Damon Hemmerdinger, Selling the Archie Bunker Borough Nationally

It is. We’re sort of still proving the location. And so the tenants are pushing some of the risk onto us. The deals are structured in a way that we’re bearing more of the risk of it not working. So, when it does work, we get a larger piece of the upside than otherwise. And the rents differ wildly depending on your location within the project, the kind of product you sell, your power as a brand and as a tenant.

Still proving the location, yet you’re already thinking of expansion?

This part is 400,000 square feet on 12 acres. Phase two is six more acres, probably as much square footage as this, and there will be more development later on. We’ll basically double the size.

Handing out cash can’t hurt the cause. All these giveaways have brought the project some considerable publicity. Why did you decide to dole out $20,000 of your own savings?

I know a number of people in retail—not in Atlas Park, but other places around the country—who had separately said to me that in the third week of October, their customers stopped showing up, virtually overnight. Those people just weren’t going out. Then, I started to hear, in late January, early February, lots of people saying, ‘Gee, this is going to be bad until the election.’ I think that’s self-fulfilling. So much of our economy is based on perception and confidence. If everybody believes that it won’t be better till November, then it really won’t be better till November.

The impact of that at Atlas Park was no worse than anywhere else. But it was dramatic. Because some of the businesses here are locally owned and people put themselves on the line. I really wanted to do something to show those people, our tenants, our customers, that we can all actually do something. The only way that it will get better is if we all decide to believe that it will.

There’s this Gandhi quote, ‘Be the change you want.’ While Gandhi and I have almost nothing in common, I wanted to do something. I wanted to make the point in a way that people will hear.

I thought that using dollar bills as the message to ask people to get back out and either invest or save or spend but do something might strike a chord and might therefore be heard by people. Or at the very least make some happy people in Queens. So we’ve been giving away $20,000, which came out of my savings account.

How did you arrive at that figure?

There’s no good answer to that. We gave away $200 a day around Queens in all kinds of locations for 25 days. Then 60 days of giveaways at Atlas Park as well.

Why spread it around and not just do it here?

Atlas Park is obviously part of a much bigger economy, and it’s not as big a part of the economy as it might be someday. So we went around the borough to all kinds of locations. As we handed dollar bills out, we asked people to spend it or invest it that day.

That’s the caveat.

Yeah. We didn’t ask people to actually promise. But we asked them to spend it that day. One woman bought a hamster with it.

What’s the most striking reaction you’ve witnessed?

It doesn’t surprise me that some people were skeptical, but I’d say most of the people that I tried to give dollar bills to wouldn’t take them. Only in New York! They just keep walking. They avoid eye contact at all costs. Which is what New Yorkers do to crazy people in the street.

There’s actually some great video of some of the people’s reactions, if you want to see—it’s on YouTube.

Damon Hemmerdinger, Selling the Archie Bunker Borough Nationally