Photos by Nate Miller
Los Angeles has a budget shortfall of $216 million. We literally crowdsourced budget-cut ideas. We, with our car culture, have the worst roads in America according to AASHTO, and we can’t scrounge up enough money to even start fixing them. Among US cities, we’re the ones in the neighborhood with the dead lawn and the broken Power Wheels in the driveway.
In other words, time for a garage sale.
You don’t tend to get judgmental when your neighbor has a garage sale once (gated-community douchebags aside), but the guy down the street who has been carting out the same items every Saturday morning for a year? That’s LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa trying to privatize his zoo and convention center before the end of his term in July.
But what else was I doing with my Saturday morning? I woke up early and scoped it out. If your pockets are jingling, you should check out these bargains, too!
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
"The sellers say you don't need any special knowledge to run a zoo. What you need is a lot of heart." - Ben Mee (Matt Damon), We Bought a Zoo (2011)
I asked an employee named Nick a lot of questions about gorillas, and he was pretty sharp, which makes me feel like Matt Damon was wrong. Nick also told me his job didn't have benefits. Good sign, potential buyers. But then he said it was a part-time job. As city employees, the full-time staff have the kind of cushy benefits packages bargain shoppers like you and me can't afford.
Down in San Diego, my understanding is that their zoo has a private labor force, but that they're all in Teamsters Local 481. If the zoo employees become teamsters, and they end up striking, who keeps the monsters in their cages? Does the buyer end up responsible for unleashing a Jumanji situation on the community?
Villaraigosa thinks the private owners would do a better job of making money off the zoo, and he's probably right. They're not exactly raking in the merch money with sales pitches like this one that I sincerely heard for plush animals: "Bring some meaning into your life with a monkey, a snake, or an alligator!" And they have people passing out Raisin Bran-commercial-style scoops of kettle corn (or as the kids at the zoo call it: "ammunition") for free, rather than making like Krispy Kreme and pumping the aroma into everyone's faces.
The competition for this item is Connie Morgan of GLAZA (Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association), who's currently pulling that garage-sale move where you pretend you're willing to walk away even though you want it. In the past few years, she's already started selling off parts of the zoo with the city's blessing. Villaraigosa really wants GLAZA to own this thing. His people even said so:
“We are working on building our partnership with GLAZA. This enhanced partnership is needed now more than ever in light of Measure A's defeat,” they said in a statement they prepared when I called to ask about the condition of the place. Measure A was a sales tax increase we voted down, maybe because they said it was going to fund public safety, not a fucking zoo!
GLAZA’s Connie Morgan is not the visionary wheeler-dealer she looks like though. The bridge into the Orangutan enclosure says it belongs to the "Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust." How perpetual are we talking? Because I'm having visions of "The Alice C. Tyler and UFC® Orangutan Octagon."
I'm also positive I could improve the overall customer experience without much brainstorming. The "LAIR" exhibit, which is full of a bunch of reptiles and amphibians, doesn't even have AC. It's like a sauna in there. The lizards are so tired from heat exhaustion that they barely move. I would close it for a while and reopen it as "LAIR Conditioning" to everyone's relief.
I asked them to throw in the botanical gardens with this item, but they wouldn't go for it. They're looking to still partially control the zoo after they privatize it, and they expect the new buyer not to try and make a profit.
Haggling suggestion: Say you own your own truck and offer to take animals for free. Leave facilities behind.
The Los Angeles Convention Center
If you’re considering buying a convention center at all, please jump on this. Your competition is this guy, Philip Anschutz, of the concert-promotion juggernaut AEG who wants to buy it and turn it into some kind of gigantic retail and sports mecca, built around a giant statue of Guy Fieri, lit by the glow from dozens more Jumbotrons, all to distract us from his (real) ongoing legal feud with the estate of Michael Jackson.
Anschutz and AEG are like those garage sale guys who show up and don’t turn off the music in their trucks while they look around (You know what I mean, if you’ve ever been to L.A. Live), and if his deal really is the one the city is considering, there’s not much time. “This process should be completed by May,” Villaraigosa’s spokespeople told me in their statement.
As for me, along with my lawn-jockey collection, I would place this in the category Things I Never Would Have Shopped for, If Someone Weren't Letting Them Go for Cheap.
I was worried this item at the sale would not be available for me to peruse since it was closed and no one was inside, but I tried a side door, and it was propped open with a folded-up piece of paper. Thank God.
Once I was alone in this giant empty space and the door shut behind me, the only interruption to the total silence was a very distant tapping-on-sheet-metal sound somewhere over my head, which I realized was birds. It was hot in there, like LAIR hot. Sure, that might be because cooling 720,000 square feet takes an awful lot of BTUs, but they need to understand that potential buyers are coming.
They were mostly done cleaning up after AdultCon 2013, which crosses my first improvement—"Put porn in it"—off my list. Looks like they beat me to my second one as well: "Put a Starbucks in it." Other than the one closed Starbucks, there's no sign of commerce in the convention center during downtime. As a private owner, even if you can't keep it packed seven days a week, you’ll have plenty of time to use it for band practice.
But hope isn’t lost for profitability. You could try having fewer career expos in here. A career expo will always be full of deadbeats and freeloaders who'll pack a lunch and scrimp on parking. More boat shows and classic-car auctions would be a start. Or how about a convention for something of the moment and trending, like a gay-wedding expo? I'm just spitballing.
Haggling suggestion: tell the owner you'll trade him straight up for an iPhone 4GS that's never been out of its case.
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