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 had 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

He was a father himself, and a devoted family man. Over the years, he fostered a retinue of relations invited to his side and 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 was established enough to treasure its history and he was shrewd enough to value his own, gradually acquired reputation. Alert to this, he avoided 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, those 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 too, he hoped, 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 would be 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 they hadn’t bought into one of his other developments instead of there. Who’s sorry now? It was his little private joke.

His nephew, Rusty, was on the design and marketing team. Morrie wanted him to share directly in the prestige this project would bring, his most ambitious ever, and to keep him contentedly within the family fold. He was building more than just buildings here, after all, he was assuring his legacy. Lately though, he had noticed, Rusty seemed to be growing a chip on his shoulder. Time to knock that off, decided Morrie, 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, Uncle Morrie? What for?”

“Mmnn, probably a good thing. Give us a better visual idea of what ours is going to look like from over there.” 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. Yah, 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. When you can’t satisfy everyone, make sure you are satisfied first was his mantra. 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?” Rusty was eager to please but unsure of the assignment.

“Sure, you can get in easy, you’re MLS, remember? Find a unit for sale, one facing this way. Make like you have a buyer and want to preview the place. If there isn’t one facing this way for sale right now, and if there isn’t one yet, you can bet there will be soon once the cat is out of the bag, just say you’re there looking at another listing. Don’t recall if they have a rooftop view. Better check that out. Go up and take a look.  Best if I don’t go there myself any more. I should avoid any unnecessary discussion. But 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, none at all. So he wasn’t aware of what else was out there for sale and didn’t keep track of it.

Rusty checked in MLS; there were no active Prospect on Prospect listings. He would have to wait for a resale. He could set up a search that would automatically e-mail him when a listing came up, and then set up a showing. It would be a good thing to prove to his uncle, whose expression as he looked at Rusty was sometimes dismissive, unconvinced that he could do any job and get results.

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. He was out of school now and beginning to lust 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, too, both from his impossible to please, much less impress, uncle, and from going through the process of proposal development from start to finish, in all those interminable meetings.

A Wrested Development team was at the stage of getting 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.