in addition to your end user.

  1. Yes, the multifamily development will cater to 20-somethings, but it’s on the fringe of a historic neighborhood with Baby Boomers. Make sure that your marketing and communication package not only targets the 20-somethings, but the existing residents, the Baby Boomers. As existing residents, they may have a 20-something who needs to move out or they may need to downsize also becoming an end user. Existing residents will also help sell your proposal via word-of-mouth if they see the benefit in it. Build your reputation by your quality of work and consideration of existing residents and conditions; this will build trust for future projects.
  2. When attending community meetings research your audience and be relatable; e.g refrain from using jargon, dress based on your audience, tailor meeting materials and meeting times to specific demographics.
  3. Keep the community (existing residents) engaged during and after the development process; e.g. develop a contact list and inform residents of the development’s progress, or when the solution to a community problem is being addressed. Residents will appreciate the constant contact.

Following these few steps can help enhance communication and trust between the Resident and the Developer. The Resident and the Developer can then work together to find compromise and solutions that help move our communities forward.

Tifinie Capehart is a Planner and Community Engagement Professional who has worked to engage communities in Nashville, TN. To learn about how CitySpeak and Tifinie Capehart can assist your staff in better engaging the communities you work in, contact info@cityspeaknow.com

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