13 The Box Next Door

Morris ‘Morrie’ Mangold, owner of the Wrested Development company and pillar of downtown re-development, was justifiably proud of his accomplishments. As a young man, he’d left Iraq with like-minded relatives and friends and now, a successful, middle-aged immigrant, he was leaving his mark on the face of Milwaukee; a force for good, recognized for his architectural achievements by a succession of fawning city fathers. He set the pace of development and the city rewarded him in return. He moved in the best circles, round and round in them, surprising even himself with his socially upward spiral. chapter-13-the-box1

A devoted family man, he’d fostered a retinue of relations invited to his side and then sent them on to higher education, to learn specialties that would later be useful to him. The real business, the cut and thrust, he would teach them himself. This tightly knit group ran their empire together through thick and thin.

His adopted city treasured its history and he was shrewd enough to value his gradually acquired reputation. Although some proposals were shelved, he tried to avoid pitfalls that befell his competitors and was cautious in adapting his designs, where needed, to the prevailing winds of the preservationists or to the particular sensitivities of various neighborhood groups. Privately, he thought these people were ridiculous; bigger and newer were his goals.

His latest condo proposal, The Alchemy, reflected those ideals; dark but alluring, towering but sleek, all steel and glass, the new black gold of our time turning yet another scrappy and underused bluff side into gold for himself, hence the name. True, it would be somewhat wedged onto the lot, but wasn’t that the whole point of urban development, to build skyward, increase density, and generate more tax dollars on a smaller footprint?

What’s not to like? Morrie wanted to know. The crumbling, old, and long out of commission lighthouse on the site would be preserved and incorporated into the design. The street-scaping and public pocket park  unsurpassed, offering something for everyone. Perhaps not for the inhabitants of the condo building next door, The Prospect on Prospect, whose views would admittedly be restricted by his inspired new project. Too bad for them they hadn’t bought into one of his developments instead, after the free advice he’d showered on them in his upward trajectory.

His nephew, Rusty, was on the design and marketing team. Morrie wanted him to share directly in the prestige this ambitious project would bring and to keep him contentedly within the family fold. Morrie was building more than buildings here, after all, he was assuring his legacy. Lately though, he’d noticed Rusty seemed to be growing a chip on his shoulder. Time to knock that off and give his nephew some extra but easy work to demonstrate his abilities.

“You ever been inside that condo building next door, Rusty?” Morrie and Rusty were going over plans for the Alchemy.

“Should I see it? What for?”

“You’re a designer. Give us a better idea of what ours is going to look like from the inside of theirs.” Morrie pulled on his cigar. He liked being able to smoke cigars in his own office. He liked what he thought of himself as he smoked them. “We open our sales center, those people come over, raise hell. Bad for sales. Yeah, you should try and get in, figure out what their squawks will be. Maybe tinker with these plans, come up with something to make nice. Make them go away.” He reasoned that if he was prepared to make an overture, however limited and naturally based on his own bottom line as he had in the past, at least he couldn’t be accused of completely ignoring the neighbors. Experience had taught him it was hasty to do that. But his mantra was to make sure he was satisfied first when he couldn’t satisfy everyone else. In this, he suspected, he was no different than most.

Morris 'Morrie' Mangold, patriarch and social climber, owner of Wrested Development, a downtown development firm.

Morris ‘Morrie’ Mangold, patriarch and social climber, owner of Wrested Development, a downtown development firm.

“Any ideas how to get in?”

“Sure, you can get in easy, you’re MLS, remember? Find a unit for sale, one facing our way. If there isn’t one for sale right now, you can bet there will be soon, once this cat is out of the bag. Make like you have a buyer. Say you’re there to preview the place, just seeing a listing. If they have a rooftop view, once you’re in go up and take a look. They won’t know who you are. You’re just another agent. Be polite, especially to that doorman.”

Rusty did have access to MLS. Wrested Development was a member and listed their own properties in there all the time. He simply didn’t show anybody any listed units except his own. Why would he want to? It wasn’t like he cared about the buyers. He was just responsible for selling their own stuff, like pre-sales for the Alchemy for instance, enough for them to obtain financing. He knew where most of the other newer developments were located, of course. They were his competition. But resales of individual units held no interest for him and he didn’t keep track of those.

Rusty checked for active listings. He even went to check in person and that stuffed shirt concierge had refused him access. There was just one single party listing and only the lister and his buyer were allowed in. Rusty would have to wait for a resale. He set up an MLS search that would automatically alert him when a new listing came up so he could schedule a showing. It would be a good thing to prove his abilities to his uncle, whose expression as he looked at Rusty was sometimes dismissive.

Rusty wanted a higher profile role in this development than he’d been allowed before in any of the others, when he’d still been a student. As a graduate, he lusted after some more powerful position in the family business, that is, if he were going to stick around in it. He was learning the ropes from his impossible to please, much less impress uncle, and going through the process of proposal development from start to finish, in all those interminable meetings.

The Wrested Development team was at the stage of obtaining city zoning approval for their project. Every project was different but one had to expect challenges at every step of the way: civic, financial, architectural.  Rusty had to know the structure of city government, the departments, the committees, the panels, and who the players were. He had to deal with professional and political rivals, know when to tiptoe, know when to waltz. It was a tricky business but he liked playing tricks.

In the meantime, he waited for his opportunity to get into The Prospect.