The Equitable Building and another future

The Equitable Building was foreclosed upon by 2010; Georgia State attempted a bid shortly thereafter. Photo by Chasity Smith | The Signal

“[We] do not yet know the true nature of the beast that we are encountering,” former (then incoming) Georgia State President Mark Becker notes at the 2009 Investiture Gala, ceremonial mace and medallion adjacent him. 

Seven some blocks over from the receiving Sports Center, real estate advisory Equastone has defaulted on its mortgage for 100 Peachtree; $52 million owed. Fulton County auctions the building for $29.5 million by June. 

“We can, however, act to shape the future,” Becker continues.

Ascribing a particular year as the “beginning” of the subprime mortgage crisis would be ahistorical. The conditions for a 2007 crisis were sufficiently laid out by 2001. 

An opaque network of financiers had been drawing dividends off high-interest loans to “subprime” (or bad-credit) borrowers since before the second Bush took office. The model was almost necessarily untenable in the long-term – but the short-term profits were immense. We would all be dead in the long-term, anyhow. 

Photo by Chasity Smith | The Signal

The 33-story Equitable Building (an incorrect name) has rotated its tenants some five times since 1997. Mark Becker’s entry coincides with the veritable collapse of the Atlanta real estate market. Equastone had only purchased Equitable some two years prior.

The presidential mace and medallion principally embody authority. Becker by 2009 wielded a particular sovereignty over an especially malleable future. 2009 was an historical conjuncture delivered to Becker by way of a career whose every step seemed to lead him there – and by way of a world market whose every overture seemed to lead the rest of us there.

Among an arrangement of investors unable to remain liquid with the lapping tides of economic freefall, Georgia State would be a fixture, solid. The university-business had its inflection point here; Becker was correct. Everything, for a select few in the interstices, was then possible.

Through the year following Becker’s investiture, Georgia State continued the broad-scale purchase of parcels around the downtown area – a redevelopment campaign having begun in 2007, with the acquisition of 25 Park Place

By August 2010, the university has bought up two hotels to become Piedmont North – a quiet purchase with a credible return on investment. As private lending institutions like Fannie Mae were placed under federal conservatorship, a public learning institution had begun an ascendant operation in raising capital, Becker as chief executive.

Everything has a degree of necessary contingency; events can transpire or not. The threaded determinants towards an outcome can permeate each other, can all reach out like hands over and around each other – but nothing at all happens. Becker did not have to become president. Borrowers did not have to default, insofar as lenders did not have to loan. 

We deal with that which has happened in the form of memories, where the possibility of their impossibility has been thrown aside. Though the relevant actors are gone, and the past arrangements now shuffled, the event did happen; we know it by way of its radiant effects, a dream transmitted from the past to the real makeup of the present.

Becker shaped the future. The beige stucco aside Piedmont North – the translucent blue, tinted wall of windows making a perimeter about its dining hall – these are testaments to the malleability of events, dictated by the resolution of a mace, the gleam of a medallion. 

The unhoused person on every corner is a testament to the waves of the economy washing the underside of the population ashore. The unsheltered person dead and untallied is affected by the need for liquidity in the short-term; the university, in turn, is not. We are a fixture – we could be dead in the long-term, but so is everyone else. 

How do we know when nothing has happened? 

The foreclosure of Equitable enabled its reappearance on the market in 2010. Now nearly entirely vacant, the tower was to be a vehicle, a landmark for the next proprietor. Georgia State begins its bid shortly thereafter.

Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

We know little about the potential purchase of Equitable by a Becker-led real estate apparatus. Conversations of that sort are played out on a stage whose curtains are drawn, into whom we only have the vaguest of insights. 

These types of contingent events appear to us as necessary, but only after the fact of their non-happening – the possibility of something different is never shown to us before the full theater lights. We only see the bows.

The Equitable Building (again, incorrect – force of memory) is known to us now as the Georgia’s Own Credit Union Building. The old signs are gone, the new symbols unfamiliar, only vaguely connected to their past referents. We are only aware of the possibility of something else by way of memory. For those of us without the mace and medallion, we are only aware of possibility in the long-term – by the time all pertinent actors and props are dead.

2009 onwards gave the possibility of a Georgia State real estate empire, whose beacon would be Equitable. Georgia State never bought the building; Mark Becker is now gone. The recession has passed, after the ebbing and flowing of stimulus packages and jobs shed like bubbles on seafoam popping. Things could have been different; they were not.

Georgia State now owns Turner Field, instead – it has encircled Summerhill and turned its gaze towards Auburn Avenue. It has built up a constellation in and around Hank Aaron Boulevard; it has won. These events have happened – Georgia State could act to shape the future.

The difficulty with any effort at organizing students – with organizing anyone, for that matter – towards some political end is, of course, the long-term. Our political projects are the manipulation of the future through the modes of the present. We are only active in the long-term – but in the long-term, we are all dead.

The possibility of better things for all of us is known in the form of flitting images of surpassed impossibilities, events which have happened and are known to us by their residue cast over all of the present. Something better is possible, yes – though we deal already with what has happened: the impossibility of better things having happened, instead.