Adewale Agboola (pronounced “WAH-Lay”) and his partner, Cyrus Coleman have purchased the historic Enterprise Building in downtown Portland originally constructed in 1905. The 20,000 square foot building is located at 433 NW 4th Avenue, Portland, Oregon. They plan to repurpose the 20,000 square foot building located at 433 NW 4th Avenue, into a creative hub dedicated to the BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People Of Color) community in Portland and are calling it the Creative Homies Enterprise Building (the “Building”).
Adewale believes there is a critical need for such a gathering/work space in the market for the growing BIPOC community in Portland. A series of curated spaces are being designed, ranging from a subterranean music bar and lounge, to a museum-style gallery, cafe/wine bar and boutique store, a full production studio space, with equipment rental and creative space available for use by the Portland creative community along with rental lodging for studio guests.
Adewale Agboola is a photographic artist by trade. His work is emotionally driven, capturing the mood and demeanor of his subjects in powerful photographic images. He is well-versed in understanding human emotion, art + storytelling and not afraid to express his strong emotions through his work.
He attended Mankato state university for Aviation and studio art. After being recruited to travel to China one summer to photograph lifestyle, Adewale became fascinated with the art of photography and creative directing. Now, after a 15- year career in the creative industry, he has worked with clients such as Nike, Target, Adidas, Wolf and Shepherd, redwing, RedBull, General Mills, Invisalign, Lil Nas X, Gronk, Bon Iver, The national, Chastity brown, Indigo girls, Ani Difranco and the list goes on.
Adewale is fascinated by people and has a genuine love for everyone he meets. His superpower is bringing like-minded people together. His ability to communicate and encapsulate moments from extreme to intimate is born of a deep and natural understanding of emotion. His photographs speak for themselves because of the beauty and truth they lay bare.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:07] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate. For Good. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors, those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo in order to build better for everyone. And speaking of building better, I’m very excited to share that my company, Small Change, is now raising capital through a community round that is open to the public. Small Change is a leading equity crowdfunding platform for impact investment in real estate. For as little as $250, anyone 18 and over can invest in Small Change, helping to fuel our growth as we disrupt the old boys club of capital that routinely ignores so many qualified people and projects. Please visit wefunder.com/smallchange to review the full details of our raise and to make an investment if you can. And remember, investing is risky. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
Eve: [00:01:38] Today I’m talking with Adewale Agboola. Adewale is an astounding photographer with many Fortune 500 clients. As a Black man, he is in a minority in that profession. Only about 5% of professional photographers are Black. He’s also a minority in his hometown, Portland, Oregon. Only about 13% of the population in Portland is Black. But he and his partner, Cyrus Coleman, another successful artist who also lives in Portland, started hatching a plan to create a small art gallery and meeting space aimed at people just like them. Last year, they closed on a 20,000 square foot building in downtown Portland. Not so small at all. And have some very big plans to turn it into a creative hub catering to BIPOC creatives. They call themselves the Creative Homies. You’ll want to hear more.
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Eve: [00:03:07] Hello, Adewale. Thank you so much for joining me.
Adewale Agboola: [00:03:10] Hey Eve, how are you doing?
Eve: [00:03:12] Your career path has fired both sides of your brain, first in aviation and then in your amazing work as a photographer. Truly amazing, beautiful work. How did photography take this lead in your life?
Adewale: [00:03:26] Photography, I think it became a place where I could express my emotions and express who I am as an artist. Earlier on in my uni days, I was really fascinated by the art of photography and just in general, the art of art. I mean, coming from a very technical engineering and like aviation background, I was kind of just blindsided by the art of art. So, I started shooting for my school newspaper and that kind of led into more involvement in creativity and more involvement in art. By the time I was junior year, during my uni years, I was recruited by Nat Geo to go to China for three months and travel with them and just photograph lifestyle. And this was like almost like an internship kind of things, but it was almost like the first time I’ve ever faced a world bigger than mine and so completely different and so beautiful. And I was just enamored by the culture that everything in China was like, almost like a sensory overload. Like, it just woke me up to this thing. And by the time that I came back home to school, I was gone. I just went through school, finished my degree and finished my pre-flight and professional flight certification. And I basically told my parents the last day I graduated, I’m going to move to Chicago and be a photo editor. And it goes.
Eve: [00:05:02] And like all parents, they were probably horrified.
Adewale: [00:05:06] Very, very, very horrified. It was pretty hard for them to kind of take that in because I’ve just spent like almost six years of my life flying.
Eve: [00:05:14] Yeah.
Adewale: [00:05:14] Spent a great load of money to do something so minute, but also something that I love, you know?
Eve: [00:05:23] So, they must be pretty proud now because your photographs are gorgeous. They’re just amazing.
Adewale: [00:05:28] They’re very happy now. Now it’s like, oh well, you’re not asking us for money, like how you can do everything on your own. I think they’re very happy now. They’re very, they’re very like, oh great, you can make money. That’s good.
Eve: [00:05:43] Well, that’s what every parent worries about, that their child isn’t going to starve on the streets, I suppose so. So, then I have to ask, what are the challenges you’ve being confronted with as a Black photographer in a majority white profession? I’ve read that there’s a very small percentage of Black photographers, something like 5%.
Adewale: [00:06:01] Yeah, I mean. When I started out, I didn’t have anyone to really walk me through how this is going to pan out, right? I had this ambition that I wanted to make it and work as a photographer, but something I never realized is you have to play the game, right? Like, you have to take all the clients. You have to go through all the seminars. You have to go through all the networking events and all of that. But also, I never had an agent. Now I have an agent to represent me. So, I never really knew how to really market myself except like on Facebook and Instagram. Well, Instagram was not even around during that time, It just was Facebook. So, it was really, really, really hard for me to really, like, make strides in any way until basically I just started randomly going to different agencies, I would look up ad agencies, and I would talk to a creative director like, hey, do you mind if I show you my work? And I started doing that. I think I kind of told myself I need to do three a week, to talk to three different creative directors or someone on an agency a week. And I would do that constantly until I got my first, like, my first big break. And once that happened, I think my first big break was a five different campaign with 3M, which is a massive company. And for the first time in my life, I saw like this big check. I was like, oh, my God, I couldn’t believe like a photographer could make this. And then as that kind of went through, I started showing those work and that landed me my second work and that landed me my second work until I got to like, photographing for Target and now Nike and Adi. So, it’s been really, really great. But also, being Black in a field that is really slim. For example, during the uprising, the George Floyd era of what happened, it was really important that Black Voices gets to narrate those events. It was really hard for me to see that go through, having the white photographers photograph, almost like Black grief, which is really hard. So, for me, I took it upon myself. I mean. I think one of the biggest quotes as a photograph was, I forgot who said this, pick up a camera, photograph the things that are going on in your community. That’s how you get noticed by anything. Once you’re out there shooting the interesting thing going on in your community and you’re giving it, you’re doing it with gratitude and you’re doing it with empathy, you’re doing it with grace. I mean, everything will come to you by nature. Everything will come to you easily. And I think that’s what I did during that time. I photographed what was going on in my community. And I told the story through images. You know, people always ask me, what do you do for a living? I simply just say, I see for a living. My job is to capture a moment to eternity. My job is to take moments and just put it in history as what they simply are. In my life, make tangible. Really, so…
Eve: [00:09:20] So then, I’m going to ask a leading question. So, you live in Portland. What’s it like to be a creative in Portland? A Black creative in Portland today?
Adewale: [00:09:30] It’s quite tough, actually. It’s I think for me, I would think artists should be more, given more opportunities here in Portland that are of color. But, generally speaking, Portland is a very, very white city. And people will give work to who they know and what they know.
Eve: [00:09:54] And what they’re comfortable with, right.
Adewale: [00:09:56] What they’re comfortable with, and people don’t really go out of their comfort zone to really search for great artists or great black artists. It’s usually, oh, we’ve used that person, let’s use that person again. Where you could actually challenge yourself and look at who is around and who lives in Portland, Oregon. It’s a really hard town, which is like one of the reasons why we wanted to do what we’re doing.
Eve: [00:10:21] Well, let’s talk about that, because we haven’t talked about that yet. So, you got together with your partner, Cyrus Coleman, who’s also a very talented artist, recently and purchased a commercial building in downtown Portland. So, I want to hear about how that came about. But tell us about what you plan to do with the building.
Adewale: [00:10:41] Yeah. I mean, Cyrus and I started this idea, like, we were looking at a 400, 500 square foot studio to just have a space where we can create our work, where he could paint, and I could just turn it a photo studio. But also, we wanted a place where our friends can come to and just hang out and also just like, kick it with us while we do our work or they’re doing their work. And this idea kind of just started snowballing into multiple facets of things. You know, Cyrus’s family, are a music legacy family, and they’ve got this crazy tie to music legends. And I think that was like, really amazing. It’s like, oh my God, we could have a block party in the summer in this 400, 500 square foot building.
Eve: [00:11:29] As long as I’m invited.
Adewale: [00:11:32] Well, we kept coming up with this idea and something really hit me. I realized that there isn’t a lot of Black creatives in town, at least not enough that are showing theirselves or showing their work or being advertised. I started realizing that even looking at my work. So, we got together with Jessie Burke, who her and her husband, runs the Society Hotel here in Portland. And after we talked about our pitch deck and everything and kind of presented her this idea of what we wanted to really bring to Portland and how we want to unify creative people in town together and make something better for our community. And she basically asked the question, would you like to rent, or would you like to create generational wealth? And we know it’s to do with generational wealth. Of course, we definitely don’t want to rent because we’ve just gone through this two-months long campaign of trying to find a place and everything is just a bit too much. So, Jessie was like, well, I’ve got some units I can show you and I’ve got a building that you can buy. So, they started showing us these rental places that we can, which were all wonderful. But Cyrus and I had this inkling in the back of our head, we wanted to see this building. And the minute we walked into this building, we realized, it’s like, we can’t go back.
Eve: [00:13:02] And it was 20,000 square feet instead of 500 hundred.
Adewale: [00:13:07] Yeah. We couldn’t go back. We’re now stuck in this thing. And we’ve got to figure out how to acquire this building before anything happens. So, all of the inspiration comes from just my background of being a photographer, his background of being an illustrator and a designer. And also, we love wine, we love bringing people together, we love bringing Black people together, but we also love bringing all the Black people together, of creative, in a place where we can all talk and all laugh comfortably. Where no one is looking over our shoulder or no one is telling us what we can do or what we can’t do. And the idea is also to foster creative mind and to foster people’s outlet. You know, I would just be open minded in a place that could be of shelter, a place that could be like an oasis for people. So, we ended up acquiring the building in December 2021, and we started this conversation in June 2021. So…
Eve: [00:14:13] That was pretty quick, that was pretty quick.
Adewale: [00:14:15] Talk about reality kind of coming to fruition. We were very, very happy and very honored that Jessie and Jonathan saw something in us and they, kind of, went on this trip with us and it’s been an amazing ride and it’s still an amazing ride. There’s still, there’s bumpy days, there’s great days, there’s bad days, there’s good days. And you take it as it is and you go and you wake up the next morning and you go again and do it.
Eve: [00:14:39] So, just for our listeners. So, Jesse and Jonathan are a couple in in Portland who’ve been very successful with two hotels that they own and other real estate developments. And during the pandemic they decided that I suppose they needed to give back and they have developed this non-profit where they’re working with, I think the way Jonathan said it was to help shift real estate assets into the hands of the BIPOC community. And they do this with a limited number of clients, right? And you guys were, I think, some of the earliest. So, it’s a great story.
Adewale: [00:15:20] We’re also the one with the biggest undertaking, I think. I think our building is very ambitious and it’s also very well needed and it’s something that, you know, you can really talk to people and people just connect with it because it’s been something that has been wanted. We’re so surprised that Nike and Adidas and all the other companies that are around Portland hasn’t really thought about something like this for all the creatives that they bring into the city. Because one of the biggest issues Portland is having is losing great talent. They’re not able to keep them here because it’s not New York or it’s not L.A. Or it’s not London or any big metropolis. So, the idea is if we can foster a building where all of these people that are coming in could actually build family, build friendship, build all those things, It’s.
Eve: [00:16:14] Maybe even professional networks, right?
Adewale: [00:16:16] Yeah. The possibilities are infinite on what could happen then. So, yeah.
Eve: [00:16:21] So, what’s your big audacious goal for the building? You’ve got 20,000 square feet. What are you going to do with it?
Adewale: [00:16:28] I’m hoping it’s forever everlasting, really. It just grows. But, at the moment, the basement is going to be a jazz club, which is something that is very well needed in Portland as the couple that we had here has shut down. So, a lovely jazz club. And then we’re going to have a private speakeasy room in the basement too, and a beautiful kitchen. And then, that’s the basement of the building, which is also another 5000 square feet, which is, oh, insane. The first floor is going to be a big gallery room and a wine bar, a coffee shop and a point-of-sale place for every artist, but also for merchandise from whatever show is there or whatever we want to sell that it’s going to be that spot there. And then the second floor is going to be a full makerspace. This is a dream artists space. You can come in, you can paint, you can sew. There’s going to be a podcast room, there’s going to be a printing center, there’s going to be a screen-printing center too. So, it houses everything, any creative needs. And also, when you’re done with everything from the maker floor and you want to do a production and photograph your product and photograph everything, there’s a full production studio that is going to cater on the same level as Nuke Studio, Acme Studio. All of those places in LA, so people like Nike and Adidas and King and on running can find a place to actually shoot product and be present in Portland, Oregon. So, we don’t have to always keep flying everyone out to New York, flying everyone out to L.A. There’s a premiere studio in town and you can get that done here.
Eve: [00:18:13] So, what’s like the best outcome that you can imagine with this building?
Adewale: [00:18:18] Oh, man, the best.
Eve: [00:18:21] Am I asking too hard questions.
Adewale: [00:18:23] No, the best outcome for this building would be for it not to be used to the full potential of what it could be. I want people to see what it could be, and I want people to forever keep coming in to just work and produce work that are unparalleled, that are great, that are just revered by other artists. So, one of the best outcomes I really want for this building is I really want it to be a great oasis for artists. I want kids from high school to come in once a month to learn what it feels like to be an artist, to learn what you can become as an artist, because I wasn’t given that as my younger self. But also, it’s elevated and it’s Black excellent. It’s going to be something different from what people are used to in Portland. It’s going to have some African flair, some European flair. It’s going to have things from the world in it that I think everyone would be really stunned. But one thing I do also really want is I wanted to always, forever evolve. I don’t want it to stay stagnant. I don’t want it to stay still. I wanted to keep evolving and keep moving as we all grow.
Eve: [00:19:39] So, how far along are you in the process? You have the building. You need to renovate it, right?
Adewale: [00:19:45] Yeah. So, we’ve just won the occupancy review so we can have more people in the building. With the city, we are submitting our permits. We’re submitting the permits on Monday, this upcoming Monday to the city, we are now represented by an advertising firm who is going to do all the branding and all the the brand book and the design and the signs. We have a PR team that is behind us now to start going to different magazine and publishing. We have a world renowned, a world-renowned hardware store that is giving us a good amount of credit to come by and see things we can put into the building. We have friends going around talking about the building to friends. The building is in one of the most impeccable shape I’ve ever seen. It’s really got these lovely bones that is undefined. But also, we’re in the middle of talking to multiple different contractors. We’re now getting, we’re supposed to be getting the bids in actually today of what the build out is going to be. So, we hope to start demolition hopefully at the end of November or at the beginning of January so.
Eve: [00:21:04] And open the doors?
Adewale: [00:21:05] Open the doors hopefully as early as June.
Eve: [00:21:09] So, I do know that that you had, you know, financing was a challenge. So, tell me how you financed all of this and how are you going to finance the renovation?
Adewale: [00:21:21] So, even starting, we basically spoke to the lenders, and we presented to them what we really wanted to do with the building.
Eve: [00:21:32] What was their reaction?
Adewale: [00:21:34] They were like, this has never been done in town. This is great. Like, this sounds amazing. And we went ahead and put down the earnest money and then we also went ahead and put down the deposit on the building. We’re so lucky, we had really, really great sellers when they financed it for us. So, we didn’t have to go straight to a bank real quick. They trusted us and they believed in the idea of what we had. And now we’re at this point and we’re going through a local bank for construction and construction and finalizing things. They’re called Prosper Bank. They basically oversee all the BIPOC community. They oversee all those built out for BIPOC. They’re supposed to be an opportunity zone like bank, where, you know, if you’re a BIPOC community, like someplace like Chinatown and all that, they would finance all of those.
Eve: [00:22:37] So I have to say, you know, Jonathan told me that you went to maybe a dozen banks.
Adewale: [00:22:42] Yeah.
Eve: [00:22:43] And you, and I saw your business plan. It was very professionally laid out. And he said, only when you removed your images from those packets did the bank start talking to you. And honestly, that is, that just made me gasp. That was really pretty shocking for me.
Adewale: [00:23:01] It’s. It’s a hard thing to eat up sometimes. And trust me, I’m so sorry if I get a bit emotional.
Eve: [00:23:11] No, I’m emotional.
Adewale: [00:23:13] It was. You know, we’ve heard about things like that before, but it being done to you, it’s a whole completely different thing. You know, I like to want to say like there isn’t you know, what they call it like, there isn’t. The word is getting away from me. Well, it happens. It happened to us. And one of the biggest things was like Jonathan, Jessie, you know, started also their business. They had to go get a loan from a bank and they were right where we were. They didn’t really have much, and they were approved because basically they look like.
Eve: [00:24:07] They’re white.
Adewale: [00:24:08] Yeah. And for us it was very different. We had this amazing idea, and we have this great execution and we were just shunned off by everyone. And it’s very apparent because we’ve sat down for hours and hours and days to work on this business plannings and everything and to make sure it is so perfectly driven and perfectly written. I’m pretty sure the banks are going to be the one who even wins no matter what. But they declined us, multiple people. And it’s been really sad to kind of really see. But at the same time, Cyrus and I have such really crazy drive and really big heart, because we don’t let things like that phase us, we kind of rise to the occasion and we rise to do more, better and be better. That’s the way we’ve kind of looked at this process.
Eve: [00:25:01] Yeah.
Adewale: [00:25:02] We don’t let it knock us down. I think we just get up and we keep moving and hopefully something happens. And throughout the entire process we’ve always rised up and something has always come true for us.
Eve: [00:25:15] So, there’s a lot of discussion about, you know, wealth generation for minorities, communities, for the BIPOC community. And, and the thing that is tracked, I think, is redlining. You know, people have tracked what happens with redlining. But they’re really not tracking what’s happening to people like you going to a bank and the process of getting a commercial loan and how different it is for minorities and women, and they do track venture capital funding. And we know that the amount of money that is invested in minority businesses is minuscule. So, I really, like 1.2% of all funds this year. So, I’m sure it’s not very different for real estate. And it’s really, we’ve got a long way to go, so. I’m sorry you went through that. I’m very glad you got the building.
Adewale: [00:26:12] Yeah, it’s the lay of the beast. You know, it’s life. It’s not fair, but we understand it. You know, I think Cyrus and I, we’ve been really in tune and intertwined. Like we understand the world and the world of injustice and the world of what it is. But we don’t want to ever let that get us down. There’s so much more to be done, but we’re very optimistic and we’re very driven. So, nothing is going to break us down anytime soon.
Eve: [00:26:47] So, full disclosure, you have also listed a crowdfunding offering on Small Change. And you know, who do you hope will invest and be partners with you in this building?
Adewale: [00:27:00] We hope to see the leaders of tomorrow, people who believe in ideas. People who want to see things evolve. People who are dreamers. People who are artists. People who supports the hearts. People who know exactly what it feels like to be an immigrant, who also knows what it feels like to be Black in America to start anything. But also, people understand business and know this is good business and also understand, like the dark history of sometimes of what Portland is and what this is going to do for that community and how it’s going to celebrate this community. We’re hoping big investors come in and look at it like, okay, I support this. I love jazz club. I can go there and just sit down and listen to good music.
Adewale: [00:27:48] I feel free drinks coming on.
Adewale: [00:27:51] Yeah. Hey, it’s a perk. But also, if you’re a fan of, like, good art. Cyrus and I have promised ourself, we will always find people that would believe in quality to present their work, that wants to present their work. And something that is being really, really hit at the moment is a wine bar. We love good natural wine. That’s how we bring people down to the table. I mean, if you love wine and you want to see Black kids bring good wine from the Canary Islands, from London, from Spain, come to this place, it’s going to be great. Invest in it. And if you’re an artist that you always need a studio and you can’t work from your home and you need something to sew, like you need a machine to sew, you end up price machine. It’s also for you to come. Invest. That’s what it is. It’s for the like-minded, the artist in us, and also the business savvy people who just love to sit on the computer and do their meetings.
Eve: [00:28:54] You know I, first of all, I hope America is listening and I hope everyone goes and checks out your offering. And I really hope you are wildly successful, and I get to come see it next year.
Adewale: [00:29:06] Well, you’re going to be there on the opening day.
Eve: [00:29:09] I am. I’ve been told I have to do what dance is that I have to do? The mashed potato.
Adewale: [00:29:15] The mashed potato dance. No, you have to be that because you’re part of the reason why we’re really doing all of this. You’re helping us and a great deal. So, you and your team have to be there. That’s definitely going to be an invitation sent to you guys.
Eve: [00:29:31] It’s a deal. Okay onwards, right.
Adewale: [00:29:34] Yeah.
Eve: [00:29:35] Thank you.
Adewale: [00:29:36] Thank you so much.
Eve: [00:29:54] I hope you enjoyed today’s guest and our deep dive. You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at RethinkRealEstateforGood.co. There’s lots to listen to there. You can support this podcast by sharing it with others, posting about it on social media or leaving a rating and review. To catch all the latest from me you can follow me on LinkedIn. Even better, if you’re ready to dabble in some impact investing yourself head on over to wefunder.com/smallchange, where you can invest directly in Small Change and our mission to democratize capital formation to create impact in commercial real estate development. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music, and a big thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Creative Homies