A strong and vital community is an asset not only for its people, but for investors as well. Investing in community means not only profiting from investments but empowers its members as well. In this episode, Monick Halm speaks with Angelique Sharpe, investor and Comprehensive Economic Development Specialist at Villard Avenue BID. Angelique discusses why it is important to invest in community. She also talks about what she learned in her real estate investing journey. This episode is a good look at how real estate investing can give back to communities.
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Making The World Better: Investing In Community With Angelique Sharpe
I am super excited to have Angelique Sharpe with me, who I met in Clubhouse room talking about real estate. It’s like a real estate investing for women’s room. Everyone was being invited to talk about all the different ways in which they were investing. Angelique started sharing about what she was doing and I reached out to her, “I need to have you on the show.” She’s the Comprehensive Economic Development Specialist currently serving as Director of the City of Milwaukee Business Improvement District #19, also known as the Villard Avenue BID.
She is responsible for the management and oversight of a historic retail corridor comprising over 230 commercial parcels on the Northside of Milwaukee and has experienced decades of public and private disinvestment. Some of her projects include public way planning, street beautification and public safety and maintenance, district marketing, commercial business retention, attraction and other economic development and initiatives. She’s working on the policy side of the government side but also, she’s an investor herself. I’m super excited to have this conversation with her. Welcome, Angelique.
Thank you, Monick. It’s great crossing paths with you again in person, not just the voice. This is amazing. Thank you for having me.
Thanks for coming to the show. I always like to start with your own stories. Tell us how did you get started in real estate investing?
How I got started in real estate investment is I have been working in our community for over twenty years. The bulk of my work has been in community services, community development, youth and family services. There came a point where I have been working with nonprofits for a long time. I decided that I wanted to venture out into entrepreneurship and invest in our young people. Having a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Cultural Foundations of Community Engagement and Education with my undergrad focused on child and youth work, I opened up a family childcare center out of my home whose families aren’t into like the larger group. They want one-on-one attention, registered nurses and things like that.
I did and enjoyed that for seven years. I happened to decide to venture out to look for a building to grow my business. I found a beautiful mixed-use building on a key corner in a neighborhood here. I fell in love with the building. I didn’t know anything about real estate. It’s laughable now to talk about it, but I purchased a building from a guy that was in pre-foreclosure. He was trying to sell the building. I thought it looked great. That’s probably one of the red flags. You don’t want to ever just purchase a building because of how it looks.
I didn’t have a realtor. My mother invested with me. I purchased this building that the city had for $160,000 and I got it for $70,000. I had a lot more wrong with it than I thought was right. The building was extremely blighted. It had water coming in from the roof through the first floor down to the lower level and all the windows were busted out. It was boarded up. The plumbing had been cut and the electrical was cut and damaged. It was in bad shape. That probably would be the mistake of a lifetime.
As far as real estate, I don’t think any professional would tell you to purchase something because of how it looks. That’s my disclaimer for anybody out there. That’s eyeballing things like, “That looks pretty good.” When I purchased this building, it opened up that can of worms for me. I thought that I could pack up my childcare belongings out of my home, put them in a storage pot, drop the pot off at the building and get the lights cut on and set up shop, but it didn’t happen like that. Anybody that knows residential is a completely different beast than commercials.As far as real estate goes, no professional would tell you to purchase something because of how it looks. Click To Tweet
The building was not zoned for what I was supposed to be zoned for. I had to get buy-in from the community and from the other person. I had to get it surveyed. I had to get plumbing and electrical work on and inspections. It was all of these things that developers go through when they purchase a building they’re rehabbing or whatever the case may be. I fell in love with fixing up this vacant, blighted building. It woke up a skillset I didn’t even know I had. I’m coordinating contractors the age of my father to fix this building without any experience. That was the transfer of leadership skills and coordinating different things.
Within that, this was the position that became available and my ED chief taps me. I guess she had been inquiring about what I was doing. She told me about this position. I was like, “That sounds interesting.” After years in one lane, I wanted to switch things and try something else. I found out that I was good at it. It allowed me to take my advocacy skills for our community to the highest level that you can probably bring from a community standpoint. The next level would be a politician and we work with the mayor’s office to get things in place. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As you were saying, there were a lot of mistakes made but if you hadn’t have made them, then you wouldn’t be where you are now. What would you have done differently if you had to do it again? For those reading because I can rattle off a few that I would do differently.
There is a lot that I would’ve done differently, but there’s a part of me that appreciates every part of this experience. With me being a Business Improvement District Director, I’m managing a corridor. As you said, there are 230 parcels. Some of them are parcels of land that are owned by companies or individuals. There are also large corporations, billion-dollar corporations. There’s a lot of small mom and pop shops. You have such a mix. One thing that comes to the table with this is the understanding of what they’re dealing with. I have experienced everything that a building owner could have experienced in three years. I was supposed to expand my business but it ended up being a fix and flip in totality. I sold the building last November 16th of 2020 for $145,000. I was happy about learning like that.
I would say, the most difficult part was for one, it’s great to have a realtor or some type of team of different inspectors. All the things that you need to put the whole story in front of you so you can make an informed decision. I did not make an informed decision. I made a decision from the heart. I think because my heart was in the right place, the universe came together to support me to be able to jump over and move over every obstacle or hurdle that was formed against me. Not necessarily intentional but those are the things that have to happen. You have to have plumbing, building and electrical inspections.
I see how important those things were. I made mistakes. I was a person who didn’t know anything. I had people in my ear who did have experience either. They didn’t have my experience but they had an experience. I had people that were saying, “Go get this fixed. You don’t have to worry about an inspection later.” When the inspector showed up, they were like, “You’re going to have to tear that apart and start from scratch.” I don’t think anybody wants that to happen but it was out of love because I had great inspectors that talk to me and educated me through this process. They explained to me, “You said that you wanted to open up your child center here. Why would you have someone install less than plumbing or less than electrical when you have little human bodies that could be affected by your lack of care in your electrical or your plumbing.”
That opened my eyes like, “I’m going to do this 100% the right way. Please guide me. Educate me and show me how to do this the right way.” Those are some things that I want to share with our community too. I know that it’s not about right. We’re behind as far as getting a jumpstart into real estate. There was a point in time where we couldn’t even purchase or we can purchase land without the slave owner. In general, our culture is already behind in some aspects. The word of mouth and some things that have been said aren’t entirely accurate. We want to make sure that the things that we’re taught are also met with what are the standards of the industry. What are the rules and regulations of the industry and let’s match that together and move forward? I pivoted to answer your question but I wanted to be clear about what I did. How it affected me and how it changed my trajectory as far as real estate investing and developing.
There was one point that I want to underscore. We need a team and it is important to get advice. It’s like, “Who are you getting advice from?” You want to get advice from people who know what they’re doing and are knowledgeable. There are a lot of people that will give you advice, but if they don’t know what they’re doing, it’s not very worthwhile. It’s not necessarily the most valuable device. It could steer you in the wrong direction.
That’s why we talk to people like you, experienced people, experts and people who are seasoned professionals. I always look to that, no matter what. It’s like a journeyman. You have to understudy for the master. A journeyman electrician or a journeyman plumber and then you have the master plumbers and the master electrician. They are the ones we can pull the permits to get things done. I’ve learned a lot through this process and it opened my eyes. I’m a student myself, so while I’m learning, I’m also being mentored. It’s an interdependent human professional relationship as well.
We need others to bring us along on this journey. I want to talk with you a little bit about what you’re doing in Milwaukee and with this Business Improvement District. We were talking about what it means to gentrify a place or improve a community while having the community rise with it. I think a lot of areas and places. The neighborhood gets gentrified. It’s nicer but the people that live there get left behind or they get displaced. We want places to be improved. I’m not anti-gentrification. I want shops, restaurants, higher property values and nicer places with less crime and all of the things. How can we do that while we bring the community up with it? They get to share in the wealth. What are some of the things that you’re doing to promote that growth?
You hit the nail right on the head. Nobody can argue with the fact that we want to and we need to revitalize. The issue is when things are improved, there might be families that work their whole lives that are now retired on fixed incomes. How do the development and revitalization affect them? What are things in place to support them? What happens with the people who can only afford a certain income level? Especially with us having minimum wages that aren’t equitable or standard everywhere. You might have some entities that said, “Everything has to at least be $15 an hour.” The national minimum wage is not $15 an hour.
We think about those things. That’s why you have an affordable house and you have these low-income tax credits and all these different things. For me, I am trying to revitalize the community, but what we specialize in is community vision design. We want all of our stakeholders, the residents and the existing businesses. We’re not building for new businesses to come in. What about the people that have endured? That has been here that already have put years in investment. Now, you’re concrete and to try to pack up and move is economic hardships on people.
What we try to do is include our community in visioning. We want them to be at the table. We want their voices to be heard. We want to create strategies that include the community because what happens in turn, is that when we create a strategic plan and we push that plan forward. We’re pushing the community’s plan. You don’t generally get the same pushback because you’re pushing the community’s plan. I’m not pushing my plan. The district that I’m revitalizing is not the district that I’ve been a homeowner in. That’s not the Business Improvement District that my home isn’t but the Milwaukee is my home. As a city, we all pay taxes here. We all should be able to move and grow throughout the city and patronize and experience all of our cities. I see my city as, “All of it is mine, all of it is ours.” It’s not one area. The community visioning design is extremely important.
For example, when I’m working on economic vitality in the sense that I’m trying to bring in businesses. I’m trying to get the existing business is to scale up, I offer façade grants, safety and security grants, landscaping grants and things like that to get. As we’re building, I marry a parcel of land with the developers, so I know something brand new is going to be in the district. That’s going to be a driver to probably raise the taxes. How can we get our businesses to raise the level of what they’re doing as well so we all can be uniform? I don’t want someone to come in brand new and as everything is building, they’re starting to look lower because you stayed at this point.
It’s about building the capacity of them too because every person who owns a business is not an entrepreneur by choice. Some people might have inherited the business and didn’t even want to run it, but they don’t want to let it go. How do you still work with them? I’m at the table always trying to educate them and show them what you can do. If you don’t want to be there, guess what? You don’t have to be involved with it. You can be a business owner who owns the building, who leases up the space to get you a good solid business that will pay their lease that would keep everything pristine. You don’t have to worry about the revolving door in your business. That’s the whole, how do you attract, recruit and retain good business owners to even be at lessee for yourself.
We have people that hold properties not because they’re a real estate investor who’s just holding property because some people do that. They’re holding it because they’re not sure if someone would come in and start doing after-hours dog fight or something in their space. Now, they’re being ousted from their community. Those are some things that happened in our community before where the owners are living out of town and then they leased it out to someone and that person took over and started to run the business down. These are the things that we’re using as an example of how we try to get them to be here and to scale up. Let’s get you some grants, landscape and some signs. Let’s get your curb appeal together. Let’s get you matched with some city grants where you can get some things done to work on them on the inside.What we try to do is include our community envisioning. We want them to be at the table. We want their voices to be heard. Click To Tweet
We can again get people to scale up as the business district is moving up because that’s the easiest way. All these new things are popping up and the people who are here or that might have always been here and then steady for a while, they get left behind because everybody’s like, “What’s the new thing that’s here?” That’s how we’re fighting gentrification. I’m trying to keep you here. Now the issue is, I can even walk away with a good conscience if you’re like, “I’m not going to put anything. I don’t want to do anything.” Those people will just have to let nature run its course.
I wish no ill will for a person that decides like, “I’m not going to do anything else,” but there’s going to be consequences for our choices or our actions or inactions. I would rather it be that way than to let everybody stay the way they are. Not worry about bringing in new things all the time and all this new development and everything is almost irrelevant because everybody’s looking for the new things. I’m always trying to keep us moving forward together, as you said, instead of focusing on, let’s revitalize. When you revitalize, you’re not revitalizing the new things. You should be revitalizing everything. I’m not looking at the storefront, I’m looking at, “I’m not going to just advocate for curb bump-outs and bike lanes and public art for new things are coming in.”
I want to do that for the existing businesses as well to continue getting traction and having an attractive street, presence for when people drive through it. When things look great, they want to stop and check things out. I’m not doing one thing at one time here. We’re doing events and activating the street. If you get people to the streets, they’ll start looking around and seeing what’s going on. There’s a lot of moving parts but it’s working in the end because I feel like we will be greater together instead of focusing on one part.
Our community has already suffered. As a city, every year, we pay our taxes at the end of the year and it goes to the city, when the city decides what’s going to happen and where it’s going to happen. For me, where I come in is, I’m the advocate. “We paid our taxes. What are you going to do while I’m here?” That’s my job. If there’s no one to do that, you’re at the municipality or whatever they’re planning or have, whatever their projects are. That’s what’s been happening to us. We’ve been building up our downtown. The books out here, the brewers. We have all these amazing things happening on our lakefront and our downtown. The predominantly black areas are still being taxed every year, but the core infrastructure, no priority on investments. That’s where it comes from and that’s my job.
If there is a woman who wants to start to invest and want to do a commercial or mixed-use purchase in that area, what advice would you have for her?
I encourage women in development. It’s male-dominated, but I’m seeing women arise. It’s amazing. Do some community envisioning. Get within a community development corporation, an economic development corporation, get with a resident association or a commercial district as a business association and try to find a larger advocacy group. I would even say, create a plan first. Talk to the people. Find out what their needs are, what are they looking for? What are their problems and try to build your development or investment?
Whatever it is that you want to do, center it around what the community wants because you want everybody to patronize, come, sign up for a lease and be a part of whatever it is that you do. In our hearts, we might want to do something somewhere, but there are people, there are businesses that are there. They’ll tell you what they want and need. We can’t come in wanting to see our vision in other people’s neighborhoods without their input. I would say, let the community tell you what they need and say, “If you wanted to do a mixed-use development, that’s fine but find out what kind.” What would be the best mixed-use development for this neighborhood?
Build your plan, hash it out, present it, show some pictures, show some things and ask people. The community doesn’t have a developer mind or an investor mindset. They might not know the terminology. You give them image preference surveys. Show them pictures of different types of plans or different types of public art or different types of green infrastructure that you can incorporate in development. Give them pictures and put stickers on the different pictures. You can still create it. If you’re looking for metrics, those are your metrics. You can count those stickers and you can still say, “The community wants this. We’re okay. We’re going to incorporate this in our development.”
You can do that with children. You can show to children ten different types of trees and what those trees do. You can give them stickers and you can ask them, “What type of trees do you want over here? What type of equipment do you want here?” It’s that simple. When we are developers, it might seem like, “I’m trying to build. I think that’s a minutia.” You don’t have to make it complicated. Bring things to their level and it doesn’t have to be hard. You do these things and if there’s anything that I could share, it would be that for me.
When you allow people to help decide, they’re engaged. They want to come back and patronize it because they’ll feel part of the success of your business.
That’s pride. You’re building the neighborhood pride and that’s what I want to give people. I want people to know that our corridor is a rare jewel because we have over 70% walkability in our corridor. Meaning, you can walk from shop to shop. We live in the days where people are still navigating the territory of the mall model fails. Our malls now are struggling. They’re either dead or they’re struggling to try to figure out how to keep their mall going because things are far apart that people have to get in a car, drive to one store, shop there, put that in the cart and get back in the car.
People are looking to go in. It’s more about efficiency and accessibility. We have something unique that I try to show them. Again, it’s that interdependent relationship. If you don’t include the residents, they are the ones who have to get the lease the business lease. How do you not include them? They’re the ones that are going to keep us up and running. As a business corridor, I’m always talking to the businesses to never get too ahead of yourself to where you think, “I’m going to do this.” If you don’t have any clue of what the community wants, you can build a store full of inventory and people might still walk past it to go somewhere else because you’re not offering the needs and amenities that sustain the lives of the people that live around there. It’s a marriage situation when it comes to that. I try to remind people of that.
What do you wish you’d known at the beginning that you now know? Share one thing that would make the biggest difference.
I would re reiterate. I wish that I knew how important the people were at the beginning because they drive everything, even politically. These are the other women, the other men and our local politicians. These are their constituents. These are their voting base. They’re looking to cater to their voting base. To know how important the resident, the taxpayer is, that voter is and different ways on how you can empower them, once you empower them and build their capacity, they can change the entire game. It’s not the developers. It’s the people. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen developers and investors come out with all the heart and money in the world. When those residents are engaged and they come out, that could be the yea or nay to what you’re doing.
It’s not going to be just another person or a committee’s decision. It’s going to come down to those people. If they show up, you want them to show up and support what it is that you’re doing. I wish that I had known before how important that was even way back when I was doing what I was doing because I started off everything before and found out, “You have to get community buy-in.” I had already purchased the building. I’d already started getting things done. If I would have known how much power in the people, that would take any investor such a long way forward.
Community buy-in is important, especially if you’re trying to do anything new, get anything permitted and approved. In any case, relationships are always important with real estate. Whatever type of real estate you’re doing, it’s a relationship business. I like what you’re saying because I often think about the relationship with my team members, with my tenants and the different people I partner with but I don’t necessarily always think about the relationship with the greater community, the community as a whole, although it is part of my mission. Our mission at Real Estate Investor Goddesses is to only invest where we can leave a property and a community better than we found it but thinking, “This community buy-in piece is great.”All of us should enjoy the same quality of life and have the same amenities at our fingertips. Click To Tweet
That’s the only thing that I try to bring. To me, what I’ve noticed is almost that missing jewel of a piece that would take an investor or real estate developer to the next level is because they don’t teach. They teach you how to do this or how to crunch the numbers, how to get the credits, how do you get site control. They teach you all of those things when you’re developing, but they don’t talk about the greater community. The community is bigger than that one development and that could be a problem.
For an investor, if you focused on your development and it has 30 units, but you have a town of 100,000 people that have a problem with that. Thinking about this effect on the whole community, how does the whole community receive and what it is that they’re doing? How are you making it a part of that? A lot of times, it’s just about connecting with the greater community. It doesn’t have to be a hardship on the developer when they tell you or an investor when they say, “You want to provide senior housing but what kind of programs and amenities do you offer.” You’re thinking like, “That’s out of my league. I’m not a Social Service agent, etc.”
There are probably several organizations within that community that is serving that population. As you said, Monick, let’s build some relationships and figure out how we can see what they’re offering. Maybe they can do some satellite work here. I don’t have to hire a full-time staff to provide those lists and reach out to our community and let them do what they’re already doing. They’re probably already looking for someone or someplace to spread the work that they’re doing.
Before we get into our famed end-of-show trinity, which is our brag, gratitude and desire, what is the best place or best way for people to connect with you to find out more about what you do?
I would say social media be it Facebook, the website www.VillardAve.com and you’ll see on my website all of the work that I do. I also do consulting to be able to help people because a lot of people want me to support them in their projects when I’m off work. That’s where LADYInc Ventures. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I love to help people achieve whatever it is that they’re doing in the community, be it entrepreneurship, development and all of those things.
Now, it’s time for our trinity, which is a brag, gratitude and desire. What is one thing you are celebrating now? What is your brag?
My brag was that last June 2020, we made Milwaukee history being the City’s First Virtual Charrette. We honed in on specific properties to re-imagine. We work with five different architectural companies. We started out in person and the pandemic came. They sat me down and said, “What do you want to do? We don’t know what’s going to go on with this pandemic thing. Do you want to put it on hold or do you want to pivot online and see?” I said, “It’s ample time and a perfect opportunity for us to pivot online.” There’s a lot of work to do and time to do it.
If we wait, then we would have been a year and a half out where things are starting back up. I’m so happy that we were able to create amazing renderings and plans for our district. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you don’t have plans, you can’t go out there and advocate for resources. If you go out there and ask for resources without a plan, that’s the first thing that they’re going to ask you is, where are your plans? We have the City of Milwaukee’s 13th Charrette but the first virtual one. I’m in a history book. That’s my brag.
Well bragged. What is one thing you’re grateful for?
I’m grateful for our community and for all of the people. I’m grateful for the investors. I’m grateful for our business owners and entrepreneurs that are willing to take their dream, their resources and put it out here and give a chance in our community. I’m appreciative of the families that live over there, that patronize, that helped keep us going. I appreciate our people at the mayor’s level that are invested as far as who cares about what our public infrastructure looks like. Who cares about what is dumping in our neighborhood, the people that care about investing or being able to make land available to developers and investors? Our community is pretty dope over here.
Last but not the least, what is one desire?
My desire is to see an equitable distribution of resources in our city. It’s still not equitable. We have a lot of issues with that in our city. I would like for them to understand that there is no honor in building one community at the expense of letting another one go down. I guess that’s probably the nicest word that I can give it but it’s not honoring that. I would rather see all of us move forward together a little bit at a time than for one area to build up and be amazing while another neighborhood can be getting resources for that to happen. I’d like to see that.
So shall your desire be or so much better than you can imagine.
Thank you. I agree with you and I hope the same thing for you, Monick. Thank you for giving a platform and a voice to those of us that are out there. Sometimes doing the thankless, overworked and underpaid work. For me, it’s not about that. I think all of us should be able to enjoy the same quality of life and have the same amenities at our fingertips.
Thank you so much, Angelique for coming on and sharing what you’re doing. You can connect with her and see what she’s doing with a Business Improvement District at VillardAve.com. If you were doing a similar project and you’d love some consulting work, go to LADYIncVentures.com for that. You can connect with me at REIGoddesses.com to find out about our education programs, our investment opportunities, our Investor Club and to connect to our amazing community of women investors from all over the world. Subscribe to the show, like it and come back next time for another episode.
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About Angelique Sharpe
Angelique L. Sharpe, M.S., is a Comprehensive Economic Development Specialist currently serving as Director of the City of Milwaukee Business Improvement District #19 also known as the Villard Avenue BID.
Ms. Sharpe is responsible for the management and oversight of a Historic retail corridor comprising over 230 commercial parcels on the Northside of Milwaukee that has experienced decades of public and private disinvestment.
Some of her projects typically include public way planning, street beautification, public safety and maintenance, district marketing, commercial business retention/attraction and other economic development initiatives.
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