Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Hey Mo!

I’m as much a celebrity news junky as the next guy, so I naturally glommed on to a recent Wall Street Journal article on “Celebrities Who Make Real Estate a Second Career.”

The article’s beginning was something less than auspicious, celebrity-wise.

First up: Rob VanWinkle.

Now, the only VanWinkle I’m even passingly familiar with is Rip VanWinkle, but I knew that old Rip was a) fictitious and b) would probably be dead by now. Sort of.

But the VanWinkle celebrity who’s now a real-estate developer in Florida is the rap star Vanilla Ice.

It almost goes without saying that, while doing my initial celebrity-of-yore information retrieval,  I momentarily confused Vanilla Ice with Milli Vanilli. Then I remembered that there were two of Milli Vanilli, and that Vanilla Ice was the sort of bling bro who would development a home with:

…a swim-up bar lighted with fiber optics and a Jacuzzi that seats 25. (Source: WSJ Online)

The article upped the ante, celebrity-wise, with throwaway mentions that both Ellen DeGeneres and Diane Keaton had made a bit of coin flipping houses in Hollywood.

"People who are creative—they like to take something and make it what other people didn't see," says Kurt Rappaport, co-founder of Southern California-based Westside Estate Agency, who has represented Ms. DeGeneres and other celebrities.

And, of course, there’s the fact that some folks would pay a bit of a premium to have a home associated with a bona fide celeb. Not that we don’t have this on Beacon Hill. I recently took a fund-raising kitchen tour of neighborhood, well, kitchens, and in one there was a modest little sign indicating that Thomas Bailey Aldrich had once lived there.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich! Poet, novelist, Yankee. Now there’s the apotheosis of a Beacon Hill celebrity. I just wikipedia’d him, and found that his last words were "In spite of it all, I am going to sleep; put out the lights." Not clear whether those words were uttered on Beacon Hill or not. (And speaking of celebrities, let me mention that, while I was on the kitchen tour, I saw Secretary of State John Kerry, surrounded by Secret Service men, leaving his home – which was not on the kitchen tour, unfortunately – for a bike ride.)

Anyway, another minor celeb who’s in the RE biz is David Charvet, who played a lifeguard on “Baywatch,” and now develops high-end homes in Malibu (of all perfectly appropriate places).

I will admit to having watched “Baywatch” once or twice, but this was when the lifeguard of record was David Hasselhoff, a second-rate celebrity par excellence, that’s for sure. But I was not familiar at all with Charvet.

Mr. Charvet says his company is working on six homes. One of them, a 14,000-square-foot home with eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, has a theater, a dance studio, tennis court, basketball court, a recording studio, a pool and four fountains. The house started out as a spec home, but Mr. Charvet says his wife, TV personality Brooke Burke-Charvet, "fell kind of in love with it," so the family is planning to move in. Nonetheless Mr. Charvet said the home is available for $18 million to $20 million.

Brooke Burke-Charvet! Yet another celebrity who has somehow managed to escape my ardent attention. And there she was, all those years, dancing with the stars.

Well, “Dancing with the Stars” aside, she gets major celebri-props for having children named Heaven Rain, Sierra Sky, and Shaya Braven.

Moving on, we get Magic Johnson and A-Rod as real estate moguls (Johnson) and dabblers (A-Rod – guess he’s got time on his hands now that he’s band from baseball for a while…).

And then there was a celebrity I actually know and love.

Sure, he’s not a capital-C-Celeb like Magic Johnson or Ellen DeGeneres. But, at least in my book, Mo Vaughn is a way-bigger celebrity than Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice combined.

Plus he’s a major league do-gooder.

For those who aren’t familiar with Mo, he used to play for the Red Sox, and, although Mo spells his name without the “e”, it all sounds that same when 34,000 fans are hollering Mo/Moe. Which I greatly enjoyed.

Anyway, Mo put in a some good years with the Sox, and as he was almost a home-town honey – he’s from Connecticut, and there just aren’t a lot of New England boys who play professional baseball. So he was a great favorite in these parts. He was also very involved in the community, and, when he played here, he made a donation to St. Francis House for every homer he hit. And one year he came to our annual dinner wearing a red leather suit with an Eisenhower jacket. Just wow! We were very disappointed when Mo departed for the Angels, and took his prodigious bat with him.

But it looks like he’s still on the side of the small-a angels, with a successful real-estate development company that specializes in affordable housing:

Eugene Schneur, who co-founded real-estate development company Omni New York with former Red Sox star Mo Vaughn in 2004, says his partner's fame was crucial to getting the company off the ground. Neither one had any experience in real-estate development when Mr. Vaughn approached Mr. Schneur with the idea of building affordable housing.

"I knew I wasn't going to be able to play ball forever," says Mr. Vaughn.

Luckily, the first baseman's fame helped them gain entree into the real estate world. "Early on, I was like, 'OK, we can pretty much get a meeting where we want as long as Mo shows up,'" Mr. Schneur says. Omni now owns some 7,800 units of affordable housing at 34 sites, most of them in New York City, and has over 400 employees.

Seems a bit more useful than blinged up houses with Jacuzzis that seat 25.

Hey, Mo, if you ever want to come back to Boston, we could use some affordable housing here, too.

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