It's well-known that McDonalds (the world leader in the fast-food business) is, more to the point, a world leader in real estate speculation. It certainly makes good business sense. Sites that are good for fast-food restaurants are those that see lots of traffic: close to transportation facilities and desirable neighborhoods. There is no point in making McDonalds the villain of this story; the company is simply taking advantage of legal, conventional business opportunities. The way in which it does this, though, tells us a great deal about how our economy works.
We're going to consider a particularly dramatic example of a process that is, nevertheless, repeated again and again, around the world. For decades there has been a drive-thru McDonalds at 34th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan. Now, you might ask, with Manhattan real estate worth what it's worth, does it make sense to have a drive-thru, with a big parking lot? Maybe not, but, this place was way on the West Side, near the wasteland of the old Hudson rail yards, not too convenient to public transportation.
Ah, yes -- the Hudson Yards. We've heard of that, haven't we? This is the site of Manhattan's priciest new development, a public-private partnership in skyscraper-building. As Related Companies works to platform over about two acres of railroad tracks (working around continuing rail operations on these tracks), New York City is paying the interest on their construction loans. And, the city has thrown in a brand new subway station, to the tune of some $2.4 billion (while the Second Avenue subway line limps along toward its long-awaited completion date of "whenever").
The 50-story mixed-use tower planned for 50 Hudson Yards was the last big building to be announced in the new complex, and the lot under our drive-thru McDonalds was the last one acquired for it.
Now, it's not like McDonald's is averse to cooking and serving burgers, and hiring people to do that. It slung burgers on this site for quite some time, possibly at a loss. It employed a total of 65 (full and part-time) employees at this restaurant. The land and building were valued by the city at $3.9 million, and the company paid an annual property tax bill of over $174,000.
Why did McDonalds do that? Why, as a long-term investment. The parcel was sold this year for $35.6 million. McDonalds is -- beyond all doubt -- lovin' it.
This is the last article contribution by Lindy Davies, who has recently passed on from this life due to illness. As a dedicated educator of economic justice, he undoubtedly loved making the world a better place as well. His contributions towards the movement are lasting and he will be greatly missed.
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LINDY DAVIES was Program Director of the Henry George Institute and Editor of the Georgist Journal. He was the author of The Alodia Scrapbook, the fictitious story of how a struggling African nation used Geoism to set itself on the path to prosperity, and of the novel The Sassafras Crossing. He managed a successful campaign to get the Henry George Institute's distance-learning program approved by the National College Credit Recommendation Service. He passed away in 2019, and is lovingly remembered by the many people whose lives he touched.