Interviewee: Kenneth Randol McGurn
Interviewer: Joe Rose
Date: April 11, 1989
R: This is Joe Rose conducting an interview with Gainesville downtown redeveloper
Kenneth Randol McGurn. We are in his office at McGurn Investment Co., inside
the Sun Center, at 101 S.E. 2nd Place. Today is April 11, 1989. This interview
is for a project dealing with growth, development, and the environment conducted
for the University of Florida Oral History Archives. Ken McGurn's background
involves taking distressed and problem real estate and turning it into productive
assets. He and his wife Linda own or control more than $30 million in real
estate, which encompasses residential, commercial, and parking space. Mr.
McGurn obtained an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Real Estate and Urban Land Planning
from the University of Florida and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi National Honor
Society. He is a director of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, publisher of
The Business Journal, and extremely involved with the arts in Gainesville. He
has won numerous city, county, and national awards for his design, renovation,
and beautification of downtown Gainesville. Let us begin this morning with a few
biographical questions. Would you state for us your full name?
M: Kenneth Randol McGurn.
R: Where and when were you born?
M: I was born September 25, 1945, in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
R: How long did you live in Missouri, and when did you move to Florida?
M: A little less than two years. Then we moved to the University of Florida in
Gainesville, when my father enrolled in the University back in 1947.
R: He came to school here at the University?
R: What was he majoring in?
M: Civil engineering and public administration. He then became a city manager.
Subsequently, he got tired of the politics and went into civil engineering.
R: Are your parents still living in Florida?
M: They are living in Daytona Beach.
R: What is your father's name?
M: Maynard Thomas McGurn. My mother's name is Cynthia Maydeen Randol
R: So you basically lived in Gainesville all your life, except for those two years.
M: Oh, no. My father was a city manager, and city managers last an average of
two to four years in each job. So I got used to moving around every two and
one-half to three years.
R: Where are some of the places you have lived?
M: Most of them have been in Florida: from Haines City, to Tarpon Springs, to
Opa-Locka (near Miami), and finally Daytona Beach. Daytona was the last
place before I joined the army in 1963.
R: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
M: Two brothers: one older, one younger.
R: Do they live in this area, too?
M: The younger one lives in Daytona Beach, and the older one lives around
Charlotte, North Carolina.
R: You mentioned to me the other day that one of your brothers had worked for
UPS [United Parcel Service]. What are their occupations now?
M: My younger brother works for the city of Daytona Beach in the water treatment
plant. I do not know what my older brother does; he is a frustrated genius.
When he graduated from high school, he graduated tops in the class on his
placement exams. When he went into the service, he won top honors. They
sent him to one language school and then another language school. He had
eighteen months of Russian and picked up German on the side, and the guy
cannot hold a job or he does not want to hold a job because he thinks that
the world is stupid and that he does not have to work for people who are stupid.
R: Is he the one you were telling me about that worked for UPS? He did the
planning for them and they would not listen?
R: I can very much relate to him maybe not for being a genius, but for trying to
speak to management in UPS.
M: He comes up with great ideas, and people just do not want to hear them.
R: You said you joined the military in 1963. I read that you graduated from high
school one year early. How old were you at that time?
M: I was sixteen when I graduated from high school. I skipped the eleventh grade.
It was pure accident. I went to summer school one time, and when I came in to
register for eleventh grade, my card was not there it was with the senior cards.
They said I had enough credits to graduate if I just went to summer school one
more time. So I became not a junior but a senior. I was a fifteen-year-old
senior in a class of eighteen-year-old seniors. A lot of people were eighteen, but
most of them seventeen, and there is a big difference between people who are
fifteen and people who are seventeen or eighteen. I could no longer play
football because I was too small to compete with the eighteen year olds. I
graduated when I was sixteen and went on to college. I turned eighteen on
September 25th, and one week later I joined the army and went off to new
R: We will get to some of those. On your resume I noticed you went to college for
one year before you joined the military. Was that here at the University of
M: Daytona Beach Junior College.
R: Did you have any idea at that time what some of your goals were going to be as
far as school or anything like that was concerned?
M: No, just whichever way the wind was blowing. Actually, it is amazing. When I
was in college I did take some architecture courses. I was going in that direction
because I had worked back in the early 1960s as a draftsman for an engineering
company drawing missile parts. I switched over from mechanical drafting to
architectural drafting. I have my drawing board in the other office, and I still use
those same basic skills for drawing plans. I do not do that as a rule, but I have
to do some of it. I was here last night at ten o'clock drawing a wall section
because the architect was too busy, and I have to have it done for my
R: You joined the military in 1963. Why did you choose to join at that time? I
mean, we were already in the Vietnam War, although maybe not as much as we
would be later.
M: Actually, no. In 1963 nobody had even heard about Vietnam. I remember
reading a Beetle Bailey comic strip several years later: Lieutenant Fuzz got his
orders, and with this big, blank stare on his face he asked, "Where is Vietnam?"
Nobody knew where Vietnam was. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I
had just gotten married, and it looked like the best way to further my education
was the military; that would pay my way to school. They would send me to a
technical school, and the GI Bill was there. Of course, there were allowances
when you got married that would help pay all this stuff, and in twenty years you
could retire. It looked like a pretty good program. That is why I joined:
R: Your resume states that you made captain by age twenty-two. That appears to
be about four years after you went in. What got you onto the officer track?
M: Well, I went to school. The army sent me to Morse intercept operator school
and a few of the other schools where they teach you to intercept communications
and to analyze enemy communications traffic. Because they sent me to school,
I had to go to some duty station, and I ended up with orders to Okinawa. But at
the last minute they looked for volunteers to go to Vietnam. That is where that
comic strip comes in; everybody said, "Where's Vietnam?" We were told, "Well,
that is where you can make buck sergeant as soon as you get over there. They
come through with these blanket promotions and promote everybody." That
sounded wonderful. It was a hardship tour and I had to go without my family,
but I could get promoted really quickly. Then when I got promoted, the army
would take my family everyplace and pay for that. Again, it was economics. I
raised my hand and said, "I will volunteer to go." They sent me to another
school and then to Vietnam.
I had qualified on the entrance exams in the army for Officer Candidate School.
So once I was in a unit in Vietnam, I put in my papers to go to another school,
this time Officer Candidate School. That was it; I was looking for schools.
Every time they said, "Volunteer for Vietnam and we will send you to another
school, plus you get these promotions," I raised my hand. OCS (Officer
Candidate School) was another school; I raised my hand. Unfortunately, when I
was in Vietnam, I was out in the boonies a lot. I would put my application in and
one of the t's would not be crossed, so the application would be sent back. I
was out in the field and would not get it until a month later. It took me eleven
months and a few days to get accepted and leave. There were some other
people in my unit who left relatively quickly. The company clerk was one. He
put his application in, and he was gone in four months. Because I was out in the
field all of the time and could not get my application corrected and back in, it was
not until January 1966 that I finally went to OCS. I spent all of 1965 in Vietnam.
R: And that was only at the beginning of the fighting?
M: When I got to Vietnam, there were approximately 23,000 Americans in the entire
country. When I left, there were about 186,000. There was no combat pay.
Well, there was combat pay in the countryside, but not in the cities, so we would
go out in the countryside and draw combat pay. Inside the cities we were not
allowed to wear our fatigues; we wore civilian clothes but had to carry an M-14
rifle along with us. There were places I went where they had never seen an
American. So that was interesting, especially for an impressionable person at
the age of nineteen.
It was exiting and interesting when people shot at you and you shot back. You
did not see anybody and they did not see you, so it was kind of an impersonal
war. I got to do things I never dreamed of doing: walking through rice paddies,
touring around the country in helicopters, listening in on General William
Westmoreland's and General William DePuy's telephone conversations. That
was great fun. I went to Hong Kong and quite a few places.
About the middle of the year was when they had the big build-up. We went from
23,000 Americans to 186,000-plus troops when I left, so it was a big cultural
shock. I went through five coups. I was in Saigon when they had the coup
when [Air Vice-Marshal Nguyen Cao] Ky got in. I was inside the Vietnamese
military compound on several of these coups. We had an intercept site where
we were intercepting "bad guy" information and communications. We had to
have a very secure compound, so they put our compound inside the Vietnamese
military high command compound. Every time they had a coup, the high
command compound would get strafed or the tanks would roll in. We had to
defend ourselves from the South Vietnamese. Fortunately, the times I was there
we never had any real problems. We had some gunfire, but we had a very small
perimeter, and it never got serious. But we had to sit out by the trucks all night
long waiting to see who was going to shoot us, the "good guys" or the "bad
guys." It was interesting to find out you could get shot by your own troops, the
South Vietnamese. Of course, when I left there were 186,000 troops, and it
eventually got to more than half a million. I was there during the early times.
R: You mentioned intercepting some of General Westmoreland's and other's
messages and listening to them. Was this a result of going to schools?
M: Yes. Morse intercept school was where we learned to intercept Morse code.
Most of the countries at that time were using Morse code in the their
communication systems. We intercepted their messages and gave them to a
traffic analyst to figure out who was sending information to whom and what they
were saying. That way we could figure out the troop movements. In addition to
that, we also monitored our own troop communications to make sure that our
troops were not giving away military information the VC [Viet Cong] could use.
I remember one time when General DePuy got on the phone. I was sitting in my
little hut drinking my warm Coca-Cola in 110-degree temperature. We did not
have air conditioning at that time, and we drank our Coke hot; 7-Up tastes better
hot than Coke does. It is amazing the things you learn. Of course, that was
about nine months into the tour. When I first got there, they had only green tea,
coffee, or water to drink. And you were afraid to drink the water; at least the tea
and coffee had been boiled. When we finally got Cokes and that kind of stuff,
you drank that because you did not want to drink the water. I had dysentery
once a month as regular as clockwork--every time I came back to Saigon and ate
in the mess hall. When I ate out in the Vietnamese places it was okay, but when
I came back and ate in our mess hall, I thought the VC had messed with our
I intercepted a phone call between DePuy and Westmoreland which was about
moving a couple of ranger battalions up to Pleiku. The Vietnamese were
manning the phone switchboard, and DePuy was just giving away all the plans
for moving all the American and Vietnamese troops. At the time there were not
that many American troops, so the VC could tell exactly what we were doing
simply by listening to our phone calls. I would write this up and call my
commanding officer, and he would run down to Westmoreland's office and say,
"You cannot do this. You have to be careful." That is what got a lot of
Americans killed. Some guy would get on the phone and say, "We are going to
make a run into Saigon to the PX to pick up some beer. What time do you
close?" "We close at six." "Okay. We will leave out of here at four, and we
will be there about five to pick up the beer." The VC would listen to that and set
up an ambush and wipe them out -just because someone talked about it on the
radio. They did that all the time.
R: What did you do after the officer school? Where did you go from there?
M: I left Vietnam and went to Officer Candidate School Fort Benning Infantry
School--so, I trained as an infantry officer and platoon leader. From there I went
to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to the army security agency that was, again, a
communications intercept-type company in support of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Naturally, they said, "82nd Airborne Division? School." So I got another
school. I went back to Fort Benning for paratrooper school and became a
That was an interesting time, too. When I first got to my unit, before I got to
jump school they took me around to meet the people I would be supporting in the
82nd Airborne Division. We would walk in, and I would get introduced to the XO
(executive officer) or somebody like that. They took one look at me and ignored
me completely, and I could not figure out why. We had made about three stops,
and I turned to the guy who was taking me around and said, "It is nice to be
introduced, but these guys are just really unfriendly. Why are they ignoring
me?" He said, "Well, they know who you are. What you need to do is come
back here when you get those paratrooper wings. You are a non-person until
you are a paratrooper to these people." Being a paratrooper was a big deal.
R: I have heard that, especially among that group.
M: Yes. You get to wear your boots a certain way and all that. I had him start
introducing me as "Lt. McGurn, who is leaving for paratrooper school next week."
That helped; then I became somebody who was at least acceptable.
So I went to paratrooper school and stayed in support of the 82nd for a year or
two. I made several jumps with them, including a mass troop jump just off of
Vieques Island in which 10 percent of our troops were injured. This was down in
Puerto Rico. You exited the airplane with full equipment and everything. I
looked down, and all I could see was ocean. I said, "Somebody screwed up!" I
turned around, and the land was behind me. The wind was so bad it blew me
half way across the island. That was an experience, a big experience, but it was
good. It is good training for some people. I jumped out of a C-5A as a test
troop, and I jumped choppers, a jet, which was a C-141, but mostly I jumped out
My first jump after jump school was at night. I said I had never jumped at night,
and they said not to worry about it. "Just close your eyes. It will be just like a
normal jump." There was a lot of camaraderie among paratroopers. Since I
had been an enlisted man, I had a little bit more rapport with the troops than most
of the other officers, because they came out of ROTC or law school and had
never been in the field.
Later we were assigned to support the 101st Airborne Division before they went
to Europe. In fact, my battalion got kicked off a field exercise because of me.
We played war games good guy, bad guy. The 101st had three brigades; they
put one brigade as a bad guy and two brigades as good guys. I was supporting
one of the good-guy brigades, and we were monitoring the bad-guy
communications. Every time those guys would do anything, they would talk
about it on the radio. Then I would go tell my brigade commander, "These guys
are getting ready to march down the road 200 yards and attack your flank." So
he would move his troops, wait for them, and ambush them. This was upsetting
the division commander to no end. His troops were not getting training in being
attacked because we were tipping them off about the enemy's movements. But
instead of correcting the situation and slapping his division operations officer for
poor radio security, they said, "Lt. McGurn is ruining our field problem. So he
ordered me to turn off my radios. I turned my radios off, all right, but only for
about five minutes. Then I turned them back on and kept up with what was
Two days later they said, "Okay. You can turn your radios back on." We
immediately began feeding intelligence back into the brigade commander, and he
immediately started wiping out the bad guy again. The CO [commanding officer]
got so upset he said, "You guys quit this. Turn your radios off again." About
that time my commander from Ft. Bragg we were in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky -
came out and said, "Hey, McGurn is doing a great job. If you do not like the way
we are doing it, we are leaving." We created such a stink, and we pulled our
whole battalion out and left. Those guys from the 101st went to Vietnam and
ran into the same things with the VC that I was doing. Because of the stupidity
of the commanders, lot of our own people were killed.
R: That goes to the larger issue that we were talking about the other day: something
is not working right, but we look to the wrong source to fix it.
R: We will get to that a little later, I hope. I read that you also were involved in
covert spying and that sort of thing while you were in the military.
M: I had been at Ft. Bragg for a while and got promoted to first lieutenant. Oh, I
went to jungle school. They said "school," and I was volunteering for any
school. I volunteered for ranger school, but they had too many people wanting
to go to that, so I went to jungle school down in the Panama Canal Zone. I
made first "lieuy" [lieutenant] while I was down there. That was an experience.
There were thousands of miles of jungle, I had a four-man team, and we were on
our own. You found your way, or you got lost. They lost people, and people
got eaten by piranha. This was real stuff. My team out-thought everybody else.
It was a great experience.
I have to tell you one story. There was a map reading course as part of this
school. They had these stakes set out, and you had to go out, get the
information off the stakes, and come back in. They dropped us off at 6:00 in the
evening. There was a road that paralleled the river, and you had to go in
probably a mile along your set course compass reading X-number of feet, find
your stake, and come back out to the road to get picked up. This was all
designed to take until about 3:00 in the morning. The road paralleled the river,
and three-quarters of the couse was pure swamp. It was in the jungle of the
Canal Zone; there were swamps with alligators and snakes, and it was dark. It
was not a nice area.
I looked at the instructions and drew a diagram on the ground, and I said, "Wait a
minute. The angle at which we are going in is about a thirty-degree angle, and
we have to traverse probably six- or seven-tenths of a mile through some terrible
terrain. Yet the course to come back out is a sixty-degree angle. Now, a
thirty/sixty-degree angle means it is a ninety-degree angle from the road." Using
some of the one year of college I had had, I sat down and figured the right
triangle, figured the distance, and deduced it was only three-tenths of a mile from
the road to that stake. So we all trooped down the road my team was the only
team to do this and ran the whole course backwards. I dropped down all my
equipment instead of carrying it. We had guns, bazookas, and all that garbage.
We dropped one guy by the road to guard all the equipment. We went straight
into the jungle and discovered that that was the driest route. We found our post
and went straight back out.
Less than a third of the people in the group actually hit their target, because they
were going in at an angle, and there were a lot of different posts each team had
a different post. They put the posts about two hundred feet apart, and if you go
in at an angle for that distance, if you moved ten feet over you would walk right
by your post into the next guy's post. So we were one of the few to actually get
the target and come back, and we were there in record time. We got to sleep for
a couple of hours, but nobody else did. That was nice. We were able to do that
because I sat down and thought through the problem first.
From jungle school I went back to Ft. Bragg, and they asked for volunteers for
another school nine months this time to learn to be a code breaker. This
was actually physically breaking codes and supervising people who are traffic
analysts people who analyze the communications. Of course, my hand went
up, and off I went. This was about the time I made captain. I made captain in
record time. I spent the minimum time in grade for a first lieutenant and the
minimum time for captain, because I was in the right place at the right time, I
guess. I became a captain at the tender age of twenty-two. At the time I think I
was one of the youngest captains in the army. I had experience, so they sent
me to this great school. I was the youngest officer in the class. The class was
made up of marine, navy, and army officers. The other army officer was a
major, and he was about ten years my senior. So it was an elitist group, which
was great for my ego. We learned all about Soviet radar, the different types of
radar and the characteristics of it, how to break all different types of codes the
codes we were breaking and what countries used them.
About that time the [navy intelligence] ship U.S.S. Pueblo was captured by the
North Koreans [Jan. 23, 1968], and that ship did the same type of work that I did
in the army. The majority of people in my class were navy people and knew
Commander [Lloyd M.] Bucher personally, so we followed that story very closely.
I got a lot of personal feedback because these people knew this person and his
personality, and they knew some of the things that went on that he probably
thought about. The whole purpose of the Pueblo was communications
Some of the ships had safes where they had all the secret code words and all
that stuff. One particular story is that the navy's version of the IG [inspector
general] came down, and an intercept officer had rigged thermate grenades we
had them to destroy classified documents. You have to burn documents in the
event you are captured. He had rigged them to look like dynamite, with all these
wires running out of the safe. The IG came walking in and wanted to know what
was in that section of the ship. "That is a big secret. We cannot tell anyone,"
said the intercept officer. He then added, "This is a self-destruct mechanism."
The whole safe was all wired with these thermate grenades, and the inspector
general immediately left the ship because he was afraid this crazy guy was going
to blow up the ship.
I went to code-breaking school for nine months. With that training, they sent me
to Europe, to the headquarters for the Army Security Agency. I was the
compartmental projects officer for communications intercept for all of Europe.
We had these secret programs that deal with communications and wars and
certain things we were doing: state-of-the-art intercepting, breaking Soviet,
Czechoslovakian, and other codes, and stuff like that. You have to limit who
gets this information and who coordinates it. I was the headquarters
coordinating officer for all those projects, so I got an inside view as to some of
the things that were going on. That lasted a year.
Then I was given command of a special intelligence project, which was a plane
that flew up and down the German-Czech. border intercepting radar and voice
communications. We had three voice-intercept operators who monitored
German, Czechoslovakian, and Russian communications, and we intercepted all
different types of radar. We would get the plane up at high altitude to peek over
the horizon and intercept radars that were not visible to the intercept stations on
the ground. This is all necessary. In case you want to penetrate their airspace,
you have to know where their radar is located, what type it is, what frequency
they are operating on, and so on.
It was exciting, too. The Russians had this little game they played when we
were sitting there intercepting their radar. Your operator can tell what type of
radar they had. Some radars just identify you and what kind of target you are,
but some are actually target acquisition radars, which were used on the jets or on
the SAM missiles. If you watch the movies, you can hear in the cockpit a buzzer
that will go to a solid buzz when the pilot's equipment tells him that the radar is
locked onto him. Well, twenty years ago when we were doing this,
sophistication was not that good. We had an operator listening to their radar
pinging off our plane, and you could hear the different types of radar. There
were ones that would sweep. Target acquisition radar was like that: it came in
at a very steady tone on his earphone, and he could tell when he was being
targeted by a bad guy.
So we were flying along the border, and our intercept operator said we had just
been picked up "A target acquisition has got us." Ping! Ping! "He has us!"
Then the guy next door says, "We have a Russian in a MIG requesting
permission to shoot us down." We had voice intercept and radar intercept, so
one guy was saying radar was locked onto us, and the other guy says the pilot is
requesting permission to shoot us down. In our position we could actually track
Soviet aircraft; you could see this MIG coming at you at Mach 2, and our plane
was flying at probably 150 knots. Our guy is screaming to the pilot, "Dive!
Dive!" and the pilot is saying, "What are you talking about? I am only at 1,000
feet. There is no place to dive to!" The MIG would come across the border and
fly straight at us, and we were just sitting ducks. They would buzz us and go
back over to the other side. They were not supposed to do that. That
happened to me only once. Usually they would come right up to the border and
The British would penetrate the border up in the their sector all the time, just
trying to get the Russian's goat. What that did was activate all those radars.
The bad guys would keep their radars quiet until something funny happened, like
a British border penetration, and then they would activate them. That was great
for all of us intercept operators. We could figure out what frequency they were
on and where they were located, and it was wonderful. But our side was not
allowed to do that. The British did it on a regular basis, and it was great fun
when they did.
In the North Sea, one of our planes, a C-130 intercept-type platform flying along
the Soviet coast, was shot down. It was following a ground-base beacon. The
Russians put another one close to it, a more powerful signal, that drew the plane
off course. If it were off five degrees, it would go over the border, and they
would shoot us down even if we crossed over by accident. They shot down
several intercept planes. So there was a bit of excitement in that.
There was something else interesting I did while I was there. There was a
command center office, and I was on duty the night the Russians invaded
Czechoslovakia. I was there when we intercepted the messages when the
Russians started coming across the border into Czechoslovakia. As a matter of
fact, we received that information not from our intercept sources, but from
Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. A reporter on the ground near the border
had picked up a telephone and called his AP [Associated Press] office back in
the United States and said, "The Russians are crossing the border." That
reporter's newspaper office picked up the telephone and called the air force to
ask what they knew about it. The air force said they did not know anything
about it, so they called us and asked us what we knew about it. By that time
there was enough activity going on with bombers in the air that we began to track
stuff, so we sent the messages back to the White House saying, "The Russians
are coming! The Russians are coming!" That was exciting. That was a long
R: From something you said the other day, I get the impression that it is a serious
game sometimes. You were talking about the fact that as a military attache you
are actually a legalized spy, and they know that is what you are there for. Of
course, they have their spies doing the same thing.
M: It used to be more serious than it is now, but we have had American officers get
shot. By the way, I was not a military attache. A military attache theoretically
has complete access to go anyplace he wants to inside East Germany. That is
part of his credentials.
R: In theory.
M: Well, there are restrictions. One, there are restricted military operations where
you cannot go. We keep track of their attache aides. They have special license
tags, and we follow them around. If you ever see one of those license tags, you
are supposed to report where they are located. They do the same thing. It is a
lot of fun. You are over on their side taking pictures, and it is great. But if you
step over the line into where you are not supposed to be, sometimes they warn
you, sometimes they do not sometimes they shoot. We have had a couple of
attaches killed. So, yes, it is fun and games, and it is interesting and exciting to
be a spy and do these things, but you could get killed. They do it, we do it, and
we all know we do it.
My older brother was a Russian language intercept operator. My younger
brother went in to the military, and he was a Russian teletype operator. I
eventually got to supervise all these things and got around to see all this. We
had an intercept station in Herzogenaurach, West Germany. To show you that
the Russians know exactly what is going on, you go into one of these rooms
where we have all these teletype machines just clacking away, and it is picking
up garbage. It is garbage because it is all in code. We take that stuff and try to
decode it. This whole room is just clacking away. One of the duty sergeants
was in there at 2:00 in the morning, and clack! clack! clack! clack! clack! Then,
all of a sudden, the noise stopped, and it got really quiet. The guy tried to figure
out what was wrong. The power was on. Then, all of a sudden, one of the
machines in the corner started up again, a little slower. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
He walked over and looked, and it said, "Happy birthday, Sergeant So-and-so!"
And then all the clacking started up again. The Russians knew exactly what we
were doing, who we were, and the whole business.
To follow up, we did something similar to that. We my troops had a sergeant
they did not like. They diverted the signals. I will not say they stopped them,
but they diverted the signals, so the room got quiet. They had heard about what
the Soviets had done. They did this: "Sergeant So-and-so, tonight you die!"
Then they started the machines back up.
While I was in Europe commanding that spy plane, one of the last things that
happened to me was I was relieved of my command. I was one of those
boat-rockers. We were just trying to do our job. They put people into this outfit
of mine who did not fit in; this was a way to get rid of some of the riffraff and free
thinkers. We got along great, because I was a free thinker, a captain, airborne,
jungle expert, Vietnam vet, but I was still not the same mold as some of the
"lifers" (people making a career out of the military). I remember my clerk/typist
was a black guy from Washington, and he had much more education than I had.
I would write letters and messages, and he would come back and have the
audacity to change them. Well, that is what got him shipped to my outfit. His
former boss did not like his doing that, but I thought it was great. The guy was a
fantastic writer. I would write the letters, and he would rewrite them and correct
my spelling. We had a great outfit, but a bit unorthodox.
People who have been in the army for a while get complacent and do not do their
jobs. They do not support people. They like to sit in bars and drink, and not go
to work. I raised my hand a couple of times and said this was bad. I would say,
"I am trying to do a job down here, and you guys will not support me." That is
okay for a captain to say about a lieutenant, but it is not really good for a captain
to say about a colonel. So we were going through this hassle. I was raising a
stink, but I did not think it was a big deal. I was just pointing out that we were
not getting the support necessary to do our job. My detachment had thirty
people in it. I had seven civilians working for me, including tech reps from the
U.S. It was a state-of-the-art airplane, and we had the only one like it in the
Well, all of a sudden, one day I had twenty-four men show up at my outfit a
thirty-man detachment to inspect it. Come on! They went over everything.
They walked in the door, and the inspector in charge, a captain, said, "Ken, get
down to the general's office. Now!" That was 200 miles away. Off I went. I
sat there in the officer's quarters waiting.
I guess it was two days later when the general finally called me into his office,
and he told me, "I was going to relieve you of your command, but we are going to
put you in for a medal, because the only thing I get back is, if I fire you and get rid
of you, there is nobody else who can do half of what you are doing. I am going
to put you in for a medal." But he did say, "Be a little bit more diplomatic in your
criticism of higher level officers." So I went back. That was interesting. I still
have not learned that lesson. I still have a tendency to criticize the wrong
R: Is that part of the reason why you decided to resign your commission and leave
M: No, not really. I enjoyed it. My career was going well. I thought I had a good
shot at general some day. I traveled through the Middle East, Europe, Vietnam,
and Hong Kong. It was very educational. I went to all of these schools, and I
was trying to get the military to send me to college. I was going to college at
night, four nights a week. I would work twelve hours, go to school three and a
half hours, study for a couple of hours, and go to bed. Then I would get up and
go to work. I did that four nights a week when I was in Europe, and I did it when
I was at the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland. I took
correspondence courses. If they were offering a school, I said I would go. I
asked them to send me back to college. There were programs that took two
years, and I only needed another year or so. "Send me to a year of college, and
I will stay in for another two years." They said no and gave me orders to go to
Vietnam. However, my commanding officer said, "No, you cannot have him
because he is in too critical a position, running the spy plane." So he got me out
of that. I asked to be sent to Korea; I had never been to Korea. "Or send me to
Bombay, India. I have never been to India. I have been to Vietnam. Send me
someplace new." But Vietnam was in its heyday, so they said, "You are going to
go to Vietnam." The next time around they told my commanding officer, "Get a
replacement. It is McGurn's time."
R: This would have been 1969 or 1970?
M: This was 1970. I told them I did not have to stay in the army. They asked what
I was going to do when I got out. I said I did not know, but I would get out.
They said, "You are going to Vietnam." I said, "No, I am not. I have been
there. Send me to Korea. Send me to Turkey. Let me see some more of the
world. Or send me to school." They said, "No. Vietnam." I said, "Okay.
Bye," and I got out.
So I went from being the head of an elite spy plane detachment, where I went to
conferences in Malta and Crete with the British and coordinated all these secret
spy flights, back to being an undergraduate student. That is like the lowest thing
in the world, right? It was quite a cultural shock. I went back to living in a
trailer. I had put some money in the bank, and I took all that and bought a
twelve-year-old trailer and a piece of land. Then I bought a color TV set
because I never had a color TV, I bought wall-to-wall carpet because I had never
had carpet, and I bought a window air conditioner because I had never had that,
either. I started to go to the College of Journalism here at the University of
Florida, but the business college gave me two extra credits. I needed eighty
credit hours to finish, and that meant it would take four quarters to finish in the
business college. I needed five quarters to finish in the journalism college. So I
ended up in the business college. That is how I got into real estate, by the way.
R: Because you decided to go to business school?
M: No, because I bought the trailer on a piece of land. The following summer I was
out of money. I was in the military reserve, and they had summer training where
I could go to take a school. It was an advanced officer's career course, a spy
school at Ft. Bragg. There was also one in Arizona. I rented out my trailer
while I was gone. I was renting my trailer for so much money that I decided to
keep it rented, and I bought another trailer.
I was married when I was in the army, but I was not married at the time when I
went to Europe. I guess out of the five years that I was married, I was away in
Vietnam, OCS and schools, and hardship tours half of that time, so we got
divorced. I went to Europe single and went to school single. It was while I was
at spy school at Ft. Bragg that I met my wife, Linda. Her brother-in-law was an
instructor and her father was a guest lecturer, and they arranged a blind date for
me. At that school I was taught how to be a counterintelligence agent, which is
similar to the FBI. You follow people around and monitor where they go. Then,
later on, I went to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. That is where they have the
intelligence school (not counterintelligence) where you actually penetrate
borders. I have a picture of me where I was going through a barbed wire mine
field. They teach you about dead drops and safe houses and that kind of thing.
R: To get the chronology here, you were still in the military when you met Linda?
M: No, I was a student at the University, but I was in the reserves. Part of the
reserve training is going to school. You have to keep active, so they have these
schools you go to. Any time they said school, I would raise my hand. I could
have retired from the military reserves if I had stayed with it eleven more years.
I was with the special forces outfit out of Jacksonville, continuing to jump out of
airplanes and wearing a green beret. It was while I was in the reserves taking
summer training at Ft. Bragg that I met Linda.
R: That would have been what year?
M: I got out of the service in 1970, so this would be 1971. I met my wife in July,
and five weeks later I asked her to marry me. Five or six months later, in
January of 1972, we were married, and have been married ever since. She was
nineteen at the time and a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. She was one of the few women. It was a male school, but they
allowed women in the upper two levels. They allowed only a few women in the
lower levels depending upon their scholastic ability.
R: I read somewhere that she had received a full scholarship.
M: A four-year scholarship. She gave that up to marry me. All her friends asked,
"How are you going to live?" Linda told them, "Well, Ken has the GI Bill."
"Where are you going to live?" "He has a trailer." "A trailer? You are going to
live in a trailer?"
R: Did she enter school when you moved back down here?
M: Yes, she came here to the University of Florida, where she switched to the
school of accounting. She went into the graduate program in accountancy, but
she decided she did not care for the theory of accounting. It just did not make
sense to her to get deeply involved in that, so she got her C.P.A. certificate
(certified public accountant) and went to law school. She made the Order of the
Coif, which is the law school's high-ranking scholastic honorary. If you are in the
top x percent of the class, you are chosen for the Order of the Coif.
Both of us worked while we were going to college. We rented my trailer. We
bought another trailer and rented that. We bought a house. We bought
another house and rented that. We would paint the houses, fix the plumbing,
collect the rents, and do all the maintenance and the yards ourselves.
R: So at the time you were still students you started in real estate, renting rental
M: Yes. We were undergraduate students. Oh, I did not tell you about my spying.
Back when I was in the army, during my last tour of duty before I got out I was in
a conference in Crete. I was at a conference to coordinate all of our spy plane
activity with the British. We had two wines at lunch, and there were two waiters
for every officer. I was treated like someone there. I landed on Crete, and
[Archbishop] Makarios, the president of Crete, was shot down the very same day.
That was exciting.
From there I took leave and I went to Egypt (Cairo and Alexandria) and then to
Syria and Lebanon. While I was there I acted, basically, as a legal traveler,
taking notes as to military deployment. This was back in 1970. I noted troop
strengths, tanks, artillery pieces, hidden military installations. I even found a
Lebanese army security agency intercept site. I could recognize artillery
weapons and what they were used for.
When I got to Israel, I checked in with the local CIA, their version, and they
debriefed me and put me up in the King David Hotel. It was exciting to be
actually spying for the Israeli government. It was fun because I had to make
contact with them. How do you make contact with the CIA (their version of the
CIA)? I was in Tel Aviv going to Jerusalem, so they said, "Go to the lobby of the
King David Hotel, and you will be met." I asked how they were going to know
me, and I was told, "He will find you." So I went in the lobby and was sitting
there. The King David Hotel is where [former president Richard M.] Nixon
stayed. I had been on the road in Egypt, so I was a little dusty and had a little bit
of growth of a beard. I was sitting there watching all these rich Americans walk
by trying to pick out who my contact was going to be. Finding me would be no
problem, because I stuck out like a sore thumb in that hotel.
I was sitting there waiting when the elevator door opened and a guy walked out.
This guy looked like Robert Wagner wearing a light turtleneck sweater. He was
tan, good looking, probably thirty-three or thirty-four. I thought, "That guy looks
like a spy." He walked over to me, introduced himself, and he was my contact.
So we went up to a hotel room, and he debriefed me about all the stuff that I had
seen. I also got to interview them. One of the debriefers was a major in the
Israeli paratroopers who had stormed the walls of Jerusalem back in the Six Day
War. Anyway, they put me up in the King David Hotel and paid my bills while I
was in Israel. That was exciting.
R: That was one of your hands-on experiences?
M: Oh, yes. In Egypt at that time they were shooting spies; they had shot a
Frenchman and a German for spying not long before that. At least, that is the
rumor I heard. They were not friendly. When I was in Egypt there were
probably only half a dozen Americans in Cairo. The American embassy was
under the Spanish flag, and there was one American at the embassy. She was
the equivalent of a general. We went on a couple of tours together. She told
me all about how the embassy works under a different flag. She was there
studying the country to learn about the diplomatic situation. But it was really
bad. There were no tourists whatsoever. She and I would go on tour, and we
had the whole city to ourselves. We would go in the Egyptian museum, the King
Tut exhibit with all the mummies it was littered with sandbags, dust, and dirt -
and we were the only two people in the whole building. It was just incredible.
Then I went to Syria. That was a scary place. Everybody had a gun. It
seemed like everybody was a spy. There would be people reading newspapers,
and the newspapers were upside down. They did not know how to read, but they
were spying. They were taught to look inconspicuous hold the newspaper up
and read the newspaper, and look over the top and around the sides. They did
not know they had to hold the newspaper right side up! Syria was a very
paranoid country. I stuck out like a sore thumb. There were PLO [Palestine
Liberation Army] posters everyplace. The posters were of a guy wearing a
headband, holding a machine gun in his hand, shaking it and waving it over his
head. There were people in the streets doing that all the time. They looked just
like the posters. Then I would hear gunshots. When I checked into the hotel,
they were not friendly.
R: I suppose you can appreciate the tensions that are over there now a lot more
than someone who has never experienced that. You were able to see the way
the people react to each other and the hatred, I guess, that is involved over
M: But generally, setting aside Ayatollah Khomeini [cleric ruler of Iran], most people
were friendly if you get them on a one-on-one basis. For example, I went into a
shop, and the owner wanted to know what America was like and what I had been
doing. So we just sat and chatted. He told me about his brother in Chicago.
Taxicab drivers are the same all over the world. When I was in Lebanon, the
taxicab driver was complaining about how bad it was there and how all the
buildings were getting blown up. But he was a cabbie, and he had a brother in
New York who drove a cab. All the cabbies are the same. People were
generally friendly, and genuinely friendly, too.
But Syria was different. It was like they were all afraid, except when I got to a
couple of shops. One of the shop owners even gave me a couple of coins that
were probably 2,000 years old because I managed to drink some of his Turkish
coffee, which is like mud. I was having trouble drinking it, and he thought it was
hilarious. This was in 1970. Now, in 1971, I was back in the United States
living in my trailer.
R: I wanted ask you one more question concerning your wife. She got her J.D.
degree in 1978, I believe, or somewhere around there?
M: Right. It took her a long time because we both worked. She would go to school
and I would go to school, and then we would take off a quarter. We managed
some apartments in North Carolina that had gone bankrupt. We did not own
them; we just took them over and managed them. We fixed them up and took
them out of bankruptcy. We got a nice paycheck for doing that, and we earned
a commission for selling it. We were getting involved in real estate investments.
That was a time when the market was terrible. There was a recession going on,
and people were losing money everywhere. We were creative people and were
able to go in and buy some of these properties at tremendous bargains from
experts who just said they were tired of them and did not want to have anything
to do with it. Their attitude was, "If you will take this off our hands, we would be
delighted. We know if you work hard you will get a good deal. If you do not
work hard, you will lose your shirt. We just do not want the hassle, because we
are old. We have ours, and we do not need the headaches."
Because of that situation, we were able to go in and buy a lot of property with no
money. We went out and worked very hard seven days a week, fourteen to
fifteen hours a day and turned these investments around. We turned very
bad, messy investments into good properties. We began buying properties that
banks had foreclosed on and needed to get rid of, and we became fairly good at
it. That is what our specialty was. We would take property that nobody else
wanted, in areas that nobody else wanted, or that had unique problems that
nobody else could solve.
R: Or at least just did not want to take the time.
R: Does your wife practice now with a firm?
M: No, she has never practiced with a firm. We have always done our own
property and our own business. There is more than enough work here for her to
do, so she is actually house counsel. We farm work out to other law firms.
R: I want to spend a couple minutes on your education background. Were you able
to get your B.A. in business administration in that four quarters?
M: Yes, I got it in the four quarters. I managed to get one straight-A quarter before I
graduated from undergraduate school. Let me tell you, for both of us it was a
struggle because we had to work. We worked long hours. When we were
going to school we worked doing other things, and there were many times when
we wondered if it was worth it "What are we doing killing ourselves?" We lived
in a trailer, and our big thing was going down on Friday afternoons to the meat
market and buying a filet mignon for a dollar each. That was a big treat. It was
tough on both of us. Law school is not an easy thing. There is a lot of work
that has to be done. Linda "booked" a couple of courses. Booked means to get
tops in the class. She did exceptionally well. She was a full-time student taking
a full-time load, but she did our other work along with that, as did I.
When I got my degree as an undergraduate, I was supposed to go to law school.
I had been accepted for law school. But on the Tuesday before class started
the following Monday, I realized I was looking at three more years of school, and
I felt I did not have the patience for three years of law school. But the prevailing
attitude was if you want to be something, you have to be a lawyer. I was at the
business college, and my wife was starting at the business college, still as an
undergraduate. And we were just married. I remember thinking, "Wait a
minute. When I was in the business college, I had a class with thirty people, and
I remember only one girl. Some of my classes had no women. I have my
good-looking, brand-new bride going there, so I had better watch out. I think I
want to be in the business college." But mostly I did not want three more years
of school. I had been going to school for ten years, including night school. I
finally got my degree, and I really did not want to go for three more years.
I went to the third floor of Matherly [Hall, College of Business] and talked to the
professors. They told me, "In one year your wife will graduate and you can have
a master's degree." That made sense. I had had a couple of economics
courses, so I talked to some of the economics professors and asked them what
kind of salary and job I could get if I got my master's degree in economics. They
said I could work for a big company and maybe get $8,000 to $10,000 a year.
With management--my undergraduate degree was in management--they said I
could get $9,000 a year. I asked if there were any jobs, and they said yes, there
were a few jobs--ten or twelve jobs with twenty applicants. I went to finance,
and they said I could get $11,000 a year in finance. That was pretty good. I
asked about job openings, and they said there were ten job openings. I asked,
"How many people are graduating and are potential applicants?" "Thirty." That
is thirty people just from this University applying for ten jobs. That did not sound
So I walked into Dr. Clay Curtis's [associate professor of finance, insurance, and
real estate] office in the real estate department. I told him I was thinking about
going into the master's program and asked what kind of job openings there were
in real estate with a master's degree. He said four. "Four? That does not
sound very good." He said it really was not that bad. I asked how many people
he knew of who were available to go to those jobs, and he said, "None. But in
six months I may have one or two." I asked about the salary range, and he said
it was between $11,000 and $14,000. So I went into real estate, strictly because
of Clay Curtis. I went into real estate, and my wife decided to go to graduate
school. I got my master's degree exactly one year after I got my undergraduate.
R: This is 1973?
M: Right; 1972 was the bachelor's. Clay Curtis suggested that I consider the
doctoral program. He said there were no doctoral candidates in real estate.
Again, it was economics supply and demand. There was not much in the way
of supply, so it should not be too bad. I stuck around for the doctoral program.
My wife started graduate school, but she did not like that, so she went to law
I got all my course work done and was studying for my qualifying exams.
Economics had never been a really strong point, but I had tutors to help me. I
was determined to learn economics because I needed it. My major was real
estate, but my minor was finance. Well, that year the economics department got
tough and flunked everybody who was taking the qualifying exams, including my
tutor. That was a shock when my tutor flunked, so I basically dropped out. I
had finished all the course work, but I still had to take the exams and write my
dissertation. And I was busy with our own real estate investments. We had
taken over these groups and had gotten all the programs worked out. Linda was
struggling with law school, so I was having to carry more of it.
R: How big had your real estate business grown by this time?
M: Oh, we were probably taking care of $3 to $4 million dollars worth of property, as
students. I think I had thirty houses by that time, plus several land deals.
R: This would be in a matter of four or five years?
M: Three or four. We would get these phone calls in the middle of the night from
complaining tenants. Every time the phone would ring at night we would cringe.
We finally decided that houses were not it, although they had been the ones we
could afford to buy. Inflation was high, so that helped values a lot, too. We
finally got out of the houses and started doing offices. I did an REO "real
estate owned" by banks with the old Boys Club on Waldo Road. I did that in
1978. It had been sitting empty for five years. I had the bank make us a 71
percent fixed loan. They financed the whole thing, plus financed fixing the place
up, and we had it 100 percent rented. We worked hard at that, and we made
good money on that deal.
Then Linda graduated from law school, and we wrapped up a few things. She
was always telling me, "You have all your classes done toward your Ph.D. You
need to go back and take your exam." So I said, "Okay. I'll go take the exam."
I took a couple of crash economics courses. There are these books on
economics on any subject you can get little, thin books.
R: Nutshell-type of books?
M: Right. I hit that hard in economics. I studied everything. I had forgotten a lot
of stuff. I went in and took the economics exam, and I passed that sucker. It
surprised the heck out of me. So I went in and took the other two exams,
finance and real estate, and I passed those. I remember taking those exams in
old Bryan Hall. There was no heat. It was wintertime, and my hands were
freezing. I was taking the exam wearing gloves. I figured if I did not pass it
would be because I was so cold. So I had a good excuse if I did not pass. But I
Then all I had to do was write the dissertation. I guess that was 1975 to 1976.
But I put the dissertation on the back burner, too. I worked on the dissertation
off and on, and I finally put it all together and packaged it up. I went in in
September 1980 and registered. I was walking down the hall and ran into Roger
Blair [professor of economics] and asked, "Roger, do you remember me?" He
said, "Yes, Ken, I remember you." I said, "You were on my dissertation
committee." "Oh, really? I did not know that. Are you thinking about doing
your dissertation?" I said yes. He said, "You can give us your proposal." I
said, "Well, the funny thing about that is I am registered, and I am going to
graduate in December. I have already written my dissertation. Here it is." He
said that is not how it is done, but I said, "Well, there it is. It is done. Either tell
me it is good or tell me it is bad."
All of them looked at it, and all of them said it was great. Hal Smith [professor of
real estate and urban analysis] said, "Your English stinks, but your subject is
good. It is a very interesting dissertation. It actually says something." Then
he added, "Go back and rewrite it so that everything is in the same tense and all
your words are spelled correctly." This was before computers. I did that and
turned it in. I went to defend the dissertation in December, and they said,
"Congratulations, Dr. McGurn." I guess that was December of 1981. Oh, how
time flies. But that is how I did my dissertation. I did not go through the whole
schmearr" of having people criticize it and suggest things. I just went in and
said, "Here it is." I pull it out every once in a while. It is a good dissertation.
R: I was able to look over a couple of things in it. Unfortunately, from my
viewpoint in history, I have no background in economics.
M: Anyway, that is how I got the degree. Most of the things that have happened to
me, by the way, have been due to whichever way the wind was blowing at the
time. We made a lot of money in North Carolina off that one apartment complex
because it was a management contract, plus I got a real estate commission
when it sold. That was pure accident. I went up there and looked around to
help my wife's sister find a house. I picked up the phone and asked if there
were any foreclosed properties. A guy said there was one, so I went over for a
look. I decided to try to manage it. Since I had a master's degree and was
from out of town, they thought I had to be an expert, so the owner hired me, the
trustee of the bankruptcy hired me, and the mortgage company that had
foreclosed on it hired me. The opportunity was there, and I went that way. It
was not planned.
R: So you very much subscribe to the idea of being at the right place at the right
M: Yes. Go with the flow.
R: The attitude is to go with whatever comes.
M: Whatever comes. There is no grand scheme.
R: I would like to move on and talk about some of your more-recent activities. I
know that starting in 1983 to 1984 you first proposed some of the downtown
M: Well, let's go back a little bit further. In 1979, the Gainesville City Commission
appointed me to the Downtown Redevelopment Authority. They then made it an
agency, and I was the first chairman for the Downtown Redevelopment Agency.
I was chairman when we did the Seagle Building redevelopment. As a matter of
fact, I was one of the people who got the Seagle Building off dead center in 1978.
I was looking for a challenge. I was doing all these other things, and everything
was coming up roses, so I decided to get involved with the Seagle Building. I
got together with Ed Baur [Gainesville real estate broker] and said, "Let's go do
it." It was just sitting there empty.
R: It had been empty for quite some time.
M: Yes, and that was down my line. I went to the state and told them I would buy it.
Jack McGriff was a member of the Board of Regents at the time, and he went
on TV and said, "Here is an opportunity to get rid of this white elephant. We
have two local real estate people who want to make the state a deal, and we
ought to take it." It went all the way up to the [Florida] Cabinet; Dr. Elton
Gissendanner was the executive director of the Florida Department of Natural
Resources at the time. He said, "If somebody wants it, it must be worth
something," so he said no, they were not going to sell it.
Later, after I got on the redevelopment agency, I lobbied to get the building
turned over to the city. I said the city should get the building and do something
with it because it was an eyesore. We got our state representatives to put some
pressure on the state, and they agreed to put it up to state agencies to see if a
state agency would take it. They would not: the city would not take it, the county
would not take it nobody would take it. Then I said that the redevelopment
agency ought to take it. I thought we could get a developer to redevelop it. We
finally got the state to agree to turn it over to the agency and allow us to give it to
a developer. That was a start.
In the meantime, I had bought some empty buildings where the old Sears was on
Main Street. There were 18,000 square feet in the two buildings, 400 of which
was leased to Ray Cauthen's Barber Shop. The rest of it was empty. I
negotiated a deal; I put the whole package together and rented it out. I got
tenants for it; I cut super deals to get the tenants in there. I resold half the
property, and put $10,000 in my pocket at closing.
Then there was this older gentleman, Dr. [Herbert G.] Bollinger, who was trying
to do something with his property where Arlington Square apartments are now.
He was getting old, and there were too many maintenance headaches. He was
trying to sell them to the architect Gene Davis, but Gene did not have the money
to buy them. Dr. Bollinger kept coming to me because he liked me. I would
give him suggestions on how he could structure a deal so that Gene Davis or
somebody else could buy it. It was a block and a half of land, and there were all
of these old junk houses. Over a period of about three months I helped him.
He finally came back and asked if I would buy them. I finally agreed to buy
them, but then he did not want to sell them. I ended up doing a 100-year ground
lease. I asked him how much he made off them after all expenses. He told me,
and I said, "I will give you one check each month for that amount of money, and I
will do it for the next 100 years. That way you will not have any problems, and
you still own the property." And he loved that. So I ended up with that block
and a half. Then I ended up with a house near the Chamber of Commerce. So
it was purely by accident, not design, that I ended up with more than two blocks
Since I was involved with the Downtown Redevelopment Agency, they were
always saying we needed to have something happen downtown. About this time
the Gainesville Sun picked up and moved out of downtown, taking one hundred
employees. That was terrible. Well, I did not look at it as terrible; I looked at it
as an opportunity. I negotiated with the Gainesville Sun to buy their building.
They got an appraisal on it for $650,000. That was outrageous. They tried to
sell it before they moved, but nobody would buy it. I offered them $350,000 for
it, which they said was the highest offer they got. But they just had so much
money in the plant and equipment, so they had to do something else.
I discovered that there was state tax credit for donations to redevelopment
projects. Corporations have to pay a state tax. So I sat down with Linda, who
is a C.P.A., to work out the numbers. Then I told them, "You can donate this
building because of your tax basis, and you will come out better through a
donation than you will selling it to me for $350,000. You can donate it to the city
for a project and end up with more money." They looked at that for three
months and finally decided that that was not a bad idea, so they donated it to the
city. I then went to the city and asked them to sell it to me. They said, "No, we
cannot do that. We have to advertise it." Well, I had plans.
R: You already had the plans?
M: I did not have the pictures, but I had the idea, the concept. They said they were
going to have to bid it. I wondered who would want to bid it. In the meantime, I
had acquired deals with other people for a total of fifty parcels of land. There
were thirty-eight people and fifty parcels of land; that is a lot of people and a lot of
land. I negotiated all these things and tied up all the land.
Well, the city went out and bid it, and they got one guy who said, "Give me the
Gainesville Sun building, and I will do this project on the Gainesville Sun
building." They thought that sounded really good. But it was nothing just
another little office building. It was a million bucks and stop. It was not even a
million-dollar project. I told them, "Shoot, I have a $15 million project." "Ken,
we do not think you can do it. That is pretty big. How can you possibly do all
that stuff? That is impossible." I said, "I can do it. It is not that hard."
R: This is in 1984?
M: Yes, we are in 1984. So they agreed to look at my project, and we negotiated it
for six months. And the negotiations had to wait for the city attorney. We would
have a meeting, and everybody would agree that we were going to redevelop
First Street. I would have typed here, but the city attorney said he wanted it
typed in his office, so they would type it. Then he would come back and say,
"We are not going to redevelop First Street. We are going to redevelop First
Avenue." So now it is First Avenue? I said, "I remember the notes.
Everybody says it is First Street." The attorney said, "Well, I will have to go back
and look at the notes." Geez! We are sitting here at the meeting, everybody is
here, and we are saying it is First Street. But he would say, "I will to look at the
minutes." So we would wait another two weeks until they would get the thing
corrected, and then we would come back and meet again. It was truly
R: It was the city attorney's office that was doing this?
M: Absolutely. They screwed it up royally.
R: Is that same city attorney still here?
M: Yes. Does my hostility show in my voice, I hope?
R: Yes, it does. You mentioned to me the other day how mistaken I was
concerning your role as a developer. Give me, if you would, your philosophy or
your idea of what it is you do. I know you have alluded to it a couple of times in
some of the things we have talked about already.
M: In the real estate business there are many different jobs. There are appraisers,
salespeople, developers, and builders. There are lots of different jobs, and I do
most of those jobs. That is why I, one person, can work on a project that is
generally not cost feasible, because it will be cost feasible for us. That is why
we can buy things from banks and make them work. We can do a downtown
and make it work. I do the appraisal myself. I can buy a piece of property
without having to spend $3,000 on an appraisal. I know enough about the
general real estate law. Linda, my wife, is probably one of the city's best
property lawyers. I have all the expertise available to me just by walking down
the hall to her office. I did not have to hire an attorney to do a contract. I would
put in twenty contracts a month on property to get one accepted. Most people
have to hire an attorney to do that, and it costs several hundred dollars to do one
contract. I just sit down at the typewriter and do it, so those costs were not
I am also "the developer" who dreams up the crazy ideas to develop. The
developer takes a tremendous cut from any project. He may take 40 percent
right off the top. Generally it is 10 percent, but when you are talking about
gross, that is a lot of money. I am the builder. I am a state-certified contractor,
and a contractor takes a good chunk off the top when he builds. I am the
salesperson and the leasing agent. When you lease a space, you pay
somebody 10 percent to lease that space. I am it. Ninety to 95 percent of the
stuff that we have leased today I personally bid on it, leased it, negotiated it, and
did whatever else was necessary to do with it. I did not have to pay somebody
else to do that. Probably 30 to 50 percent of the stuff that we have sold, I have
sold. You pay somebody between 6 and 10 percent to sell a piece of property.
I am the guy who went out there, negotiated it, and sold it. It is the same thing
with buying property: I am the guy who went out and bought it. I did not have to
pay a real estate agent or a broker. So all that keeps the cost down to
something that makes it economically feasible. The general nomenclature for
that is "the developer"; all of those side things go with it.
The final thing is we are the managers. We are the people who take the
property, sick as it is with all the problems, and figure out what it takes to make it
productive. The management part of it is the major thing that we do. However,
when you get a lot of properties, you get less efficient at it. You cannot
personally look at all the utility bills. You cannot walk through the property every
day. You cannot turn the lights off at night. There is a tremendous amount of
inefficiency the larger you get. The only way to get around that is to hire people,
and when you hire people you hire problems. We used to have a payroll of
something like $1.3 million, and it is now down to about $150,000 to $200,000.
Yet I have three times the property that I used to have.
R: You had explained to me the other day the difference between developer and
redeveloper, or at least you mentioned something along that line. You like to
refer to yourself as a redeveloper. What do you mean by that?
M: A developer takes a nice clean piece of paper and creates on that. A
redeveloper takes the existing piece of paper and recycles it: "I can use this
corner, and if I erase this line I can use this." It is a lot tougher because you
cannot start clean. You automatically have restraints, and those restraints are
very expensive because you are trying to adapt something that somebody else
has already used and rejected. You have to rip out things that are already there.
It is more of a challenge, especially when you get into a building that has three
walls where people have just said, "Forget the first wall. We will build a new wall
right on top of the other." You might find a building with three of four roofs
because someone felt it was too expensive to rip off the old roof, so they just put
a new roof on. Try to find a leak when you have four roofs up there. The
building on south Main Street is just like that. It has four roofs on it. One could
be a flat roof, one a rubber roof, one a shingle roof, or one a metal roof. That is
So a redeveloper basically recycles. There is an asset here that is presently not
productive. We go in and spend not 100 percent of the cost of creating
something new, but a fraction of that, and re-use what is there. We are not
destroying the environment, taking away trees, or paving over anything. We are
using what is already here. We are using brick that has already been
manufactured. We are using concrete that is already on the ground.
R: So you are recycling. I like the way you phrase that. An issue here in
Gainesville is green space and the desire to have that around the city. That
barrier is always on the faces of those who are trying to develop. But by doing
what you are doing, you eliminate that problem by taking what has already been
developed and using it more efficiently.
M: I think in this particular development, the Southeast Quadrant Project, the $15
million project we just completed, we have probably added paving of less than
half an acre. We used existing parking lots. We added more trees for
streetscape than we took out. This was actually a very ecologically sound
The second phase that we are proposing to do will take up about four additional
acres of undeveloped land, about two of which we will actually have to pave over.
It is a huge development. If you were going to do what we are proposing out in
the suburbs, it would take a minimum of fifty acres. You would pave over
twenty-five of those acres, whereas here most of it is already done. You would
also take out thousands of trees in the suburbs, but here we will end up with
more trees. Add to that the fact that we already have the infrastructure in place;
we already have the roads, water, sewer, and the power. Out there you have to
build the roads, feeder roads, and everything. But downtown all of that is
already here, so there will be minimal impact to the environment.
R: Where is that Phase Two you are looking at? Is it somewhere down in this area
specifically, or in another area downtown?
M: No. We now are not letting the winds blow us too much. We have taken a
large financial position downtown. We have watched the city, and we do not see
them making anything happen. The city stood in our way when we did Phase
One, so we flat stopped going to the city. We did Phase One in spite of the city.
They were terrible, atrocious.
R: You are speaking of the leaders of the city?
M: No. The leaders were supportive. I am speaking primarily of the Downtown
Redevelopment Agency. That is an agency that is set up specifically to help
redevelopment, but they did more to hurt us than anybody. It was incredible. It
was absolutely insane. It was stupid! We had a contract that said the city
would start the streetscape on such-and-such a day and would be finished on
December 1, 1986. That is when I planned to open the doors on the new
buildings. But the day I opened my doors is the day they started the streetscape
and began to tear up the streets. I had tenants here who said, "I do not want to
pay rent because people cannot get here." So now I have this nice brand-new
building and cannot have a grand opening because the streets are all torn up. I
get a nice brand-new building, and what is happening? Nothing but negative
vibes from people because the city did not live up to its end of the contract.
R: I was wondering about that. I know from the things I have read and looked at
that you seemed to be getting a lot of flack when you were making this proposal.
And the city was rather reluctant, too. You had to submit your proposal twice,
M: Several times. There were something like thirty-odd votes by the city
commission, any one of which could have killed this project. But the city
commission all voted to support it because it is a good thing. What are you
going to do? Let the downtown continue the way it was going? There was
crime, people were leaving, and there were vacant buildings. There were more
vacancies downtown than there were in the rest of the city. We had more crime;
13 percent of all the crime was downtown, with less than 1 percent of the
population downtown. The tax base was eroding. They were having to spend
more money on police, fire protection, and those kind of support facilities. It was
going backwards. They were spending more money but getting less tax revenue
out of it. You cannot allow that. Plus, when someone comes here to be a
professor at the University, when they come from the airport and drive through
downtown, they could not help but notice all the empty buildings. The idea is to
fix up your downtown and create a good image of the city.
But nobody likes change, so we took a great amount of heat. The chamber of
commerce did not and speak up for this. The Downtown Redevelopment
Agency did not speak up for it. Several individuals did speak on a few
occasions. M. M. Parrish spoke up for the redevelopment. George Ling, a
member of the Downtown Owners and Tenants Association and the chairman of
the Downtown Redevelopment Agency, spoke up for it. But he was not
speaking for the agency; he spoke for himself. And an ex-director of the
Downtown Redevelopment Agency, Margaret Harris, spoke up. Nobody else
did. Where was the Downtown Redevelopment Agency?
R: And they never gave you the support that they promised?
M: No, never. They even made it worse. They did a terrible job with the
streetscape. The contract says the city will put in street lights every thirty feet,
the city will put in trees every thirty feet between the light posts, and the city will
fix the sidewalks. It was all spelled out. The Redevelopment Agency said,
"Ignore that. Design your own." So the architect for the Redevelopment
Agency came in with a difficult design with grape arbors, walls, and all kinds of
weird things. I said, "That does not work." They said, "McGurn, you are not the
expert. This guy is the architect. He is the expert." I said, "I am doing this.
This is my project, and I am giving you the money to do it. Besides that, I have
a contract." They said, "Well, that contract is subject to interpretation." I said,
"It looks pretty plain to me." So we got in a war.
I had to contact the downtown owners and tenants I had already discussed the
project with them and had written into the contract those things that they wanted
and tell them, "You guys do not really want grape arbors and walls for thieves
to hide behind. First of all, they are going to fall down. This is bad; this is not
the best thing to do logically." Even though most of these people had not been
to other cities and seen it, logically it was a stupid design. We were afraid the
Redevelopment Agency was going to screw us up, so we signed a petition
opposing their actions.
Finally the city commission got involved. They hired an expert to fly in, and he
spent two days here. He said, "McGurn is right. You do not want to build all
this. You want the trees." So we came back to the beginning, to what was in
the contract. But I had to spend several months arguing with these people who
were supposed to be helping. The signed contract with the city meant nothing to
R: The refurbishing of the Star Garage, the building of the parking garage, the
redevelopment of the Sun Center and Arlington Square apartments were all part
of Phase One. How did you go about getting government money for part of
M: You think I got it from the government?
R: Was a government grant obtained for part of the project?
M: Let me explain this. I went to the city, and they said, "We do not have the
money to do any of this, so we cannot do it." I said, "I will show you how you
can do it. I cannot build a garage. You cannot build a garage. The city says
we need a garage but does not have the money to do it. I will show you how
you can do it. The garage does not make money, but if you get a mortgage that
pays 3 percent interest, you can do it. They said, "Swell, but where are we
going to get a 3 percent mortgage?" I told them, "The federal government has
money." "Yes, but we cannot get the money from the federal government
because we are not qualified." I said, "I will get you qualified." I went to the city
grants officer and said, "You could qualify for a UDAG (Urban Development
Action Grant), but you have to rework the papers." He said, "No, it does not
work." I went to the city and said, "You can do this. You can do this. You can
do this." And every time I went to the city, they said, "No we can't. No we can't.
No we can't." My company went to Jacksonville, got the papers, and figured
out how to qualify for the federal UDAG. We got the city qualified for the grant.
They said, "Okay. Now we can get a grant."
The city did have one individual, Steve Hutchinson, who was a fantastic guy. He
has since left. He helped me write the UDAG applications and put the papers
together. It is much fairer to say that I helped him. I contributed a lot of the
numbers and forms and filled out a lot of stuff. We spent many nights working
on it trying to get it done. The financing for the parking garage came from the
federal government. I had to spend a tremendous amount of money to get the
city qualified and do all the things that the federal government requires. But I
got no benefit from it.
T he city got a grant, so now it had the money. Now, the city then lends me the
money at 3 percent interest. If I had not gotten the 3 percent loan from the city, I
would not have built the garage. Am I making money off the garage? No. Is
that beneficial to Ken McGurn? Well, I am not making any money. As a matter
of fact, I am losing money on it. So where is it beneficial for Ken McGurn to
have that 3 percent loan from the city? It is not. Is it beneficial to the city?
Yes, because I am paying them back $2 million plus 3 percent interest. They
are making money. That is $2 million they did not have before. They made $2
million right there.
The Sun Center, 67,000 square feet of building, was financed through
Mid-Atlantic Bank of New Jersey because they had financed another project that
was successful with me and wanted to put money in here. I am the only person
to whom they lent money in this town who has been successful. There were tax
laws at the time where you could get an industrial revenue bonds. That is lower
interest rate mortgage money. It was three-quarters of prime. Say prime is 10
percent this is 7% percent money. That is a benefit, so we did that.
Well, they changed the laws; it is now 91 percent of prime. So instead of 71
percent, it is now 9.1 percent. So I have lost 20 percent of the benefits I thought
I had when I first went into it. They changed the rules. The federal government
can do that. It does not help me. It does not help my pocketbook. It hurts.
Do you think the city would help? "No, this is your problem. That is too bad."
The Star Garage was financed the same way. But I convinced some attorneys
to go do that, and they spent $2 million doing it. I sold it and took their old
building in trade. Did I make any money doing it? No. I took a loss of
probably $100,000 when I resold their building. If I were a real estate broker
and just handled the transaction, I would have made $100,000 in real estate
fees. I spent my time, made contracts, went to partnership meetings, and
everything else convincing them to do the deal, and I wound up taking a loss.
R: So that is one of the negatives, I guess, of doing everything you have listed for
me a few minutes ago, of having it all under one company and doing it yourself.
M: The apartments are financed with standard bank loans. There is no subsidy, no
lower construction costs, no nothing. In addition to that, the land I had to buy
here is a quarter of a million dollars an acre. I can go build apartments out in the
suburbs on land that is $20,000 an acre. Property downtown costs more than
ten times that. To offset that, I got a reduction in the amount of property tax we
pay. It reduces my operating costs. In addition to that, I had to put fire
sprinklers in. That added $1,000 per apartment to the cost, so I lost money.
The only way I could make money on the apartments is to operate them at a
higher occupancy and more efficiently. I do not have a lot of people running
around to take care of these places. So the city made a couple million dollars,
whereas I had to take money from other projects and put it here. I have
somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million invested downtown.
R: In regard to that, have the projected goals of this project been realized? I
noticed in one of the papers you gave me that you had 100 percent in use right
now. Have you leased out everything as far as office space, shops, restaurants,
and that sort of thing?
M: Two shops are vacant, but the apartments, all the offices, and everything else
are all leased out. It is incredible. The major thing is that we have made a
difference. You can come down here and see a difference. It looks different.
R: Have you heard a lot of comments?
M: Oh, yes. Everybody thinks it is wonderful. Crime is down every place else it
is up. We probably have a lower crime rate now than a lot of areas of the city.
We put lights in, and we put people back down here. So as far as the city is
concerned, this has been incredibly successful. In fact, we received a federal
award from HUD [Housing and Urban Development] for being one of the better
projects in the nation. Most projects do an office building or one or two things.
This was multi-faceted: residential, retail, commercial, trolleys, parking garage,
everything. With the crime down, it has made a very big impact, and people
have noticed it.
But Linda and I are kind of stuck here financially. Last year we were ready to
quit. We received no support or encouragement whatsoever from the city.
Have you seen anything new down here besides what we did? Nothing. But
they are spending $100,000 a year in administrative costs for the Downtown
Redevelopment Agency. We were so upset with the agency that we stopped
going to their meetings for a year. Those are the people who are supposed to
be helping us. They did not even ask where we were or how we were doing.
But we have a big investment downtown, so we sat down and asked what it was
going to take to finish, to really finish, and decided we will do that. We will
landscape everything that is downtown every street. You have to understand
there are 220 streets, and we have only done twenty of them so far. At the rate
they are going it will take a hundred years to finish. I told them we would do all
of them now. I told them two years ago that they have the resources to do all
the streetscaping without taking it out of general revenue. It was the same with
the UDAG. They said, "We do not have enough resources to do that." I said,
"Sure you do. You just have to be creative." I added that we would build a
140,000-square-foot office building and over three hundred apartments, which
would double the population downtown. I said, "We will take the risks. We
want no special financing, but we will do it. It is a big challenge." We proposed
that back in December. We had commissioners up here, and we have worked
with members of the Downtown Redevelopment Agency. We showed them the
maps and the numbers and computer printout sheets. In February we made our
proposal. They only meet once a month. At the last DRA meeting they did not
even bring it up; it was not even discussed.
R: What do you think that is attributed to?
M: Because they have their own agenda. Look at it from a city official's point of
view. They get up in the morning, go in to the office, and look at the mail on the
desk. They sort through the mail. They have a staff meeting. They have to
answer memos from the city commissioners. They do that and a couple of other
projects, and at five o'clock they are out in the parking lot going home. If Ken
McGurn comes in here and says, "Boom! We are going to change the world,"
that changes their schedule. They do not have time to do that. They have to
read their mail, drink their coffee, attend their staff meeting, and attend to what
the city commission wants to do. And the city commission wants to work on the
Northeast Park. The Northeast Park is there all the time, and they work on that.
R: Is it a problem of tunnel vision?
M: They can see that this other thing is a problem, and it takes a lot of thought and
creative work to resolve. It is tough. It is tough on their part. While it is good,
they are not excited about doing it. It is nice to have it done, but the work you
have to do to get it done is just enormous. And what credit do they get? They
get no credit; McGurn gets all the credit. He takes all the risk and gets all the
credit. Why would anyone want to ruin their Saturdays because they have to go
to bond-closing meetings or work late at night negotiating? It is not exciting to
do that. Plus, they do not understand it. It is too big.
R: That is one thing I wondered. Did you perceive them as just not thinking on the
same level that you are, with the same ideas, and not willing to see them?
M: Some of them do. Some of them really can see it. The GRU (Gainesville
Regional Utilities) thinks on that scale. Those people are good to work with
because they can appreciate what goes into it. But, on the other hand, if you as
a city employee have a city commissioner beating on you about so-and-so's dog
or a pot hole in front of someone's house, you have to worry about that. What
concerns a commissioner or city manager today is what concerns the employee,
not some abstract thing that may get built five years from now.
R: I want you to tell me again what you said the other day about your involvement in
recycling and the environment. What are you doing, in regard to your
redevelopment, to try to promote these areas?
M: Redevelopment is actually recycling assets. We do not have to have a furnace
create more brick because we already have the brick. We are saving the natural
resources that we already have in place. On top of that, we have set up a
recycling bin outside for paper. We are encouraging everybody to recycle
paper. When it goes into my trash can here, it goes into that recycling bin.
Stuff that can be recycled goes out there. We save all our glass at our home,
and we are encouraging people to do that in the apartments. We encourage the
recycling of the newspaper. We think that recycling is a major issue.
Unfortunately, our community has not sought to put the emphasis on that that is
necessary. By planting more trees we are actually recycling the air and making
the place cleaner. By planting trees you are cooling the buildings and the
sidewalks so you do not need as much air conditioning inside the buildings.
Everything we do inside these buildings is energy efficient. Those lights you see
are energy miser light fixtures. The ceiling tile has a 2.2 R factor. The ceiling
insulation above that is R 30 versus R 19. The walls are between R 12 and R
20. The air conditioning units say a SEER of 8.3 qualifies you for an energy
rebate because they are high efficiency. We never put in anything that is less
than 9. Most of what we put in is 9.5 to 10 SEERs. The apartment complex
over here will have SEERs of 9.7. That is a standard energy efficiency ratings of
some sort. We use heat pumps in the apartments. Most people do not use
heat pumps, but we do. So the buildings that we build use half the energy that
other buildings do, even some buildings built today. We used to use very
energy-efficient windows. We were not able to in the Sun Center because we
ran out of money.
R: You showed me your Florida Business Leader last week, and the front cover
asked the question, "What are you doing about recycling?"
M: No, it said, "Are you recycling? If not, you are part of the problem." It is on the
front page of the Business Leader.
R: Do you think that maybe some of those who would call themselves
environmentalists are not putting into practice what they are saying?
M: Well, there are different types of environmentalists. Some are worried about the
whales, and some are worried about trees. If you look at the big picture, you
have to do a lot of different things. Let some concentrate on the whales, let
somebody else concentrate on the trees, and we will concentrate on making the
buildings more efficient. There are only a few people in the world who actually
have an opportunity to make a big difference. We have an opportunity to do the
downtown and make a difference here, so that is why we are going to do it. It is
not because it is particularly exciting or rewarding financially. We are also doing
enough development so that we are making an impact on the environment
through the saving of resources. Energy is a major concern. Unless this guy
out in Arizona comes out with cold fusion, conservation of energy will continue to
be major area of concern.
R: I heard something about that.
M: Cold fusion would provide unlimited energy, basically. Then all this work I have
done will be for naught. But think about all the energy that you have to generate
to power buildings. If everything were made energy efficient, we could cut our
energy requirements in half. That is what we are doing.
R: What do you save?
M: Actually, this building uses 25 percent of the energy that that older building right
there uses. I have the records to show it. That is an old building with old
equipment. The new buildings use probably half to two-thirds of what that one
does. This one operates on 25 percent what that one does because of the
insulation and the high-efficiency equipment we installed.
R: What would you say drives you or motivates you? Is it the desire to make a
difference or the challenge of doing something new?
M: I do not know. I think when I got out of high school I had this notion that I could
set the world on fire, that I could change it. That is a driving thing. To me, you
had to have an education to be able to do that. Of course, everybody wants to
earn money, or work to earn money. That is one goal in and of itself to make
money. For me, money ceased being a goal years and years ago. I think I
have worked so hard all my life it is hard to stop. It is a sickness; it really is. I
will go home on weekends now and not work. We took the weekend off this
past weekend, and it was nice. I used to work all weekend, but now I work only
part of the weekend.
R: So you feel there is always something out there you need to be pushing for?
M: No, I am getting a little beyond that. If we can finish the downtown, we will have
made an impact and a difference. We can finish the downtown. We can
renovate some more of the empty buildings. We can complete all the stuff the
city needs to do for the streets. And we can do it now. We laid it on the table
and told the city that if they wanted us to do it, we would do it. If not, fine. I am
going to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and play racquetball. I am going
to go to Club Med and take all the millions of dollars I have earned and spend it
on myself. In my spare time on the telephone I am making more money than I
do on the downtown redevelopment.
R: I think that sounds like a good way to sum up. To conclude, I want to thank you
very much for allowing me your time. Is there anything else that you have to
add that you think might be beneficial? I know we have not discussed very
much the topic you mentioned earlier of waste in government.
M: Well, there are a lot of different things we could discuss, like the abortion issue
and housing. I am the chairman of the county's community block grant program
because I do not think anybody should have to live in shacks. If you go to Third
World countries like Haiti and places like that, the housing is atrocious.
Unfortunately, we have conditions like that existing here in Alachua County.
There is no excuse for it except for bureaucracy. Everybody is trying to do a
good job, but they are inefficient. There are not enough resources in the world
to go about providing necessary shelter inefficiently. So I am donating some of
my time for that.
The city may say, "No, we do not want to do downtown redevelopment." Last
time they made $2 million, so they are spoiled. But they are not going to make
that this time, because there are no gifts. There is nobody to give them this
building. There is nobody to pay them the money to do the streets again.
There is nobody to go out there and get them that $2 million grant. I am not
going to do it. But, I will find another project. I thought I might go to the county
and ask, "How much will you pay me to get rid of all the bad housing in the
county?" The county is currently spending probably in excess of a million dollars
a year on housing and not making a dent. You cannot tell the difference.
R: I did not realize it was that much.
M: It is probably $2 million a year, and they are not making a dent.
R: Where is it all going?
M: They give it away. For example, they spend $25,000 to renovate a house, and
ten years from now that house will be junk again.
R: It is going to be in the same condition as the one they are trying to replace.
M: It is like the streetscape. You do a block this year and then another block next
year, and after ten years you have to go back and do the first block over again.
You never get done. I think all the housing problems for this entire county can
be solved. In New York I could not do it. In this county I can, because it is a
small county. That is a challenge. It is something that the entire government is
trying to do.
The situation is like Donald Trump and the skating rink in New York: "All the
king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."
That is because government was doing it. They could not fix that skating rink.
They spent $10 million trying to fix it, and it was going to cost another $5 million.
Donald Trump came in and said, "I will do it for a million," and he gave them back
It is the same problem with the housing. If you want to solve the problem, get
the government out of the middle. Porter's Oaks is a good local example. The
city built that project. It cost them $60,000 per apartment unit in a duplex. I am
buying duplexes in this town for $25,000, or $12,500 per unit. I can build a
brand new duplex for $25,000 a unit, but they spend $60,000. How do you
explain that? It is easy: bureaucracy. Now those same people in the
bureaucracy are over there saying, "Look at what we did. Isn't this beautiful?
Isn't it wonderful?" It is beautiful and wonderful, but can we afford it?
[End of the interview]