Saturday, March 04, 2017

Torres Fest

Krewe D'Etat float depicting "serial entrepreneur" and potential mayoral candidate Sidney Torres as a "Chalmatian" dalmatian. 

It's a celebration of all things Sidney at the Advocate this week. On Day One we were awed by the "dashing derring-do."
As Sidney Torres IV — sheathed in black, sunglasses on, hair slicked into a tidy man-bun — strode along Royal Street on a recent sunny afternoon, the driver of a passing mule-drawn carriage spotted him.

“There goes our next mayor,” the driver announced to his load of bewildered tourists.
Torres didn’t break stride. Such shout-outs are not uncommon.

A self-described “serial entrepreneur” and scion of a powerful St. Bernard Parish family, Torres made millions redeveloping houses and hotels and hauling trash. He also made headlines launching an app and a private patrol to combat crime in the French Quarter.

Along the way, he’s promoted himself and his dashing, derring-do attitude as aggressively as his various enterprises. His next campaign aims to replicate his local notoriety nationwide.
What follows there is a rather flattering recap of Torres' career beginning with his being born into St. Bernard.. uh.. royalty, going off on a youthful rumspringa with Lenny Kravitz, and his coming home to parlay his family privilege into personal fortune.  It finally all came together for him when his  grandmother co-signed a loan allowing him to flip his first house.  In Torres-speak, this qualifies as "self-made" wealth.

Day One concludes with the obligatory speculation about Sidney's political ambitions. Will he run for mayor? He's gonna leave us hagning as long as he can. He's got "a great team of people," working on that question. It sounds here like it may come down to whether or not he can buy any other candidates.
“Honestly, I will not decide until probably 10 minutes before qualifying closes,” he said last week. Meanwhile, he has “put together a great team of people” to lay out “what I think needs to happen with the city as far as education, crime, roads.

“It’s not cheap," he said. "If I don’t run, I’m serious about being heavily involved with somebody who will carry out the ideas and thoughts that I have. My preference is really to find someone that I could work with. But there’s nobody out there.”
Incidentally, who is on Sidney's "great team of people," anyway?  Does anyone know?
Surely some of them would have been on hand to talk with on Day Two of Torres Fest when the featured entertainment was the premiere of Sid's reality TV show about, yep, real estate flipping.  The setting for the evening was eerily appropriate.
Torres hosted the party at The Monastery, a former Carmelite monastery in the 1200 block of North Rampart Street in the French Quarter that he bought in 2016. Guests, including his mother, Earline Torres, his grandmother, Lena Torres, and entertainer Chris Owens, watched a live feed from the CNBC broadcast on a theater-size screen set up for that purpose.
Is there anything more perfect than a deconsecrated holy ground for gathering the ghouls together to watch a show that dares to tell the story of gentrification from the vampire's perspective?  The cadaverous presence of Chris Owens is probably a step too far, really.
The first of four hour-long episodes of "The Deed" to feature Torres centered on his dealings with Nicole Webre. Webre bought a former bakery in the Irish Channel, tore it down and subdivided the plot into individual lots, intending to build upscale homes on each and sell them. She borrowed money from her parents, in addition to taking out loans.

When the lots and the first two houses she built on the site didn't sell, she found herself overextended and unable to keep up with her monthly payments.

Producers of the show selected her for Torres as an investment client. One of the premises of "The Deed" is that he must loan his own money, but then earns a piece of the project's profits, if any materialize.
I hope it's not spoiling anything to assume that Nicole (and Sidney) come out OK in this deal.  But how can they not? Anything in such close proximity to "the culture" is primo-short term rental material.  For example, here is an article about a study released by the New York based Inside Airbnb last week. What was found there doesn't translate directly to New Orleans, but this pattern looked familiar.
It’s mostly white residents cashing in as Airbnb hosts in the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods, according to a new report by a watchdog website.

Using host photographs, Inside Airbnb determined that across 72 mostly African-American neighborhoods, the Airbnb host population is 74% white — compared to just a 13.9% overall white population in those neighborhoods.

They estimate that white Airbnb hosts in black neighborhoods earned $159.7 million, compared to $48.3 million for black hosts.

“It’s clear that it’s a racial gentrification tool,” said Inside Airbnb founder Murray Cox. “They’ve been using people of color and black faces in their marketing and lobbying campaign, but they’re not fundamentally the people who are using it.”

I thought about this on Mardi Gras morning when we walked over to see the Wild Magnolias come out to sing Indian Red at the Sportsman's Corner.

Wild Magnolias at Sportsman's Corner

Central City is a heavily active parading ground for Indians as well as for second lining organizations year round. And, thanks in no small part to the growth of Airbnb and "authenticity" tourism, it is fast becoming a neighborhood where nobody actually lives. What does it mean for these community-based expressions of folk culture when their community setting no longer exists?  The day may come when it falls to Sidney Torres and his "great team of people" to solve such existential cultural and economic problems for us.  How might that go, one wonders.

On Day Three of Torres Fest, Stephanie Grace wrote a column about the mayor's race using Sidney as a framing device. Her conclusion about Torres' week in media: "But hey, when you're trying to keep your brand out there, there's no such thing as bad publicity." In that case, we'd better get used it. There's likely plenty more bad publicity to come.

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