My building, The Alexandria Hotel, has been sold to the Amerland Group, an "affordable" housing company, whatever that means. Flyers were in all the mailboxes, inviting us to a tenant meeting last night in the Palm Court Ballroom to discuss planned renovations.
My loftmates Bob, Lucas and I rode the elevator down to the lobby. As soon as the doors opened, it was clear this wouldn't be a sedate affair. Actually, my first clue was on the flier, I should've known when I read, "Food and drinks will be served," that the place would be a mob scene. The lobby was full of people making their way into the ballroom. There were maybe 150-200 people in the room, with maybe six to eight security guards milling around. Immediately upon entering, there was a table with forms for all the residents to sign:
To Whom It May Concern,
I am currently a tenant at The Alexandria Hotel and I attended the tenant meeting held by The Amerland Group on Tuesday, March 14th, 2006.
At this meeting, The Amerland Group described the renovations they plan to make at The Alexandria. A few of the many renovations described are:
* New kitchenettes in every unit
* New phone lines in every unit
* Reopening of the lobby diner
The Amerland Group also explained to us that no tenants will be relocated, and that tenants will continue to be protected under rent control.
As a tenant of The Alexandria, I am in support of the renovations that the Amerland Group plans to make, as described to us in this meeting.
I wonder how many people actually signed and turned those things in.
There was a line of tables along one side of the wall, where they dished out free sandwiches, bags of chips, sodas and fruit - and it was easily the most densely packed portion of the room.
The room wasn't packed, but then again, it's a big room. The President of Amerland, Ruben Islas, did most of the talking, though they did introduce most of the Amerland Group in attendance. Some of the things that Mr. Islas promised before he opened it up to questions were:
* No one's rent is being raised
* No one is to be displaced or kicked out
* A/C and heaters in every unit
* Microwaves, refrigerators, sinks, and burners for cooking in each unit
* Phones in each unit
* Community room on the mezzanine
* Gym in the building
* Computers - free to use for tenants
* Free Wi-Fi in the entire building
* Providing programs and activities, especially for seniors
There was a lot of skeptical grumbling and audible gasps of disbelief and outright guffaws as he ticked off the list of promised renovations. Mr. Islas stopped to say, "We're not new to this, we did this all over California. The only thing we need from you to fix up your unit... we need you to move out of your unit so that they can fix it up."
That's when the incredibly wide-ranging and diverse group of misfits, er, tenants, got really loud. Mr. Islas introduced Jeremy Turner, the construction manager, and went on to explain that there are approximately 150 empty rooms in the building. Those would be fixed up first. Then when the time comes for a tenant's room to be renovated, the management company in charge of this would help move the tenant to one of the already renovated rooms for 2-3 days while their unit undergoes renovation. Then they'd be moved back, into their old, newly-renovated unit.
Mr. Islas said they would close the deal within 3-4 weeks and construction would start in 2-3 months with a schedule to come. They were also offering to reopen the restaurant in the lobby of the building. Additionally, if a tenant's rent is more than 30% of their income, then they get a meal program. I wonder how the proprietors of the two restaurants currently in the building feel about that.
Now remember, this crowd is very eccentric and vocal, and they were like that throughout the entire presentation. Then they opened it up for questions and you could've cued up XXXX because it was a 3-ring circus. Mr. Islas had to yell above the crowd, so I didn't hear a lot of the questions. I didn't see most of the regulars, but Preacher Man, that guy who sermonizes in that hypotic yet unintelligible drone on the corner of 5th and Spring, he stood a few feet away from me, muttering to himself after each round of questions and answers. After raising his hand for a long while, he got his chance. Preacher Man had the room's attention. He asked his question and even though I was maybe 4 feet away from him, it sounded just like he was on the street corner, sermonizing unintelligibly. As Mr. Islas listened to Preacher Man's drone, you could see he was valiantly reaching for comprehension and I could've sworn I saw his eyes cross. Laugh? I thought I'd die.
One of the Amerland guys looked very familiar to me, I'd seen him around before but couldn't remember where or how I knew him. I walked up to him and suggested that Mr. Islas repeat the tenants' questions before answering. Moments later when it was especially loud because five people were yelling at 10 other people to shut up so that seven other people could scream different questions in unison, he walked over to Mr. Islas and whispered that suggestion. Then I remembered why he looked so familiar to me.
Just then, a security guard walked to the front of the room, right next to Mr. Islas and whistled so loudly I had to check my ear to see if it was bleeding. That quieted the room down enough to resume taking more questions. So Mr. Islas pointed to one gentleman for his question and the guy yells, "Have you taken any public speaking courses?" Without waiting for an answer, he asked another question that I didn't hear. So I moved forward, straining to hear him continue with, "And what are you going to do for the Marines? We fought for this country..." Someone yelled something about staying on topic when the guy yells, "Fuck you!" and lets loose a barrage of obscenities. Well that was it. The room was completely out of control after that. That only took 20 minutes (I looked at my phone to note the time). Security moved in, people moved for the door, others rushed the Amerland guys with heated questions along the lines of, "What are you going to do about the carpeting in my room? It keeps coming up at the corner and won't stay down, now what are you going to do about that?" or my favorite, "Are the laundry rooms going to have machines that will constantly take my quarters? What are you going to do about us losing money on crap washing machines?" I'm surprised it took 20 minutes for it to degenerate.
This is Gabriel the security guard talking to the guy who asked about Amerland's plan to help the Marines and threw out the first "Fuck you".
Well, I guess we just have to wait and see. While we're waiting let's line up for more free food.
I talked with one of the individual investors who helped Amerland finance the deal. I asked him what his name was, he didn't want to give it to me. I wanted to Google his name, after all, he's got a large interest in the building I live in and will have some say in how the building is managed. He told me all sorts of things that he probably shouldn't have just to get me to stop asking him what his name was. He seemed extremely uncomfortable. I talked to Ruben Islas, asked him a few more questions. He squinted at me and asked, "Do I know you? Have we met before?" Which takes me back to why one of the Amerland guys looked so familiar to me. A few months ago (pre-Jim), I ran into the Amerland guys around 3pm on a Friday afternoon. They were getting coffee in a cafe on Spring Street and I was having a late lunch. He chatted me up, asked what I was getting and where else was good to eat in the neighborhood. He was flirting, kinda good at it, kinda cute and with a cute accent. Then a few weeks later, he and some other Amerland guys took a tour of the building and the penthouse, but under the guise of being location scouts. I don't think he recognized me in my big fluffy pink bathrobe and matching slippers (it was very early in the morning). But now I wonder if he remembers flirting with me and if he connects that with the cranky chick who walked out into my living room looking like a Pepto Bismol bottle.