As I edited Senior Editor George Waldon’s Aug. 3 story describing the financial problems besetting Scott Reed’s projects on Main Street in downtown Little Rock, I was glad I wasn’t eating or drinking when I came to this part:
“The [K Lofts] apartments were still without electricity when Reed decided to go ahead with an April 13 open house for members of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.
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“With no electricity to power light fixtures, members deployed cellphones as makeshift flashlights to tour the darkened corridors and rooms.”
By that point, I (and thousands of subsequent readers) knew that $1.5 million in liens and lawsuit claims were piling up on Reed. Waldon had even described — fairly and accurately, I believe the record shows — Reed’s “track record of overreaching, underfinanced, subsidy-supported development in Little Rock.”
But even pointed, direct quotes from frustrated tenants who have not been able to move in and from contractors who have not been paid didn’t prepare me to visualize an open house illuminated by cellphones. As Waldon explained, Entergy had pulled the electric meter in the summer of 2014 because Reed hadn’t come up with the $5,000 deposit required to establish permanent electrical service.
A tour by cellphone light isn’t the story. It isn’t even a contender for the most egregious example of Reed’s habit of under-delivering. But it is what writers (starting, or so I’ve read, with Anton Chekov) call a telling detail, a small fact that captures the essence of the thing being described.
It’s one thing to know that Reed hadn’t paid his big bills. One might even imagine that the big bills could get paid once tenant revenue starts flowing. It’s another thing entirely to understand that, even as summer turned to fall and winter and then spring, he couldn’t come up with a relatively small amount of money in order to turn on the lights — something that has to be done before any tenants can move in and start paying rent.
More than anything else, it is this detail that helps us understand the essence of Scott Reed: He couldn’t, even months later, come up with the money to turn the lights on, but he’s the kind of guy who goes ahead with an open house to show off the project that he couldn’t deliver.
Am I being too hard on a guy I don’t remember ever meeting? He’s apparently a very engaging person — creditor Paul Fleming of Fleming Structural said, “I like the guy, but he just didn’t pay his bills.” — but this isn’t personal with me. Reed stopped talking to Arkansas Business quite a while back, so all George Waldon and I can rely on is the public record and other people’s experiences.
Telling details show up in all kinds of well-told stories. This one jumped out at me as I read about the sad state of affairs at the Plaza Hotel, which is attached to the Pine Bluff Convention Center and has been closed by owner Bruce Rahmani.
David Hutter, a reporter for the Pine Bluff Commercial, told the big story: Rahmani has asked the city government to buy the hotel for $3 million. City council members met with him but haven’t taken action. Rahmani is an experienced hotelier with 39 other properties who has been trying to make a go of the Plaza since he bought it out of foreclosure eight years ago.
And then Hutter offers us this telling detail:
“The previous Plaza Hotel owner had gone out of business, closed the doors and threw the front door key in the pool, Rahmani said.”
I figured things were bad at the Plaza when I attended Simmons First National Corp.’s annual shareholders meeting and banquet in June.
In previous years, I had parked outside the main entrance to the hotel, then walked through the lobby to the Convention Center banquet hall. But this time, smiling Simmons’ employees encouraged me and other attendees to walk around the hotel to a side entrance. Along the way I noted tall weeds and overgrown flower beds — a telling detail on the night of one of the biggest business and social events of the year in Pine Bluff.
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.