Advertisements


Green + The Grain plots first suburban store in St. Louis Park office building

Green + The Grain, a lunchtime staple in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, is planting roots in the suburbs for the first time this spring. The local fast-casual salad chain recently signed a lease for a nearly 3,000-square-foot space on the ground floor of the 10 West End office building, located at 1601 Utica Ave. S in St. Louis Park, according to a Monday announcement from JLL, which was just awarded exclusive leasing rights for the 11-story tower. The move marks Green + The Grain's seventh….....»»

Category: topSource: bizjournalsJan 25th, 2023

How small-town Maine embraced a family that fled the Taliban

In fall 2021, an Afghan family was resettled in Maine. This is the story of how they rebuilt their lives, and the community that welcomed them. Omid, left, and Nasir walk on a path winding through farm fields near their homes in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.Jodi Hilton for InsiderIn the fall of 2021, a family from Afghanistan was resettled in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. This is the story of how they rebuilt their lives, the community that welcomed them, and a friendship that bridged two cultures.CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Last November, at about midnight, Omid was lying in bed in his new home in Cape Elizabeth, Maine — exhausted, but unable to sleep. He texted Nasir Shir, his old friend from Afghanistan who lived down the street. Was Nasir awake, and was he up for a walk?Nasir was awake; he often stays up late to talk to friends and relatives in Afghanistan, nine and a half hours ahead. On this night, and on many nights during Omid's first few months in Maine, Nasir was soon at his door. The two men set off. Under the night sky, they passed driveways with basketball hoops, porches with American flags, and the occasional boat parked in someone's yard.Omid and Nasir had met in 2004 on the site of an international development project in Kabul. At that point, Nasir had been living in the US for 20 years, but his work in geographic information systems took him all over the world, and sometimes back to Afghanistan, for international development contracts. Omid, 14 years younger, was an IT specialist.A deep friendship began, and the two stayed close. When Nasir's family would pass through Kabul, Omid would host them. "Anyone who travels to Afghanistan goes to his house," Nasir told me. "He's the ticket agent, the hotel, and the food place." Omid got to know Nasir's extended family — "cousins, uncles, aunts, everybody." The two men share a similar sense of humor and laughter comes easily when they're together.When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan weeks before the planned US withdrawal, Omid fled with his wife and their four young children.Nasir urged them to come to Cape Elizabeth. "I warned him about the cold weather, and that there are not many Muslims there," Nasir said. He also talked up its virtues. "I said: 'If you want to make money, don't come to Maine. But if you want to raise your family, come to Maine.'"But it wasn't just Nasir who welcomed Omid. The whole town had. In the weeks before Omid's family arrived, an army of neighbors had rolled up their sleeves to help get the house ready, dropping by at odd hours to scrape up subfloors, install a new kitchen, mount cheerful decor, and plant flowers.Omid felt immense gratitude toward everyone who had helped his family. "I will never stop appreciating them," he told me. But the transition to his new life in Maine was still hard — even with all the goodwill in the world.  Omid's family arrived in Maine just before Halloween in 2021 and recently celebrated one year in Maine.Jodi Hilton for InsiderKabul The call came in the afternoon. It was August 27, 2021. Twelve days earlier, Kabul had fallen to the Taliban. Now, Omid was being told to gather his family and head to the airport immediately. For days, Omid had lived with a constant feeling of dread. He worried that the Taliban government would target him as a collaborator for his work on US and United Nations-backed development projects. In case he was killed in a blast and no loved ones could be called upon to carry out the Muslim funeral ritual of ghusl, in which the body of the dead is washed before it is laid to rest, he took care to wash himself every day. In 2018, Omid had applied for a Special Immigrant Visa, which was still in process. (Editor's Note: We are using a pseudonym for Omid and his family members.) Omid and his wife, Palwasha, hurriedly filled a suitcase with clothing for their four children. They grabbed diapers and a swaddle for the youngest, Safa, who was just a month old. From the roof of his apartment building, Omid could see Kabul's international airport, where thousands of people had been lining up but most were denied entry. Just the day before, a suicide bombing had killed nearly 200 people. Omid was still not sure that he would be leaving Afghanistan that day. Everyone wanted to leave, but not everyone was able to. "No one wants to leave their country," Omid would tell me later. "All your friends, your family members, your culture, your language. But the thing that you are missing is security. For the sake of your children, you know you should leave everything and get out of that hell."At the airport, Omid's family was ushered through a gate. Others tried to use the moment to scramble through, and a cloud of tear gas exploded around them. Inside, Omid was told he wouldn't be able to board the plane with a suitcase. "I left everything there in the airport," he told me. "But at the time, it was important for me to save my life, not my clothes."Wearing bracelets with barcodes wrapped around their wrists, the family was led onto an airplane bound for Doha, Qatar. As the plane took off, Safa, the baby, was still red in the face from the tear gas.In all, 124,000 Afghans were evacuated in the final two weeks before the US withdrawal, which was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and more would follow. Of the 76,000 who were resettled in the US, most went to Texas, California, and Virginia — places with established Afghan American communities. But evacuees ended up in nearly every state.For Omid and his family, that final destination would be Maine — the whitest (91%), oldest (the median age is just shy of 45), and most rural (60% of Mainers live in rural areas) state in the US. How that happened is the story of a community that banded together to welcome a family of strangers, and a friendship that has bridged two cultures. The Portland Head Light is Maine's oldest lighthouse and an iconic tourist destination.Jodi Hilton for InsiderFriends in need Back in Cape Elizabeth during those tense days in August 2021, Nasir's phone was ringing off the hook as friends and former colleagues in Afghanistan desperately sought help getting out. He and Omid were speaking every day. On one call, Nasir could hear gunfire in the background and Omid, alone in his family's apartment, seemed to be in a state of shock.  Nasir also left Afghanistan as a refugee, during the Soviet-Afghan war, and had come to Portland, Maine, in 1984 when he was 13. Nasir's sister, Shukria, who's six years younger, recalled learning English by watching Bob Ross' painting shows and "Sesame Street."Both she and Nasir received full scholarships to attend Waynflete, a highly-regarded private school in Portland. While the school was mostly white, they had classmates from Cambodia and Laos. Nasir and others were encouraged to share stories about their immigrant experiences, and he said he developed pride in his background and an appreciation for the value of listening to one another. said the school encouraged him to take pride in his background. "Back then, the state was new with refugees," Nasir told me. "There were hardly any Muslims, never mind any Afghans." Halal meat wasn't widely available, and Nasir remembers going with his grandfather to local farms to help slaughter lambs, and then packing the meat into bags to store in the freezer.  There is a saying in Maine that people who are not born there or do not come from a long lineage of Mainers are from "away." In some communities in Maine, families have lived there for so many generations that roads and bodies of water are named after them. If you tell people the town you grew up in, and they are familiar with it, they might know your whole family, and all of your neighbors too. In the 1800s, Irish and French Canadian immigrants started arriving in Maine. In the early  1900s, House Island, off the coast of Portland, was used to process overflows of new arrivals to the United States and became known as "Ellis Island of the North." Immigrants and refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos came in the mid-to late 1970s and a Somali community began emerging in the early 2000s in Lewiston. According to the Portland Press Herald newspaper, around 250 Afghans were in Maine before the Taliban's takeover of the country.   Nasir considers himself a true Mainer because it's the place he keeps coming back to. "For most people, any place where they spend their childhood is home. I spent my childhood from 13 on, here, so it's home," he said. "I went to Dubai, Pakistan, traveled the world, but I still chose to come back." Nasir and his wife, Nazia, made their home in Cape Elizabeth, nearby Portland, in the late 1990s, and it's here where they're raising their five children, who range in age from 11 to 25. Once a farming and fishing village, the town of 9,500 people now has a reputation for excellent schools. A few miles away from the multimillion-dollar homes that hug the inlet of Casco Bay, Nasir's neighborhood is dense with suburban homes on relatively small lots. Shukria lives nearby. His two brothers live across the street.Cape Elizabeth is both rural and residential. Ocean House Farm is located near the town's center.Jodi Hilton for InsiderKettle Cove is one of several beaches popular with locals.Jodi Hilton for InsiderAfter the 9/11 attacks, as American troops began deploying to Afghanistan, Muslims in the area were sometimes harassed or intimidated. Nasir, then in his early 30s, was involved in a local mosque and active on local boards, and he started being asked to speak at churches and other community gatherings. People wanted to know about the Taliban, and they had questions about Islam. "It's human nature to fear what you don't know," Nasir told me. The outreach seemed to come naturally to Nasir, Shukria told me. He was patient and knowledgeable — and not one to easily take offense, even when he had every right to. Instead, on the occasions through the years when someone would make a comment that was either subtly or outright rude or derogatory, his responses would be gracious and respectful, and he'd often offer to have more conversations.Nasir's calm approach "takes an unbelievable amount of self-control," said Denney Morton, Nasir's former teacher who's now a friend. "It also," Morton continued, "takes a person who believes that the future is going to be worth putting up with that kind of stuff."Nasir's mission is "to make this country live up to what it says it's going to be," Morton said. "He does it all the time — and he does it with laughter, and joy, and inviting people over to his house."In 2016, after Donald Trump's election, Nasir's daughter Haleema remembers hearing, "Now that we have a new president, all the Muslims will be deported." Nasir's son, who was born in Maine, was told to "go back" to where he came from. Maine's governor at the time, Paul LePage, who coined himself "Trump before Trump," was regularly called out for racist statements. In 2016, he sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying that Maine would no longer participate in resettling refugees. (LePage, who left office because of term limits, challenged his successor, Gov. Janet Mills, in this year's election but lost by a wide margin.)Nasir's response, again, was outreach. He got involved in local politics and won a seat on the school board in 2017. And he and Nazia often invited dozens of locals from the Cape Elizabeth area to their home to break the Ramadan fast with a big meal. By opening their home and sharing their lives with their Cape Elizabeth neighbors, Nasir and Nazia, and his sister Shukria, created a model of community-building for others in town to emulate — "not at Nasir levels, but in some way," said Jim Sparks, a friend who's worked with Nasir on community projects. "He's brought a warmth and generosity and large-heartedness that's pretty contagious," Sparks said. As it happened, Nasir was about to lean on that community as he prepared to welcome Omid and his family to Cape Elizabeth. Unlike his own arrival to the US, Nasir wanted his old friend to "start from the top."'Would others help me, even if they didn't know me?'Two miles away from Nasir's home in Cape Elizabeth, Emily Mavodones was also watching the news from Afghanistan. A video showing desperate people clinging to an airplane as it took off from Kabul International Airport had left her shaken. "What would I do to protect my family, my children?" she asked herself. "Would others help me, even if they didn't know me?"Emily found Nasir's name and contact information in a local paper. They had met once at a kid's birthday party, and she later learned that they had other passing connections: Her father-in-law had gone to school with Nasir and her mother had worked with him. "Our words were in parallel," she told me.Even as she reached out, Emily wasn't exactly sure what helping out could mean. A mom of three kids, she had volunteered here and there at a soup kitchen and she'd donated blood to the Red Cross. But she had never been involved in a long-term humanitarian effort.Nasir replied, hastily, with links to the USCIS website for sponsoring Afghans. Between the $575 application fee and the pledge to support the person financially, at least initially, Emily quickly realized it was too big a commitment for her family. She let it drop.Several weeks later, Nasir had caught his breath. Omid's family was out of Afghanistan. Catholic Charities, the local refugee-resettlement organization in Maine, was working with Omid's family to help them resettle. Nasir expected his friend to arrive in the next few weeks. Nasir circled back to everyone who had reached out to him earlier. For one thing, Omid's family would need a place to live.Emily Mavodones, who was part of the team who helped prepare a home for Omid and his family, holds Safa, the youngest of Omid and Palwasha's four children.Jodi Hilton for InsiderAs an Afghan evacuee, Omid would be given some financial assistance to help pay for housing. A two-story structure, a few doors down from Nasir, seemed like a good choice. It was one of several properties that Nasir owned in the area. When he bought it, it had most recently been used as a dentist's office, which meant there was no kitchen, and there was a large sink in almost every room.Nasir often rented out his properties to refugees and asylum seekers, or families from the area who qualified for Section 8 or General Assistance housing. It was reliable income, and Nasir saw it as a way to help newcomers who often lack the up-front cash or the credit and employment history that many landlords required. He'd bought this house a year earlier, with the idea that a local Congolese family would move in. During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, their son had given a speech that had moved Nasir, and he had gotten to know them a bit. But the home still needed a lot of work to function as a residential space. After a while, the family had gone someplace else.Now, with Omid heading to Maine, finishing the house was urgent.Emily offered to set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for renovations, and donations poured in — at final count, $12,890 from 142 people.Haleema, now in her early 20s, and Shukria set up a Google doc with a wish list of items. Packages started arriving at the house — mixing bowls, a pressure cooker, mortar and pestle, a bunk bed, a vacuum, clothing, diapers, toys, a crib."It was amazing how many people reached out to us," Shukria told me. "I think people were ready to help. You know, there were things being talked about." Specifically, she said, "We were talking about racism, we were talking about prejudice."What Shukria was referring to was how the residents of Cape Elizabeth had spent the past few years in a period of intense reflection. Trump-era policies, like the "Muslim ban," and then the Black Lives Matter movement had challenged them to talk openly about what kind of community they wanted to be, what their values were, and how to translate their values into action.Along with a handful of other volunteers, Nasir had helped form the Cape Diversity Coalition, which drew up a resolution saying Cape Elizabeth was welcoming to all. The school board passed it quickly. The town council took a bit longer — there was concern that the resolution was political and therefore not appropriate for the nonpartisan body — but, ultimately, it passed it too. A "global competency" goal was set for Cape Elizabeth students to be "personally responsible, aware, empathetic, and engaged local and global citizens."Perhaps this was why, when Nasir presented his neighbors with an urgent need, he had found a ready audience. Volunteers showed up to the house mostly in the early evening after work. They pulled up old flooring, installed new appliances, and painted walls. Some knew their way around a construction site, and others didn't.Nasir and Emily shared the code to enter the building so volunteers could come and go when it suited them. A to-do list was posted at the entrance, with items to be crossed off."He provided a vehicle for community members for stepping up and helping," Susana Measelle Hubbs, who served on the school board and the Cape Diversity Coalition, said of Nasir. "And I think everyone who did was so appreciative of that opportunity." "He walks the talk," she added. One Sunday afternoon, Barbara Leen stopped by. An immigration lawyer, she had been fielding calls all week about getting people out of Afghanistan. She found Nasir at the house and, when she asked what he needed, he pointed to one of the bedrooms and said with a shrug, "Well, it's a nasty job, but you can scrape up the subfloor."Friends Barbara Leen, an immigration lawyer (left) and Emily Mavodones, holding daughter Thea, are among those who helped get the house ready for Omid and his family.Jodi Hilton for InsiderFor the next few hours, Leen went to work scraping up a rubbery substance so a new floor could be laid down. Afterward, when Nasir learned about Leen's day job, he laughed. "I'm not sure scraping subfloors is exactly what I need you for," he said.As the house neared completion, Nasir gave me a tour: "This is where the reception was, this is where the laboratory was, this is where you got your teeth drilled." A drawing of the Cape Elizabeth lighthouse, the Portland Head Light — Maine's oldest — was hung on the wall, beside wooden letters that spelled out HOME. In the front yard, Emily had dug up some evergreen bushes that blocked light from entering the downstairs windows and replaced them with junipers, dogwoods, and irises. From a refugee camp in Virginia, Omid and his family awaited the paperwork to move, then a COVID-19 quarantine, and then a second quarantine after a measles case was identified in their camp.Omid still had no idea about the house, or what was awaiting them in Cape Elizabeth. Nasir had decided it would all be a surprise.Art on one of the walls in Omid's home.Jodi Hilton for InsiderWelcomeOmid arrived in Maine wearing a loose pair of sweatpants and a phone charger fashioned into a belt. The family had almost nothing of their own. They would spend their first night in a hotel, and Nasir promised to pick them up the next day and drive them to a welcome party at his sister's house.The next morning, they all pulled up in front of the old dentist's office.Some 20 members of Nasir's extended family were standing out front. Emily was there too, along with her family. Pink, blue, and yellow balloons bobbed around them, and, inside, streamers dangled from the kitchen ceiling.Nasir led them into the house and showed Omid his new bedroom. "This is your house," he said, as he handed Omid a ring of keys.After a pause, Omid placed his hand over his heart, several times. Omid hugged Nasir, burying his head in his friend's shoulder. Both of them were in tears. They stood there, holding each other for a long time.A sense of belongingWithin two days of their arrival, Omid's two older children, 7-year-old Aref and 6-year-old Farzan, were attending elementary school in Cape Elizabeth. They had been set up with a social worker, a teacher for English as a Second Language, and a translation app. The younger kids, Karimah, 3, and Safa, the baby, stayed home with their mom.Omid worried that his kids had been scarred by their experience at the camps. No one had much of anything, and everyone competed for the clothing and toys that were doled out. "For the first three weeks when we arrived, my kids were completely wild," Omid told me.Nasir, perhaps playing the role of the advocate he wished he'd had when he first arrived in Portland as a refugee kid, met with the school's staff to explain what the children had experienced in the refugee camps. "Please don't judge them — they are really good kids," Nasir said.Omid holds his house keys.Jodi Hilton for InsiderSoon, though, Omid said with relief, things started to feel normal again. Nasir, just a few doors down, was happy to explain playdates, sleepovers, and other ins and outs of raising kids in the US. Emily would occasionally drop by to see how they were settling in. Privately, though, Omid was struggling. He was looking for a job, but nothing had come through yet. In these early days, while he waited to get an American driver's license, he relied mostly on donated Uber rides, a gift from someone in the Cape Elizabeth community. He missed being able to hop in his own car and make spontaneous trips with his wife and kids.For Nasir, the Maine countryside reminded him of the village in the north of Afghanistan where he was born — lots of trees and farmland, and quiet, which he liked. But Omid's life in Afghanistan had been in Kabul, a city of 4.6 million people when he was last there — more than three times the population of Maine. The city required constant vigilance. Driving around town meant navigating the security barriers that had been laid down to deter suicide car bombings. But it was home.In Afghanistan, Omid and his friends believed in seizing the day. They would make plans to go out for billiards and kebabs on a moment's notice. He couldn't adjust to the highly scheduled culture in which he now found himself. When people would suggest doing something days or weeks in the future, Omid would sometimes think to himself: "Who knows that you'll be alive then? Enjoy yourself!"Beyond Nasir and his extended family, neither Omid nor his wife, Palwasha, had found friends they could really talk to. Omid was also losing touch with his community from back home; it felt almost too painful to reach out. Friends of his had ended up in Turkey, England, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan, and others were back in Afghanistan. "My friends say, 'Now you have reached America, and you forgot everything.'" In fact, he'd found that staying in touch had made him miss them too much. Better to focus on the present, Omid thought. "What I am doing, and I'm sure what Palwasha is doing, is all for our kids," Omid told me. "We say to each other, and ourselves, that we lived in Afghanistan, we lived enough. So now, whatever it is, it is for our kids."It was at about this time when Omid and Nasir began taking their midnight walks. On those chilly, quiet nights, Omid could confide in his old friend.One night, during that first autumn, rain was falling, and Omid suggested — absurdly — that they go for a drive to check on one of Nasir's rental properties. Nasir gamely went along with it, understanding that his friend needed the company and the distraction. "Nasir was kind to me," Omid said, recalling the moment. Sometimes, Nasir told me, he'd forget that Omid was "freshly from Afghanistan," and that some of the things he observed in Omid were only natural. "You're fearful of people, you don't trust people easily'... I'm trying to tell him, 'This is America, you have freedom. Don't be fearful.'" "It will take a while for him to feel a sense of belonging," Nasir told me. Safa balances on Omid's palm.Jodi Hilton for InsiderEmily Mavodones, right, visits with Omid, left and Nasir at Omid's home, formerly a dentist's office.Jodi Hilton for InsiderOmid serves tea, nuts and dried fruits to Nasir, who on weekends and special occasions likes to wear Afghan clothes.Jodi Hilton for InsiderNasir, left, plays basketball with one of Omid's sons.Jodi Hilton for InsiderOn a crisp sunny day that first fall, the yellow leaves resplendent against a clear blue sky, Nasir was again playing host, as he and Emily welcomed guests to Omid's front yard for an official welcome party. Nasir's extended family prepared baklava and other treats. A local radio station was there, as well as Anne Carney, a Maine state senator. Neighbors stood about, holding cups of apple cider and cans of seltzer.Nasir climbed to the top of a chair and beamed down at the crowd. Wearing a vest over a long white tunic and loose pants, he joked that he looked the part of a traditional Afghan, while Omid, dressed in a navy-blue fleece and jeans, easily passed for an American. Omid stood beside him, looking slightly uncomfortable, as Nasir told the story of Omid's journey."I don't have words for Nasir," Omid told me later. "Thank is a small word. I love him, simply," Nasir tells him that, if he is trying to repay him, Omid is "in the wrong friendship."The length of your blanketOn a Friday afternoon in late July of this year, Omid's two older kids — Aref and Farzan — were hurtling through the house and yard, switching happily from game to game. Aref was demonstrating his karate kick. Farzan had taken a blue marker to their whiteboard. "Look what I'm drawing, a ghost!" he said. Then he lined up the dry-erase markers, red, green, and black. "It's the flag of Afghanistan," he said.By now, the boys spoke nearly perfect English. Omid told me that Farzan, in particular, preferred English. Palwasha is teaching their kids how to read and write in Pashto. She's also teaching Nasir's kids; they were all born in the US, and it's their first time taking lessons.  Later, as the boys looped around on their bikes, a neighbor from across the street came over with three zucchini from his garden. "We had extra," he said. His family is from Ukraine, and the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag hangs in his doorway. While the kids were living very much in the moment, the adults were still finding that more difficult. They are the keepers of too many memories, and too much hinged on their decisions.The house in Cape Elizabeth.Jodi Hilton for InsiderIt's not as if you can just snap your fingers and transform your life, Omid told me. But the family's progress in Cape Elizabeth was evident.After the welcome party, a neighbor had connected Omid with an IT job in Portland. He started in December, once he'd received his Social Security number. It was a contract role, from afternoon to evening, but it allowed Omid to support the family. In early January, Omid got his driver's license and started leasing a black Highlander. "It gave me the power to get out of the house," he said. So far, the family had made two big trips — to Virginia, nine hours away, and to Boston. On both trips, they delighted in time spent with Afghan Americans. Palwasha struck up a conversation with a woman from Pakistan, and the two women have stayed in touch. "Here, you will not find any Afghans, to at least talk with and share your feelings," Omid told me.Still, the progress could feel halting, and Omid was still seeking a permanent legal status for his family. Omid had an unexpected surgery in the spring and took a leave from his IT job; he'd been doing food-delivery service for extra income while he planned his next steps. Eventually, Omid would like to save up for a house, and start a business. He'd like to find work that feels challenging. He was accustomed, previously, to a comfortable life. Now, he worries that he will not be able to keep up with the wealth he sees around him, and that his kids will feel bad about it. He quoted an Afghan proverb that says you should wear the blanket that is your size, not the size of others; otherwise your feet will hang out the end and get cold. "Stretch your feet to the length of your blanket," the proverb says.  Palwasha, meanwhile, had been studying to get her driver's license. "We're having a lot of problems with the driving stuff, so she can at least come out of the house," Omid explained. "In Afghanistan, ladies drive, but it is not common. People there, if they see a lady driving, they tease her. 'Hey, you don't have a husband? Do you want a husband?'" He looked over at his wife. "She is my power. She is my advisor," he said. "She seems quiet, but she is not."Their neighbors have been a gift, they said. One of them, they refer to as "uncle." At various times, neighbors have dropped by to help fix the kids' bikes, lent Omid protective gear for his ears and eyes when he was spotted using a weed wacker without them, and inviting them over to pizza dinner. Together, they play basketball in one another's driveways and celebrate birthdays. "It's nice to look out the windows and see kids out there, and hear laughter," one of their neighbors told me.On a recent evening, the power had gone out while Omid was out delivering food. The neighbors came by with flashlights and games and kept the kids company until Omid got home. In the dark, Palwasha brought out a big tray of fruit. It was a cold evening, and they all sat together, huddled under a quilt to stay warm.The family visited an apple orchard in nearby Falmouth.Jodi Hilton for Insider'We had a beautiful life'Omid took a seat next to Palwasha on the couch, as Safa wiggled between their laps. Omid held up his laptop and they flipped through photos, starting with their wedding.Theirs had been an arranged marriage. It was held in Kabul, where they're both from, and 1,000 guests were there to celebrate. The two grew animated as they pointed out relatives and friends and memories from their former life. In one photo, Omid wore a shiny gray suit. Palwasha had picked it out for him. "I had about 20 suits while I was living in Afghanistan," Omid said. "And I left it all behind." He paused. "I'm the guy who never went to the office with jeans."Omid clicked on a photo of their apartment in Kabul. It had high ceilings, and they had painted every room a different color — pink, maroon, light gray, and white. "If you get bored in one room, you go to the next room, and your mind will be changed," Omid said. "We loved these colors." After Omid's family escaped Kabul, members of his extended family came by to collect some of their more precious items, and gave other things away. The apartment is no longer theirs. Omid pointed to the living-room rug, with its bold flowers, and said he had paid about $3,000 for it. "I was fond of this stuff," he said. "We had a beautiful life." Then, a photo of Omid in his office, at his last job in Afghanistan. "It was a big project," he said. "I miss it."They paused over a family photo from the day they left. Omid stiffened on the coach and the room went still. The portal had closed, and the mood, broken.They'd taken the picture to send to the US Marines at the airport so that they would be recognized. No one was smiling; they all looked straight at the camera, except for Safa, who stared up at the sky.Transported back to the present, Omid stood up and stepped away from the couch.Carnival They'd had a late lunch — creamy shola rice — so no one was hungry. Omid and Palwasha suggested an outing.They climbed into the Highlander, and the voice of Ahmad Zahir, singing in Dari, came on from the speakers. Palwasha relaxed into her seat. Aref's voice came from behind her: "I love family time."Crossing the Casco Bay Bridge, Omid drives into Portland. One of his first priorities upon arriving in Maine was to get his U.S. driver’s license and acquire a car.Jodi Hilton for InsiderThey drove a bit, and then Omid pulled up to the Old Orchard Beach carnival. Spotting the lit-up Ferris wheel and roller coaster, the boys jumped up and down, as their mother carefully transferred Safa, already fast asleep, to a stroller.Once inside, they passed an arcade, which Omid said reminded him of the video-game arcade they liked in Kabul. He bought a bundle of tickets, and Palwasha and the boys headed over to the Matterhorn and then the Pirate's Ship, snapping selfies as the boys shrieked with delight. Karimah, too little for most of the rides, poked her head through a cutout of a lobster's body and a Southwestern-themed scene called "Tortilla sunrise."The family reunited at the carousel. "It smells like the ocean," Aref murmured as his horse glided up and down a gold pole.Before too long, Karimah had claimed Safa's stroller, and Palwasha was carrying the baby. Requests for ice cream were met with gentle reminders that they had ice cream at home.They climbed back into the Highlander, content and sleepy. Omid took out his phone. "Siri, take me home," he said. "Siri, take me home."Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytNov 18th, 2022

Wealthy Chinese Activate Financial "Escape Plans" Terrified Of Xi"s Coming Reign Of Terror, And Why This Is Good News For Bitcoin

Wealthy Chinese Activate Financial "Escape Plans" Terrified Of Xi's Coming Reign Of Terror, And Why This Is Good News For Bitcoin Back in September 2015, more than seven years ago, when bitcoin was trading around $225, and just after China had stunned markets with its (relatively modest) yuan devaluation, we made a modest prediction: In summary: while China is doing everything in its power to not give the impression that it is panicking, the truth is that it is one viral capital outflow report away from an outright scramble to enforce the most draconian capital controls in its history, which - as every Cypriot and Greek knows by now - is a self-defeating exercise and assures an ever accelerating decline in the currency, which authorities are trying to both keep stable while also devaluing at a pace of their choosing. Said pace never quite works out. So what happens then: well, China's propensity for gold is well-known. We would not be surprised to see a surge of gold imports into China, only instead of going to the traditional Commodity Financing Deals we have written extensively about before, where gold is merely a commodity used to fund domestic carry trades, it ends up in domestic households. However, while gold has historically been the best store of value in history and has outlasted every currency known to man, it is problematic when it comes to transferring funds in and out of a nation - it tends to show up quite distinctly on X-rays. Which is why we would not be surprised to see another push higher in the value of bitcoin: it was earlier this summer when the digital currency, which can bypass capital controls and national borders with the click of a button, surged on Grexit concerns and fears a Drachma return would crush the savings of an entire nation. Since then, BTC has dropped, however if a few hundred million Chinese decide that the time has come to use bitcoin as the capital controls bypassing currency of choice, and decide to invest even a tiny fraction of the $22 trillion in Chinese deposits... ... in bitcoin (whose total market cap at last check was just over $3 billion), sit back and watch as we witness the second coming of the bitcoin bubble, one which could make the previous all time highs in the digital currency, seems like a low print as bitcoin soars past $500, past $1,000 and rises as high as $10,000 or more. Well, we got the direction spot on, but not even we could anticipate just how much "or more" bitcoin would soar to some 6 years later when it nearly topped $70,000. Of course, far be it for us to claim that Chinese capital outflows were the only driver behind the exponential rise in bitcoin, but they certainly were one of the earliest catalysts behind what would be a truly fantastic, generational wealth-creating meltup, and certainly explains Beijing's relentless crusade to crush bitcoin (and crypto in general), and to launch its own laughable attempt at a CBDC, which not unexpectedly has been a completely disaster. Why do we bring this up? For three reasons: First, as we noted yesterday, China is aggressively engaged in stealth devaluation, and while it pretends to be trying to contain the yuan from collapsing, the plunge in the currency has been historic. Even CFR analyst Brad Setser admitted today that "until China proves otherwise, it is effectively engaged in a controlled depreciation" but so far nobody in the US pretends to notice. Second, back in 2015 total Chinese bank deposits were $22 trillion. Fast forward to today when they are two and a half times larger at $55 trillion, or more than double their US equivalent! That's a lot of domestic deposits that will need to be quietly ferried offshore once China admits it is aggressively pursuing yuan devaluation (which it is doing right now). Third, back in September 2015, millions of Chinese rushed to park their savings offshore, terrified that Beijing's ongoing devaluation wave would wipe out the value of their financial assets. Well, it's time for another offshore funding scramble because as the FT writes, today, "thousands of wealthy people across China are headed for the exits as President Xi Jinping secures a third term, making him and the ruling Chinese Communist party even stronger than before." Recall that just hours after Xi not only was declared dictator for life but unceremoniously and in full view of the entire world had his centrist, globalist and pro-reform predecessor Hu Zintao escorted out of the building, guaranteeing that the rest of his rule will be a radical departure from heretofore accepted norms, and calling for the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" based on revitalizing the CCP's role as the economic, social, and cultural leader, Chinese stocks cratered to multi-decade lows and the yuan plunged to a record low as the growing realization of the horror that is coming swept across the land. As a result, China's wealthiest were met with market turmoil on Monday when Chinese stocks crashed the most since 2008. According to Bloomberg's billionaire list, the 13 richest Chinese lost $12.7 billion in just one day after mounting fears about Xi's consolidation of power. But of course, it wasn't just them looking terrified at the glowing green color on their screens (as a reminder, in China stock colors are inverted as red means up and green means down): it was everyone. In any case, as hundreds of millions of Chinese savers now scramble to move as much of their assets as far away off shore from the lunatic fringe in Beijing as possible, we have been flooded with reports that wealthy families across Hong Kong and China are at a "tipping point" about triggering so-called financial "fire escape plans" to avoid the wrath of Xi and CCP, according to David Lesperance, a Europe-based lawyer who works with elite Chinese businessmen and who spoke with Financial Times.  "Now that 'the chairman' is firmly in place . . . I have already received three 'proceed' instructions from various ultra-high net worth Chinese business families to execute their fire escape plans," Lesperance said. Ahead of the run-up to the 20th Party Congress, there was much concern that if Xi cemented his third term, there would be no pivot to his controversial policies, including the Covid-zero strategy and increased regulatory measures on companies, which have devastated parts of the economy. The actual outcome - in which Xi crowned himself undisputed ruler and surrounded himself with fawning sycophants while threatening a full-blown putch of the upper class - was far worse. Kia Meng Loh, a senior partner at Dentons Rodyk bank in Singapore which in the past two decades has emerged as the world's "Swiss bank account", or the only place in the world where accounts remain truly anonymous, said that some Chinese elites have been inquiring about setting up "family offices" even before last weekend, as a way to protect wealth from the CCP: "The clients I work with saw [Xi's] third term as a foregone conclusion much earlier than this week," Loh said, adding many of these families who generally shield wealth in Hong Kong found it less attractive since Beijing now has authority over the territory.  Sure enough, new data from Citi Private Bank shows the number of family offices in Singapore soared 5x between 2017 and 2019 and nearly doubled from 400 at the end of 2020 to more than 700 a year later as wealthy Chinese rushed to park their wealth offshore. Ryan Lin, director of Bayfront Law, also located in Singapore, said he was contacted by five wealthy Chinese families last week to establish a Singapore family office, and of those, three are quickly moving forward. Lin has helped establish 30 ultra-wealthy family offices in Singapore in the past year, as many of these families hope not just to relocate their money but also family.  Lesperance admitted that many of his clients had spent years preparing to exit China, legally moving money to safe offshore places that CCP cannot touch. Some of these families are even applying for citizenship abroad.  Xi is expected to unleash a broad range of wealth taxes (under the populist campaign "common prosperity") that has spooked the wealthy. But hiding wealth could be the least of their worries considering there have been numerous accounts of some billionaires forced into hiding, such as Alibaba's Jack Ma. Ongoing chaotic lockdowns under the Covid-Zero policy and common prosperity as Xi secured a third term push high-net-worth residents to the exits. The obvious question then is how long until China battens down the hatches and makes money transfers to Singapore impossible. "The family motto has always been: 'Keep a fast junk in the harbour with gold bars and a second set of papers'. The modern equivalent would be a private jet, a couple of passports and foreign bank accounts," Lesperance said. "That is the world we are in . . . it is tough stuff." Of course, to fund said foreign bank accounts, one needs either gold bars to flee China's infamous financial firewall... or their modern equivalent: bitcoin. And while gold shows up on X-ray, crypto does not, whether it is sent by instant transfer across the blockchain or through unobservable flash drives. Indeed, one has to wonder if capital outflows from China are already starting to push Bitcoin higher, as fears of another round of draconian capital controls by Beijing spark outbound money flight... ... and if it was capital flight from China back in 2015 that helped propel bitcoin nearly 100x from $250 to $20,000 during the first Asia-driven bitcoin bubble of 2017/2018, one also has to wonder how high another full-blown Chinese capital flight will push the digital gold this time. Tyler Durden Tue, 10/25/2022 - 22:25.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeOct 26th, 2022

RM Friedland Retained to Exclusively Market Newly Transformed City Square in Downtown White Plains

 With the multimillion-dollar renovation of City Square at 50 Main Street/1-11 Martine Avenue in downtown White Plains, New York now complete, owner and premier tristate real estate developer Ginsburg Development Company (GDC) has awarded Westchester-based RM Friedland (RMF) the exclusive office leasing assignment for the relaunch of their signature property consisting of 360,000+ square feet of... The post RM Friedland Retained to Exclusively Market Newly Transformed City Square in Downtown White Plains appeared first on Real Estate Weekly.  With the multimillion-dollar renovation of City Square at 50 Main Street/1-11 Martine Avenue in downtown White Plains, New York now complete, owner and premier tristate real estate developer Ginsburg Development Company (GDC) has awarded Westchester-based RM Friedland (RMF) the exclusive office leasing assignment for the relaunch of their signature property consisting of 360,000+ square feet of office space with a slew of attractive amenities located in one of the region’s highly competitive and growing live-work-play markets. RMF’s Office Managing Director, Chris O’Callaghan, will lead the team responsible for leasing the Martin Ginsburg property. Other team members include Robert Taylor, Jillian Reiner and Reed Waggoner. City Square consists of 50 Main Street, a 15-story, 300,000 square foot office building of Class A space ideal for small enterprises seeking 1,500 to 3,500 square-feet of office space with a full floor of 23,000 square feet perfect for a mid-size firm; and the top three penthouse floors of 1-11 Martine Avenue, featuring 60,000 square feet of office space with an express elevator and a private outdoor terrace on the 12th floor with dramatic cityscape views of White Plains. The newly transformed City Square is a mixed-use center featuring a fully modernized cafeteria with outdoor dining, state-of-the-art fitness center, art gallery lounge, club game room, lecture hall and training room, private dining and conference room, executive board room, underground parking, and a dog-friendly two-acre park with a putting green and Bocci Court. City Square is just steps away from one of Metro-North’s most-active (and recently renovated) train stations with direct access to Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, and conveniently located near numerous federal, state, and local courthouses, popular retail and service shops, fast casual to fine dining, conference-style to five-star hotels, and luxury residential apartments. “White Plains is one of the tristate area’s most-active office markets because the city combines the best elements of a transit-oriented urban landscape with the post-pandemic advantages of suburban convenience,” said RMF Office Managing Director, Chris O’Callaghan. “The multimillion-dollar renovations – from the exquisite artwork to outdoor park – elevate the definition of ‘work-live-play’ and have transformed the property into the must-have premier address for businesses.” RM Friedland President Sarah Jones-Maturo added, “A best-in-class asset deserves the right leasing representation, which means a brokerage that offers clients a successful mix of unparalleled historic and up-to-the-minute marketplace knowledge, strategic marketing resources, and a significant track record within the markets it serves. RM Friedland is that right firm, and we look forward to working closely with GDC on City Square’s exciting relaunch.”   “Our $94 million investment in City Square reflects a strong belief in the long-term health and viability of the White Plains office market, because only the most powerful of magnets with the right mix of flexible space, unmatched amenities, and convenience will attract employees back to the office,” stated Ginsburg Development Company founder, Martin Ginsburg. “RMF’s marketplace expertise, creativity and experience perfectly complement the best City Square has to offer.” According to RMF’s recently released 2022 Westchester Office Leasing Market Report, Westchester County’s office market continues to see signs of recovery within the White Plains Central Business District with availability continuing to drop and asking rates increasing slightly quarter over quarter. The post RM Friedland Retained to Exclusively Market Newly Transformed City Square in Downtown White Plains appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyJul 19th, 2022

America Needs to End Its Love Affair With Single-Family Homes. One Town Is Discovering It’s a Tough Sell

The housing development Brown Ranch aims to provide affordable housing to a community that desperately needs it. Its road ahead is filled with challenges. The question came, as it always did, just as Jason Peasley finished making his case for Brown Ranch, a development that would grow the size of his city by one-third and finally provide some affordable housing for the hundreds of people doubled up in trailer parks and hotel rooms in the ski town. The development, as Peasley pitched it to the room of residents gathered under thick wooden beams in the local community center, would use density to solve the housing problem—mainly by building apartments and attached homes. “What about single family homes?” a woman standing in the back of the meeting room asked. “Because I would like to buy one someday.” [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Steamboat Springs, Colo.—where Peasley serves as the head of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, providing affordable housing to all of Routt County—is a mountain town that draws people for its wide open vistas and outdoor space. The idea of living in an apartment on what is now green rolling hills jarred people with visions of their own porches and yards, who had seen their neighbors amass hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity just by owning a single family home during the pandemic. “Personally, I would take a very, very small house,” another resident said. “So would I,” the woman in the back said quickly, so as not to be left out. Peasley sighed. Nine months ago, he’d been given an opportunity that most urban planners dream of—an anonymous donation of 536 acres of land to build long-term affordable housing for people who live and work in Steamboat Springs. But it’s difficult to get buy-in to use hundreds of acres to build multifamily homes in Steamboat, which currently has 1,400 fewer housing units than are currently needed. Residents might support density in theory, but what they really want is a single-family home to call their own. How Steamboat solves this conundrum could have implications for communities across the country that are struggling with affordability as their populations grow. Home prices have soared in the past two years in cities like Austin and Phoenix as well as in ski towns like Truckee and Sun Valley. Adding more dense housing units would help keep prices affordable, because many of these places have natural boundaries like mountains or oceans that prevent developers from sprawling out. But proposals like Peasley’s are usually thwarted by neighbors who complain about their views being blocked or their parking becoming limited or their beloved town—which they themselves moved to years or decades before—getting too crowded. David Williams for TIMEJason Peasley, Exectutive Director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, stands on Brown Ranch just west of the city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado on May 16, 2022. Many communities like Steamboat are reaching a breaking point. Here, the need for more housing had been abundantly clear even before the pandemic, as investors turned condos and apartments that had once provided workforce housing into cash cows on Airbnb. Then, in 2020, remote workers flocked to Steamboat. For all the urban planners proclaiming density to be the solution to America’s housing needs, the majority of Americans still dreamed of a single-family home, with a yard, a tree, and room to grow, and the pandemic only whetted that appetite as families spent more time at home and looked for private outdoor space and extra rooms to double as offices. The median listing price of a single family home in Steamboat is now $829,000, up from $529,000 in 2019. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment are hovering around $2,100, about one-third higher than the national average. By July of 2021, 60 percent of Americans said they’d prefer to live in a place where the homes are large and farther apart, even if schools, stores, and restaurants were a few miles away, up from 53 percent before the pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In contrast, 39 percent preferred a community where homes are small and close to each other but where schools, stores, and restaurants were in walking distance, down from 47 percent in 2019. That’s even though half of Americans say that affordable housing is a major problem in their community. As Peasley has tried to explain time and again, affordability and density go hand in hand. Single family homes are much more expensive to build than attached homes or apartments, and they take up more room, and need more resources to maintain. Steamboat could build seven attached homes for the amount it would cost to build one single-family detached home, according to projections by Mithun, a consulting group helping with the project. Read More: Return to the Office? Not in This Housing Market “We have an opportunity that maybe no other community has to really thoughtfully address our housing issues in one massive development,” Peasley, a tall redheaded urban planning guru who could be mistaken for an Olympic skateboarder, told me recently. “This could really be a template for our 21st century live, work, and play.” Peasley is uniquely suited to helping convert Steamboat to pro-density. He was a city planner for Steamboat Springs for five years before taking over the Yampa Valley Housing Authority a decade ago; his tenure has created hundreds of units of affordable housing. His success in getting tax credits to build some affordable housing in Steamboat is what motivated anonymous donors to give him the money to buy Brown Ranch and build even more. Peasley hopes to build 2,300 units at Brown Ranch, which would meet the demand projected for the next two decades. But no matter how many times Peasley explains this all to the community, even the most self-aware residents of Steamboat are having a hard time letting go of their vision of a home and yard to call their own. “The disconnect we’re having is that everyone wants the American dream—a single-family home—and economists tell us it’s not possible,” Peasley says. The surest way to wealth in America has long been to stake claim to a plot of land and a home, but places like Steamboat are discovering that if they are dedicated to welcoming everyone who wants to live there, they’re going to have to pioneer another way. The problem with seeking more space In 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau declared the American frontier closed, meaning there was no land that settlers hadn’t claimed, nowhere further west to expand. Yet people have continued to move west, seeking better weather, more land, a different life, the growing population all competing for a limited set of homes, roads, and water. Since the turn of the 20th century, the American West—which is roughly the states from Colorado west, defined by the Census Bureau—has added 73 million people. Today, nearly one-quarter of the nation’s population lives in the 13 western states, up from just 7% in 1900. If new residents lived in the west the same way they lived in cities like New York and Philadelphia—in tall buildings with apartments stacked on top of one another—there might not be a housing affordability problem today. But in the westward expansion, Americans grabbed as much space as they could, sometimes given it for free by the federal government if they were willing to farm it. The West grew out rather than up. “There’s a certain independence that Westerners have, where folks don’t want to be regulated, they value independence and wide open spaces, and that manifests itself in the housing choices people make,” says Robert Parker, director of strategy at the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research & Engagement, where he studies housing density. David Williams for TIMEBrown Ranch, a 536-acre property on the west side of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which was gifted to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in mid-August 2021 by an anonymous donor. Worried about sprawl, some cities started establishing urban growth boundaries in the 1950s, limiting development outside a certain area. The boundaries preserved the open space that drew people west, but also limited housing production. Today, in Steamboat Springs, development outside the urban growth boundary is restricted to one unit every 35 acres—or less. That puts even more pressure on building density where it is allowed; Brown Ranch is the largest plot of undeveloped land inside Steamboat’s urban growth boundary. When land seemed endless and cheap, the federal government encouraged families to spread out. It subsidized highways so that wealthier families could easily get between city centers and the suburbs, and provided tax incentives for home ownership. But Americans’ preference for single-family homes has also contributed to the housing undersupply that has sent prices soaring over the last two years. Between 1970 and 2020, 52 million single-family homes were built in America, accounting for three-quarters of all the housing built over that time, according to Census data. Over the same time, the population grew by 128 million. As a result, the median price of a home in the U.S. more than doubled over that time, even when adjusted for inflation. This is playing out across states in the American West. Colorado’s population doubled between 1980 and 2020, adding 2.8 million people, but the state only built 1.4 million units over the same period, 70% of them single-family homes. The median price for a single family home in 2020 was $434,000. Today, it’s around $600,000. The families committed to staying are crowding into housing as they wait for a solution. About one-quarter of all children now live in “doubled-up” households, where a nuclear family lives with additional family members. In places like Steamboat, doubled-up households are often in the smallest homes, which are trailers in the town’s handful of trailer parks. In doubled-up households, the use of drugs and alcohol rises, as does domestic violence, because the situation is so stressful, says Irene Avitia, who works with families at Integrated Communities, a Steamboat nonprofit that works with the Latino community. Read More: Marcia Fudge Is Trying to Decide Which Fire to Put Out First The housing troubles are also bad for the local economy. Banks are reducing their hours, and restaurants are closing a few days a week because they can’t find enough workers, because staff can’t afford to live nearby in Steamboat. The ski area cut off night service because it was so short-staffed. The local medical center struggles to recruit doctors and nurses because candidates hear about how hard it will be to find housing if they move there. One bartender, David Hughes, told me his rent for one room in a four bedroom house was going up to $1,500 per person, from $900, and he was probably going to have to leave town. “We can’t continue to exist here if employees don’t have secure housing,” says Andrew Beckler, the founder and CEO of Grass Sticks, a company that makes bamboo paddles and ski poles. That population growth outpaced the supply of single-family homes has been very good for the pocketbooks of people who have bought them in the last few decades. Homeowners collectively have $29 billion in real estate equity, three times what they did 20 years ago, according to the Federal Reserve. Investing in a home and making a big sum to retire on has become such an American rite of passage that it’s hard to ask Steamboat residents like Avitia, who lives in a trailer park with her husband and two daughters, to give up on the same dream. “I would love to own a single-family home in Steamboat, and Brown Ranch has created that hope for my family,” she says. Even people who live in apartments in Steamboat now say they’d prefer a single-family home. Lizzy Konen, 33, grew up in a single-family home in San Diego that she says her parents would never be able to afford today. She moved to Steamboat 12 years ago and wants to stay there, but the lease on the one-bedroom she rents is up in July, and the owner wants to demolish the building and construct a multimillion dollar home that he can sell for profit. Konen knows she’ll probably have to move to Oak Creek or Hayden, smaller towns that are 30-45 minutes away, because she can’t afford to buy a house or pay $2,100/month for an apartment. But when asked what her vision for Brown Ranch, she says: “I would love to own a single family home and have pets and children running around. I would rather not be in an apartment building. It doesn’t feel as homey.” David Williams for TIMETraffic passes through the downtown area of Steamboat Springs, Colorado on May 16, 2022. Selling people on apartments The big challenge for Peasley is balancing the wants of people like Avitia and Konen with the larger community’s need for affordable housing. He’s trying to learn from past missteps, like in 2010 when developers committed to building thousands of condos, the city council approved it, and then enraged voters worried about overcrowding put the project on the ballot and it was soundly defeated. This time around, Peasley is trying to get residents as involved as possible before any major decisions are made. The housing authority has held 200 community meetings where residents have spoken about what they want from Brown Ranch, and their suggestions include roof gardens, hiking trails, community composting, greenhouses, a school, a grocery store, a coffee shop, a walkable commercial area, and, of course, single-family homes. Peasley says more community engagement is what’s going to get people closer to accepting that how Brown Ranch will look will be different than their ideal vision. For example, attendees of Brown Ranch meetings often mention that they want the development to be Net Zero, which provides an opportunity for YVHA staff to explain that density is very sustainable—apartments or attached units require fewer resources to build and maintain than single-family homes. “By doing this transparent process, and having the community discuss it, we hope that while they might not agree, they at least understand,” says Cole Hewitt, the president of the board of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. “Maybe there aren’t as many people that show up and say, ‘Well, I didn’t know this was going on.’ They can stand up and say, ‘I’m a part of it. I understand it. I get where you’re coming from. I still disagree with it.’ But that’s a lot better discussion than, ‘No, don’t do it.’” The community meetings have served to jump start a discussion about how Steamboat’s hopes and dreams match up with reality. “Everyone wants to live in a single family 5000 square foot mansion next to an ocean with a view of the mountains and is across the street from a school and within walking distance from the bar. That doesn’t exist,” Michael Fitz, a 29-year old local who owns a 600-square foot home in a trailer park, told Steamboat residents gathered to talk about the urban design of Brown Ranch. Read More: Millions of Tenants Behind on Rent, Small Landlords Struggling, Eviction Moratoriums Expiring Soon: Inside the Next Housing Crisis The people who led the opposition to the past development seem to be getting on board. Tim Rowse, who led the campaign that stopped development on Brown Ranch in 2009, told me recently that he thinks the housing authority is planning the development in the best possible way, and he supports it wholeheartedly. (He told me this from his mansion perched on acres of virgin land outside Steamboat.) Sheila Henderson, the Brown Ranch project manager who headed a local nonprofit for nearly a decade, says she recently had a good talk with a woman who wanted her own “cute little cottage” on Brown Ranch. When Henderson explained that such a home might take away space from families who were living in unsafe conditions, though, the woman relented and said she would be open to living in a multifamily home. Whether or not Brown Ranch gets built will likely depend on the persuasion powers of Peasley, an unabashed optimist who sometimes takes on the role of city coach. He says he wants to change people’s vision of what a vibrant American community can look like—it doesn’t have to have driveways and parking lots, for instance. “The only way we fail is to stop trying,” he said at a recent meeting. Besides, he says, for more than a century, people have given up creature comforts to move to Steamboat for the access to mountains and a life of beauty. That might have meant giving up plumbing or getting used to snow in May in the past; now, it might mean being OK living in a house that shares a wall with a neighbor. The reality of population growth Even if he does convince Steamboat to embrace density, Peasley still has a long road ahead to make Brown Ranch a reality. Consultants have estimated that infrastructure on the site will cost around $400 million, which includes improvements to the local highway, water treatment plant, and sewer system, and roads, and trails in the development. Once that’s complete, the housing authority can start building homes. The city isn’t even sure how it will affordably house all the workers who are going to be flocking to Steamboat to build this affordable housing. One idea is to have construction workers live in an old barn. Steamboat’s infrastructure is already straining under the weight of population growth. There’s only one main road through town, Highway 40, and at rush hour, long lines of pickup trucks get stuck at traffic lights as they make their way across town. After wildfire damage and rains created landslide dangers on Interstate 70, Colorado’s major east-west highway, traffic was rerouted onto Highway 40, causing more headaches for Steamboat residents. The electricity cooperative can only serve 15 homes at Brown Ranch before it runs out of capacity, and water is in short supply, as it is just about everywhere in the American West. Brown Ranch will, of course, add further strain. Peasley estimated that by the time Brown Ranch is finished, it will have almost 1,000 rental apartments and 400 to own, 218 single family-attached homes for rent and 266 to purchase, and 98 single-family detached homes for rent and 300 to purchase. The development will also include a K-8 school, a childcare center, office space, retail, and a grocery store. It’s enough to make old-timers argue against population growth in Steamboat. “Everybody’s moving here—I have to tell you, it would be nice if they wouldn’t,” Cindy Clark, a resident since 1988, told me, outside the crowded grocery store parking lot. But as the many doubled-up residents of Steamboat can attest, America has never been able to prevent people from moving west. Steamboat and popular communities across the country can convince the people who got there first to agree to accommodate the new residents by building more housing. Or residents can declare their cities and towns closed to new construction, new ways to live, and the new people who are seeking a place to live as they did months, years, or decades before......»»

Category: topSource: timeJun 2nd, 2022

Pets Are Increasingly Influencing their Owners’ Housing Decisions

(TNS)—Hannah Wood, a work-from-home product manager for a healthcare company, would like to relocate to Philadelphia to live near her mother, but she’s struggling to find a place that will welcome her roommate, Lea, a 55-pound, mixed-breed dog. Wood initially had hoped to buy a house, but the current competitive market has her searching for […] The post Pets Are Increasingly Influencing their Owners’ Housing Decisions appeared first on RISMedia. (TNS)—Hannah Wood, a work-from-home product manager for a healthcare company, would like to relocate to Philadelphia to live near her mother, but she’s struggling to find a place that will welcome her roommate, Lea, a 55-pound, mixed-breed dog. Wood initially had hoped to buy a house, but the current competitive market has her searching for a rental, and landlords often limit the size and breed of dog. “Many only accept dogs up to 15 or 20 pounds, which excludes like 60% of all breeds,” she said. “It’s been a struggle to find a place without a lot of restrictions.” Pets are increasingly affecting their owners’ real estate choices, whether it’s the neighborhood they choose, the home they buy or rent, or how they arrange and decorate their space. A 2020 realtor.com® survey found that a majority of pet owners consider their animals’ needs before making a home purchase. Of the 2,000 survey participants, 61% were dog owners, 45% owned cats, 12% fish and 9% birds. About half of U.S. households have pets, according to the Census Bureau, and in 2020, owners spent on average $1,201 on dogs and $687 on cats, according to Statistica, a provider of consumer and market data. Pet owners tend to buy larger homes with more bedrooms, Zillow reported in October. Buyers with at least one pet are more likely  to choose a home larger than 3,000 square feet, and about a third  purchased a home with four bedrooms or more, compared to a quarter of buyers without pets. “For me and many people in my generation, (my dog) is my child, where I spend my time and money,” said Wood, who’s 42 and single. “It’s time for real estate companies to understand it’s how we live.” What Pet Owners Want An ideal home for Wood—who would like to move to Philadelphia by January—would be a mid-rise or smaller building with adjacent green space, a nearby park and a space to wash Lea after a muddy walk. Wood has lived in several very pet-friendly cities, including Portland, Oregon, where dog biscuits were available at her building’s front desk, and her current home, Saratoga Springs, New York, where “dogs are allowed everywhere—restaurants, the post office.” “I literally just saw someone walking a cat in a baby carriage,” she said. Philadelphia, with 23.62% of rentals classified as pet-friendly, ranked 28th in a “Lets for Pets” list of 50 U.S. cities compiled in October by All About Cats, which offers expertise on feline behavior and health. New York was first with 66.45% welcoming rentals. In West Philadelphia, competition is fierce in old Victorians for ground level apartments with easy access to fenced-in yards, said Lindsay Johnston with Common Ground REALTORS® in University City, where “a dog is very much a part of the social life.” He sees the same dog owners walking the same loop every day, morning and evening. They also take advantage of the park and designated dog parks nearby. Before buying or renting, pet owners should check for homeowner association or building restrictions on number or type of pets and whether they need to be spayed or neutered. Beyond enough space for their pet, the National Association of REALTORS® says owners often seek a fenced yard; sidewalks; easy-to-clean, durable flooring; a mud room/wash area; a dog door; an animal pool/outdoor water feature; or a cat litter closet. “If you have the option,” Johnston said, “get your pet after you buy or rent, in case you don’t get the square footage or other things you want.” When Mindy Rhodes and John Braxton were house-hunting six years ago, they wanted a quiet, old house with enough acreage for her horse, Spike, whom she had been boarding. She thought the search would take several years, but they spotted an internet listing for a property in suburban West Chester, Pennsylvania, with “just enough land to bring my horse home.” Because horses are happier in a herd, she soon acquired two donkeys, Mama and Mia, to keep Spike company. She also has three dogs, two cats, two rabbits, four chickens in a coop, and a duck named Lucy, who wears a diaper when she comes inside (”I don’t know whether I’d do that again,” Rhodes said). She deemed cats the easiest, because they’re resilient and adaptable to their surroundings. “People train dogs,” Rhodes said. “Cats train people.” Rhodes’ animals enjoy having the run of her three acres, as well as a spot by the fire, she said. “It’s a luxury not to have to walk the dogs.” Pet-Friendly Design Having a dedicated space for pets is a major consideration when organizing a home, according to almost a quarter of the 1,000 adults surveyed last summer by the residential mortgage division of Ally Bank. “For us, dogs are family, so it was just a natural part of the design process to consider them,” said Kirstin McGowan, of Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, who has two yellow Labrador retrievers, Milly and Bentley. During a recent remodel, she and her husband, Sean, added a built-in shelf for the dogs’ bowls “because there’s nothing more annoying than tripping over them in a tight kitchen,” she said. The McGowans put in hardwood floors and use washable rugs for easier cleaning and have multiple dog beds indoors and out. Because the dogs tend to dig, the couple built a stone patio and limited landscaping to trees in their fenced backyard. They’re in the process of adding a mudroom/laundry room and considering building in dog crates there. And they recently upgraded to a king-size bed for more room to cuddle in the morning with their two young daughters, Charlotte and Eleanor, and the dogs. What Sellers Should Do Certain pet-friendly features can contribute to a higher sale price or faster-than-expected sale, according to a Zillow report on 2020 home sales. Homes that advertise a doghouse in their listing description can sell for 3% more than expected, Zillow found, while homes advertising a fenced backyard or a dog run can sell up to five days faster. When it comes to in-person showings, however, sellers should erase any sign of a pet, especially cat odors, Johnston advised. “You’ll lose 99% of the market if you can’t remove the smell.” Sellers should repair anything damaged by pets, have the home professionally cleaned, replace carpeting and/or refinish floors. During showings, they should stow all toys, bowls and beds, and remove the pet from the house. People and Pets on the Move The coronavirus pandemic has fueled a surge of moving as Americans took advantage of remote work and record-low mortgage rates. At the same time, pet purchase and adoption rose as people were spending more time at home. In 2021, nearly three-quarters of homebuyers reported having at least one pet, up nine percentage points from the previous year, according to a Zillow housing trends report. Pet ownership among renters rose to 57% from 51% in 2020. Realtors and pet owners agree that prospective homebuyers and renters should do their homework and know their pets. “The size of the dog doesn’t necessarily tell you how much space they need,” said Pennsylvania homeowner Janet Cusack, who has a St. Bernard and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The larger dog, Baloo, “just wants to be with people,” she said, although he does enjoy a walk in the woods. Rhodes carefully researched the type and size of pasture and best companions for her horse and spent six months getting acquainted with her property before moving him in. Wood learned from a stay at a pet-friendly hotel in Philadelphia that city sounds like traffic, sirens and fire alarms terrify her dog. Instead of setting restrictions on size or species, Wood said, she thinks landlords should require owners to demonstrate their pets have been trained to coexist peacefully with people and other pets. “Do pet interviews,” she said. “Even a Chihuahua can be mean.” ©2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC The post Pets Are Increasingly Influencing their Owners’ Housing Decisions appeared first on RISMedia......»»

Category: realestateSource: rismediaNov 29th, 2021

City Place Master Developer CDC Houston Acquires Four Prime Assets

CDC Houston, a subsidiary of Coventry Development Corporation, New York and the master developer of north Houston’s City Place, has acquired four prime community assets – a majority stake in two select-service hotels and 100% stake in two Class AA office buildings – for an undisclosed price. The portfolio additions, which... The post City Place Master Developer CDC Houston Acquires Four Prime Assets appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. CDC Houston, a subsidiary of Coventry Development Corporation, New York and the master developer of north Houston’s City Place, has acquired four prime community assets – a majority stake in two select-service hotels and 100% stake in two Class AA office buildings – for an undisclosed price. The portfolio additions, which include the Residence Inn by Marriott Houston Springwoods Village and Courtyard by Marriott Houston Springwoods Village hotels, as well as the LEED Silver-certified City Place 1 and City Place 2 office buildings, reflect an ongoing commitment to the long-term, mixed-use vision for fast growing and award-winning City Place, ideally located at the nexus of I-45, the Grand Parkway and Hardy Toll Road. In the case of the hotels, a pair of companies – each managed by CDC Houston – secured the membership interests from USAA Real Estate, reconstituting the two partnerships with Woodbine Development Corporation and InterMountain Management remaining as stakeholders. Similarly, in the case of the two office buildings, a duo of CDC Houston managed companies acquired 100% of the membership interest from the US Office Development Program, a real estate fund co-managed by Patrinely Group and USAA Real Estate. Earlier this year, CDC Houston acquired the full Interest in Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s new global headquarters at City Place. More recently, they’ve announced significant land sales within the community to Harmony Public Schools and Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. “It’s been an exciting ride at City Place sharing these assets with our partners, and we are grateful for their continued support and engagement in various aspects of the community,” said Warren W. Wilson, Executive Vice President of CDC Houston. “In addition to being sound, long-term investments, these acquisitions ensure an adherence to the City Place master plan throughout our evolution and maturation, as well as an ongoing commitment to quality, sustainable development.” The two hotels are located side-by-side, just east of the City Place urban core, and complement the Houston City Place Marriott. The four-story Residence Inn by Marriott was completed in 2015 and occupies a 3.29-acre parcel at 22814 Holzwarth Road. Designed for extended-stay guests, the property features 128 spacious suites with full kitchens and separate living, working and sleeping areas. Amenities range from complimentary offerings including daily breakfast, overnight parking and high-speed Internet to meeting and event space, onsite laundry/dry cleaning and a convenience store. Completed in 2016, the Courtyard by Marriott is situated on just under three acres at 2272 Holzwarth Road and is also four stories. Highlights include 125, thoughtfully-designed guestrooms, a lobby bistro and flexible spaces, meeting and event space, fitness center and outdoor pool. Guests enjoy free high-speed internet and overnight parking in addition to onsite laundry and valet dry cleaning. According to Woodbine Managing Partner and Chief Development Officer King Scovell, “These strategically located hotels are key components of broader amenity package that adds to the appeal of City Place for office tenants, employees, residents and visitors.” Surrounded within the community by major employers, programmed green space, dining and entertainment offerings, the hotels continue to benefit from and expanding ecosystem both on the business and leisure fronts. Completed in 2019, City Place 1 was the first multi-tenant office building to debut in the urban core of City Place. Located at 1700 City Plaza Drive, the five-story structure totals 149,500 square feet. Office tenants include CDC Houston and Arroyo Energy Investors, and at street level, Focus Optical joins first-to-market food and beverage offerings such as Common Bond Bistro & Bakery, Sushi Rebel and Bread Zeppelin. Neighboring City Place 2 at 1701 City Plaza Drive, was unveiled in 2018, and its office space is fully occupied, serving as the global headquarters for the American Bureau of Shipping. The 10-story, 326,800-square-foot building includes 23,700 square feet of ground floor retail space and includes Island Grill as a tenant. CDC Houston continues to partner on other City Place assets – the Houston City Place Marriott with USAA Real Estate and Woodbine Development, as well as a 38,000-square-foot 24 Hour Fitness, plus City Place 1A with Patrinely Group and USAA Real Estate. The multi-use City Place 1A includes a standalone, 1,400-seat Star Cinema Grill incorporating just over 3,300 square feet of retail at 1495 Lake Plaza Drive and an adjacent, two-story mixed-use office building at 1401 Lake Plaza Drive. Coworking operator Common Desk, opening in January 2023, will occupy the entire 26,750-square-foot second floor, which features 14-foot ceilings, and the street level encompasses 25,300 square feet of retail. The post City Place Master Developer CDC Houston Acquires Four Prime Assets appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyJan 12th, 2023

UAE Names Oil Company Chief to Lead U.N. COP28 Climate Talks

Holding the CEO title at the state oil company poses “an unprecedented and alarming conflict of interest,” says one climate action advocate. DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates on Thursday named a veteran technocrat who both leads Abu Dhabi’s state-run oil company and oversees its renewable energy efforts to be the president of the upcoming United Nations climate negotiations in Dubai, highlighting the balancing act ahead for this crude-producing nation. Read More: A Breakthrough on Climate Compensation and 7 Other Takeaways From COP27 Authorities nominated Sultan al-Jaber, a trusted confidant of UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who serves as CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. That firm pumps some 4 million barrels of crude a day and hopes to expand to 5 million daily. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Those revenues fuel the ambitions of this federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula — as well as the production of more of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that the U.N. negotiations hope to limit. But al-Jaber also once led a once-ambitious project to have a $22 billion “carbon-neutral” city on Abu Dhabi’s outskirts — an effort later pared back after the global financial crisis that struck the Emirates hard beginning in 2008. Even today, he serves as the chairman of Masdar, a clean energy company that grew out of the project that now operates in more than 40 countries. “Sultan al-Jaber has the credentials and background to lean into trends that are already on going,” said Ryan Bohl, an Austin, Texas-based Mideast analyst for a risk-intelligence firm called the RANE Network. “Him being an oilman, I don’t think that will be that big of a risk for him.” The Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency made the announcement, noting al-Jaber’s years also serving as a climate envoy. “This will be a critical year in a critical decade for climate action,” WAM quoted al-Jaber as saying. “The UAE is approaching COP28 with a strong sense of responsibility and the highest possible level of ambition.” Read More: How Far Our Climate Goals Have Slipped Out of Reach, In a Single Chart He added: “We will bring a pragmatic, realistic and solutions-oriented approach that delivers transformative progress for climate and for low-carbon economic growth.” His nomination, however, drew immediate criticism. Harjeet Singh, who is the head of Global Political Strategy at Climate Action Network International, said al-Jaber holding the CEO title at the state oil company posed “an unprecedented and alarming conflict of interest.” “There can be no place for polluters at a climate conference, least of all presiding over a COP,” Singh said. Alice Harrison of Global Witness put it even more bluntly: “You wouldn’t invite arms dealers to lead peace talks. So why let oil executives lead climate talks?” Each year, the country hosting the U.N. negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties — where COP gets its name — nominates a person to chair the talks. Hosts typically pick a veteran diplomat as the talks can be incredibly difficult to steer between competing nations and their interests. The nominee’s position as “COP president” is confirmed by delegates at the start of the talks, usually without objections. The caliber of COP presidents has varied over the years. Observers widely saw Britain’s Alok Sharma as energetic and committed to achieving an ambitious result. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry faced criticism by some participants for the chaotic and at times non-transparent way he presided over last year’s meeting. In its announcement about al-Jaber, WAM said the Emirates had invested “more than $50 billion in renewable energy projects across 70 countries, with plans to invest a minimum of $50 billion over the next decade.” It wasn’t immediately clear where those figures came from. Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, has invested some $3.9 billion since 2018 in renewable energy, according to the New York-based research firm Global SWF. Masdar listed some $14.3 billion in investments in a 2020 briefing. Masdar did not respond to questions about its investments Thursday. But at the same time, Mubadala has invested $9.8 billion over the same period in oil and gas projects, Global SWF said. The UAE is home to a massive solar park in Dubai, as well as the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant, which is the Arabian Peninsula’s only atomic energy source. But it also requires vast amounts of energy to run the desalination plants that brought green golf courses to its desert expanses, power the air conditioners cooling its cavernous malls in the heat of the summer and power heavy industries like aluminum smelters. The UAE’s clean energy policies grew in the mid-2000s as Dubai’s real-estate boom saw it constructing the world’s tallest building and massive, palm-shaped archipelagos off its coast. The World Wildlife Fund at the time estimated the UAE had the world’s largest ecological footprint per capita — meaning that each of its residents used more resources on average than those living in any other nation. The UAE still ranks high on similar lists. Read More: The Selfish Case for Climate Justice The Masdar City project grew out of that concern of being tarnished, before being pared back. “By us actually doing it and investing money, we had access to lessons learned that no one had access to,” al-Jaber told The Associated Press in 2010. “We have to learn, adjust, adapt and move forward. We can’t be rigid.” The UAE then pivoted Masdar City into a campus now hosting the U.N.’s International Renewable Energy Agency and the firm itself into investing into renewables at home and abroad. Joe Biden, just before leaving office as America’s vice president, even visited Masdar City in 2016. Analysts believe the Emirates is trying to maximize its profits before the world increasingly turns to renewables. The Emirates itself has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 — a target that remains difficult to assess and one that authorities haven’t fully explained how they’ll reach. The UAE “have made no bones about being a major oil and gas producer and presumably he is very well connected to rulers in the country,” said Alden Meyer, a longtime climate talk observer at the environmental think tank E3G. “I hope (al-Jaber) has good diplomatic and negotiation skills and the ability to build consensus and compromise.” COP28 will be held at Dubai’s Expo City from Nov. 30 through Dec. 12. — Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Sibi Arasu in New Delhi contributed to this report......»»

Category: topSource: timeJan 12th, 2023

14 tiny-home startups set to transform real estate in 2023 by making housing cheaper, helping owners earn passive income, and more

2022 was a big year for tiny homes as companies started addressing the housing-affordability crisis. They also give homeowners an option to earn passive income. The N1 model by Escape.Courtesy of Escape Homes Tiny homes had a coming-out party in 2022, as more places began building or budgeting for tiny home villages. Affordability, sustainability, and the chance to make extra money caught the eye of homeowners looking for something new.  We compiled 14 tiny-home and accessory-dwelling-unit (ADU) startups to watch in 2023. Tiny homes were not a new invention of 2022, but they picked up a lot of momentum.Whether you're a millennial or Gen Z buyer facing record-high prices, a current homeowner looking to live with less, or a city dweller whose lifestyle shifted during the pandemic, tiny homes can be filled with promise.Elon Musk uses a Boxabl tiny home as a guest house near his Texas home. Boxabl cofounder Galiano Tiramani even shared a video on Twitter of a Tesla hauling a 15,000-pound tiny home.Gimmicks aside, tiny homes are being used as solutions to housing crises in cities like Chicago or Bridgeton, New Jersey — where tiny homes are being used to house former inmates for free after their release. Albuquerque, New Mexico, created Tiny Home Village, which has 30 120-square-foot homes, and is being used as transitional housing and is providing shelter for people without housing. The often-modular approach of tiny homes can help reduce construction costs and make housing cheaper. From all-electric homes to optimizing backyards in the Bay area, the future of housing may look smaller.Tiny homes can range in price and aesthetics, but typically remain under 600 square feet. The median square footage of single-family units in America through the first three quarters of 2022 was 2,294 square feet, according to the Census Bureau.They can also be money makers. Petite, picturesque Airbnbs are popular with Instagram-savvy travelers. In states like California, homeowners are tapping companies that plop prefabricated structures down in their backyards. In one model, a startup collects rent from the tenants of the accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — and pays out a portion to the homeowner.We've compiled a list of the hottest tiny-home companies to look out for in 2023, all shaking up real estate in different ways. Here they are, presented in alphabetical order.AboduAn Abodu home.Courtesy of AdobuAbodu helps homeowners make use of their unused backyard space with accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. The Redwood City, California-based company, founded in 2018, promises customers none of strings some of their competitors require, such as splitting rental income."We don't do any sort of land lease with the owners," John Geary, Abodu's co-founder, said. "Our biggest view is that homeowners should feel free to use their backyard as they see fit and not have it tied to us as a company — or any other company."Instead, Abodu makes its money on customers' initial purchases of its tiny homes. Studios of 340 square feet start at $228,000, though the average purchase among all its offerings is closer to $280,000, according to Geary. Abodu also offers one- and two-bedroom homes in the relatively generous sizes of 500 square feet and 610 square feet, respectively.The company has raised $25 million, according to an August press release. Geary declined to provide Abodu's revenue but said it increased nearly five times in 2021 from 2020. It has placed 100 units in backyards as of 2022, and has more than 100 more units in production, according to Geary.BoxablA Boxabl unit.Courtesy of BoxablBoxabl's factory-built homes may be tiny, but the Nevada-based company is scoring big endorsements from some of the most recognizable names in the homebuilding industry and beyond. In 2022, the company landed an investment from DR Horton — the largest US homebuilder by volume. The company didn't disclose the financial details of the deal, but Galiano Tiramani — a cofounder and director of Boxabl — said the company has now raised more than $100 million, the vast majority of which has come through crowdfunding. That puts the company's valuation at roughly $3 billion. Boxabl delivers its 375-square-foot "Casitas," which the company builds on an assembly line in Las Vegas, to sites via shipping containers and assembles them out into full-fledged homes in less than an hour. The unique assembly method has swirled up interest on social media and helped generate a waitlist of more than 100,000 names, according to Tiramani. Each unit sells for $50,000, not including the cost of installation. Boxabl has produced about 200 homes so far, 156 of which have gone to the Department of Defense for military housing. Boxabl is ramping up production at its existing factory and has secured land next door for an additional facility. Once both are running at full speed, they'll be able to produce about 5,000 units a year, Tiramani said.CasataA Casata unit.James Rodriguez/InsiderWhy rent an apartment when you can lease a tiny home? That's the premise behind the Austin, Texas-based tiny-home company Casata, which earlier this year debuted a community of 66 microhome rentals in the fast-growing Texas capital.Residents — who pay between $1,400 and $1,865 per month — quickly snapped up the homes, which range in size from 378 to 758 square feet. Casata, which launched in 2020, is now planning larger projects in other Texas cities such as Houston, San Marcos, Bastrop, and College Station, while eyeing national expansion in the future. Champion Homes built the inaugural Casata units in a factory near Dallas. Future Casata communities will feature custom floor plans Casata designs and use modular construction, Aaron Levy — the CEO of Casata — told Insider. This means Casata will still build them in a factory, but the homes will sit on foundations like traditional homes and meet the same building codes required for homes built on-site.Casata has raised roughly $2.1 million from a range of investors, including the family office of Adam Neumann — the founder of WeWork. In the next five to seven years, Casata aims to have 30 to 40 communities, which would equal a roughly billion-dollar portfolio, Levy said.CosmicA Cosmic ADU.CosmicThis San Francisco-based startup creates accessory dwelling units equipped to generate enough energy to power themselves and supply energy to the property's main home. The company, which founder Sasha Jokic began in 2021, currently sells two styles: A studio starting at 350 square feet and $190,000, and a one-bedroom unit starting at 450 square feet and $370,000. Cosmic's innovation is a prefabricated platform that draws its power from a lithium-ion battery and thermal energy. Cosmic constructs the carbon-neutral units on-site with sustainable materials once the platform is in place. From start to finish, it takes from six to eight months to create a Cosmic dwelling.Although the units are small now, Cosmic envisions scaling up. "We'll consider ourselves successful once we tackle the problem of housing insecurity with the multifamily homes," Jokic told Insider in May.CoverInside a Cover ADU.Courtesy of CoverCover has a premise. Companies today use an outmoded method to build homes, and they can apply technology they use to design, create, and predictably price products — like cars — to residential construction. Cover has gathered followers and has raised a total of $73.3 million over four rounds through 2021, according to Crunchbase.Cover customizes its backyard dwellings to each buyer and manufactures them in sections at its Los Angeles factory before assembling them on a dedicated site. According to Tech Crunch, the homes currently max out at 1,200 square feet with prices ranging from about $200,000 for a 400-square-foot studio to $500,000 for a three-bedroom house.The production process is swift, taking about 30 days to build and install a home once Cover completes the foundation. As of October 2021, Cover had produced about 20 dwellings, though it expected production to ramp up after moving into its new 100,000-square-foot factory.DveleA Dvele unit.Courtesy of DveleRobots might, one day, build your home.At least, that's if San Diego-based Dvele achieves its lofty vision. The company, which builds modular homes and assembles them on-site, announced in June the closing of $15 million in funding to build an automated, robotic production line at its factory in Loma Linda, California. The idea is to give people the opportunity to personalize their home online, then feed orders to the smart factory, and transport the completed modules — essentially the building blocks of the home — to their permanent site.Dvele doesn't just focus on tiny homes, or "mini homes," as the company calls them. Its floor plans range in size from 400 square feet to more than 3,900 square feet, and prices vary between $200,000 and $1.5 million. That doesn't include the cost of prepping the site, delivering the home, and installing it once it's arrived. The company launched in 2018 and plans to produce about 200 modules this year, Kellan Hannah — Dvele's director of growth — said. While the mini homes require just one module, the larger ones are made of between three and five modules. Once the factory is totally automated and running at full capacity, the company's production should approach 1,500 modules annually, Hannah said. For now, the company is mostly focused on delivering homes to California and neighboring states due to shipping costs, Hannah said.EscapeThe Traveler model by Escape Homes.Courtesy of Escape HomesEscape Homes of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, has been selling tiny homes since 2014, but business has never been this hot. "The pandemic was gasoline on the fire," Dan Dobrowolski — the founder of Escape Homes — told Insider.Urban dwellers searching for greener pastures joined a movement that Dobrowlski says has been building across demographics and age groups. He's seen this in every region where Escape has built homes as large as 388 square feet over the past 8 years, from California to New York, and even in Hawaii. The cost of the homes runs from about $43,600 to $93,261.As the pandemic deepened in 2020, Escape teamed up with the furniture giant IKEA to develop the outlet's first tiny-home offering. The 187-square-foot unit was Escape's Vista Boho XL model outfitted with IKEA furniture, and available through its website. Dobrowolski says the partnership was a "really easy match," with both companies aligned on environmental issues. In other sustainability efforts, Escape has introduced some all-electric models. Other models were already close to being all-electric, but changing out cooking appliances, water heaters, and furnaces brought them to the next level, Dobrowolski said. Escape is also trying to transform neighborhoods. In 2020, the company opened its Escape Tiny Home Village — a cluster of 10 homes in a converted Tampa Bay, Florida, trailer park. The homes only take up about 20% of the acreage, leaving room for ample green space. Dobrowolski calls it  a "neighborhood of the 21st century." "It's a much more efficient use of space, but at the same time gives you what people still think of as the American dream," Dobrowolski said.GetawayA Getaway cabin.Courtesy of GetawayThis tiny-abode-hospitality company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has created nature-filled experiences without common amenities like WiFi or TV in an effort to help people — especially big-city dwellers — unplug. At a base price of $109 per night, guests can stay in these tiny homes in 19 outdoorsy environments from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia near Washington, DC; to Mount Vernon, Washington, near Seattle. The 780 cabins of up to 200 square feet are stocked with bedding, cooking supplies and an outdoor-camping setup. "Growing up in rural Minnesota I was always surrounded by nature," Jon Staff — a cofounder and the CEO of Getaway — said. "When I returned to nature later in life, I fell in love with the idea of living simply in nature and making frequent disconnection part of my routine."The company announced in June that it would add 9 new locations including places in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio; Greenville, South Carolina; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The expansion would boost Getaway's offerings to 1,000 cabins.In 2021, Cerates led the startup's Series C funding, in which Getaway raised over $41 million.IconAn Icon home.Joshua Perez/Courtesy of IconFounded in 2017 in Austin, Texas, Icon has dominated the 3D-printed-housing market with technology that has brought over 24 homes to the United States and Mexico — the largest number of such structures completed by a construction company. It has so far raised $451 million from investors.In 2021, the company worked with an Austin-based developer who brought a version of its 3D-printed home to market with prices starting from around $450,000. Others are eyeing the company's technology as proof-of-concept for affordable and emergency-housing communities of the future.Icon is now expanding the scope of its operations in collaboration with the United States Army to create moveable training barracks that, once completed, will count as the largest 3D-printed structures in the Western Hemisphere. The company is also working with NASA to develop construction systems to create infrastructure and habitats on the moon and beyond.MinimalisteA Minimaliste home.Courtesy of JP MarquisQuebec City-based Minimaliste builds and transports tiny homes specifically designed for the climate surrounding the designated plot of land they will sit on. Founded in 2015, Minimaliste gained popularity for prefabricated tiny homes that are able to withstand wild weather conditions — from extreme heat to frigid temperatures — by regulating the temperature inside the tiny home with efficient heat pump and air conditioning systems.Unlike most tiny homes, Minimaliste homes come with a heat pump and air-conditioning system. Minimaliste has built over 100 homes, though scaling up is not the company's goal, JP Marquis — a cofounder of Minimaliste — told Insider. Instead, it's focused on process, or making sure steps such as choosing materials, design, and delivery go smoothly, he said. "We invested a lot in the recipe," he said.Customers can buy Minimaliste's custom homes of up to 382 square feet, or choose from one of the company's pre-designed layouts such as Nomad, a 165-square-foot home with a minimalist design for about $65,000. Most Minimaliste clients are based in New York, California, Washington and Ontario, Canada, but it's getting increased interest from people in southern US states such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and New Mexico, Marquis said. MolivingA Moliving unit.David MitchellMoliving is introducing luxurious, sustainable, and affordable hospitality experiences to the tiny-house movement. The New York-based company has a fleet of prefabricated 399-square-foot trailers with additional deck space. It can expand or shrink the supply to meet seasonal demands, which helps lower the cost of the luxury digs, Jordan Bem — one of the company's cofounders and the CEO — told Insider. The first location for one of Moliving's mobile hotels will open during peak tourist season later this summer in a lush, mountainous hideaway in the Hudson Valley town of Hurley, New York, Bem said. It will have 60 suites starting at about $249 per night, he said.But when the weather gets cold in New York, Moliving will simply take its accommodations elsewhere. "We take our suites, and trailer them to the next destination, something that is perfectly opposite, like Palm Beach, for example," Bem said. The nomadic business model eliminates off-season expenses, such as shutting down for a few months, or costs associated with climate, he said.Bem invested nearly $7 million into the business, which recently closed a seed round of funding — which the modular investor SG Blocks led — in June, he said. In 2022, Moliving won the American Business Award for startup of the year in business services, and a Titan Business Award. New Frontier DesignA New Frontier tiny home.Studio Bull/New Frontier DesignDavid Latimer founded bespoke tiny-home outfit New Frontier Design in 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee, out of a desire to perfect a product from the design phase through to completion. The detail-oriented craftsman builds highly customizable tiny homes that he told Insider are mostly purchased by clients in Western states like California, Washington, and Idaho. Latimer said his clients often use his product as a luxury solution for the hurdles associated with building on remote properties, such as restrictive permitting issues and high construction costs.New Frontier counts Olivia Wilde among its all-star client roster, as well as "some of the wealthiest people on earth," according to Latimer. The company's tiny homes range in size from about 250 square feet to 450 square feet with prices sometimes exceeding $350,000. Latimer estimated he's built 60 to 70 highly customized homes to date. An added bonus in the tiny-house space for Latimer? "It's a vehicle for intentional living," he said. "You can't mindlessly consume." The space constraints simply won't allow for it.OBY CooperativeAn OBY Cooperative house.Courtesy of OBY CooperativeThe OBY Cooperative gets its name from the development debates between NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) versus YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) camps. OBY instead stands for "Our Backyard" and imagines a future beyond the debate."It doesn't have to be yes or no, but just the understanding that collectively all of this land is ours," Declan Keefe — a cofounder of OBY Cooperative, in Oakland, California — said. OBY is in the process of establishing its first unique land-lease agreement with an owner and a tenant.The cooperative seeks out homeowners who want extra income from an accessory dwelling unit, and pairs them with tenants who are utilizing housing vouchers. It aims to ink 35-year agreements under which it permits, builds, manages, and maintains the ADUs of about 650 square feet on residential properties, at no cost to the homeowner. Homeowners can earn around $500 a month for the rental.A unique element of the cooperative is a plan to eventually sell shares of the rental unit to other members of the community. OBY is also tackling sustainability. The unit itself is all-electric and runs on net-zero energy. Even the construction process is carbon neutral and powered by solar energy. Keefe said the first tenant is expected to move in within the coming months. The homeowner has been an active participant in the endeavor, leaning on a legal background to help them draft equitable contracts, he said.United DwellingA United Dwelling property in Los Angeles, where median home prices are over $1 million, according to Zillow.Courtesy of United DwellingSteven Dietz — the founder of United Dwelling — thinks he has a solution to Los Angeles' housing crisis. After a career in venture capital, Dietz wanted to make an impact on his community and in 2019 decided to tackle housing affordability through increasing attainable inventory. His team started by transforming garages, but found them to be inadequate. In part, a 2019 California state law that streamlined the construction process of ADUs made Dietz's vision possible. United has so far built 60 homes, with 300 more in the permitting process, according to Dietz, who said their sizes range from 328 square feet to 1490 square feet. The homes start at $195,900, including demolition and design, permitting, and solar water and power systems."I can see a way we get to where affordability is removed as a problem in probably five to seven years," Dietz told Insider. "You just have to build enough new homes to pull down the price at the low end of the market." Dietz says units have been filled by working-class people who were suffering through brutal commutes. Teacher's aides, EMTs, and nurses who were driving over two hours to their jobs are now just minutes away.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderJan 1st, 2023

I used ChatGPT for a day for searches instead of Google, and I found it scarily impressive

ChatGPT is a chatbot that relies upon artificial intelligence to generate text. Here's my take on using ChatGPT instead of Google for a day. ChatGPT, a AI chat bot, has gone viral in the past two weeks.NurPhoto/Getty Images ChatGPT is a chatbot that relies upon artificial intelligence to generate text. The bot writes essays, poems, and can even be used as a search engine. Here's my take on using ChatGPT instead of Google for a day. Technology's "next big thing" may have emerged last month. It's called ChatGPT, which is a chatbot developed by an artificial intelligence company OpenAI. The difference between ChatGPT and an average chatbot is that the former relies on an emerging technology called "generative" artificial intelligence (AI), which means it can produce its own content as opposed to just responding to existing content. Aside from the obvious applications — writing cover letters, poems, and jokes to impress your boss — ChatGPT can also serve as a search engine.That has been troubling news for search-engine king Google, which issued a "code red" on the potentially competitive technology in late December, with CEO Sundar Pichai redirecting certain teams to boost its focus on AI products, Insider reported. At the same time, concerns have emerged about ChatGPT's potential to spew out biased and misinformed content. Others have argued that the tool isn't as smart as people are making it out to be. As a lifelong Google user, I thought it prudent to see what life might look like if online search is indeed overtaken by this buzzy new chatbot.Here's what happened when I spent a day searching terms on ChatGPT.  On Christmas Day, I woke up around 9 a.m. I usually check the weather via an app on the iPhone. Instead, I turned to my new encyclopedia for the day and typed in "what is the weather today.""I'm sorry, but I am unable to provide current weather information as my training data only goes up until 2021." That's 1 point for Google. I then asked it for the weather on December 25, 2020 since that was in the applicable date range."I'm sorry, but I do not have access to historical weather data for specific dates. Is there anything else I may be able to help with?"I was home with my parents for the holiday, so I explained my project to them. My father, a chemical engineer, was intrigued. He suggested I ask it for the definition of an atom.ChatGPT's reply:"An atom is the basic unit of matter that makes up all chemical elements. Atoms are made up of a small, dense nucleus containing positively charged protons and neutral neutrons, surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The number of protons in the nucleus determines the identity of the element, and the arrangement of the electrons around the nucleus determines the chemical and physical properties of the element. Atoms can bond together to form molecules, which are the building blocks of most substances, including living things. The study of atoms and their properties is known as atomic physics." My dad thought the answer was passable, worthy of a B+, in his books. There were certain words he thought were unnecessary. He suggested I ask it for the definition of osmosis."Osmosis is the movement of a solvent (such as water) through a semi-permeable membrane (a membrane that allows some substances to pass through but not others) from an area of low solute concentration (dilute solution) to an area of high solute concentration (concentrated solution) until the concentration of solute is equal on both sides of the membrane.In other words, osmosis is the process by which water moves through a membrane in order to balance the concentration of solutes on either side of the membrane. This process is important in many biological systems, as it allows cells to maintain a balance of water and solutes inside and outside the cell.For example, in plant cells, osmosis helps to regulate the amount of water inside the cell, which is important for maintaining the shape and turgor (the state of being swollen or turgid) of the cell. In animal cells, osmosis helps to maintain the proper balance of water and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium ions) in the body, which is essential for proper functioning." This response got an A+ from him. I thought the answer was a bit long, but it saved me the time of skimming two or three Google searches on the topic. My next query was asking about what to have for breakfast."There are many options for a healthy breakfast. Some ideas include:Overnight oats: Combine rolled oats, yogurt, milk, and any desired toppings (such as fruit, nuts, or seeds) in a jar or container and let sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you'll have a creamy, tasty breakfast ready to go.Scrambled eggs: Scramble eggs in a pan with some diced vegetables, such as bell peppers and onions, for added nutrients. Serve with whole grain toast or a piece of fruit.Breakfast smoothie: Blend together your favorite frozen fruit, a scoop of protein powder, and some milk or yogurt for a quick and easy breakfast on the go.Whole grain waffles or pancakes: Top with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup for a tasty treat.Breakfast burrito: Fill a whole grain tortilla with scrambled eggs, black beans, avocado, and any other desired toppings for a protein-packed breakfast.Remember to include a source of protein in your breakfast to help keep you full and satisfied throughout the morning." I was shocked. The suggestions were not only healthy, but easy to make. As a vegetarian, I was surprised to see they were all herbivore-friendly. My brother and I went for option 4. Then we asked ChatGPT what to do in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where my parents live."West Bloomfield, Michigan is a suburb of Detroit located in Oakland County. Some things to do in West Bloomfield include:Visit Marshbank Park, a popular spot for hiking, picnicking, and fishing.Play a round of golf at one of the area's many public or private golf courses.Explore the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve, a 125-acre natural area featuring walking trails and a variety of wildlife.Take a stroll around Orchard Lake, a beautiful lake with a public beach and several parks.Check out the West Bloomfield Farmers Market, held on Sundays in the summer, for fresh produce and locally made goods.Go shopping at the Orchard Mall or one of the many other shopping centers in the area.Visit the West Bloomfield Family Aquatic Center, a popular spot for swimming and water play in the summer months.Catch a movie at the Emagine Entertainment theater.Enjoy a meal at one of the many local restaurants, ranging from casual to fine dining."By this point my skepticism was beginning to fade. ChatGPT's answers included activities I had never even heard of even though my parents had been living in West Bloomfield for years. I was curious to see what it would suggest for New York, where I normally live."New York City is a vibrant and exciting place with a wide variety of things to see and do. Some suggestions for activities in New York City include:Visit iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Empire State Building.Explore the city's many museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Modern Art.Take a stroll through one of the city's diverse neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, or Greenwich Village.Check out a Broadway show or a performance at one of the city's many theaters.Go shopping in some of the city's famous department stores or browse the unique offerings at local boutiques and markets.Enjoy a meal at one of the city's many restaurants, featuring cuisine from all over the world.Visit the High Line, an elevated park built on an abandoned railroad track.Take a trip to the top of the Rockefeller Center for a panoramic view of the city.Enjoy a sunset cruise around the island of Manhattan."These responses were a little less impressive as they seemed like suggestions from a generic guidebook. My brother, a senior in college who recently finished a class on Sufi art, suggested I ask about the "best Islamic artist.""It is difficult to determine the best Islamic artist as art is a subjective and personal matter, and what one person may consider the best may not be the same for someone else. Islamic art is a diverse and rich tradition that encompasses a wide range of styles and media, including calligraphy, miniature painting, ceramics, textiles, and architecture. Some notable Islamic artists include:Hassan Massoudy, an Iraqi-born artist known for his expressive calligraphy and fusion of traditional and modern styles.Mahmoud Farshchian, an Iranian master of traditional Persian miniature painting.Farid Belkahia, a Moroccan painter and sculptor who was a pioneer of modern Moroccan art.Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian artist who works in a variety of media, including sculpture, installation, and video.Kamal Boullata, a Palestinian painter and art historian who has written extensively about modern Arab art.It is important to note that the term "Islamic art" refers to art created by or for Muslims, and does not necessarily refer to art that depicts religious themes or motifs. The art of the Islamic world is diverse and reflects the wide range of cultures and societies within the Muslim world." ChatGPT was turning out to be more diplomatic than I expected. I tried something more controversial— what did it think of Elon Musk?"As an AI, I do not have personal opinions or feelings. I am programmed to provide objective and factual information to the best of my ability based on my training and knowledge.Elon Musk is a successful entrepreneur and CEO of several companies, including SpaceX and Tesla. He is known for his innovative ideas and his work on developing electric vehicles and reusable rockets. Some people have praised Musk for his efforts to advance technology and promote sustainability, while others have criticized him for his business practices and controversial statements." Impressively neutral. My mom, heading out to the grocery store, chimed in with a more practical question. What was the average gas mileage of a Mini Cooper?"The fuel efficiency of a Mini Cooper will depend on the specific model and year of the vehicle, as well as the type of fuel it uses. Here are the EPA-estimated fuel efficiency ratings for some popular Mini Cooper models:Mini Cooper Hardtop:Gasoline: 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway/32 mpg combinedDiesel: 36 mpg city/40 mpg highway/38 mpg combinedMini Cooper Convertible:Gasoline: 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combinedDiesel: 35 mpg city/39 mpg highway/37 mpg combinedMini Cooper Clubman:Gasoline: 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway/30 mpg combinedDiesel: 35 mpg city/39 mpg highway/37 mpg combinedIt's important to note that these estimates are based on laboratory testing and may not reflect real-world driving conditions. Actual fuel efficiency can vary depending on factors such as driving habits, road conditions, and vehicle maintenance." As the day ended, my family debated the best movie to watch. Naturally, I posed the question to ChatGPT."It is difficult for me to provide a list of the top movies currently as my knowledge was cut-off in 2021 and I am not able to browse the internet to find current information. In general, the popularity of movies can vary widely and depend on a variety of factors, such as the quality of the film, the talent of the actors, and the marketing efforts of the studios. Some popular movies may be highly rated by critics and audiences, while others may be less well-received. It is always a good idea to read reviews or watch trailers before deciding to see a movie, to get a sense of whether it is likely to be something you will enjoy." Overall, my entire family was impressed by ChatGPT. I felt like it definitely saved me a few steps over using Google. Most of the answers it generated felt balanced yet informative.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: personnelSource: nytDec 31st, 2022

The "world"s coolest dictator" rounded up 60,000 people in a supposed crackdown on MS-13. A shrimp farming community is fighting back.

The MS-13 gang made El Salvador one of the most violent places not at war. The "world's coolest dictator" created a new layer of misery. Residents of the Bajo Lempa meet weekly at a retreat center to discuss the mass arrests.Fred Ramos for InsiderGang violence has made El Salvador one of the world's most violent places not at war. The crackdown by its "Bitcoin president" created a new layer of misery.SISIGUAYO, EL SALVADOR — On the morning that Walber Rodriguez was arrested last May, he was just two minutes from his home in Sisiguayo, El Salvador.Walber and his wife Estefany had worked the overnight shift at the shrimp cooperative, and then taken their six-year-old daughter Michelle to visit a relative. Walber was driving the family motorcycle, and Estefany and Michelle sat behind him. They were headed home.Walber was pulled over at "El Ceibo," a gathering place in Sisiguayo that's marked by a sturdy tree with an abundant canopy. Soon, Walber's sister, mother, and father had arrived, trying to reason with the officer, who knew them by name. They didn't understand why Walber was being handcuffed. Sisiguayo was a place that saw police and soldiers as allies. Back in 2015, when the MS-13 gang descended on the hamlet looking to recruit local teenagers, the cops had come down hard, even murdering some of the gang members, and Walber and his neighbors had raised money to build a new police station. Now, backup was arriving for the officer. Two navy soldiers showed up, including one who had been with Walber just the night before, watching a soccer game, and informed the others that Walber was "a working man." A patrol vehicle full of additional cops followed. No one named anything that Walber had done wrong. Yet the family's pleas didn't work. "Look," said the officer who led Walber off, flipping his wrist to the sky, "this comes from above." Within days of Walber's arrest, the Rodriguezes learned he was being accused of belonging to MS-13. "El Ceibo," a gathering place in Sisiguayo, is marked by a sturdy tree with an abundant canopy. It was here that Walber Rodriguez was arrested on May 1, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderScenes like this have been playing out across El Salvador since March, when President Nayib Bukele declared a "state of exception" and suspended certain constitutional rights, ostensibly to deal with MS-13 and two offshoots of the rival Barrio 18 gang, Barrio 18 Sureños and Barrio 18 Revolucionarios — all of which have terrorized El Salvador and made it one of the world's most violent places not at war. The declaration was meant to be temporary, lasting 30 days, but Bukele's administration has renewed it nine times. More than 60,000 people, mostly working-age men, have been arrested, while signs along roadways feature cinematic images of heavily-armed police ridding the country of "terrorists." Just as commercial fishermen trawl their way through columns of water to maximize their catch, Salvadoran authorities have rounded people up indiscriminately and with flimsy explanations.The 'world's coolest dictator' Even before authorities crushed in tens of thousands in a span of mere weeks, El Salvador's prisons were overcrowded and disease-ridden. It now tops the list of countries with the highest percentage of their populations behind bars, according to the World Prison Brief, a distinction that has been previously held by the United States. The supposed targets, MS-13 and Barrio 18, began in Los Angeles in the late twentieth century and arrived in El Salvador by way of gang members deported from the US. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump referenced MS-13 to say the US had allowed "animals" to cross into the country, and to justify draconian immigration policies. In El Salvador, the gangs have become one of the country's biggest employers, and they have cemented their power through backroom deals with elected leaders. That appears to have continued under Bukele, a former executive at a family public relations firm who was elected president in 2019 and has fashioned himself, in his ever-changing Twitter bio, as the "world's coolest dictator." Outside El Salvador, Bukele is best known for adopting Bitcoin as a national currency. A sign in the capital, San Salvador, announces the anti-gang crackdown.Fred Ramos for InsiderLast year, the US Treasury sanctioned two senior officials from Bukele's administration for cutting a deal with the gangs in exchange for support in the 2021 midterm elections — which saw Bukele's New Ideas party win a supermajority — and committing fewer homicides. What preceded the state of exception was a horrific weekend in which the gangs killed nearly 90 people. It, too, was allegedly a product of that deal: Salvadoran journalists at the investigative news outlet El Faro reported that the rampage was MS-13's retribution for a break-down in the agreement. The cooperation doesn't end there. Earlier this year, when the U.S. federal court of the Eastern District of New York requested the extradition of MS-13's leadership to stand trial on terrorism charges, Bukele-allied judges blocked some of the extraditions. The administration then released one of the wanted gang leaders from prison, and a senior official helped him flee to Guatemala. The administration denies all this, and, so far, things appear to be going Bukele's way. Tough-on-crime stances have historically been as popular in El Salvador as in the United States. And, as in the U.S., the public is primed to believe that anyone targeted by police is guilty until proven innocent. A Gallup poll released in October recorded Bukele's public approval at 86%. Police make an arrest in San Salvador on June 14th, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe word on the street, according to family members gathered at prisons for news of loved ones, is that while local gang cliques have gone quiet, they're still out there — hiding in full knowledge of the police, whose focus is elsewhere. According to the Passionist Social Services, nearly 40% of the murders in El Salvador since the beginning of the state of exception have been committed by police. Meanwhile, the administration has steadily eroded public access to information about who they are taking and why. El Faro obtained documents involving 690 arrests between March and April, and found that, overwhelmingly, the police are using criteria like "looking suspicious" or "acting nervous" to justify the arrests. Bukele, for his part, has breezily mentioned a margin of "one percent error." "This time, they're not coming out," he tweeted about the state of exception detainees in mid-April. The administration is building a new prison that Bukele says will house 40,000 "terrorists" who "will be cut off from the outside world." But, by terrorists, the president seems to mean people like Walber. 'Until we can embrace them'Once it became clear that Walber had been caught up in the crackdown, the Rodriguez family's hope for a quick release evaporated. By this point, they had discovered that they were not alone. All around them in Sisiguayo and the surrounding Bajo Lempa valley, people were arrested with no satisfactory explanation. The sons of two cousins who lived in a nearby community, Mario and Pablo, were among the first to be taken; their boys were handcuffed while drinking beers after a soccer game. Another neighbor was arrested even though he'd obtained and was carrying around his spotless police record, believing, wrongly, that such a thing would matter to police. He was detained holding his one-year-old in his arms.Residents of the Bajo Lempa who'd been touched by the arrests had begun meeting weekly at a nearby retreat center. There were only about a dozen attendees then, most of them trembling in fear and unable to tell their stories without crying. Now, Estefany, along with Walber's sister, Glenda, and Walber's parents, Tomas and Margarita, became the group's newest members. The group had started in April, launched by Rossy Iraheta Marinero and José Salvador Ruiz, known as Chamba  — two lay pastoral guides whose faith follows the tenets of Latin American liberation theology. They came from the same limited economic reality as their neighbors, and, in fact, they have full-time jobs and families. None of their own relatives had been detained. But they'd been stirred by the plight and compelled by their own theological solidarity practices to act. In the early days, they found that even civil society organizations that were traditionally fearless in denouncing state violence seemed reluctant to aid the so-called "terrorists." A handful of human rights organizations, principally one called Cristosal and a feminist collective in San Salvador, stepped up and, through them, the group has now filed 111 claims of habeas corpus  — a legal demand that prosecutors present their evidence against a detained person, or forfeit custody. "The families have hope that their loved ones are still alive, but they don't have certainty of that," Rossy told me. They also created a website where they posted photos of their imprisoned kin, and composed a song, "Until we can embrace them," that enshrines their suffering and their demands.   Few groups elsewhere in the country have coalesced in this way to lobby. Rossy evokes groups in Argentina and Mexico – and even in El Salvador itself – who never stopped agitating for justice on behalf of loved ones who had been disappeared by the state in earlier decades, leaving maps for others to follow. "A long battle" lies ahead, Rossy cautioned them in one meeting. "You have to be prepared."Outside MarionaWalber, and many of the others from the Bajo Lempa, had ended up at a prison informally known as Mariona, for the municipality where it's located. Under the state of exception, prisons were sealed off. Not even lawyers could get in. There was no protocol for finding out how Walber was doing, or if he was even alive. In El Salvador, it falls to families to help feed and clothe incarcerated relatives. Although the State provides meals to those in prison, Bukele has limited the men to two meager plates per day, as punishment. To leave supplemental food and other essentials, or to elicit a nugget of information from a bureaucrat at the prison's entrance, Estefany, Glenda, and others from Sisiguayo had no choice but to camp out outside Mariona. It's mostly men who have been arrested, and, in the first months of the crackdown, it was mostly women waiting outside prisons, by the thousands, for days at a time, sharing meals and makeshift cardboard mattresses. Everyone was taking on debt to afford the litany of expenses that follow an arrest, and some said they'd lost their jobs because they had spent so many days waiting. It was rumored that some police were offering to trade a man's freedom for sex or money.Glenda Rodriguez walks to the Mariona prison to get news of her brother, Walber Rodriguez, on June 20, 2022.Fred Ramos for Insider The jailings came so fast that Cristosal rushed to set up an online system where families could report arrests and sign up for support as they navigated the justice system. Families described traveling hours to a public defender's office and finding a line so long they lost hope of being seen. There's now about one public defender for every 200 arrests. Initial hearings include up to 500 defendants simultaneously, and Bukele has warned he'll be monitoring judges for "favoring delinquents."  If a name disappears from the register of detainees, it could mean they'd been moved to another prison, or to a hospital, or to a morgue. The country's major newspapers run regular reports of families being unceremoniously delivered the lifeless bodies of loved ones. One of the few men who'd been held at Izalco prison and then released told the Salvadoran outlet La Prensa Grafica that prisoners had been made to run barefoot in circles for hours. When one man fell from exhaustion, the guards broke his ribs, and he died eight days later, the man said. This is the kind of news the families of the Bajo Lempa live in terror of receiving. 'We fear each other again'Sisiguayo sits in the fertile valley where the Lempa river makes its final stretch through El Salvador before flowing out to the Pacific Ocean. Here, the air tastes salty and thick, a reminder of the mangrove forests and the ocean just beyond them. Homes are one-story cinderblock structures, painted in tropical greens and blues and surrounded by clotheslines, palm trees and outhouses. A communal speaker system broadcasts news and emergency alerts.A sunbaked dirt road connects Sisiguayo to the nearest highway, and along it, residents commute by bicycle or motorbike, bending around the cows, horses and dogs that loll about. Every year around November, the rainy season leaves behind deep potholes, so each family gives the share of money they can spare to pay for gas to power the construction equipment loaned from the mayor's office to fortify the road. Most young people work in shrimp cooperatives, where many tasks are nocturnal. It's a life of little sleep and hard manual labor. Night shifts start at around three in the morning. The workers return home for breakfast at about nine, and head off to a second job, like seasonal farming or bricklaying. Here, as everywhere else, the state of exception has been a financial drain. More than a dozen men from one of the shrimp cooperatives were netted in the crackdown, and what normally takes the cooperative two weeks to accomplish now takes two or three months. Roxana, another one of the Rodriguezes' neighbors, was hit especially hard by the arrests. Her two sons, a daughter-in-law and a brother-in-law were rounded up, as well as her boyfriend Jeremias' two nephews. Now, she spends much of her time running endless arrest-related errands. Her youngest daughter, who's 12, had to leave school to help run the family's corner store and care for Roxana's 5-year-old grandchild. Within the first six weeks, the costs ballooned to around $1000 — a small fortune that's twice the amount Roxana spent to open and fully stock her shop. By the late summer, Jeremias is usually out in the fields alongside Roxana's two boys and his two nephews, planting corn for the family to eat. With them in prison, he had to forgo the crop this year, because it's too much to handle alone.  The state of exception "has a human cost that we still can't fully see," said Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Cristosal. "There is the torture, the inhumane treatment, the more than eighty deaths in prisons, and that's only talking about the people who are detained. Life projects that people have built slowly over generations are suddenly paralyzed and collapsed. There's the loss of income and the simultaneous expenses. The social cost of being stigmatized as 'terrorists.'" The administration seems unperturbed by the volume of blameless people it has locked up. "There will always be victims in war," Vice President Felix Ulloa has said of the state of exception. Walber's father, Tomas, at home in Sisiguayo, on June 17, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe last time state security forces were targeting the people of the Bajo Lempa en masse and without explanation, it was in the middle of a civil war. From late 1979 until 1992, vicious US-backed government forces clashed with a leftist guerrilla movement. More than 75,000 Salvadorans died and thousands more were disappeared. A United Nations truth commission later found that 85% of the war kidnapping, torture and murder were committed by the government forces, including police and military. Walber's parents were among those fighting on the side of the guerrillas. In 1992, when they dropped their rifles after U.N.-brokered peace talks, they were given land as a way to return to civilian life. Margarita, Tomas and their neighbors came to inhabit Sisiguayo, with its rich coastal tracts, generous for fishing and farming. For Margarita, her son's senseless arrest reminded her of the state-sponsored kidnappings that had led her to take up arms. "That's what most hurts," she told me. "Now we fear each other again."  A photo of Walber Rodriguez's father, Tomas, from when he was a member of a guerrilla group during the Salvadoran civil war, hangs in his house.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe Bajo Lempa is also a flood plain, a condition that was exacerbated by poor government management of the hydroelectric dams that line the river. During repeated devastating floods in the past three decades, the people of the region, the Rodriguez family among them, lobbied and protested, even marching about sixty miles on foot to the capital to demand better dam administration. For Walber and his older sister Glenda, who were children at the time, this was an early education in democracy. The Bajo Lempa won. San Salvador committed to building the levies needed to ameliorate the annual floods, and to communicating its plans to discharge water from the dams, so the communities in harms' way could evacuate in time.Now, they are again under siege. Surf City Abroad, Bukele is best known for two things. First, his announcement, at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, that his government would "push humanity at least a tiny bit in the right direction" by adopting Bitcoin as a national currency. Second, his "Surf City" initiative along El Salvador's 190-mile Pacific coastline, where consistent eight-to-ten-foot waves in prime spots makes it one of the best surfing destinations in the Americas. Bukele's target audience for Surf City is Bitcoin enthusiasts and international surfers. And everyone knows that Surf City is his. After the apparent breakdown in negotiations between the administration and MS-13, the gangs left a message for Bukele in the form of a mangled cadaver on the highway that connects the beaches to the capital.By June 2022, Bloomberg estimated that Bukele's crypto gamble had cost El Salvador nearly $56 million. That same month, as thousands of Salvadorans were being locked up, Surf City was playing host to the World Surf League's Championship Tour at a beach called Punta Roca. "Eighty-two degree water, no wetsuits!" a voice thundered from the loudspeaker.Nearby, cameramen grumbled to a Salvadoran surfer that they couldn't pan without a uniformed man with a rifle coming into the image.  Locals, who in theory stand to benefit from all of this, were remarking that whitewashing the entrance wall to one beach, El Tunco, and stamping it with an English name left it looking like a drive-through bank. "It was good that he saw the potential in our waves," Enzo, who runs a couple of cafes in the area, told me one evening. Promised infrastructural improvements, like finally completing a waste-water treatment plant so that businesses aren't reliant on bottled water, haven't arrived. Meanwhile, new luxury apartments with a base price of $400,000 are being marketed to crypto enthusiasts, prompting worry that excessive development will smother the area's natural beauty and put everyone out of business. It's almost as if Surf City is Bukele's Potemkin Village, thrown up to boost his standing in a handful of elite circles as he loses legitimacy elsewhere. Bukele "wants to promote the country as a place that other people can buy," said Bullock of Cristosal. "But what is his plan for the middle-aged man who has sold coconuts in Punta Roca his whole life? El Tunco already has local commerce and its own identity. Why not honor that identity?"'Dad's not working, is he?'When Walber was jailed, Estefany told their six-year-old, Michelle, that Walber had gone out of town for a job. When Estefany and Glenda left for days camped outside the prison, she said they were studying. Michelle's questions became harder to escape. When he was away working, Walber usually sent a flood of adoring messages to his daughter on Estefany's phone, but this time, there were none to show. Before ten days had passed, Michelle cornered her mom: "Dad's not working, is he?"  At six, Michelle is absorbing that her life is built on shifting sands — a father in prison, a mother who might withhold the truth. Estefany tried to explain, saying, "The authorities make mistakes." But it's just another tectonic lesson for a child. Walber and Estefany have known each other since they were kids and they've been partners for years, but it was only last year that they finally got married. They were the first in the family to have a real wedding, and Glenda remembers how they both giggled when they asked her to save the date — Dec. 17. Graduation photos of Walber Rodriguez, left, and his sister, Glenda Rodriguez, right, at the family house in Sisiguayo.Fred Ramos for InsiderEstefany's dress, which Glenda and Margarita helped her choose, was the color of red wine and had a sparkling brooch at the bosom. Walber had splurged on a new oxford shirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes. He also surprised Estefany with a wedding ring, which he had secretly saved for months to buy. It was a luxury she had never imagined. The cake, a single-tier white sphere adorned with fruit, held the children rapt until it was time to dig in. When Glenda thinks about the politicians and the police who get to return home to their families at night, so easy in their freedom, it fills her with rage. They can't even begin to comprehend what they have stolen from their people.'No one else will defend him but us' The retreat center where the families met every week was a thirty-minute crawling drive down the potholed dirt road from where Walber was arrested. In late June, 54 days after Walber's arrest, three-dozen of them sat as they usually did, in a circle of plastic chairs in an open-air pavilion, roofed in ceramic tile and ringed in a garden of carefully-manicured green.Rossy stood in the middle of the circle, wearing flip-flops and a white tunic embroidered with flowers, calling on people to speak. Chamba kept a notebook propped between his thigh and the arm of his wheelchair. The families were debating: Should they stay the course, and pursue their habeas corpus claims in court? Or was it time to take to the streets? The habeas corpus route had been Rossy's idea. Back in 2020, right when COVID-19 upended global travel, Rossy was in Ecuador at a theological conference. Bukele was about to close the borders and implement some of the most restrictive pandemic measures in the world. She managed to get onto the last flight into the Salvadoran airport and ended up at a quarantine center for six weeks. Desperate for a way out, a lawyer friend advised her to file a habeas corpus claim. It worked – she was released. Now, it's a tactic that more than 1,800 other Salvadorans across the country have also used since March, but to little effect since the administration has wrenched the legal system into its orbit, forcing many judges to retire and intimidating the rest, along with flooding the system with many times more defendants than it can handle. Members of the group have been harassed by the police, and there was always concern that cops might show up in the middle of the meeting to arrest everyone. One woman who had started attending after her husband was arrested was then herself arrested. Now, the neighbors couldn't agree on what was best. The state of exception allowed the police to detain anyone for any reason. If they protested and ended up incarcerated alongside their loved ones, who would defend them then?  People clamored to speak. Rossy called on a gray-haired man in a cowboy hat. He was one of the many who had spent consecutive days and nights on the street outside Mariona, where his son was being held, and while there, he heard rumor that the guards take vengeance on prisoners whose families caused trouble out front. He rose slowly, and then stated his firm opposition to any public action. He reminded the group that it wasn't only themselves who would pay the price for protesting. When he took up arms in the civil war, he said, it was his own life he was putting at risk. But now, any action might put his son's life at risk. When he finished speaking, Glenda – who, at 28 years old, was among the youngest group members – raised her hand. "I may not have as much life experience as many of you. And I didn't live the war fighting in the mountains like many of you did," she began. But, she continued, she did know that all of El Salvador's civil rights victories, including democracy itself, were the product of struggles on the street. She too had camped outside Mariona, and she had learned that viral malicious rumors appeared on social media as part of an attempt to silence families. A meeting of the Bajo Lempa families on June 17, 2022.Fred Ramos for Insider"If the state is going to kill my brother, it will do so whether or not I speak out. If it will incarcerate me – the same is true," she reasoned. "No one else will defend him but us." Finally, there was simply the value of the truth: "The president wants to make this country look like a wonderland, like everything is Surf City," she said – but the world needed to know what was really happening in El Salvador.  The group ultimately decided that Glenda was right: it was time to take the streets. And just as each Bajo Lempa family had discovered that they were not alone when they found the group, now they saw there were hundreds of families around the country who, like them, were ready to march in San Salvador. They began regularly joining the others in the capital to protest and speak to the media, while continuing their habeas corpus petitions. Just before Christmas, the families of the Bajo Lempa packed a bridge on a main thoroughfare and demanded their loved ones be freed. For now, the Bukele administration remains unmoved. The group is now planning to sue their government in an international human rights court.One day last summer, before anyone comprehended how long this would last, Roxana told me something that multiple women in the Bajo Lempa echoed: Since her children were detained, she has been dreaming of them. In one dream, she was sitting at home in the dark, and one of her three sons walked through the front door. He paused in the threshold. She thought it was Cristian, the only one who has not yet been taken. But when he stepped out of the shadow, she saw that it was Javier, her youngest. He was dressed just as he had been on April 27, the night the police hauled him away. She called to him – and then the dream ended. "As a mother," she said, "you wake up to a nightmare."This reporting was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation's Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderDec 27th, 2022

The "world"s coolest dictator" rounded up 60,000 people in a crackdown on MS-13. A shrimp farming community is fighting back.

The MS-13 gang made El Salvador one of the most violent places not at war. The 'world's coolest dictator' created a new layer of misery. Residents of the Bajo Lempa meet weekly at a retreat center to discuss the mass arrests.Fred Ramos for InsiderGang violence has made El Salvador one of the world's most violent places not at war. The crackdown by its "Bitcoin president" created a new layer of misery.SISIGUAYO, EL SALVADOR — On the morning that Walber Rodriguez was arrested last May, he was just two minutes from his home in Sisiguayo, El Salvador.Walber and his wife Estefany had worked the overnight shift at the shrimp cooperative, and then taken their six-year-old daughter Michelle to visit a relative. Walber was driving the family motorcycle, and Estefany and Michelle sat behind him. They were headed home.Walber was pulled over at "El Ceibo," a gathering place in Sisiguayo that's marked by a sturdy tree with an abundant canopy. Soon, Walber's sister, mother, and father had arrived, trying to reason with the officer, who knew them by name. They didn't understand why Walber was being handcuffed. Sisiguayo was a place that saw police and soldiers as allies. Back in 2015, when the MS-13 gang descended on the hamlet looking to recruit local teenagers, the cops had come down hard, even murdering some of the gang members, and Walber and his neighbors had raised money to build a new police station. Now, backup was arriving for the officer. Two navy soldiers showed up, including one who had been with Walber just the night before, watching a soccer game, and informed the others that Walber was "a working man." A patrol vehicle full of additional cops followed. No one named anything that Walber had done wrong. Yet the family's pleas didn't work. "Look," said the officer who led Walber off, flipping his wrist to the sky, "this comes from above." Within days of Walber's arrest, the Rodriguezes learned he was being accused of belonging to MS-13. "El Ceibo," a gathering place in Sisiguayo, is marked by a sturdy tree with an abundant canopy. It was here that Walber Rodriguez was arrested on May 1, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderScenes like this have been playing out across El Salvador since March, when President Nayib Bukele declared a "state of exception" and suspended certain constitutional rights, ostensibly to deal with MS-13 and two offshoots of the rival Barrio 18 gang, Barrio 18 Sureños and Barrio 18 Revolucionarios — all of which have terrorized El Salvador and made it one of the world's most violent places not at war. The declaration was meant to be temporary, lasting 30 days, but Bukele's administration has renewed it nine times. More than 60,000 people, mostly working-age men, have been arrested, while signs along roadways feature cinematic images of heavily-armed police ridding the country of "terrorists." Just as commercial fishermen trawl their way through columns of water to maximize their catch, Salvadoran authorities have rounded people up indiscriminately and with flimsy explanations.The 'world's coolest dictator' Even before authorities crushed in tens of thousands in a span of mere weeks, El Salvador's prisons were overcrowded and disease-ridden. It now tops the list of countries with the highest percentage of their populations behind bars, according to the World Prison Brief, a distinction that has been previously held by the United States. The supposed targets, MS-13 and Barrio 18, began in Los Angeles in the late twentieth century and arrived in El Salvador by way of gang members deported from the US. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump referenced MS-13 to say the US had allowed "animals" to cross into the country, and to justify draconian immigration policies. In El Salvador, the gangs have become one of the country's biggest employers, and they have cemented their power through backroom deals with elected leaders. That appears to have continued under Bukele, a former executive at a family public relations firm who was elected president in 2019 and has fashioned himself, in his ever-changing Twitter bio, as the "world's coolest dictator." Outside El Salvador, Bukele is best known for adopting Bitcoin as a national currency. A sign in the capital, San Salvador, announces the anti-gang crackdown.Fred Ramos for InsiderLast year, the US Treasury sanctioned two senior officials from Bukele's administration for cutting a deal with the gangs in exchange for support in the 2021 midterm elections — which saw Bukele's New Ideas party win a supermajority — and committing fewer homicides. What preceded the state of exception was a horrific weekend in which the gangs killed nearly 90 people. It, too, was allegedly a product of that deal: Salvadoran journalists at the investigative news outlet El Faro reported that the rampage was MS-13's retribution for a break-down in the agreement. The cooperation doesn't end there. Earlier this year, when the U.S. federal court of the Eastern District of New York requested the extradition of MS-13's leadership to stand trial on terrorism charges, Bukele-allied judges blocked some of the extraditions. The administration then released one of the wanted gang leaders from prison, and a senior official helped him flee to Guatemala. The administration denies all this, and, so far, things appear to be going Bukele's way. Tough-on-crime stances have historically been as popular in El Salvador as in the United States. And, as in the U.S., the public is primed to believe that anyone targeted by police is guilty until proven innocent. A Gallup poll released in October recorded Bukele's public approval at 86%. Police make an arrest in San Salvador on June 14th, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe word on the street, according to family members gathered at prisons for news of loved ones, is that while local gang cliques have gone quiet, they're still out there — hiding in full knowledge of the police, whose focus is elsewhere. According to the Passionist Social Services, nearly 40% of the murders in El Salvador since the beginning of the state of exception have been committed by police. Meanwhile, the administration has steadily eroded public access to information about who they are taking and why. El Faro obtained documents involving 690 arrests between March and April, and found that, overwhelmingly, the police are using criteria like "looking suspicious" or "acting nervous" to justify the arrests. Bukele, for his part, has breezily mentioned a margin of "one percent error." "This time, they're not coming out," he tweeted about the state of exception detainees in mid-April. The administration is building a new prison that Bukele says will house 40,000 "terrorists" who "will be cut off from the outside world." But, by terrorists, the president seems to mean people like Walber. 'Until we can embrace them'Once it became clear that Walber had been caught up in the crackdown, the Rodriguez family's hope for a quick release evaporated. By this point, they had discovered that they were not alone. All around them in Sisiguayo and the surrounding Bajo Lempa valley, people were arrested with no satisfactory explanation. The sons of two cousins who lived in a nearby community, Mario and Pablo, were among the first to be taken; their boys were handcuffed while drinking beers after a soccer game. Another neighbor was arrested even though he'd obtained and was carrying around his spotless police record, believing, wrongly, that such a thing would matter to police. He was detained holding his one-year-old in his arms.Residents of the Bajo Lempa who'd been touched by the arrests had begun meeting weekly at a nearby retreat center. There were only about a dozen attendees then, most of them trembling in fear and unable to tell their stories without crying. Now, Estefany, along with Walber's sister, Glenda, and Walber's parents, Tomas and Margarita, became the group's newest members. The group had started in April, launched by Rossy Iraheta Marinero and José Salvador Ruiz, known as Chamba  — two lay pastoral guides whose faith follows the tenets of Latin American liberation theology. They came from the same limited economic reality as their neighbors, and, in fact, they have full-time jobs and families. None of their own relatives had been detained. But they'd been stirred by the plight and compelled by their own theological solidarity practices to act. In the early days, they found that even civil society organizations that were traditionally fearless in denouncing state violence seemed reluctant to aid the so-called "terrorists." A handful of human rights organizations, principally one called Cristosal and a feminist collective in San Salvador, stepped up and, through them, the group has now filed 111 claims of habeas corpus  — a legal demand that prosecutors present their evidence against a detained person, or forfeit custody. "The families have hope that their loved ones are still alive, but they don't have certainty of that," Rossy told me. They also created a website where they posted photos of their imprisoned kin, and composed a song, "Until we can embrace them," that enshrines their suffering and their demands.   Few groups elsewhere in the country have coalesced in this way to lobby. Rossy evokes groups in Argentina and Mexico – and even in El Salvador itself – who never stopped agitating for justice on behalf of loved ones who had been disappeared by the state in earlier decades, leaving maps for others to follow. "A long battle" lies ahead, Rossy cautioned them in one meeting. "You have to be prepared."Outside MarionaWalber, and many of the others from the Bajo Lempa, had ended up at a prison informally known as Mariona, for the municipality where it's located. Under the state of exception, prisons were sealed off. Not even lawyers could get in. There was no protocol for finding out how Walber was doing, or if he was even alive. In El Salvador, it falls to families to help feed and clothe incarcerated relatives. Although the State provides meals to those in prison, Bukele has limited the men to two meager plates per day, as punishment. To leave supplemental food and other essentials, or to elicit a nugget of information from a bureaucrat at the prison's entrance, Estefany, Glenda, and others from Sisiguayo had no choice but to camp out outside Mariona. It's mostly men who have been arrested, and, in the first months of the crackdown, it was mostly women waiting outside prisons, by the thousands, for days at a time, sharing meals and makeshift cardboard mattresses. Everyone was taking on debt to afford the litany of expenses that follow an arrest, and some said they'd lost their jobs because they had spent so many days waiting. It was rumored that some police were offering to trade a man's freedom for sex or money.Glenda Rodriguez walks to the Mariona prison to get news of her brother, Walber Rodriguez, on June 20, 2022.Fred Ramos for Insider The jailings came so fast that Cristosal rushed to set up an online system where families could report arrests and sign up for support as they navigated the justice system. Families described traveling hours to a public defender's office and finding a line so long they lost hope of being seen. There's now about one public defender for every 200 arrests. Initial hearings include up to 500 defendants simultaneously, and Bukele has warned he'll be monitoring judges for "favoring delinquents."  If a name disappears from the register of detainees, it could mean they'd been moved to another prison, or to a hospital, or to a morgue. The country's major newspapers run regular reports of families being unceremoniously delivered the lifeless bodies of loved ones. One of the few men who'd been held at Izalco prison and then released told the Salvadoran outlet La Prensa Grafica that prisoners had been made to run barefoot in circles for hours. When one man fell from exhaustion, the guards broke his ribs, and he died eight days later, the man said. This is the kind of news the families of the Bajo Lempa live in terror of receiving. 'We fear each other again'Sisiguayo sits in the fertile valley where the Lempa river makes its final stretch through El Salvador before flowing out to the Pacific Ocean. Here, the air tastes salty and thick, a reminder of the mangrove forests and the ocean just beyond them. Homes are one-story cinderblock structures, painted in tropical greens and blues and surrounded by clotheslines, palm trees and outhouses. A communal speaker system broadcasts news and emergency alerts.A sunbaked dirt road connects Sisiguayo to the nearest highway, and along it, residents commute by bicycle or motorbike, bending around the cows, horses and dogs that loll about. Every year around November, the rainy season leaves behind deep potholes, so each family gives the share of money they can spare to pay for gas to power the construction equipment loaned from the mayor's office to fortify the road. Most young people work in shrimp cooperatives, where many tasks are nocturnal. It's a life of little sleep and hard manual labor. Night shifts start at around three in the morning. The workers return home for breakfast at about nine, and head off to a second job, like seasonal farming or bricklaying. Here, as everywhere else, the state of exception has been a financial drain. More than a dozen men from one of the shrimp cooperatives were netted in the crackdown, and what normally takes the cooperative two weeks to accomplish now takes two or three months. Roxana, another one of the Rodriguezes' neighbors, was hit especially hard by the arrests. Her two sons, a daughter-in-law and a brother-in-law were rounded up, as well as her boyfriend Jeremias' two nephews. Now, she spends much of her time running endless arrest-related errands. Her youngest daughter, who's 12, had to leave school to help run the family's corner store and care for Roxana's 5-year-old grandchild. Within the first six weeks, the costs ballooned to around $1000 — a small fortune that's twice the amount Roxana spent to open and fully stock her shop. By the late summer Jeremias, is usually out in the fields alongside Roxana's two boys and his two nephews, planting corn for the family to eat. With them in prison, he had to forgo the crop this year, because it's too much to handle alone.  The state of exception "has a human cost that we still can't fully see," said Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Cristosal. "There is the torture, the inhumane treatment, the more than eighty deaths in prisons, and that's only talking about the people who are detained. Life projects that people have built slowly over generations are suddenly paralyzed and collapsed. There's the loss of income and the simultaneous expenses. The social cost of being stigmatized as 'terrorists.'" The administration seems unperturbed by the volume of blameless people it has locked up. "There will always be victims in war," Vice President Felix Ulloa has said of the state of exception. Walber's father, Tomas, at home in Sisiguayo, on June 17, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe last time state security forces were targeting the people of the Bajo Lempa en masse and without explanation, it was in the middle of a civil war. From late 1979 until 1992, vicious US-backed government forces clashed with a leftist guerrilla movement. More than 75,000 Salvadorans died and thousands more were disappeared. A United Nations truth commission later found that 85% of the war kidnapping, torture and murder were committed by the government forces, including police and military. Walber's parents were among those fighting on the side of the guerrillas. In 1992, when they dropped their rifles after U.N.-brokered peace talks, they were given land as a way to return to civilian life. Margarita, Tomas and their neighbors came to inhabit Sisiguayo, with its rich coastal tracts, generous for fishing and farming. For Margarita, her son's senseless arrest reminded her of the state-sponsored kidnappings that had led her to take up arms. "That's what most hurts," she told me. "Now we fear each other again."  A photo of Walber Rodriguez's father, Tomas, from when he was a member of a guerrilla group during the Salvadoran civil war, hangs in his house.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe Bajo Lempa is also a flood plain, a condition that was exacerbated by poor government management of the hydroelectric dams that line the river. During repeated devastating floods in the past three decades, the people of the region, the Rodriguez family among them, lobbied and protested, even marching about sixty miles on foot to the capital to demand better dam administration. For Walber and his older sister Glenda, who were children at the time, this was an early education in democracy. The Bajo Lempa won. San Salvador committed to building the levies needed to ameliorate the annual floods, and to communicating its plans to discharge water from the dams, so the communities in harms' way could evacuate in time.Now, they are again under siege. Surf City Abroad, Bukele is best known for two things. First, his announcement, at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, that his government would "push humanity at least a tiny bit in the right direction" by adopting Bitcoin as a national currency. Second, his "Surf City" initiative along El Salvador's 190-mile Pacific coastline, where consistent eight-to-ten-foot waves in prime spots makes it one of the best surfing destinations in the Americas. Bukele's target audience for Surf City is Bitcoin enthusiasts and international surfers. And everyone knows that Surf City is his. After the apparent breakdown in negotiations between the administration and MS-13, the gangs left a message for Bukele in the form of a mangled cadaver on the highway that connects the beaches to the capital.By June 2022, Bloomberg estimated that Bukele's crypto gamble had cost El Salvador nearly $56 million. That same month, as thousands of Salvadorans were being locked up, Surf City was playing host to the World Surf League's Championship Tour at a beach called Punta Roca. "Eighty-two degree water, no wetsuits!" a voice thundered from the loudspeaker.Nearby, cameramen grumbled to a Salvadoran surfer that they couldn't pan without a uniformed man with a rifle coming into the image.  Locals, who in theory stand to benefit from all of this, were remarking that whitewashing the entrance wall to one beach, El Tunco, and stamping it with an English name left it looking like a drive-through bank. "It was good that he saw the potential in our waves," Enzo, who runs a couple of cafes in the area, told me one evening. Promised infrastructural improvements, like finally completing a waste-water treatment plant so that businesses aren't reliant on bottled water, haven't arrived. Meanwhile, new luxury apartments with a base price of $400,000 are being marketed to crypto enthusiasts, prompting worry that excessive development will smother the area's natural beauty and put everyone out of business. It's almost as if Surf City is Bukele's Potemkin Village, thrown up to boost his standing in a handful of elite circles as he loses legitimacy elsewhere. Bukele "wants to promote the country as a place that other people can buy," said Bullock of Cristosal. "But what is his plan for the middle-aged man who has sold coconuts in Punta Roca his whole life? El Tunco already has local commerce and its own identity. Why not honor that identity?"'Dad's not working, is he?'When Walber was jailed, Estefany told their six-year-old, Michelle, that Walber had gone out of town for a job. When Estefany and Glenda left for days camped outside the prison, she said they were studying. Michelle's questions became harder to escape. When he was away working, Walber usually sent a flood of adoring messages to his daughter on Estefany's phone, but this time, there were none to show. Before ten days had passed, Michelle cornered her mom: "Dad's not working, is he?"  At six, Michelle is absorbing that her life is built on shifting sands — a father in prison, a mother who might withhold the truth. Estefany tried to explain, saying, "The authorities make mistakes." But it's just another tectonic lesson for a child. Walber and Estefany have known each other since they were kids and they've been partners for years, but it was only last year that they finally got married. They were the first in the family to have a real wedding, and Glenda remembers how they both giggled when they asked her to save the date — Dec. 17. Graduation photos of Walber Rodriguez, left, and his sister, Glenda Rodriguez, right, at the family house in Sisiguayo.Fred Ramos for InsiderEstefany's dress, which Glenda and Margarita helped her choose, was the color of red wine and had a sparkling brooch at the bosom. Walber had splurged on a new oxford shirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes. He also surprised Estefany with a wedding ring, which he had secretly saved for months to buy. It was a luxury she had never imagined. The cake, a single-tier white sphere adorned with fruit, held the children rapt until it was time to dig in. When Glenda thinks about the politicians and the police who get to return home to their families at night, so easy in their freedom, it fills her with rage. They can't even begin to comprehend what they have stolen from their people.'No one else will defend him but us' The retreat center where the families met every week was a thirty-minute crawling drive down the potholed dirt road from where Walber was arrested. In late June, 54 days after Walber's arrest, three-dozen of them sat as they usually did, in a circle of plastic chairs in an open-air pavilion, roofed in ceramic tile and ringed in a garden of carefully-manicured green.Rossy stood in the middle of the circle, wearing flip-flops and a white tunic embroidered with flowers, calling on people to speak. Chamba kept a notebook propped between his thigh and the arm of his wheelchair. The families were debating: Should they stay the course, and pursue their habeas corpus claims in court? Or was it time to take to the streets? The habeas corpus route had been Rossy's idea. Back in 2020, right when COVID-19 upended global travel, Rossy was in Ecuador at a theological conference. Bukele was about to close the borders and implement some of the most restrictive pandemic measures in the world. She managed to get onto the last flight into the Salvadoran airport and ended up at a quarantine center for six weeks. Desperate for a way out, a lawyer friend advised her to file a habeas corpus claim. It worked – she was released. Now, it's a tactic that more than 1,800 other Salvadorans across the country have also used since March, but to little effect since the administration has wrenched the legal system into its orbit, forcing many judges to retire and intimidating the rest, along with flooding the system with many times more defendants than it can handle. Members of the group have been harassed by the police, and there was always concern that cops might show up in the middle of the meeting to arrest everyone. One woman who had started attending after her husband was arrested was then herself arrested. Now, the neighbors couldn't agree on what was best. The state of exception allowed the police to detain anyone for any reason. If they protested and ended up incarcerated alongside their loved ones, who would defend them then?  People clamored to speak. Rossy called on a gray-haired man in a cowboy hat. He was one of the many who had spent consecutive days and nights on the street outside Mariona, where his son was being held, and while there, he heard rumor that the guards take vengeance on prisoners whose families caused trouble out front. He rose slowly, and then stated his firm opposition to any public action. He reminded the group that it wasn't only themselves who would pay the price for protesting. When he took up arms in the civil war, he said, it was his own life he was putting at risk. But now, any action might put his son's life at risk. When he finished speaking, Glenda – who, at 28 years old, was among the youngest group members – raised her hand. "I may not have as much life experience as many of you. And I didn't live the war fighting in the mountains like many of you did," she began. But, she continued, she did know that all of El Salvador's civil rights victories, including democracy itself, were the product of struggles on the street. She too had camped outside Mariona, and she had learned that viral malicious rumors appeared on social media as part of an attempt to silence families. A meeting of the Bajo Lempa families on June 17, 2022.Fred Ramos for Insider"If the state is going to kill my brother, it will do so whether or not I speak out. If it will incarcerate me – the same is true," she reasoned. "No one else will defend him but us." Finally, there was simply the value of the truth: "The president wants to make this country look like a wonderland, like everything is Surf City," she said – but the world needed to know what was really happening in El Salvador.  The group ultimately decided that Glenda was right: it was time to take the streets. And just as each Bajo Lempa family had discovered that they were not alone when they found the group, now they saw there were hundreds of families around the country who, like them, were ready to march in San Salvador. They began regularly joining the others in the capital to protest and speak to the media, while continuing their habeas corpus petitions. Just before Christmas, the families of the Bajo Lempa packed a bridge on a main thoroughfare and demanded their loved ones be freed. For now, the Bukele administration remains unmoved. The group is now planning to sue their government in an international human rights court.One day last summer, before anyone comprehended how long this would last, Roxana told me something that multiple women in the Bajo Lempa echoed: Since her children were detained, she has been dreaming of them. In one dream, she was sitting at home in the dark, and one of her three sons walked through the front door. He paused in the threshold. She thought it was Cristian, the only one who has not yet been taken. But when he stepped out of the shadow, she saw that it was Javier, her youngest. He was dressed just as he had been on April 27, the night the police hauled him away. She called to him – and then the dream ended. "As a mother," she said, "you wake up to a nightmare."This reporting was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation's Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderDec 27th, 2022

The "world"s coolest dictator" rounded up 60,000 people he claims are MS-13 gang members. A shrimp farming community is fighting back.

The MS-13 gang made El Salvador one of the most violent places not at war. The 'world's coolest dictator' created a new layer of misery. Residents of the Bajo Lempa meet weekly at a retreat center to discuss the mass arrests.Fred Ramos for InsiderGang violence has made El Salvador one of the world's most violent places not at war. The crackdown by its "Bitcoin president" created a new layer of misery.SISIGUAYO, EL SALVADOR — On the morning that Walber Rodriguez was arrested last May, he was just two minutes from his home in Sisiguayo, El Salvador.Walber and his wife Estefany had worked the overnight shift at the shrimp cooperative, and then taken their six-year-old daughter Michelle to visit a relative. Walber was driving the family motorcycle, and Estefany and Michelle sat behind him. They were headed home.Walber was pulled over at "El Ceibo," a gathering place in Sisiguayo that's marked by a sturdy tree with an abundant canopy. Soon, Walber's sister, mother, and father had arrived, trying to reason with the officer, who knew them by name. They didn't understand why Walber was being handcuffed. Sisiguayo was a place that saw police and soldiers as allies. Back in 2015, when the MS-13 gang descended on the hamlet looking to recruit local teenagers, the cops had come down hard, even murdering some of the gang members, and Walber and his neighbors had raised money to build a new police station. Now, backup was arriving for the officer. Two navy soldiers showed up, including one who had been with Walber just the night before, watching a soccer game, and informed the others that Walber was "a working man." A patrol vehicle full of additional cops followed. No one named anything that Walber had done wrong. Yet the family's pleas didn't work. "Look," said the officer who led Walber off, flipping his wrist to the sky, "this comes from above." Within days of Walber's arrest, the Rodriguezes learned he was being accused of belonging to MS-13. "El Ceibo," a gathering place in Sisiguayo, is marked by a sturdy tree with an abundant canopy. It was here that Walber Rodriguez was arrested on May 1, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderScenes like this have been playing out across El Salvador since March, when President Nayib Bukele declared a "state of exception" and suspended certain constitutional rights, ostensibly to deal with MS-13 and two offshoots of the rival Barrio 18 gang, Barrio 18 Sureños and Barrio 18 Revolucionarios — all of which have terrorized El Salvador and made it one of the world's most violent places not at war. The declaration was meant to be temporary, lasting 30 days, but Bukele's administration has renewed it nine times. More than 60,000 people, mostly working-age men, have been arrested, while signs along roadways feature cinematic images of heavily-armed police ridding the country of "terrorists." Just as commercial fishermen trawl their way through columns of water to maximize their catch, Salvadoran authorities have rounded people up indiscriminately and with flimsy explanations.The 'world's coolest dictator' Even before authorities crushed in tens of thousands in a span of mere weeks, El Salvador's prisons were overcrowded and disease-ridden. It now tops the list of countries with the highest percentage of their populations behind bars, according to the World Prison Brief, a distinction that has been previously held by the United States. The supposed targets, MS-13 and Barrio 18, began in Los Angeles in the late twentieth century and arrived in El Salvador by way of gang members deported from the US. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump referenced MS-13 to say the US had allowed "animals" to cross into the country, and to justify draconian immigration policies. In El Salvador, the gangs have become one of the country's biggest employers, and they have cemented their power through backroom deals with elected leaders. That appears to have continued under Bukele, a former executive at a family public relations firm who was elected president in 2019 and has fashioned himself, in his ever-changing Twitter bio, as the "world's coolest dictator." Outside El Salvador, Bukele is best known for adopting Bitcoin as a national currency. A sign in the capital, San Salvador, announces the anti-gang crackdown.Fred Ramos for InsiderLast year, the US Treasury sanctioned two senior officials from Bukele's administration for cutting a deal with the gangs in exchange for support in the 2021 midterm elections — which saw Bukele's New Ideas party win a supermajority — and committing fewer homicides. What preceded the state of exception was a horrific weekend in which the gangs killed nearly 90 people. It, too, was allegedly a product of that deal: Salvadoran journalists at the investigative news outlet El Faro reported that the rampage was MS-13's retribution for a break-down in the agreement. The cooperation doesn't end there.: Earlier this year, when the U.S. federal court of the Eastern District of New York requested the extradition of MS-13's leadership to stand trial on terrorism charges, Bukele-allied judges blocked some of the extraditions. The administration then released one of the wanted gang leaders from prison, and a senior official helped him flee to Guatemala. The administration denies all this, and, so far, things appear to be going Bukele's way. Tough-on-crime stances have historically been as popular in El Salvador as in the United States. And, as in the U.S., the public is primed to believe that anyone targeted by police is guilty until proven innocent. A Gallup poll released in October recorded Bukele's public approval at 86%. Police make an arrest in San Salvador on June 14th, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe word on the street, according to family members gathered at prisons for news of loved ones, is that while local gang cliques have gone quiet, they're still out there — hiding in full knowledge of the police, whose focus is elsewhere. According to xxx, nearly 40% of the xxx murders in El Salvador since the beginning of the state of exception have been committed by police. Meanwhile, the administration has steadily eroded public access to information about who they are taking and why. El Faro obtained documents involving 690 arrests between March and April, and found that, overwhelmingly, the police are using criteria like "looking suspicious" or "acting nervous" to justify the arrests. Bukele, for his part, has breezily mentioned a margin of "one percent error." "This time, they're not coming out," he tweeted about the state of exception detainees in mid-April. The administration is building a new prison that Bukele says will house 40,000 "terrorists" who "will be cut off from the outside world." But, by terrorists, the president seems to mean people like Walber. 'Until we can embrace them'Once it became clear that Walber had been caught up in the crackdown, the Rodriguez family's hope for a quick release evaporated. By this point, they had discovered that they were not alone. All around them in Sisiguayo and the surrounding Bajo Lempa valley, people were arrested with no satisfactory explanation. The sons of two cousins who lived in a nearby community, Mario and Pablo, were among the first to be taken; their boys were handcuffed while drinking beers after a soccer game. Another neighbor was arrested even though he'd obtained and was carrying around his spotless police record, believing, wrongly, that such a thing would matter to police. He was detained holding his one-year-old in his arms.Residents of the Bajo Lempa who'd been touched by the arrests had begun meeting weekly at a nearby retreat center. There were only about a dozen attendees then, most of them trembling in fear and unable to tell their stories without crying. Now, Estefany, along with Walber's sister, Glenda, and Walber's parents, Tomas and Margarita, became the group's newest members. The group had started in April, launched by Rossy Iraheta Marinero and José Salvador Ruiz, known as Chamba  — two lay pastoral guides whose faith follows the tenets of Latin American liberation theology. They came from the same limited economic reality as their neighbors, and, in fact, they have full-time jobs and families. None of their own relatives had been detained. But they'd been stirred by the plight and compelled by their own theological solidarity practices to act. In the early days, they found that even civil society organizations that were traditionally fearless in denouncing state violence seemed reluctant to aid the so-called "terrorists." A handful of human rights organizations, principally one called Cristosal and a feminist collective in San Salvador, stepped up and, through them, the group has now filed 111 claims of habeas corpus  — a legal demand that prosecutors present their evidence against a detained person, or forfeit custody. "The families have hope that their loved ones are still alive, but they don't have certainty of that," Rossy told me. They also created a website where they posted photos of their imprisoned kin, and composed a song, "Until we can embrace them," that enshrines their suffering and their demands.   Few groups elsewhere in the country have coalesced in this way to lobby. Rossy reminds the families ofthat they are not friendless in their woe, evoking groups in earlier decades in Argentina and Mexico – and even in El Salvador itself – who never stopped agitating for justice on behalf of loved ones who had been disappeared by the state in earlier decades, leaving maps for others to follow. "A long battle" lies ahead, Rossy cautioned them in one meeting. "You have to be prepared."Outside MarionaWalber, and many of the others from the Bajo Lempa, had ended up at a prison informally known as Mariona, for the municipality where it's located. Under the state of exception, prisons were sealed off. Not even lawyers could get in. There was no protocol for finding out how Walber was doing, or if he was even alive. In El Salvador, it falls to families to help feed and clothe incarcerated relatives. Although the State provides meals to those in prison, Bukele has limited the men to two meager plates per day, as punishment. To leave supplemental food and other essentials, or to elicit a nugget of information from a bureaucrat at the prison's entrance, Estefany, Glenda, and others from Sisiguayo had no choice but to camp out outside Mariona. It's mostly men who have been arrested, and, in the first months of the crackdown, it was mostly women waiting outside prisons, by the thousands, for days at a time, sharing meals and makeshift cardboard mattresses. Everyone was taking on debt to afford the litany of expenses that follow an arrest, and some said they'd lost their jobs because they had spent so many days waiting. It was rumored that some police were offering to trade a man's freedom for sex or money.Glenda Rodriguez walks to the Mariona prison to get news of her brother, Walber Rodriguez, on June 20, 2022.Fred Ramos for Insider The jailings came so fast that Cristosal rushed to set up an online system where families could report arrests and sign up for support as they navigated the justice system. Families described traveling hours to a public defender's office and finding a line so long they lost hope of being seen. There's now about one public defender for every 200 arrests. Initial hearings include up to 500 defendants simultaneously, and Bukele has warned he'll be monitoring judges for "favoring delinquents."  If a name disappears from the register of detainees, it could mean they'd been moved to another prison, or to a hospital, or to a morgue. The country's major newspapers run regular reports of families being unceremoniously delivered the lifeless bodies of loved ones. One of the few men who'd been held at Izalco prison and then released told the Salvadoran outlet La Prensa Grafica that prisoners had been made to run barefoot in circles for hours. When one man fell from exhaustion, the guards broke his ribs, and he died eight days later, the man said. This is the kind of news the families of the Bajo Lempa live in terror of receiving. 'We fear each other again'Sisiguayo sits in the fertile valley where the Lempa river makes its final stretch through El Salvador before flowing out to the Pacific Ocean. Here, the air tastes salty and thick, a reminder of the mangrove forests and the ocean just beyond them. Homes are one-story cinderblock structures, painted in tropical greens and blues and surrounded by clotheslines, palm trees and outhouses. A communal speaker system broadcasts news and emergency alerts.A sunbaked dirt road connects Sisiguayo to the nearest highway, and along it, residents commute by bicycle or motorbike, bending around the cows, horses and dogs that loll about. Every year around November, the rainy season leaves behind deep potholes, so each family gives the share of money they can spare to pay for gas to power the construction equipment loaned from the mayor's office to fortify the road. Most young people work in shrimp cooperatives, where many tasks are nocturnal. It's a life of little sleep and hard manual labor. Night shifts start at around three in the morning. The workers return home for breakfast at about nine, and head off to a second job, like seasonal farming or bricklaying. Here, as everywhere else, the state of exception has been a financial drain. More than a dozen men from one of the shrimp cooperatives were netted in the crackdown, and what normally takes the cooperative two weeks to accomplish now takes two or three months. Roxana, another one of the Rodriguezes' neighbors, was hit especially hard by the arrests. Her two sons, a daughter-in-law and a brother-in-law had all been rounded up, as well as her boyfriend Jeremias' two nephews. Now, she spends much of her time running endless arrest-related errands. Her youngest daughter, who's 12, had to leave school to help run the family's corner store and care for Roxana's 5-year-old grandchild. Within the first six weeks, the costs ballooned to around $1000 — a small fortune that's twice the amount Roxana spent to open and fully stock her shop. By the late summer, Jeremias, is usually out in the fields alongside Roxana's two boys and his two nephews, planting corn for the family to eat. With them in prison, he had to forgo the crop this year, because it's too much to handle alone.  The state of exception "has a human cost that we still can't fully see," said Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Cristosal. "There is the torture, the inhumane treatment, the more than eighty deaths in prisons, and that's only talking about the people who are detained. Life projects that people have built slowly over generations are suddenly paralyzed and collapsed. There's the loss of income and the simultaneous expenses. The social cost of being stigmatized as 'terrorists.'" The administration seems unperturbed by the volume of blameless people it has locked up. "There will always be victims in war," Vice President Felix Ulloa has said of the state of exception. Walber's father, Tomas, at home in Sisiguayo, on June 17, 2022.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe last time state security forces were targeting the people of the Bajo Lempa, en masse and without explanation, it was in the middle of a civil war. From late 1979 until 1992, vicious US-backed government forces clashed with a leftist guerrilla movement. More than 75,000 Salvadorans died and thousands more were disappeared. A United Nations truth commission later found that 85% of the war kidnapping, torture and murder were committed by the government forces, including police and military. Walber's parents were among those fighting on the side of the guerrillas. In 1992, when they dropped their rifles after U.N.-brokered peace talks, they were given land as a way to return to civilian life. Margarita, Tomas and their neighbors came to inhabit Sisiguayo, with its rich coastal tracts, generous for fishing and farming. For Margarita, her son's senseless arrest reminded her of the state-sponsored kidnappings that had led her to take up arms. "That's what most hurts," she told me. "Now we fear each other again."  A photo of Walber Rodriguez's father, Tomas, from when he was a member of a guerrilla group during the Salvadoran civil war, hangs in his house.Fred Ramos for InsiderThe Bajo Lempa is also a flood plain, a condition that was exacerbated by poor government management of the hydroelectric dams that line the river. During repeated devastating floods in the past three decades, the people of the region, the Rodriguez family among them, lobbied and protested, even marching about sixty miles on foot to the capital to demand better dam administration. For Walber and his older sister Glenda, who were children at the time, this was an early education in democracy. The Bajo Lempa won. San Salvador committed to building the levies needed to ameliorate the annual floods, and to communicating its plans to discharge water from the dams, so the communities in harms' way could evacuate in time.Now, they are again under siege. Surf City Outside El Salvador, Bukele is best known for two things. First, his announcement, at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami, that his government would "push humanity at least a tiny bit in the right direction" by adopting Bitcoin as a national currency. Second, his "Surf City" initiative along El Salvador's 190-mile Pacific coastline, where consistent eight-to-ten-foot waves in prime spots makes it one of the best surfing spots in the Americas. Everyone knows that Surf City is his, and that Bukele's target audience is Bitcoin enthusiasts and international surfers. After the apparent breakdown in negotiations between the administration and MS-13, the gangs left a message for Bukele in the form of a mangled cadaver left on the highway that connects the beaches to the capital.By June 2022, Bloomberg estimated that Bukele's crypto gamble had cost El Salvador nearly $56 million. That same month, as thousands of Salvadorans were being locked up, Surf City was playing host to the World Surf League's Championship Tour at a beach called Punta Roca. "Eighty-two degree water, no wetsuits!" thundered from the sportscaster.Nearby, cameramen grumbled to a Salvadoran surfer that they couldn't pan without a uniformed man with a rifle coming into the image.  Locals, who in theory stand to benefit from all of this, were remarking that whitewashing the entrance wall to one beach, El Tunco, and stamping it with an English name left it looking like a drive-through bank. "It was good that he saw the potential in our waves," Enzo, who runs a couple of cafes in the area, told me one evening. And promised infrastructural improvements, like finally completing a waste-water treatment plant so that businesses aren't reliant on bottled water, haven't arrived. Meanwhile, new luxury apartments with a base price of $400,000 are being marketed to crypto enthusiasts, prompting worry that excessive development will smother the area's natural beauty and put everyone out of business. It's almost as if Surf City is Bukele's Potemkin Village, thrown up to boost his standing in a handful of elite circles as he loses legitimacy elsewhere. Bukele "wants to promote the country as a place that other people can buy," said Bullock of Cristosal. "But what is his plan for the middle-aged man who has sold coconuts in Punta Roca his whole life? El Tunco already has local commerce and its own identity. Why not honor that identity?"'Dad's not working, is he?'When Walber was jailed, Estefany told their six-year-old, Michelle, that Walber had gone out of town for a job. When Estefany and Glenda left for days camped outside the prison, she said they were studying. Michelle's questions became harder to escape. When he was away working, Walber usually sent a flood of adoring messages to his daughter on Estefany's phone, but this time, there were none to show. Before ten days had passed, Michelle cornered her mom: "Dad's not working, is he?"  At six, Michelle is absorbing that her life is built on shifting sands — a father in prison, a mother who might withhold the truthcapable of deceiving her. Estefany tried to explain, saying, "The authorities make mistakes." But it's just another tectonic lesson for a child. Walber and Estefany have known each other since they were kids and they've been partners for years, but it was only last year that they finally got married. They were the first in the family to have a real wedding, and Glenda remembers how they both giggled when they asked her to save the date — Dec. 17. Graduation photos of Walber Rodriguez, left, and his sister, Glenda Rodriguez, right, at the family house in Sisiguayo.Fred Ramos for InsiderEstefany's dress, which Glenda and Margarita helped her choose, was the color of red wine and had a sparkling brooch at the bosom. Walber had splurged on a new oxford shirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes. He also surprised Estefany with a wedding ring, which he had secretly saved for months to buy. It was a luxury she had never imagined. The cake, a single-tier white sphere adorned with fruit, held the children rapt until it was time to dig in. When Glenda thinks about the politicians and the police who get to return home to their families at night, so easy in their freedom, it fills her with rage. They can't even begin to comprehend what they have stolen from their people.'No one else will defend him but us' The retreat center where the families met every week was a thirty-minute crawling drive down the potholed dirt road from where Walber was arrested. In late June, 54 days after Walber's arrest, three-dozen of them sat as they usually did, in a circle of plastic chairs in an open-air pavilion, roofed in ceramic tile and ringed in a garden of carefully-manicured green.Rossy stood in the middle of the circle, wearing flip-flops and a white tunic embroidered with flowers, calling on people to speak. Chamba kept a notebook propped between his thigh and the arm of his wheelchair. The families were debating: Should they stay the course, and pursue their habeas corpus claims in court? Or was it time to take to the streets? The habeas corpus route had been Rossy's idea. Back in 2020, right when COVID-19 upended global travel, Rossy was in Ecuador at a theological conference. Bukele was about to close the borders and implement some of the most restrictive pandemic measures in the world. She managed to get onto the last flight into the Salvadoran airport and ended up at a quarantine center for six weeks. Desperate for a way out, a lawyer friend advised her to file a habeas corpus claim. It worked – she was released. Now, it's a tactic that more than 1,800 other Salvadorans across the country have also used since March, but to little effect since the administration has wrenched the legal system into its orbit, forcing many judges to retire and intimidating the rest, along with flooding the system with many times more defendants than it can handle. Members of the group have been harassed by the police, and there was always concern that cops might show up in the middle of the meeting to arrest everyone. One woman who had started attending after her husband was arrested was then herself arrested. Now, the neighbors couldn't agree on what was best. The state of exception allowed the police to detain anyone for any reason. If they protested and ended up incarcerated alongside their loved ones, who would defend them then?  People clamored to speak. Rossy called on a gray-haired man in a cowboy hat. He was one of the many who had spent consecutive days and nights on the street outside Mariona, where his son was being held, and while there, he heard rumor that the guards take vengeance on prisoners whose families caused trouble out front. He rose slowly, and then stated his firm opposition to any public action. He reminded the group that it wasn't only themselves who would pay the price for protesting. When he took up arms in the civil war, he said, it was his own life he was putting at risk. But now, any action might put his son's life at risk. When he finished speaking, Glenda – who, at 28 years old, was among the youngest group members – raised her hand. "I may not have as much life experience as many of you. And I didn't live the war fighting in the mountains like many of you did," she began. But, she continued, she did know that all of El Salvador's civil rights victories, including democracy itself, were the product of struggles on the street. She too had camped outside Mariona, and she had learned that viral malicious rumors appeared on social media as part of an attempt to silence families. A meeting of the Bajo Lempa families on June 17, 2022.Fred Ramos for Insider"If the state is going to kill my brother, it will do so whether or not I speak out. If it will incarcerate me – the same is true," she reasoned. "No one else will defend him but us." Finally, there was simply the value of the truth: "The president wants to make this country look like a wonderland, like everything is Surf City," she said – but the world needed to know what was really happening in El Salvador.  The group ultimately decided that Glenda was right: it was time to take the streets. And just as each Bajo Lempa family had discovered that they were not alone when they found the group, now they saw there were hundreds of families around the country who, like them, were ready to march in San Salvador. They began regularly joining the others in the capital to protest and speak to the media, while continuing their habeas corpus petitions. Just before Christmas, the families of the Bajo Lempa packed a bridge on a main thoroughfare and demanded their loved ones be freed. For now, the Bukele administration remains unmoved. The group is now planning to sue their government in an international human rights court.One day last summer, before anyone comprehended how long this would last, Roxana told me something that multiple women in the Bajo Lempa echoed: Since her children were detained, she has been dreaming of them. In one dream, she was sitting at home in the dark, and one of her three sons walked through the front door. He paused in the threshold. She thought it was Cristian, the only one who has not yet been taken. But when he stepped out of the shadow, she saw that it was Javier, her youngest. He was dressed just as he had been on April 27, the night the police hauled him away. She called to him – and then the dream ended. "As a mother," she said, "you wake up to a nightmare."This reporting was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation's Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderDec 27th, 2022

300 Kimball in Parsippany changes hands for $88M

JLL Capital Markets announced today that it has completed the $88 million sale of 300 Kimball, an approximate 430,000-square-foot, trophy office property in Parsippany, New Jersey. JLL represented the owner, Sovereign Partners, LLC, in the sale of the property to Signature Acquisitions. JLL also handled the prior sale from State Farm to... The post 300 Kimball in Parsippany changes hands for $88M appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. JLL Capital Markets announced today that it has completed the $88 million sale of 300 Kimball, an approximate 430,000-square-foot, trophy office property in Parsippany, New Jersey. JLL represented the owner, Sovereign Partners, LLC, in the sale of the property to Signature Acquisitions. JLL also handled the prior sale from State Farm to Sovereign Partners in 2019, in addition to having sold Signature Acquisitions the adjacent building (100 Kimball) in 2019. Completed in 2001 and most recently renovated in 2013, 300 Kimball is a five-story office property that is 87% leased to a variety of tenants, including anchors FM Global, Langan Engineering, embecta and Western World Insurance/AIG. The building is LEED Silver-certified, a recipient of the BOMA Building of the Year award and offers tenants an outstanding variety of features and amenities such as an impressive granite façade, dramatic atrium lobbies, state-of-the-art fitness center with locker rooms and golf simulator, full-service cafeteria with expansive seating, tenant lounge/game room with after-hours grab and go food service, modern conference center, outdoor patio with putting green, electric car charging stations, walking trail and ample covered parking including a separate gated executive section.  300 Kimball Drive is situated on 9.29 acres near the intersection of Interstates 80 and 287, within a four-building, 850,000-square-foot office park called The Center of Morris County.  The property benefits from strong visibility along I-80 and is widely considered one of the absolute best office assets in the Parsippany submarket. The JLL Capital Markets team representing the seller was led by Senior Managing Directors Kevin O’Hearn, Jose Cruz and Jeremy Neuer and analyst Peter Kim.  According to O’Hearn, “We’re thrilled to have assisted two long term, highly valued clients of the firm in a single transaction, Sovereign Partners with the successful execution of their value-add business strategy for the asset, and Signature Acquisitions with the strategic purchase of their second building in the office park.  Additionally, this transaction is reflective of the flight-to-quality trend that we’re seeing in office space – generally the top assets in each submarket continue to perform well, and Parsippany is no different.” JLL Capital Markets is a full-service global provider of capital solutions for real estate investors and occupiers. The firm’s in-depth local market and global investor knowledge delivers the best-in-class solutions for clients — whether investment sales advisory, debt placement, equity placement or a recapitalization. The firm has more than 3,700 Capital Markets specialists worldwide with offices in nearly 50 countries. For more news, videos and research resources on JLL, please visit our newsroom. The post 300 Kimball in Parsippany changes hands for $88M appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyDec 24th, 2022

The rise and fall of Sears. Once the world"s largest retailer, it now has just 15 stores left. Here"s how changing consumer habits took down a one-time powerhouse.

Sears started as a humble mail-order service and rose to become the world's largest retailer. Now, it operates less than two dozen stores nationwide. Workers remove a sign from the outside of a Sears department store in Nanuet, New York.Reuters Sears was once the largest retailer in the world, with a sky-scraping headquarters and legacy brand status. What started as a humble mail-order watch and jewelry service in 1886 soon shot to popularity through its affordable catalogs. But changes in consumer behavior and the retail landscape led to dropping sales and shuttered stores. Here is a timeline of the rise and fall of Sears. Richard W. Sears founded the R.W. Sears Watch Company in 1886 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Portrait of businessman Richard W. Sears.Chicago History Museum/Getty ImagesSears, a railroad station agent, started the mail-order watch and jewelry company as a way to supplement his income.Sears relocated his business to Chicago in 1887 and, shortly after, hired Alvah C. Roebuck as a watch repairman. Sears sold his watch business in 1889.In 1893, he founded another mail-order service with Roebuck, which the two named Sears, Roebuck and Company.In 1895, Richard W. Sears began planning and writing the soon-to-be-famous Sears catalogs.Cover of a Sears Roebuck & Co. Consumer's Guide, Fall 1897.Bettman/Getty ImagesAfter being purchased and reorganized by clothing manufacturing mogul Julius Rosenwald, the company began to grow exponentially.The company specialized in selling low-cost merchandise to rural areas that did not have access to stores. These would-be customers would receive the Sears catalog in the mail. The catalogs shot the company to stratospheric popularity — today, many compare its rise to fame to that of Amazon.The popular catalogs offered discounts on many items.An advertisement for the Acme Oak Heater stove by the Sears, Roebuck and Company circa 1900.Jay Paull/Getty ImagesSimilar to a "no money down" offer, customers could send their Sears catalog ads to a company, receive the product, and pay for it once it arrived and they had inspected it.Three years after Sears held its IPO — becoming the first major US retailer to do so — clothing mogul Julius Rosenwald took over as president.Clothing manufacturing mogul Julius Rosenwald took over as president in 1909.Bain News Service/Buyenlarge/Getty ImagesIn 1906, Sears became the first major US retailer to sell its stock in an initial public offering. Goldman Sachs handled the IPO at the time. Preferred stock traded at $97.50 a share.That year, Sears also opened its catalog plant and the Sears Merchandise Building Tower in Chicago.In 1909, Rosenwald took over as president of the company.But at the end of World War I, farmers were hit with a severe depression, and Sears fell into "dire" financial shape.Sears catalog from the 1920s.Fotosearch/Getty ImagesRosenwald was able to save Sears from the brink of bankruptcy by pledging $21 million of his personal fortune and other assets to save the company. By 1922, Sears had regained financial stability.Rosenwald stepped down as Sears president in 1924, after which he dedicated his life to philanthropy. He donated millions of dollars to public schools, colleges, universities, museums, Jewish charities, and black institutions.In 1925, the first Sears retail store opened in Chicago under the direction of business executive General Robert E. Wood.Sears Roebuck and Company store, 1930.Angus B. McVicar/Wisconsin Historical Society/Getty ImagesIn 1928, Wood officially became president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. He would stay on at the company in various high-level positions until his retirement in 1954. As the automobile became increasingly popular, Wood reasoned that customers could travel from near and far to visit Sears' department stores.Sears, Roebuck and Co in El Paso, Texas, circa 1940.Fotosearch/Getty ImagesThe first retail location set off a massive chain reaction of store openings. Seven more stores opened in 1925 alone, and by 1931, in-store sales had topped mail-order sales. Sears also founded its Allstate Insurance Company in 1931 as a response to the rise in automobile ownership.In 1945, Sears reported $1 billion in sales — the equivalent of over $16 billion today.Shoppers looking into windows of a Sears Roebuck store in 1943.Gordon Coster/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesSears, relatively unfazed by the crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, saw its sales continued to hold steady.Its sales in 1945 equate to about $16.4 billion today.Sears stores were extremely popular, and the company's catalogs and "Wish Books" continued to bring in sales.The Sears and Roebuck Department Store in Dayton Ohio, circa 1947.Bettman/Getty ImagesSears was one of the first department stores to cater to both men and women, as well as sell household goods and appliances.Consumers loved Sears' signature low prices, and soon Sears' main market shifted from urban to suburban consumers.Stoves on display at Sears Roebuck in 1957.Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesThe Sears name soon became "synonymous with the suburban shopping experience."With an increased focus on suburban living, Sears began to pay more attention to its automobile ventures.In 1951, the company released its newest mail-order automobile, the "Allstate," named after the Sears-owned insurance company.The "Allstate" mail-order automobile available from Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1951.PhotoQuest/Getty ImagesThe company had been selling cars as far back as 1909, but this stylish ride was certainly an upgrade from its motor buggy.Sears reached new heights in 1969 by breaking ground on the Sears Tower in Chicago.Chicago's Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower.Jason Reed/ReutersThe 110-story building cost $100 million to build. Upon its completion in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world — it would hold this title for more than two decades.The Sears Tower, which was renamed the Willis Tower 36 years later, was used as an office for Sears' main merchandising group and company headquarters. Space in the building was also rented to outside tenants.From the end of World War II into the 1970s, Sears sales were at an all-time high.Manager Don G. Marvin awaits clearing of construction gear for a Sears opening in Colorado in 1974.The Denver Post/Getty ImagesBy the middle of the century, Sears had over 350,000 employees in its ranks and was able to provide many of them a clear path to the middle class.Employees were paid well, and the company's benefits allowed them to retire comfortably, according to The New York Times.As malls grew in popularity throughout the 1980s, Sears became an anchor store in many plazas. However, the business was shifting.Shoppers walking into a Sears store in a mall in February 1983.Lee Balterman/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty ImagesIn the early 1980s, Sears employees were informed they would no longer receive commissions from sales — this included sales of items like vacuum cleaners, cordless drills, and ready-to-wear clothing.Changes came to the store floors, too.A clerk marks down Items in the sporting goods department at Sears.Glen Martin/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesBefore, store managers could choose which items they stocked in their stores. However, in an effort to make Sears stores more uniform, this option was taken away.Many store managers felt slighted by this, as they could no longer stock more of the items they knew their customers wanted, according to CNBC. In 1986, Sears expanded into financial services with the launch of the Discover Card through Dean Witter Financial Services Group, a subsidiary of Sears.Discover Card.Charlie Riedel/APEarly versions of the Discover Card included small pictures of the Sears Tower.According to the company, the first purchase made with a Discover Card was on September 17, 1985, by an employee at a Sears store in Atlanta, Georgia. The purchase was for $26.77. In 1990, Sears lost its spot to Walmart as America's biggest retailer.A Sears customer shops for appliances in 2003.Tim Boyle/Getty ImagesThat year, Walmart's sales rose to $32.6 billion, up 26%. Sears' sales, on the other hand, only rose 1.2%. However, the company's sales for 1990 still landed at $31.9 billion, according to CNBC.In 1993, Sears discontinued its famous catalog to focus on in-store retail operations. Two years later, in 1995, the company spun out its largest subsidiary, the Allstate Corporation, which had grown from the insurance company Sears founded in 1931.In an effort to attract more customers, the company also began offering car and electronic repair services in addition to its regular inventory of home goods, clothing, and appliances.In the early 2000s, Kmart acquired Sears to form a new major company, Sears Holdings Corporation.Kmart, Sears, and Lands' End.Colin McConnell/Toronto Star/James Leynse/Corbis/Tim Boyle/Getty ImagesSeveral changes were afoot in the early 2000s. In 2002, Sears purchased clothing company Lands' End for $2 billion. The next year, Sears sold its credit-card business to Citigroup in order to focus exclusively on its retail operations. At the time, the credit-card business was outpacing retail and accounted for 60% of Sears' annual profits.In 2005, Sears completed its merger with Kmart, which had surpassed Sears to become the second-largest retailer in the United States, behind Walmart.After Sears was purchased for a whopping $11 billion, both companies became subsidiaries of the newly formed Sears Holdings Corporation, with hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert as its chairman.In 2007, Sears' stock hit an all-time high at $195.18 per share.View from inside the closed doors of a Sears department store.James Leynse/Corbis/Getty ImagesSales rose after Lampert became chairman of the newly combined company.However, retail was becoming increasingly dependent on online sales. As soon as sales had begun to climb, they just as quickly began to drop. In 2013, Lampert was made CEO in the hopes that he could turn sales around, but the company's problems had only just begun.In 2015, Sears' revenue fell from $36.2 billion two years prior to $25.1 billion.A sign announcing the store will be closing hangs above a Sears store on August 24, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.Scott Olson/Getty ImagesIncreased competition with other big-box retailers and the rise of Amazon and online shopping took a bite out of Sears' profits. Within the company, tensions were brewing between lower-level management, employees, and Eddie Lampert. In an effort to cut costs and turn the company around, Lampert began ordering underperforming stores nationwide to close.In 2016, based on employee reviews from Glassdoor, 24/7 Wall St reported that Lampert was the most hated CEO in the US.Many stores were left empty after employees were cut and the company's Shop Your Way rewards program began to flounder.A Sears store in Canada is almost completely empty in January 2018.Richard Lautens/Toronto Star/Getty ImagesEmployees blamed deteriorating stores and employee shortages on Lampert."There are so many people running for the door not just because the ship is sinking, but because the captain of the ship is screaming at them, blaming it on them, and telling them it's their fault," one former vice president told Insider in 2016. As sales fell even further, Sears had no choice but to close many of its locations.Pedestrians pass the windows of the closing Sears store at the CambridgeSide Galleria in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 15, 2018.David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesIn 2010, the company operated more than 3,500 Kmart and Sears stores. However, more than 3,000 locations have since closed. Sears sales had tumbled from $43 billion in 2010 to less than $17 billion in 2017.In October 2018, the company officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.A Sears department store stands in Brooklyn on January 07, 2019, in New York City.Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesAt the time of the bankruptcy filing, Sears reported that fewer than 700 stores were still open and 68,000 employees remained.Lampert stepped down as CEO after the company filed for bankruptcy but stayed on as chairman to oversee the bankruptcy proceedings.In an effort to save the company from closing all of its stores, Lampert purchased the company out of bankruptcy four months later. The $5 billion deal preserved around 45,000 jobs from termination and meant that roughly 425 Sears and Kmart stores would remain open.Sears took legal action against Lampert.Eddie Lampert.ReutersIn April 2019, Sears sued the former CEO and others, including former board members, claiming they had stolen billions of dollars from the retailer.Lampert had turned down a $1.6 billion offer from Tommy Hilfiger to buy Lands' End, and Sears accused him of doing so to protect his hedge fund's equity stake in Lands' End. The suit also accused Lampert of having "reaped at least $490 million from a spinoff of Lands' End that did not benefit Sears.""Altogether, Lampert caused more than $2 billion of assets to be transferred to himself and Sears' other shareholders and beyond the reach of Sears' creditors," the lawsuit alleged. In a statement at the time, Lampert's ESL Investments called the allegations "misleading or just flat wrong." The suit wasn't settled until 2022, when a court approved an agreement to resolve the litigation. Sears agreed to a $175 million settlement in which Lampert and the other defendants did not admit to any wrongdoing, according to Retail Dive. The settlement cleared the way for Sears to emerge from bankruptcy. Since then, the company has slashed the number of stores nationwide.Workers remove a sign from the outside of a Sears department store.ReutersWhat was once America's largest retailer now operates just 15 full-line stores in the US — Kmart has only three, down from over 2,000.And in December, Sears Hometown, a home goods division that spun out of Sears in 2012, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. After managing to survive two World Wars and the Great Depression, Sears has no doubt fallen victim to what's been dubbed "the retail apocalypse."Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytDec 19th, 2022

Granite Properties and Highwoods Properties Acquire McKinney & Olive in Uptown Dallas 

Granite Properties, a commercial real estate investment, development and management company, and Highwoods Properties, a publicly-traded (NYSE:HIW) real estate investment trust (“REIT”), announced today they jointly acquired McKinney & Olive, a landmark, mixed-use project in Uptown Dallas, TX. McKinney & Olive offers 507,000 SF of premium office space, 50,000 SF retail space, and... The post Granite Properties and Highwoods Properties Acquire McKinney & Olive in Uptown Dallas  appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. Granite Properties, a commercial real estate investment, development and management company, and Highwoods Properties, a publicly-traded (NYSE:HIW) real estate investment trust (“REIT”), announced today they jointly acquired McKinney & Olive, a landmark, mixed-use project in Uptown Dallas, TX. McKinney & Olive offers 507,000 SF of premium office space, 50,000 SF retail space, and a one-acre piazza surrounded by walkable amenities steps from Klyde Warren Park and the Dallas Arts District. Designed by world-renowned architect, César Pelli, the 20-story, Class-AA office building and retail destination is 99 percent leased.  McKinney & Olive’s developer, institutional investors advised by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, was represented in the sale by Andrew Levy and Todd Savage of JLL. Granite will lease the building and its Property Experience Team will provide the property management.    “Granite is delighted to acquire McKinney & Olive with our partners Highwoods. We continue to be focused on growing our firm through acquisitions and developments of high-quality projects in the best submarkets, and this building is a very strong addition to our Dallas portfolio. It embodies the highest quality in architectural design and amenities to offer a compelling and productive work experience to top talent. We look forward to serving our new customers and helping their businesses grow,” said Will Hendrickson, Senior Managing Director, Granite Properties.  Ted Klinck, President and CEO of Highwoods Properties, stated “Together, with Granite Properties, Highwoods is proud to announce the purchase of McKinney & Olive. This landmark office tower is consistent with the Company’s long-term plan to develop a strong presence in Dallas. This beautifully-designed, amenity-rich office building is in a well-established and highly desirable location, which creates compelling and competitive environments where customers can enjoy work-placemaking at its finest.”   McKinney & Olive was delivered in 2016 and consists of a contemporary glass office tower with an outward sloping façade, and a five-story parking garage with a stainless-steel wave design. The LEED Gold certified, and Energy Star rated office building has 10 feet floor-to-ceiling glass walls offering unobstructed views of Uptown and Downtown Dallas. Customers enjoy a variety of high-end amenities, including:  A two-and-a-half story lobby featuring Carrara marble   A fifth-floor rooftop terrace connecting to a lounge, fitness center, and conference center equipped with business support and technology  Destination dispatch elevators  Valet parking, EV charging stations and bike storage  Conveniences including a market, dry cleaning, auto detail service, and shoeshine service  Enhancing the vibrancy and walkability of Uptown, the building has a lively piazza for customers and the public to gather. The piazza was designed by OJB, which also designed Klyde Warren Park, and includes a variety of shaded seating, landscaped green space, a water feature, and fire pit. The ground floor of the building offers an upscale retail destination featuring Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Starbucks Reserve Roastery, Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen, Roti Modern Mediterranean, Mixt, Dry bar, and Cycle Bar. Two additional eateries, Leela’s Wine Bar and Mexican Sugar are scheduled to open Q1 2023.   Spanning 3.1 acres, McKinney & Olive is located at 2021 McKinney Avenue with easy access to the Dallas North Tollway, Woodall Rogers Freeway, I-75, and public transportation. The building is adjacent to The Ritz Carlton and at walking distance from Hotel Crescent Court, Stanley Korshak, popular restaurants and retail, Klyde Warren Park, and the Dallas Arts District.   Granite and Highwoods are also developing 23Springs in Uptown, just four blocks from McKinney & Olive. The Class-AA, 26-floor, 626,215 square feet office development with two detached restaurant buildings and a public park, will be delivered Q1 2025.   The post Granite Properties and Highwoods Properties Acquire McKinney & Olive in Uptown Dallas  appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyDec 16th, 2022

44 creative corporate gifts to thank your employees for their hard work

Surprise your employees or coworkers with elevated and thoughtful corporate gifts like flowers, personalized clothes, Milk Bar sweets, and more. When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.Surprise your employees or clients with elevated and thoughtful corporate gifts like flowers, personalized clothes, Milk Bar sweets, and more.Uncommon Goods/Goldbelly'Tis the season: Corporate gifting season, that is. Whether you manage a small team of five or oversee thousands in offices nationwide, you know that your employees, clients, and customers are invaluable to the success of your business. If you're looking for a great way to say thanks (that doesn't involve cheap trinkets or overpriced gift baskets), we've got you covered with over 40 unique corporate gift ideas.All of the gifts in this guide can be easily ordered in bulk; where applicable, we've linked to the brand's corporate ordering form. Some gifts are also customizable with company colors, a logo, or a personal touch that truly shows your appreciation, whether you're treating them to a mug portrait or an Otherland candle.Cute gift boxes you can curateGreetablGreetabl, from $15, available at GreetablGreetabl lets you pick everything from the box and bow to the contents inside the present. You can pick everything from a mug and socks to bath bombs and hot sauce to create a truly customizable gift.Greetabl has a corporate gifting page to make the shipping process easier and faster. Trendy luxury candlesOtherlandOtherland Candles, from $36, available at OtherlandOtherland makes really beautiful and unique scented candles — anyone would be happy to receive one.The startup has a corporate gifting page, so you can order in bulk and even add a custom logo.A mouth-watering charcuterie boardBoarderieBoarderie Charcuterie, from $129, available at Boarderie and AmazonFeatured on Oprah's Favorite Things list, Boarderie charcuterie boards are the perfect gift for foodies. They feature a wide assortment of high-quality artisan ingredients. Plus, Boarderie will engrave the board with your corporate logo.A cute, personalized mugUncommon GoodsPersonalized Hobby Mug, $32, available at Uncommon GoodsPerfect if you manage a small team where you know everyone pretty well, these mugs from Uncommon Goods can be personalized to your coworkers and their hobbies. They're also relatively inexpensive and probably something they'll use every single day. If you're in charge of all the corporate gifts this year, you can also make a group corporate order with your company logo.Noise-canceling headphones for loud work environmentsAmazonAnker Soundcore Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise Canceling Headphones, fom $47.99, available at Amazon and SoundcoreMore workers are logging on while on the road. Whether in airports or busy coffee shops, finding the quiet needed for more cognitively challenging tasks can be tricky. Enter the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones. Their active noise canceling will help employees focus in any environment.Anker offers a corporate purchasing program to save on bulk orders.A mug warmer to keep coffee and tea hotAmazonBestinnkits Smart Coffee Warmer, $29.99, available at AmazonA mug warmer is one of the most useful corporate gifts we've received. It keeps your tea or coffee warm as you take sips throughout the day. The Bestinnkits warmer turns on automatically when you put your mug down and turns off when it's removed.A collection of cocktail (or mocktail) syrupsAmazon12 Days of Cocktails Cocktail Syrup Advent Calendar, $44.95, available at Cocktail & SonsThe 12 Days of Cocktails features 12 unique syrups in numbered boxes. Each day, you open up a box and make a cocktail using the recipes in the included booklet. Each syrup has an alcohol-free mocktail recipe. Some unique syrups include Roasted Pineapple & Chili Peppers, Tonic, and Cucumber Lemon Balm.Get a discount on larger orders with Cocktail & Sons' wholesale program.A tin of gourmet popcornCravings Gourmet PopcornGourmet Popcorn Tin, from $19.95, available at Cravings Gourmet PopcornA tin of popcorn is a classic corporate gift, but when you order from Cravings Gourmet Popcorn, you put an artisan twist on the old standard, adding serious flavor. In addition to the traditional mixes, Cravings offers unique options, including Fruity Rainbow Remix, Sea Salt and Molasses, and more. The company also offers deals on large bundle orders.A soothing DIY plant projectUncommon GoodsJust Breathe Eucalyptus Spa Gift Set, $30, available at Uncommon GoodsPlants are a solid, safe gift, but this set goes the extra mile with a DIY plant-your-own-eucalyptus project, a self-watering planter, and soothing extras like bath salts and a body scrubber. The idea is that once the eucalyptus is planted, it can be reused for at-home self-care experiences like a facial steam or warm bath, helping everyone get some much needed relaxation. A small Tile Pro that helps them find misplaced itemsCrystal Cox/InsiderTile Pro, from $33.25, available at Amazon, Target, and WalmartThe Tile Pro is something they might not buy for themselves, but it's immensely helpful in finding misplaced items like keys and phones. You attach one to an item that can be tracked through a free app or by pushing a button to create noise. Tile provides custom corporate orders or can even incorporate Tile technology into your product.A daily planner designed to fit against their keyboardBest SelfBestSelf Weekly Action Pad, from $19.99, available at Amazon and BestSelfDesigned to be keyboard-friendly, this calendar helps people prioritize their week, organize any tasks, and keep tabs on goals or projects. It's made by the same company that makes one of our most-recommended planners. If you think people might enjoy another organizational resource in life or at work, this is a good gift. BestSelf has a corporate gifting program that offers discounts and custom printing to incorporate your brand.Famously delicious sweets from Milk BarMilk BarMilk Bar Treats, from $27, available at Milk BarMilk Bar, the cult-favorite bakery based in New York, delivers its decadent cakes, cookies, and truffles to gift recipients' doorsteps. Check out Milk Bar's corporate gifting program.Olive oil they've been meaning to try from BrightlandBrightlandAwake Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $37, available at BrightlandCalifornia brand Brightland makes extra virgin olive oil and vinegar that we've found to be full-bodied and sharp. Its recognizable white bottles protect the EVOO from light damage — and also look really nice displayed on a countertop. Find a full review here. Brightland's corporate gifting program is a great option if you have 10 or more people you are buying for.A nice leather mouse padNomadHorween Leather Mousepad, $84.95, available at NomadSure, something monogrammed with the company name is nice. But a company gift doesn't need to be so explicit either — and sometimes employees may appreciate the versatility of something timeless. This stylish leather mousepad is functional and comes with a microfiber travel bag. It's also one of the desk accessories Insider Reviews employees swear by.If you want to put your logo on it, Nomad has a corporate sales program.Brownies that give backUncommon GoodsBenevolent Brownies, $35, available at Uncommon GoodsNot only are these the same delicious brownies Ben & Jerry's uses in its ice cream, but they're made at a B Corp that practice inclusive hiring and connects its employees with resources such as child care, community gardens, and sustainability programs. Check out Uncommon Goods' corporate gifting program. A comfortable seat cushion for their home officeUncommon GoodsRoyal Seat Cushion, $79, available at PurpleWhy not make their office setup a bit more enjoyable? We love this Purple Seat cushion because it makes sitting down all day significantly more comfortable and helps improve posture while seated. You can read a full review of the Royal Seat Cushion here.Engraved spirits from ReserveBarCrystal Cox/Business InsiderVeuve Clicquot Yellow Label, $68, available at ReserveBarConsider a bottle of their favorite spirit from ReserveBar's corporate gifting guide. Choose from a wide variety of champagnes, tequilas, and cocktail gift sets based on your employees' preferences.If you're looking to make this gift even more special, you can opt for a custom bottle engraving.To make a large ReserveBar order of 12 bottles or more, just fill out this form.A Hydro Flask mug that regulates their drink's temperatureHydro FlaskHydro Flask 12 oz. Insulated Coffee Mug, from $27.62, available at Hydro Flask, REI, and AmazonThis mug is a common desk companion for the Insider Reviews team. The 12-ounce coffee mug has the company's proprietary TempShield insulation that made its water bottles famous. Hydro Flask will put your company's branding on the mug.This mug will keep hot drinks hot for up to six hours, and cold drinks cold for up to 24. Read our full review of it here.An inconspicuous and stylish wireless chargerAmazoniOttie iON Wireless Plus v2 Charging Pad, $34.95, available at AmazonThey probably don't need any more tchotchkes for their workspace. But they'll probably appreciate the inconspicuousness and convenience of this small wireless device that charges their iPhone much faster than a standard power adapter and cable. Senior reporter Amir Ismael swears by this one.If you've got a bigger budget or fewer employees to purchase gifts for, we also recommend the sleek Courant Catch 3 Wireless Charger, even for $90.An Atlas Tea Club subscription to some of the world's best teas and coffeesAtlas Tea ClubAtlas Tea Club 6 Month Gift Subscription, $99, available at Atlas Tea ClubThis subscription sends your giftee single-origin teas from the best tea-growing regions in the world for six months. You can also opt for coffee. Starbucks gift cardsAmazonStarbucks Gift Card, from $15, available at Best BuySince there are Starbucks all over the country, its gift cards are great if you have employees spread across many locations. Starbucks' corporate sales program also has options that range from physical gift cards, branded gift cards, or digital gift cards delivered directly to your recipient's email.You can set the value of the gift cards to anywhere between $5-$500. Learn more about Starbucks' corporate sales program here.Mashable magnet toys from SpeksCrystal Cox/InsiderSpeks Original Magnetic Balls, $34.95, available at SpeksWe loved these tiny magnet toys a lot more than we expected to. Less obnoxious than fidget spinners, they're immensely satisfying to play with and build with as you work through a problem or concentrate on a task. The set includes 512 rare earth magnetic balls, a metal building base, a plastic splitter card, a 16-page starter guide, and a carrying case. A box of customer favorite coffee blends from La ColombeLa ColombeGreatest Hits Gifts Box, $42, available at La Colombe If they don't live near one of La Colombe's 30 locations, send them a gift set filled with the brand's fan-favorite blends instead. La Colombe's Coffee for a Crowd program allows you to mix and match different products from its vast selection and receive 20% off any order of 20 or more boxes of coffee, making it a great gift for your coffee-loving employees.Decadent chocolates from VosgesVosgesMini Exotic Chocolate Bar Library, $25, available at Vosges Our pick for the best chocolates you can gift, Vosges offers gift sets that are sure to impress your employees with both the high-quality chocolate and the beautiful packaging.The Chocolate Bar Library is a great gifting option as it includes nine unique chocolate flavors — including banana coconut, matcha, and raw honey — in a keepsake box. Aside from this very giftable set, the Hazelnut Praline Bonbons set is a great gifting option, too.Vosges also offers a corporate concierge which can help guide you through personalizing your chocolate selection with your company's branding and help coordinate shipping to multiple addresses. Plants and flowers from BloomsyBoxBloomsyBoxCape Town Orchid, $44.99, available at BloomsyBoxBring some life into your employee's home office setup by gifting them a beautiful flower arrangement or plant from BloomsyBox. The retailer offers a wide variety of floral arrangements and plants, subscriptions, and corporate gifting so that you can send your employees flowers on a consistent basis.The comfiest Bombas socksBombasMen's and Women's Merino Calf Sock 8-Pack, $151.20, available at BombasPart of Bombas' appeal, other than the obvious differences in fit and feel, is that it donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter every time someone buys a pair, which also applies to its corporate gifting program. It can work with your company's current charity partner, or help you find the perfect donation recipient. You can fill out a corporate gifting form at Bombas here.UrbanStems flowers to show them they're appreciatedUrbanStems/InstagramFlower Bouquets, from $32, available at UrbanStemsValentine's Day and Mother's Day aren't the only occasions where a bouquet of flowers is appropriate. Welcome new employees (and remind current ones) they're appreciated with beautifully arranged flowers from our favorite flower delivery service.Business customers can get up to 25% off regular prices. You can learn more about corporate gifting at UrbanStems here.A variety of Sugarwish candies for every kind of sweet toothSugarwishCandy or Snack Gift Box, from $23, available at SugarwishIf your employees prefer sour, sweet, or even chocolate candy, Sugarwish's wide offering of sweets and snacks has them covered. Plus, Sugarwish's corporate gifting program allows businesses to customize candies with branding and logos. Lula's Garden succulents to brighten up their workspaceLula's GardenUrban Garden, $105, available at Lula's GardenA dash of greenery on their desk or in their room will make them happy — make it low-maintenance and nearly impossible to kill, and they'll be even happier. You can learn more about custom gifting at Lula's Garden here.Gourmet gummies from SugarfinaSugarfina/InstagramClementine Bears Candy Cube, $8.95, available at SugarfinaGive your employees a sweet treat they'll remember with a Sugarfina Candy Cube. Thoughtfully packaged in clear acrylic boxes, these candies were made for gifting.You can also design a custom Bento Box, candy cube, or taster packet with your company logo. Submit a corporate gifting request here for Sugarfina. A set of spa-worthy bath products from NécessaireNécessaireThe Body Essentials, $60, available at NécessaireIf you're looking to gift employees bath and body products they'll actually want to use, Nécessaire offers luxurious products free of toxic ingredients. With three set options, multiple scents, and even a fragrance-free option, you'll surely find something they'll love. To participate in the brand's corporate gifting program, simply fill out this contact form.BAGGU's iconic nylon tote bagsBagguBAGGU Nylon Tote Bag, from $14, available at Amazon and BAGGUThese waterproof nylon totes hold 50 pounds of stuff, fold down to a fraction of their size to fit in your back pocket, and can be customized with your company name.You can request a custom quote at BAGGU here.Classic sweet treats from Baked by MelissaBaked by MelissaLatest & Greatest Cupcake Pack, 25-count, $37, available at Baked by MelissaThere's a reason that these bite-sized but flavorful cupcakes are a go-to gift for many. Baked by Melissa's Latest & Greatest pack includes customer favorites such as red velvet and cookie dough as well as new seasonal flavor additions.Purchase these cupcakes in large quantities directly from the product page, or if you would like a more customized experience for your giftees, check out the brand's corporate gifting information here.Customized pencils from ShutterflyShutterflyCustom Pencils, from $9.99, available at ShutterflySomething to write with can always come in handy, be it for to-do lists, doodling, or anything in between. These custom pencils come in a set of 12, are available in four colors, and the message can be anything from a company name to a fun insider joke with coworkers.Custom L.L.Bean jacketsL.L.BeanCustom jacket, $99, available at L.L.BeanWhen it comes to gifting clothing, one size does not fit all. Luckily, L.L.Bean's business gifting site offers a wide range of inclusive sizes, from XS to 3X. Its fitness fleece quarter-zip jacket is available in five colors and can be customized with a logo.The retailer also has a selection of other customizable products such as beanies, blankets, and duffle bags. You can place a corporate order here.Delicious treats from GoldbellyGoldbellyCorporate gifts, from $34.95, available at GoldbellyYou can never go wrong with baked goods. With an option to narrow your search by region, Goldbelly's corporate gifting program allows you to send local eats to your employees no matter where they're located.It offers everything from organic mixed fruit baskets to gift boxes of assorted brownies. Plus, every order also helps support small or minority-owned businesses. For bulk orders of 15 recipients or more, you can email concierge@goldbelly.com.Versatile YETI tumblersCrystal Cox/InsiderYETI Rambler 20 Oz. Tumbler, $35, available at YETI, REI, and AmazonWhether you're sipping on a hot or cold drink, YETI's stainless steel, double-wall insulated tumblers never fail to keep your beverage at the optimal temperature. Employees can keep them on their desks or bring them along to the trails on their days off.You can fill out a corporate gift form at YETI here.Custom sticky notes from ZazzleZazzleCustom Post-It Notes, from $6, available at ZazzleSticky notes are a productive gift that you know they'll make great use of, whether jotting down assignments for the day or using them for out-of-office tasks and grocery lists.Add a custom touch to this office staple with a team photo, company logo, or personal text. Zazzle allows for orders of up to 500 packs at a time, and bulk ordering can save up to 60%.Patterned socks from Happy SocksHappy Socks/InstagramHappy Socks Gift Box, from $16, available at Happy SocksRegardless of your office dress code, fun socks will always be appreciated. You'll have difficulty narrowing down the final choice from Happy Socks' large selection of colorful, quirky patterns and prints.Custom designs with the company colors or logo are also available for orders of 6,000 pairs or more. Leather accessories from LeatherologyLeatherology/InstagramBifold Wallet with Flap, $100, available at LeatherologySend employees a beautiful, full-grain leather accessory like a luggage tag, business card case, or keychain. For an extra special touch, add a debossed monogram or logo.Though leather goods sound like a premium gift that could be out of your budget, Leatherology sells its bags and accessories without the markup, so customers don't have to spend so much for a touch of luxury. You can fill out a corporate gift inquiry form at Leatherology here.Hatch Idea notebooks to keep track of agenda itemsEtsyHatch Ideas Notebook, $25, available at EtsyA well-executed idea doesn't happen overnight. Help your employees hatch the next big idea with this cloth-bound notebook that's organized into three sections: Conceive, Incubate, and Hatch.Although there's no automatic option for bulk purchasing, the Etsy shop owner typically responds to messages within 24 hours and should be able to accommodate larger orders.Elegant candles from OtherlandOtherlandChandelier Candle, $36, available at OtherlandThere are plenty of candles out there, but few quite as giftable as Otherland's. These premium candles are available in many scents to suit the different personalities of your employees, and they look great on any tabletop (office, bedroom, or otherwise).You can email hello@otherland.com to inquire about corporate gifts and place a large order.At-home wine tastings from VineboxVinebox/InstagramWine Gift Boxes, from $45, available at VineboxInstead of gifting them a bottle of wine you're not sure they'll like, let them personalize the selection themselves.Vinebox takes the intimidation and pressure off buying wine by delivering wine flights in unique bottles and helping budding wine enthusiasts discover their favorites. You can learn more about corporate gifting at Vinebox here.High-quality sunglasses from Sunglass HutSunglass Hut/InstagramPolo Ralph Lauren Sunglasses, from $64.50, available at Sunglass HutSunglasses are a common gift or employee freebie, but they're rarely worn because they're usually plain or low-quality.Sunglass Hut offers top brands and stylish options that everyone will actually want to wear. A perk of ordering through Sunglass Hut is that anyone can go to a store to receive a free personalized adjustment if the glasses don't fit well. You can learn about corporate gifting at Sunglass Hut here.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: smallbizSource: nytDec 13th, 2022

Clarion Partners Announces New Leases with HEI Hotels & Resorts, IBM at Merritt 7 in Norwalk

Clarion Partners LLC and Marcus Partners announced that hospitality owner and operator HEI Hotels & Resorts and IBM have renewed their leases at Merritt 7 Park in Norwalk, CT. HEI will occupy 17,152 square feet on the 1 st floor of Building 101, while IBM will extend the term on... The post Clarion Partners Announces New Leases with HEI Hotels & Resorts, IBM at Merritt 7 in Norwalk appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. Clarion Partners LLC and Marcus Partners announced that hospitality owner and operator HEI Hotels & Resorts and IBM have renewed their leases at Merritt 7 Park in Norwalk, CT. HEI will occupy 17,152 square feet on the 1 st floor of Building 101, while IBM will extend the term on their 5,819 square foot space at Building 301. Both buildings are adjacent to the newly upgraded outdoor amenity and recreation space. Ownership was representedby Marcus Partners’ David Fiore and JoAnn McGrath, along with Ed Tonnessen, Betsy Buckley, and Gil Ohls of JLL. “HEI is excited to be extending our commitment to Merritt 7. The renovations to the outdoor plaza, new indoor-outdoor flex spaces and the new on-site Metro North station were key factors for us,” said Brian Russo, SVP of HEI Hotels & Resorts. “The major upgrades along with a fantastic management team that brings a hospitality style approach to its tenants make Merritt 7 the best choice in the Fairfield office market.” “We are incredibly excited to have valued, long-term credit tenants HEI and IBM extending their commitments to Merritt 7,” said Margaret Egan, Clarion Partners’ Senior Vice President of Asset Management. “Our ongoing flexible amenity upgrades across the six-building park ensure Merritt 7 can meet the evolving demands of office users in today’s ever-changing landscape, as well as demonstrate our commitment to maintaining the highest standards for tenants as they navigate a path forward. The new outdoor amenity spaces at Buildings 101 and 201 are the latest additions to our broader goal of creating a healthier and more agile business environment. These initiatives, along with the new lobby and indoor/outdoor amenity space at building 601, have received incredibly positive feedback from current and prospective tenants that seek a superior setting for business from sunrise to sunset which adapts to their changing space and business needs.” Buildings 101 and 201 recently debuted several cabana-style outdoor green spaces, ideal for tenants seeking fresh air for meals, meetings and gatherings in a dedicated seating and relaxation area. Merritt 7 also recently completed a significant upgrade program designed by Gensler at building 601 that includes a renovated lobby opening to a full-service café, barista bar and flex meeting space, all of which open directly to the landscaped 35,000-square foot outdoor plaza. The town square conference area and fitness center at building 301 are also in the midst of significant upgrades. In total, Merritt 7 has over 60,000 square feet of curated outdoor amenity space, more than 10,000 square feet of flexible indoor work and meeting space, and four cafes, providing tenants with a variety of different areas and amenities to utilize without expanding their rentable footprint or seeking additionaloff-site space. Merritt 7 has also earned key industry certifications and designations, including LEED Gold Certification* from the U.S. Green Building Council and WiredScore Gold** at buildings 501 and 601, along with a Fitwel Two-Star rating*** for the entire six-building 1.4-million square foot office. Merritt 7’s advanced dual air filtration system utilizes dual MERV-8 and MERV-15 filters, the latter being above and beyond industry best practices and superiorto most office buildings. The newest additions to Merritt 7’s wellness and sustainability offerings include a rooftop beekeeping installation through Best Bees, as well as new EV charging stations. Merritt 7 can accommodate a wide range of tenant requirements. Current opportunities include move-in ready units ranging from new high-end pre-built units from 2,123 square feet to contiguous blocks of up to 134,000 square feet. Located immediately off the Merritt Parkway in close proximity to Fairfield County’s varied attractions, Merritt 7 also has its own dedicated on-site Metro North station, which is currently undergoing significant upgrades and is slated to open in early 2023. For more information, visit merritt7.com. *LEED Existing Buildings + Operational Maintenance certifications are issued by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) at the time of building development or major renovation and last in perpetuity. Merritt 7 buildings 501 and 601 received Gold certifications on August 2021. Properties must pay registration and certification fees to pursue LEED certifications. ** WiredScore certifications are issued by WiredScore on a rolling basis, and properties must re-certify to maintain certification standing. Merritt 7 buildings 501 and 601 received WiredScore Gold certifications on October 2021 and this certification is valid through November 2023. Properties must pay registration and certification fees to pursue WiredScore certifications. *** Fitwel certifications are issued by The Center for Active Design (CfAD) on a rolling basis and are valid for three years. Properties must re-certify to maintain certification standing. Merritt 7 received a Fitwel Two-Star rating on September 2021. Properties must pay certification fees to pursue Fitwel certifications. The post Clarion Partners Announces New Leases with HEI Hotels & Resorts, IBM at Merritt 7 in Norwalk appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyDec 12th, 2022

Morris Plains Luxury Rental Community, The American, to Open in Early 2023

JMF Properties announced today that its newest residential community, The American, is nearing completion, with leasing expected to launch in early 2023. Located at 1000 The American Road, The American will deliver a collection of 125 luxury rental residences to the historic borough of Morris Plains. As part of the... The post Morris Plains Luxury Rental Community, The American, to Open in Early 2023 appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. JMF Properties announced today that its newest residential community, The American, is nearing completion, with leasing expected to launch in early 2023. Located at 1000 The American Road, The American will deliver a collection of 125 luxury rental residences to the historic borough of Morris Plains. As part of the development process, JMF completed a new pedestrian walkway that connects The American to downtown Morris Plains, providing residents with direct access to an array of neighborhood shops, restaurants and NJ TRANSIT’s Morris Plains train station. Residents of The American will also be less than a mile from two premium retail properties JMF and partners are developing, Morris Marketplace, which will deliver 140,000 square feet of retail space and a variety of community-oriented attractions, and Cedar Village, where a brand-new 7-Eleven with gas is rising on a property anchored by Lowe’s Home Improvement. In addition to the well-connected location, the community will provide a well-balanced lifestyle, with plush, modern residences and a generous collection of amenities. For more information or to join The American’s waitlist, prospective renters can visit www.jmfrentals.com or call 973-354-5555. Guests who join the waitlist will be among the first invited to take a private tour of the building and the first to receive information on the community’s opening rental rates and limited-time incentives. “We are happy to announce that The American will make its debut in early 2023, bringing an entirely new type of luxury housing to Morris Plains,” said Joe Forgione, the Founder and Principal of JMF Properties. “The American will feature an exceptional location near the train station and charming downtown shops and restaurants, which we were able to enhance by providing direct pedestrian access from The American Road to downtown Morris Plains, where no connection was previously available. In today’s market, with new-construction suburban rentals in high demand, we believe this will be a popular choice for Morris County renters, as well as an important asset for the Morris Plains community for many years to come.” The American was designed with resident quality of life in mind, offering an upscale living experience focused on convenience, comfort, and day-to-day enjoyment. JMF’s signature “inside out” approach to development, which places the resident experience at the center of all decision making, will deliver a variety of spacious one- and two-bedroom residences, including den layouts and private outdoor space in select homes. The residences will offer up to 1,390 square feet of living space and include features such as nine-foot ceilings, seven-inch composite plank floors, energy efficient LED light fixtures, Energy Star certified appliances, and oversized windows with custom shade treatments. In-unit washer/dryer combo, Moen faucets and shower fixtures, marble mosaic showers, porcelain bath floors, a high-performance heating/cooling system, and Saflok Saffire entry locks with Bluetooth remote feature option are among the many additional finishing touches included. The gourmet kitchens at The American will stand out for their combination of elegance and high-performance features. Renters will find European-style two tone kitchen cabinetry, quartz countertops with undermount stainless steel sink and faucet, glass tile backsplashes, Whirlpool stainless steel gas burner cooktops, XOC stainless steel glide out visor range vented hoods, Samsung stainless steel refrigerators, and Blomberg dishwashers in every home. JMF Properties integrated more than 20,000 square feet of dedicated indoor and outdoor amenity space into The American’s design, with the goal of enhancing resident wellness, enjoyment and quality-of-life. Upon entering, residents and guests will be greeted by a luxe lobby and lounge with an iron and glass vestibule, polished porcelain Statuary tile and a fireplace. The cutting-edge fitness center will feature state-of-the-art Matrix equipment and a separate personal training studio with a TRX system, kettlebells, pro boxing punching bag, and yoga equipment. A business center with coffee bar, conference rooms, and private enclosed workspaces, a second-floor lounge with fireplace and coffee bar, a theatre room, a golf simulator, and a billiards room round out the amenity offering. Outside, a courtyard with a variety of seating and dining areas, a firepit, BBQ grills and intricate landscaping details will provide residents with opportunities to relax in the fresh air. A controlled access main entry, electronic doorman, onsite covered garage parking, additional exterior parking, onsite management, private storage lockers, and other conveniences and services will also be available to residents. Situated in the heart of Morris County, Morris Plains is a charming borough of close to 6,000 residents. Its town center is just a short walk from The American, where restaurants and eateries such as Arthur’s Tavern, Carmel Haifa Middle Eastern, Time for a Bagel, Tony’s Pizza and Scoop Station Ice Cream line attractive Speedwell Avenue. The many restaurants, shops, festivals and cultural attractions of downtown Morristown are just a 2.5-mile drive away. Central Park of Morris County, a massive 420-acre recreation complex, is situated directly on the western border of Morris Plains, giving residents easy access to athletic fields, roller hockey rinks, sand volleyball courts, a five-acre dog park, children’s play areas, a natural amphitheater, disc golf course, and 11 miles of trails. Nearby Morris Marketplace will soon welcome retail businesses such as Burlington department store, Lidl grocery, Starbucks, Restore Wellness, Hand & Stone, Scenthound, Mattress Warehouse, Optimum, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Habit Burger, AT&T, Orangetheory Fitness, European Wax, Panda Express, Taco Bell, Wells Fargo, and more. More than just a place to shop, Morris Marketplace will also offer children’s play areas, pocket parks, splash pads, seating areas, outdoor dining areas and other active and passive recreation spaces. Nestled between Morristown, Morris Township, Parsippany and Hanover Township, Morris Plains offers easy access to highways such as Route 287, Route 80, Route 202, Route 24, and Route 10. Manhattan is a 30-mile drive away, or commutable via NJ TRANSIT’s Morris Plains station, which offers direct service to New York Penn Station. Morristown is also accessible by train, just a four-minute ride away. For more information on The American, visit www.jmfrentals.com. For more information on JMF Properties, visit www.jmfproperties.com. The post Morris Plains Luxury Rental Community, The American, to Open in Early 2023 appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyDec 12th, 2022

Mayor Fulop Creates Jersey City’s First City Hall Park to Further Expand Open Public Space Outdoors & Foster Community

Mayor Steven M. Fulop and the Department of Infrastructure announced today the creation of a one-acre perimeter park surrounding all four sides of City Hall to encourage more special events and public use of the outdoor space in one of New Jersey’s most densely populated areas.  Additionally, inside City Hall, the design process... The post Mayor Fulop Creates Jersey City’s First City Hall Park to Further Expand Open Public Space Outdoors & Foster Community appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. Mayor Steven M. Fulop and the Department of Infrastructure announced today the creation of a one-acre perimeter park surrounding all four sides of City Hall to encourage more special events and public use of the outdoor space in one of New Jersey’s most densely populated areas.  Additionally, inside City Hall, the design process is moving forward to build out the unoccupied fourth-floor space to add employee offices and conference rooms occupied by the newly created Department of Infrastructure. A Request for Proposal (RFP) to acquire a consultant for the design and construction of Jersey City’s first-ever City Hall Park will go before the Municipal Council at next week’s scheduled meeting on December 14, 2022. “Any time of day, you will find people walking their dogs or socializing in front of City Hall, and this will be the latest addition to the dozens of new parks we’ve built and park improvements completed in recent years as part of our efforts to expand critical community amenities and further invest in residents’ health and wellness,” said Mayor Fulop.   “At the same time, we are taking proactive steps to restore the inside of the 126-year-old building to increase efficiency for resident services and ensure City Hall can continue serving as a contributing asset for the City of Jersey City.” The exterior transformation includes significant improvements to the plaza in front of City Hall along Grove Street, including greening the concrete hardscape in both the front and back of the building and replacing the concrete with tree plantings, flower gardens, and other landscaping for beautification and stormwater absorption.  Benches, picnic tables, and lighting will also be added throughout the grounds.  To increase the amount of open space created, the employee parking lot behind City Hall will be removed and converted into park space to nearly double the size of the new green space for the public to enjoy.  The City Hall Park design will utilize recommendations from the recently completed Open Space Master Plan and the soon-to-be-completed Year of Open Space, both of which underwent robust outreach processes. “As a part of the Year of Open Space, we have been identifying innovative ways to create more parks and public spaces in our City.  By replacing the concrete and asphalt around City Hall with a green park, we are advancing a more environmentally sustainable and equitable use of this public space for all to enjoy,” added Barkha Patel, Director of the Department of Infrastructure. The exterior and interior City Hall improvements are part of the administration’s broader efforts to renovate and upgrade the 126-year-old historic building for an improved working environment and more efficient services for residents.  Recent improvements include: Repointing work strategically improving the historic exterior walls of the building to mitigate damage from stormwater. Restoration of the historic tile throughout the building. Basement renovations to transform unused space into dozens of offices and conference rooms. Electrical and fire suppression upgrades. Build out of the fourth floor to add capacity for office and conference spaces.  Elevator upgrades with service extension to the fourth floor. City Hall has been flooded multiple times in recent years as our area experiences more frequent and more severe weather events.  Located in a FEMA flood zone, the Fulop Administration will further resiliency and public health efforts by incorporating green infrastructure aspects throughout the renovations, including stormwater absorption, flood mitigation, and sustainable features. Parking along Montgomery Street will be converted to City Hall employee parking during regular business hours, with residential parking permitted during off hours, overnight, and on weekends.  An ordinance to implement the parking modifications will be proposed early next year for the City Council’s consideration. The post Mayor Fulop Creates Jersey City’s First City Hall Park to Further Expand Open Public Space Outdoors & Foster Community appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyDec 11th, 2022

Cushman & Wakefield Arranges $29.5M Sale/Partial Leaseback of Catalina Marketing’s Carillon Park Office Building

Cushman & Wakefield announced today the commercial real estate services firm has arranged the $29.5 million sale and partial leaseback of 200 Carillon, a Class A 157,755-square-foot office building located within Carillon Park in Tampa Bay’s Gateway/Mid-Pinellas submarket. Cushman & Wakefield’s Rick Brugge, Andy May, Nina Fishman, Mike Davis, Rick... The post Cushman & Wakefield Arranges $29.5M Sale/Partial Leaseback of Catalina Marketing’s Carillon Park Office Building appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. Cushman & Wakefield announced today the commercial real estate services firm has arranged the $29.5 million sale and partial leaseback of 200 Carillon, a Class A 157,755-square-foot office building located within Carillon Park in Tampa Bay’s Gateway/Mid-Pinellas submarket. Cushman & Wakefield’s Rick Brugge, Andy May, Nina Fishman, Mike Davis, Rick Colon, and Dominic Montazemi, with support from Chloe Strada and Zach Eicholtz, represented the seller in the transaction. The office building was sold by Catalina Marketing and acquired by an undisclosed buyer. “Over the last year, we have fully embraced a flexible work approach that allows our team members to work remotely as often as they would like. For us, it is far more efficient to lease back space in the building that provides ample work and collaboration spaces when needed,” said Wayne Powers, CEO at Catalina Marketing. 200 Carillon’s flexible and efficient floor plans along with open concept and rare plug-and-play spaces, newly renovated on-site café and gym, outdoor seating, and above average parking ratio of 7.06 per 1,000 square feet make it a modern “HQ style” building. The five-story office building even presents a value-add opportunity through potential redevelopment of an adjacent oversized parking structure and 1.3-acres of vacant land. Another unique feature of 200 Carillon is its ability to provide a premier suburban mixed-use, live-work-play environment due to its positioning within the heart of Carillon Park. This includes easy access to an award-winning boardwalk and jogging/fitness trail, 100-acres of conservation area, a hospital, several service-oriented and retail establishments, and a soon-to-be completed Top Golf that are all located within the park. “200 Carillon is a Class A office building in a high-quality mixed-use park offering a significant amenity base in a live-work-play environment. It is what many office users today desire,” added Rick Brugge, Vice Chair at Cushman & Wakefield. The post Cushman & Wakefield Arranges $29.5M Sale/Partial Leaseback of Catalina Marketing’s Carillon Park Office Building appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyDec 5th, 2022