Step 1: Stop taking advice from the old white guys, and start crowdfunding for projects that have a real impact on the community around you.
City councils are often faced with situations in which there are three potential solutions.
- Invest in the future.
- Sell what you own for short term financial boosts
- Do nothing. Let shit rot.
I live in Belleville. Ontario. The friendly city that has had a long hard road, which so many rural communities have to endure – from bullish investors who like to make a quick buck but take off when the going gets hard, to real estate, which has plummeted. Combine that with a divided residency of lawyers on one side and those inflicted by mental health problems on the other (with occasional crossover), and it makes for a very colourful Saturday night.
As I started learning more about my new home base, and getting my hands deep into the dirt, I found out many beautiful buildings in the area were sitting empty or, worse, bought then sold, with big money lost on each sale.
The city has run dry, of cash and ideas. I’ve heard every excuse and opinion in the book – but I keep on asking them “What are you going to do about it?”.
And they give me a blank stare.
I tell them “Why not raise the funds yourself?”
And they give me a blank stare.
The same people who gripe and bitch their way through Friday night beers, are the same people who could band together and make the changes necessary to actually make where they live better. But they don’t. Because they think they can’t.
The main barrier raised when I hear people cry about the situation in Belleville is money.
“If only I had their money”; “If I had a spare million, I’d buy the place.”
Well, put your fucking money where your fucking mouth is. If a municipality of residents decided, let’s say, that they’re done with the old boys club corruption that is at the heart of every rural community, and put together an investment fund, the ability to buy back key crumbling landmarks and turn them into something grand would be there for all.
Instead of addressing councillors, government, or property owners, who are probably not going to listen to you; why not present them with cold, hard, cash, and a profitable business plan? Get major brands, both International and local, to support you. Get the right architecture and construction firms who see the potential in making these for-profit community projects, and just do it.
Buy back the land your parents stole. Invest on impact.
What does that term – impact investing – mean?
Impact investing, at it’s core, is about people putting money back where their mouths are to do something for the common good. Rising the tide in order to lift all boats.
This was also referred to as “philanthropy” back in the day. The idea is that a company invests in products or places with end games based around making communities better. When I hear my millennia familials crying that they can’t invest because they’re so short on cash, I call bullshit. We shouldn’t be looking at the top down, and hoping our betters will deem us worthy of their charity, but rather take a grassroots approach looking at leveraging what’s in our reach.
Impact investing doesn’t have to be on an international scale. It can be on a local scale. Local is global remember? Invest in the real estate and keep the potential profits in the community. Why wait for a boardroom full of bullshit bureaucrats to give you permission to make change?
Of course you need a few on your side, but when rural communities are tanking, money talks more than hope. When you see such IPO addiction out there on the macro economic side, we forget that money can be made in the local market as well. Not from a small business perspective, but in the ability to own the attractions the city can be about. For the people. By the people.
Need a swimming pool? Build a swimming pool.
Nowhere downtown for the kids to go? Build somewhere downtown for the kids to go.
Now hold on, I’m not suggesting anarchy in Canada, before you start flipping your shit. Sure, you still need responsible local councilors to do what councilors were elected to do. But you’ve all watched them do things half-assed. You’ve all seen good ideas committee’d down to bad ideas. You’ve all heard the excuses and seen the wasted money. So why wait?
What I am suggesting is group investing and business structure in an otherwise unstructured market. What realtors and commercial property owners wait for, when rural complexes are left empty, is that big fat cat from Toronto to buy the spot and bring in some hot brand that’s going to wow everyone.
The fact is, fat cats in Toronto aren’t looking for ideas for abandoned hockey arenas in Belleville to help them buy a summer cabin. The world doesn’t work that way. You have to make what you have around you, profitable.
Take for example Belleville’s Memorial Arena. It’s been sitting empty for over three decades – home to the McFarlands, Canada’s first Allen Champion of Hockey, and long-time supporter of military veterans and their families. The facility is empty and withering – why?
Because in the 1980’s some douchebag decided it was time to act like a city and abandon historic monuments. It’s still downtown, but it’s empty. Many, many, many groups tried to approach the city and the business people to get this back to a working arena, one suggested a St. Lawrence market type deal (with no profit structure might I suggest), but one concurrent theme kept on coming up – the shortcomings of so many reports and the lack of due diligence.
Why? Probably because someone is waiting for that great backdoor deal of a century to make it into a parking lot. They’re waiting for a mark. The dumb guy at the poker table who’ll spend too much money and take it all off their hands and make it someone else’s problem.
This place is almost 100 years old. It sits right beside a Royal Canadian Legion that’s going to be sitting empty too. Everyone knows the story here, everyone knows it could be great again and should be great again, but nobody wants to touch it. The fear of being blacklisted by Belleville’s elite is like a scar you cannot recover from.
Major news publications have picked up the story in the past, but it just made the building more untouchable. However, while everyone doesn’t agree on the way to do it, everyone agrees it needs to be saved, and reborn, and used as a means of bringing the boom back to Belleville.
Here we have a building, once proud and bustling with community events, sitting empty and worth less than my parent’s house (Last arena appraisal was $875,000).
Could the community find a way to restore it and make it profitable? Fuck yes.
Could the community find partners outside of local weirdos to make it beautiful again? Absolutely fuck yes.
Would the community use it willingly and find a real profit in hiring in-need people, housing sports of all types, and highlighting the history of arenas like this around North America? GOD FUCKING YES.
Yet no one wants to work together. They simply think that the city’s business people can’t be beat. (Do the research, you can find stories dating back to 2006 on CBC, The Globe and Mail, and more).
Maybe you can’t change the world, or even have a big company with good intentions?
Sure, Inc.com recently had their on-hand worry wort saying that Exchange Traded Funds are the best, seeing as the stock market is utter shit right now. It’s easy to want to invest in the big picture when we can rely on brands like Scotiabank, HSBC, Toronto Dominion yada, yada, yada… But I want to take the big picture to somewhere easier to relate to – your home.
If 10,000 people, out of the 45,000 people in Belleville, put in $100 each, they would have enough to buy the bare bones building. If those 10,000 people wanted to hire a director, that director then could help raise a matching million from private equity or sell off advertising space or dedicate wings to Canadian brands (ahem, NHL *cough* *cough*) and start looking at the progress spaces like these could create – ya know, hiring food vendors, bar servers, janitors, maintenance staff, ushers, instructors, trainers, equipment managers, and right there you’ve made easy 40 new jobs between full and part time.
The profits come from the sale of tickets to local sporting events, from hockey to roller derby, basketball to lacrosse, open skate nights, musical acts both local and national, and merch stores for all represented.
Well – already you have a kick ass place to go for young and old alike in a central location. Money coming in, tourism coming in, progress and social leverage being put out. I’ve done the math. I’ve played with the projections. Even on a bad week, that arena could be bringing in $130,000.00 That’s $130,000.00 just on 3 nights with $10 tickets and 4500 people in the stands.
That’s $130,000.00 more than it’s making right now.
Stick a media lab in the back for local kids to have a place they can start new businesses, produce apps, come up with the next big thing that will be the next big employer in the area. Throw down a playground and let parents drop off their kids on a Saturday morning, then drop a movie screen down and show Disney films while those parents get a well earned few hour break. Late in the night, hook an XBox up to that movie screen and play dance music and you have the region’s largest nightclub. Stick a daycare off the side. Bring back roller disco. Stage community theatre.
THAT’s impact investing at work. That’s how you can estimate a boom of US$500B across North America. It’s not just the really neat tech coming out of high school biology rooms, it’s the basic turn around in local landmarks and making those old spaces new again. It’s about recognizing the needs of a community and finding a solution. Hammer meet nail. You fund projects not through taxes, but through passion. When the local landmark works to bring in profits, literally everyone prospers. Every. Single. Resident.
In this case we need to step away from the barriers of bureaucracy and take a step forward to real life. Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing may have it’s failures when it’s online and about a fucking stupid novelty product like Grandma’s Egg Salad. However, if used in a way to leverage a community’s current resources to encourage economic development and more engagement for the municipal government, you’ve now created an impact investment hedge fund that plays within the democratic process.