December 15, 2011

Municipal coup


I've long been interested in the topic of municipal coups, in which somebody overthrows a corrupt and incompetent local government and then afterwards, everybody acts as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened. For example, the feds setting up Mayor Marion Barry of Washington D.C. in 1990. After WWII, returning veterans organized to rid more than a few hometowns of corrupt mayors and police, much like Frodo and friends do in the Scouring of the Shire conclusion to Lord of the Rings. San Francisco and New Orleans had major coups in the 19th Century.  

The NYT Magazine has an article on an expensive new golf course, hotel, and housing development, Harbor Shores, that has opened in the micro-Detroit of Benton Harbor, a black slum city on Lake Michigan a couple of hours from the South Side of Chicago. As Rachel Maddow often complains, the state of Michigan suspended democracy in Benton Harbor and turned all responsibility over to an appointed city autocrat. The Whirlpool Company, which maintains its headquarters in Benton Harbor, has promoted the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course (greens fee for non-residents on summer weekends: $150), which will host the 2012 Senior PGA Championship, and the gentrifying Arts District. The writer interviews a quasi-homeless former city councilman who thinks, with some reason, that what's going on is a municipal coup.

This development is another high-low team-up:

Given Benton Harbor’s unfavorable history and demographics, no private developer would likely be willing to take on such an ambitious project there. But there was another way: Robinson’s group, along with other nonprofits supported by Whirlpool, could secure enough federal and state grant money to help remediate the land, build the golf course and at least get Harbor Shores off the ground. The project’s complicated financing deal closed in May 2008, right around the time that the national real-estate market crashed. 
On the Thursday morning that we played Harbor Shores, the course looked virtually empty. 

The West Coast of Michigan is a great place for golf because the steady winds blow cool air across Lake Michigan, making it vastly more pleasant in summer than Chicago's suburbs, and that has piled up big sand dunes along the shore. There's nothing golfers love more than playing through sand dunes with a view of big water. 

Until the last couple of decades, this coastline has been underserved with quality golf courses. Alister Mackensie designed the fantastic Crystal Downs course in Frankfort, MI in the 1920s, but almost nothing else was built on the forested dunes until the last 15 years. Back in 1990, I bought a a couple of dozen topographic maps of the southwest Michigan coastline and drove up and down looking for a piece of undeveloped shoreline that I could put a team of investors together to buy and turn into a great course. But, just about every bit of cliff along Lake Michigan had cabins on it, so I left it to more enterprising people to do the heavy lifting of buying out existing homeowners. About a half dozen spectacular courses such as Arcadia Bluffs have gone up along this coastline since then at vast expense.  

My question about this new development in Benton Harbor would be, however: are all the responsible grown-ups crazy? Has anybody made a nickel off of a new golf course development in the last ten years (outside of China?). Back in 2005 a California real estate developer I know told he he'd never invest in a golf course-centric housing development again, and I can't see much that would have made him change his mind since then. 

The sad secret of golf is that it's a youngish man's game, not the game for retirees that everybody thinks. It peaked economically in the 1980s and 1990s when Baby Boomers were between, say, 25 and 50. There was a huge overbuilding of outstanding new golf courses that came online about a decade ago, and times have been tough for golf course owners ever since. 

Moreover, how does a resort provide work for the black underclass? The article says:
This is the competing narrative of what’s going on in Benton Harbor: It’s being converted into a resort town for wealthy weekenders and Whirlpool employees — that, when all is said and done, its struggling black population will either be driven out by the development or reduced to low-wage jobs cleaning hotel rooms, carrying golf bags or cutting grass.

As I pointed out in 2003, practically no black guys have taken up caddying since the Civil Rights era. Only Hal Sutton of all tour golfers still had a black caddie. The usual caddie on tour might be a former college golf teammate of the pro who dropped out of law school. Similarly,

Poor urban African-Americans hate servile work, so is the resort, assuming it ever gets any guests, going to have to bring in immigrants to be maids?

And who are the target customers? Judging by the models in the ads, they're aiming for a half black clientele. I think that would be interesting -- is there a large enough black middle class in Chicago to support a heavily black resort? The number of black men who play golf in Chicago is by no means small, and they tend to be big spenders when they play, but I've never heard of them flocking to one single upscale course. Usually, huge cities have one municipal course that is, by common agreement, the black course where blacks are socially dominant: Chester Washington in LA., Joe Louis in Chicago, etc. In the Northeast, there are a number of summer home communities, such as The Oaks on Martha's Vineyard, that have been upper middle class black for generations, but I'm not familiar with new golf or beach destinations for upscale blacks forming in recent decades.  

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

...the black underclass? They hate servile work...


How in Hades did that little quip make it past Komment Kontrol?!?

Sheesh.

Bantam said...

Seems like some municipal coup is in the offing in Arizona.

mr_evergreen said...

How do you know that all Blacks hate servile work? And who is to say that Whites like servile work? People will do whatever they have to do. I see Black people doing servile jobs like being janitors and some of the maintenance work at my university. Some people might hire immigrants because one could pay them less.

Sambhadi Humptamunki said...

"Some people might hire immigrants because one could pay them less."

No, really? I'm surprised Steve has never noticed this before.

Anonymous said...

I think you mean Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.

Aaron in Israel said...

Judging by the models in the ads, they're aiming for a half black clientele.

Meaning that half the models are black? That could mean just that they're aiming for a white liberal clientele, couldn't it? Lots of advertising in America featuring blacks seems to be aimed at white people.

Another example of the same fallacy: Republican politicians try to prove how non-racist and pro-black they are, so supposedly that means they're aiming for the black vote. But what it might really mean is that they're aiming for the moderate white vote.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Mr. Evergreen is right. Everyone hates servile work, white and black. I think it's more accurate to say that whites hate to see blacks in servile work because it make them feel guilty.

Steve Sailer said...

The servile jobs at golf courses these days, such as unloading golf bags from trunks and cleaning clubs after the round, are dominated by white males between 16 and 30.

Anonymous said...

Judging by the models in the ads, they're aiming for a half black clientele.

In which case so is just about every other product and service available.

mr_evergreen said...

"The servile jobs at golf courses these days, such as unloading golf bags from trunks and cleaning clubs after the round, are dominated by white males between 16 and 30"

I look at it this way. The vast majority of persons who go to golf courses are White.

Anonymous said...

Point O' Woods is there. it's fantastic

Anonymous said...

How do you know that all Blacks hate servile work?


He didn't say "all Blacks".

He said, "the black underclass".

[Unless maybe your position is that "all Blacks" are members of "the black underclass"?]

beowulf said...

Door County, Wisconsin has some great gold courses (its on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan so it has a double dose of coastline).
http://www.doorcountygolf.com/GolfCourses.HTM

Fake Herzog said...

Steve,

I never read this book but it might be worth a look:

http://www.alexkotlowitz.com/02_02_05.html

Anonymous said...

Re: "black underclass": This becomes much more reasonable when you describe it as "urban poor father-less children without religion or work ethic", excluding e.g. "rural religious poor".

not a hacker said...

Steve, California's moderately priced public courses are absolutely packed right now. Given utility rates, I don't know if this means they're profitable, but the golfers are there in droves. Recently in Fairfield I played with three guys in their early 50's, all of whom were law enforcement retirees embarking on second careers. Unless you're willing to pay over $80, the pace of play is maddeningly slow.

not a hacker said...

And you wouldn't want to be a white caddie for a black golfer, because blacks don't tip. (see my earlier story about Quincy Jones.)

Philoctetes said...

I grew up in Benton Harbor. The black underclass drove out whites in that city in a period of two to three decades. A few years ago I took a drive down memory lane; the city was mess. I had to laugh when I saw the golf course going up. My first thought was, who was making all the money from that deal?

Anonymous said...

"rural religious poor"


You know, in any given election, 5% to 10% of all blacks will vote GOP, and I have long wondered whether there is a large overlap between them and your "rural religious poor".

Truth said...

"Blacks hate servile work"

"Poor urban African-Americans hate servile work"

Pee-Cee pandering?

Et tu, Steveus?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone explained 'snow effect' to you?

Any course built on the west coast of lower Michigan must make its nut in 120 days of golf...

For the rest will be under ice, frost or snow.

Noah172 said...

You know, in any given election, 5% to 10% of all blacks will vote GOP, and I have long wondered whether there is a large overlap between them and your "rural religious poor".

My guess is that black Republicans are either: 1) active/retired military (although when Obama came on the scene many black servicemen reverted to tribal solidarity), or 2) middle-class or upper-class professionals with private-sector, non-affirmative-action careers.

Anonymous said...

active/retired military (although when Obama came on the scene many black servicemen reverted to tribal solidarity)


Have you seen any hard figures on that, or is it more anecdotal?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

when Obama came on the scene many black servicemen reverted to tribal solidarity


Have you seen any hard figures on that [i.e. on their having switched allegiances], or is it more like anecdotal observations on your part?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Golf is not a sport. It's like playing fetch with a dog except you go get the ball. How dumb is that?

slumber_j said...

My grandfather was a member at Crystal Downs and had a house just off one of the fairways. That was an amazingly beautiful place to play golf. I don't even much like playing golf, and yet I find myself reminiscing about that course from time to time.

Anonymous said...

"Poor urban African-Americans hate servile work, so is the resort, assuming it ever gets any guests, going to have to bring in immigrants to be maids?"

The question doesn't even need to be asked anymore.


"And who are the target customers? Judging by the models in the ads, they're aiming for a half black clientele."

Call those ads the "Negro Insertion Point," as someone here once referred to it.

Also, their project is dispacing blacks. Gotta pretend they're not.

Also, they're getting state and federal grant money. Gotta please Obama and various federal bureaucrats.

mr_evergreen said...

"I grew up in Benton Harbor. The black underclass drove out whites in that city in a period of two to three decades. A few years ago I took a drive down memory lane; the city was mess. I had to laugh when I saw the golf course going up. My first thought was, who was making all the money from that deal?"

You mean like when Blacks were being driven out of White areas during the nadir of race relations(sometime starting in 1890)?

Noah172 said...

Have you seen any hard figures on that [i.e. on their having switched allegiances], or is it more like anecdotal observations on your part?

A little of both. I recently wrapped up military service and saw the phenomenon myself. The Army Times had a story or two about it; no quantification on black servicemen switching parties but still something noticeable. Bottom line is that McCain got 4 --count 'em -- percent of the AA vote (vs. 11 for Bush '04) so there can't have been any subset of blacks in which McCain performed strongly, even considering his party's usual performance.

Anonymous said...

"You mean like when Blacks were being driven out of White areas during the nadir of race relations(sometime starting in 1890)?"

Immigration has never been kind to black has it?