Early in l989 word had gotten out that the RSA was about to construct some 450,000 square feet of office space in the capitol complex. That space, added to the 700,000 square feet in the just completed “Missing Persons” Building, would impact the Aronov and Lowder real estate empires, which virtually had a lock on leases to State agencies.
Also, early in ‘89, Dr. Bronner was making noises about buying WSFA-TV. The proposed television station purchase and the real estate investments both resulted from the RSA’s never-ending search for sound investments for the retirement systems funds, and the shortage of conservative instruments available through the stock market.
Aaron Aronov, the developer who master-minded the renowned Normandale Shopping Center, sent word to Dr. Bronner demanding that he back out of the office building construction, or else he, Aronov, would launch an attack on the RSA’s purchase of WSFA-TV. Aronov knew he would look self-serving if he attacked the building construction, but he could stir the television purchase controversy with impunity, raising all manner of first amendment bugaboos. Bronner’s reply was, in effect, “go to hell,” and Aronov promptly carried out his threat.
One of Aronov’s first moves was to offer to pay the Alabama Trial Lawyers’ rent in 750 Washington for two years, provided the ATLA would refuse to move out and thus block construction of the Plaza Office Building. As noted earlier, Trial Lawyer President Don Gilbert refused the offer, and he subsequently entered into a settlement with RSA to permit construction to proceed.
Aronov also attempted to organize all the real estate developers in the City to oppose the RSA move into their market. Pinkie Hasson, an Aronov operative, did much of the leg work for this endeavor, and he even called my business partner, Bill Pearson, and asked him to attend a strategy meeting. Bill, Renis Jones, and I had developed a small office complex at 777 South Lawrence, and we were thus considered developers by the real estate community. Obviously Pinkie Hasson failed to make the connection that we were also working for Dr. Bronner.
In a meeting on February 17, 1989, I reported this move to Dr. Bronner, in confidence because Bill Pearson was reluctant to snitch on Hasson. Despite my request for anonymity, Bronner immediately reported the opposition meeting to Peggy Roberts, a reporter with the Advertiser. He even gave her my name. When Peggy called me, I denied knowledge; she called Bronner, who then called me and demanded that I level with Peggy.
In my resultant conversation with the reporter on March 9th, I insisted that my words be off the record, and I invented a white lie to the effect that Hasson had called me, so that Bill Pearson’s name would not appear. Peggy Roberts’ article (below) appeared on March 20th, and I was mentioned in the last paragraph of a rather lengthy story. The Roberts article brought out the self-serving aspect of the Aronov attack, and pretty well blunted the real estate group’s cry against the public money, unfair competition angle.
However, Aronov was able to make good on his threat regarding WSFA. He even reached Governor Hunt, who served as Chairman of one of the Retirement System Boards, and who publicly opposed the purchase. The Advertiser also joined in the chorus of opposition. Bronner quietly folded his TV hand, kept on with the building project, and plotted for a later date for a television purchase.
The Aronov damage did not end there. Using his connections to the Business Council of Alabama, Aronov further influenced Gov. Guy Hunt to oppose not only the TV Station purchase, but also the building construction itself. The carefully worked out deals to secure State tenants for the Plaza were blocked by the Governor who lashed out against the RSA’s intrusion into private enterprise. Bronner argued that private enterprise had spread State government so far apart it was inefficient, that the offices were substandard and that rents were too high, but Hunt was not persuaded. Bronner pushed on anyway.
Hunt then called in his Finance Director and the State Attorney General, who both notified the Director of the State Building Commission of their interest in any possible legal infractions in the bid process of the RSA projects. That ended our honeymoon with BC Director Bob Crumpton, who was in our office the day after the main bids were taken on September 6, 1989, to see if he could find any possible irregularity. To my knowledge that was the only time in my 40 years of practice that the Building Commission Director has ever made such a visit. Of course, by that time the BC had already approved our final specs, drawings and bidding documents, so there was little he could hope to find.
All this was reported to Bronner, who in turn demanded that the contract, with bonds attached, be on his desk for signature within three days, an almost impossible turn-around time. There’s nothing like working for heavyweights!
All of this left PH&J in a rather uncomfortable position. By start of the real construction, our client had pissed off the real estate community, the Governor, and the Mayor; and the State Building Commission and Attorney General were gunning for the project. And yours truly was the lightning rod for all those who wanted to lash out against a Bronner they could not quite reach.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)