Monday, July 28, 2008

Hotel Liberia?!? Does AB Owe Bob Johnson An Apology?

Anyone who's been around this site for any amount of time knows I'm not incredibly fond of BET Founder Bob Johnson. While you could debate the merits (or lack thereof) of BET's content for days, the paradox is that Johnson is also a successful businessman who has perfected the art of "working the system" to the tune of billions. And there's something confusingly good about that.

Then again, just when you think you've got the guy pegged, he turns around and does something head scratching like this.

Monday Bob Johnson plans to unveil it to potential investors and guests the RLJ Kendeja Resorts & Villas. It will be an $8 million, 85-room, four-star resort on the Atlantic coast of northern Africa, near the capital of Liberia. Whatever images the world might have of an impoverished country that is still trying to recover from 13 years of civil war, Johnson wants this project to provide a new one.

"There is no hotel in West Africa like this," he says, sitting straight-backed on the edge of the bed in a crisp blue suit. "This will be a Class-A beachfront property, with great views from the bar and restaurant out to the ocean. This really is going to be something."

Johnson is unreservedly enthusiastic about being the first to take on such a risky, upscale project in a country that has not seen a new hotel room built in 20 years. Slated to open in March, with rates of $150 to $200 a night, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is expected to host the first guests. And, if all goes as planned, she will be followed by ambassadors, multinational corporate executives, foundations and others looking to fuel Liberia's growth.

Ground was broken in March, and with a labor force of 500 Liberian workers, Johnson said, it should be done within 12 months.

Back home, Johnson plans to host energy, airline and mining executives, diplomats and potential investors at the hotel room in Bethesda, to talk about the project and raise their interest in setting up operations in the country.

"This is a philanthropic effort that will make money," he said. Those returns, he said, will help spur reconstruction of the country's schools, roads, hospitals, utilities and businesses.
I'll be the first to admit, I'm incredibly ignorant when it comes to issues of the diaspora, and I don't know a hill of beans about Liberia. Still, it's hard not to see this as a good thing. Johnson is taking a calculated risk and putting his name, money, and reputation on the line to try and address some of the very real economic issues in the motherland. That's to be applauded, right?

I guess if nothing else, this once again goes to show the danger in painting a person in absolutes (ie: a "bad" guy or a "good" guy), something I admittedly do waaay too much on this blog myself. Sure, Johnson is a jerk. Those stereotypical comments about Obama last Winter were so uncalled for. His racial stiffarming of the NBA into giving him a franchise, only to run it into the ground by operating it on a shoestring Mom and Pops budget wasn't a good look either. And let's not even get started on BET.

That network has set Black folks back about as far as that one time Vivica A. Fox was on Celebrity Jeopardy.[1] Seriously.

But, unless I'm totally misreading it, this shows that the guy, in addition to wanting to make money, seems to have some modicum of a heart. Right? Because let's be honest, if this were Denzel, or Magic Johnson, or Jay-Z, or Lebron, or Oprah, or anyone else beloved in Black America, we'd see this as a great thing. So why isn't it also a great thing when we don't particularly care for the person doing it?

I can't believe I'm typing this, but Bob Johnson is actually about to get a JJB Says "Well Done".

Is the world coming to an end? Did I miss that memo?

Question: How do you feel about Bob Johnson's Hotel Liberia? Does it change your perception of him?

Liberia's New Lap of Luxury [WashPost]

[1] Please tell me I'm not the only one that saw this.

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