Michael Birch spent his childhood summers in Woolsery and has a strong emotional attachment to the picturesque village as his mother’s side of the family had lived close-by since the 1700s. The couple’s project really got off the ground after they purchased local pub Farmers Arms in 2012, which then spiralled into the acquisition of the fish and chip shop, local stores and several residential properties. The much-needed cash injection has been welcomed with open arms by local residents, who described the Birchs' investment in the village as like winning the lottery or having all their Christmases come at once.
In October 2019, the company behind the project, MXB Devon Operations Ltd, employed 65 people, 37 of whom were from the area. Sadly 23 of those employees were made redundant due to financial difficulties caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. That said, work is still very much underway across the village, including expanding the village shop to include a post office and converting a Georgian manor house into a 19-room hotel with a restaurant. The project was due to last until 2021, but its completion date has now been postponed.
The philanthropic beer magnate's foundation, Fundación Cerezales Antonino y Cinia, has paid for an extensive restoration of the village church, funded a cultural centre that draws hundreds of visitors into the area, and improved the water supply in residents' homes. A public square and a street lined with 92 cypress trees were other additions made to the village courtesy of Fernandez’s fortune. In 2016, president of the neighbourhood council Maximino Sanchez said the investments the millionaire had made in his hometown were “his best legacy”, as reported by the BBC.
Described as the south's “next cultural mecca”, the unassuming town of Bentonville, Arkansas has undergone a major revamp in recent years. The town, which is home to the headquarters of Walmart Stores Inc. and where the Waltons grew up, has been revitalised thanks to the efforts of Walmart scion Alice Walton. Walton is the richest woman in the United States, and currently has a staggering net worth of $64.7 billion (£46.9bn), according to Forbes – some of which has gone towards Bentonville improvements.
Walton has also been involved in establishing an interactive museum for children in Bentonville, as well as a slick boutique hotel, and a number of swish restaurants and stores have opened in the town to serve the increasing numbers of visitors. Last year America’s richest woman also criticised the country's “broken” healthcare system and announced plans to establish the Whole Health Institute and Chopra Medical Library in Bentonville. The centres will aim to improve the health of those living in the area through better medical education and holistic treatments, with plans to eventually spread throughout the rest of Arkansas. Announced in January 2020, construction is due to start this year and the project has a completion date of 2023.
The Hendricks' Downtown Beloit Association has been lauded for re-energising the centre of the town, which had been stagnating following the decline of industry in the region. Hendricks is aiming to transform Beloit into a hub for dynamic start-ups. The billionaire has opened a cutting-edge performing arts centre in Beloit and overseen the renovation of an entire downtown block, which is now home to hip restaurants, offices and apartments. She's also funded an international film festival for the town. The gentrification programme has already attracted a number of start-ups and boosted the town's economy.
Hendricks’ adoption of Beloit isn’t without its controversies though, for example she was the biggest financial backer of Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Republican governor from 2011 to 2019. This prompted one New York Times reporter to liken Hendricks’ involvement in Beloit to somebody “playing SimCity” in 2017, and Hendricks sparked debate once again when she announced she would be funding a brand-new, independent charter school in Beloit. The Lincoln Academy will open on 1 September, despite concerns over whether it’s a good idea to divert money away from public schools.
Committed to transforming the quiet seaside town into a buzzing cultural hub, the Saga heir has funded a new music and performing arts venue, a public art collection and an annual book festival, all through the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust. The organisation has provided around £18 million ($33.6m) for sports projects in and around Folkestone and £4 million ($7.5m) for schools and education. An ambitious seafront development has already seen the construction of 84 new homes, and the next multi-million-pound phase of development is currently in consultation. If approved, it will bring restaurants, shops, public spaces and hundreds of new homes to the seaside.
De Haan's projects in the town include a long-awaited indoor skate and urban sports park, F51. The unique venue was first proposed in 2015 as the world’s first multi-storey skatepark but it has faced construction and cost-related delays and was then further set back by the COVID-19 outbreak. Construction on the final skate floor (pictured) has just started and the park is set to open this autumn. The project’s costs have soared from an initial projection of £7 million ($9.1m) to £14 million ($18.2m).
Gilbert now owns swathes of real estate in downtown Detroit, which have been fully restored and repurposed. Gilbert's bulging property portfolio includes landmark buildings such as the Chase Tower and Madison Theater, and the tycoon has created more than 17,000 new jobs in the downtown area. One of the latest developments is Gilbert’s plan to redesign ailing shopping centre Tower City Center into a marketplace with retail stores and restaurants. Gilbert is also co-chair of the Blight Removal Task Force, which is dedicated to removing all dilapidated structures and lots in the city.
One dilapidated structure Gilbert hopes to give a new lease of life is the half-built Wayne County jail, which Gilbert wanted to develop into a $300 million (£160.6m) innovation centre for the University of Michigan, in partnership with fellow billionaire Stephen Ross. The project recently reached a stumbling block however, when development companies pulled out of building on the site. Ross still intends to build the university innovation centre elsewhere, while Gilbert now plans to create a different innovation centre on the prison site. Gilbert has also pleased Detroiters in March this year by announcing a 10-year, $500 million (£359m) investment to aid residents of the city, including a $15 million (£10.8m) package to eliminate property tax debt for 20,000 low-income homeowners.
Stein's impact on the town has been so enormous that some have renamed it "Padstein". In 2017, pre-tax profits for The Seafood Restaurant Ltd., which includes Stein's restaurants, hotels, stores and cookery school, was just under £1 million ($1.3m) although that figure halved in 2018, with finance director Neil McLeod blaming tough conditions in the hospitality industry.
And 2020 has been the toughest year yet. The TV chef came under fire during the pandemic, after he refused to pay staff for more than a month during March and April until government wage subsidies set in. When restaurants opened up again no-shows also had a huge impact on the economic health of the business, as the Stein restaurant group reportedly lost £46,000 ($59.7k) in the space of just 11 days due to customers not turning up for pre-booked tables. As a result, the coronavirus pandemic led Stein to “nearly [lose] the whole business”, according to an interview with the chef in The Times, and his 600-employee-strong empire was reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy.
The town faced instant criticism, with one review in the New Statesman calling it "an embarrassing anachronism", while another in the Observer called it "fake, heartless, authoritarian and grimly cute". Architectural details aside, however, the town does seem to have had a positive economic impact. According to a report by the Dorset County Council, the development is already contributing £98 million ($129m) to the local economy per year in demand for goods and services.
The model town opened its town square, Queen Mother Square, in 2016, complete with a visit from the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. Today, Poundbury is home to 3,800 residents living in 1,700 homes, as well as 207 businesses. The final phase of the 30-year venture will be the addition of 200 new homes, a third of which will be social housing. There will also be open squares featuring a variety of tree species, as well as 500 square metres of retail and office units. Designs for this last stage in the development were inspired by the Edwardian Garden Movement, and the entire project is due for completion in 2028.
Read more about how the British royal family makes and spends its money