After Brochure's 'Direct Slap' To Minorities, Austinites Ask Domain Northside To Be Mindful
Residents and even city leaders are calling for some internal changes to the Domain Northside after a brochure describing its “quintessential" shopper caused an uproar.
Jeff Newberg and Kirk Rudy, managing principals of the Endeavor Real Estate Group, which owns Domain Northside, and Ward Kampf, president of Northwood Retail LLC, which handles leasing, issued an apology after the backlash, saying it was a "mistake" and the brochure didn't "reflect the companies' values."
The groups said they would enroll their employees in a "mandatory diversity and inclusion training."
But some say the statement and promise of training don’t go far enough.
“This was a straight and direct slap to black women and brown women who don’t personify the descriptions of the Domain Northside’s ideal shopper,” said Fatima Mann, cofounder of the Austin Justice Coalition and Counter Balance: ATX.
She and other community groups created a list of recommendations for the mixed-use project owner: donate to Austin-based community organizations, create an equity and inclusion office, hire employees from more diverse backgrounds and host a community dialogue to hear residents' concerns.
Mann said she doesn’t plan on shopping at the Domain Northside until both real estate groups make some internal changes.
“You can [make these changes] and get these write-offs and provide opportunities for organizations to do the work," she said, "so that these things that occurred aren’t happening anymore.”
Ja’Corey Odu, executive director of Guardians Gate Youth Groups, said the language used in the brochure can be dangerous to people of color and others from marginalized communities who don't feel welcomed.
“A microaggression is still an aggression,” Odu said.
The Endeavor Real Estate Group didn’t make anyone available for comment.
'What We Actually Are'
“[The brochure] didn't even have an Austin feel,” said City Council Member Leslie Pool, who represents the district where the Domain Northside is located. “It seemed to me that they weren't even trying to sell to or attract Austinites to come to the Domain, because if they were, they wouldn't have used that approach.”
"I guess what I'm missing is how can people miss those lessons that have been so completely delivered to our community?" - Leslie Pool
City Council met over a somewhat similar marketing incident in May regarding a lease agreement with Zydeco Development, which owns the MetCenter. A map used for marketing purposes labeled the historically Hispanic area of East Austin as "Tortilla Canyon." Zydeco apologized and committed to sensitivity training.
"I guess what I'm missing is how can people miss those lessons that have been so completely delivered to our community?” Pool said.
Pool said City Council will be looking at possibly changing the Chapter 380 tax-rebate agreement, which provides performance-based incentives to companies that invest in the city. Endeavor was given the first 380 incentive contract in 2003.
She said the changes would shift "the focus away from large outside corporations and businesses coming into Austin, focusing the growth grants on local and small businesses in order to support what we actually are."
Pool said she’s following community reaction and the Domain Northside closely.
“If the business doesn't come to us with its hand out asking for a contract or something like that, I don't have the ability to go in and change their operations,” she said. “But, I can say, 'We see what they're doing. We don't think it's right. We hope [they] will get better."
An Issue With Culture
Sosi Rosarion, a former resident of The Domain, said she regularly experienced microaggressions at The Domain and Domain Northside last year after moving from New York City.
“None of [the brochure] made sense because nobody that I know who frequents The Domain or lives there hits all of these points,” she said.
Although both mixed-use projects bare parts of the same name, the Simon Property Group, based in Indianapolis, owns The Domain. The group called the Domain Northside brochure “reprehensible” and said The Domain is “an all-inclusive environment where everyone is welcome.”
Rosarion said that’s not what she experienced while she lived there. She moved to The Domain after many of her friends told her black people and other minorities frequented the area. Both Domains are near Pflugerville, which is 17 percent African-American, and Round Rock, which has a 10 percent African-American population.
Rosarion said the brochure speaks to a bigger issue with culture at both The Domain and Domain Northside. She said she saw an incident where a patron at a Domain Northside bar called another customer the N-word and that she was treated differently by residents in her apartment and employees at Domain Northside.
“I’ve been in Sephora where I’m like ‘OK? Are you going to help me?’” Rosarion said. “If there is a black girl or Hispanic girl there, then she’ll be more inclined to help me.”
Austin-based marketing company LatinWorks' clients include Target, Visit Austin, Texas Lottery and Starbucks. Shelina Taki, director of the company's strategic intelligence team, said her agency tries to be as inclusive as possible.
“Instead of targeting a socioeconomic or racial identity, target a mindset because somebody who might not necessarily fit the checkmarks of what was in that brochure has been saving for years to get a Celine bag,” Taki said. “They will come to The Domain to buy one.”
Taki also said marketing agencies have to be keyed into the community they’re marketing toward.
“They have the right to target who they want – whether it's morally right or wrong or offensive is its own conversation,” she said. “They also have to be aware that in this day and age, buying power is shifting to a younger consumer – Millennial and Gen-Z – and this segment is really speaking and being vocal about wanting to see more inclusive advertising.”
Mann said retailers and marketers need to do a better job working with the community.
“It’s not just about, 'Yes, these are conversations that we’re having,'” she said. “How mindful are you when you’re having these conversations when you’re getting paid?”