How did you get into the real estate development field?
I grew up playing with Legos!
So you were always interested in real estate?
Yes, I was always interested. One of my first “architectural interventions” was when my brother, my best friend and I built what we called “Box City,” using old refrigerator boxes and mover’s boxes from the neighborhood; we built a town hall, and we each built our own house out of that. So I’ve always been interested in building, construction, architecture and built environments.
And your professional background?
I was doing a few of my first projects while I was in graduate school. My first project was a conversion of a garment center building as a fee developer, with a friend of mine. We converted it from an industrial building to half industrial/half commercial. I then went to work at Tishman Speyer in a phenomenal program called the “MBA Executive Rotational Program.” I finished the project nights and weekends while I was at Tishman and then I bought my first building when I was at Tishman, as well.
When did you found Newcastle Realty Services?
I founded Newcastle in 2004. Newcastle kicked off with the acquisition of a portfolio of nine buildings on 22nd street in Chelsea, and it grew from there. We started by doing town- house-sized properties in the West Village and Chelsea. Currently, there are 65 people working for Newcastle. We’re running properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
What projects do you have coming up, or in the works? We have just closed on three buildings in the last three days of 2012, so not only do we have an upcoming project, but three. I would love to tell you about those, but it’s a bit soon. All three are rental properties in Manhattan. So it’s been a very busy few weeks for us, and all good things. We’ve also just closed out in record time the 84 Bedford condo sales, and that is 100 per- cent sold, which is fantastic. [Our building at] 58 Barrow Street has been listed with Brown Harris Stevens, and booked 63 showings the first week it was on the market.
Tell us about the restoration of the historic pub Chumley’s, at 86 Bedford Street:
It’s been going on for six years. Chumley’s is from the Prohibition era, and it’s where the expression “eighty-sixing” things comes from; it’s a piece of New York history. Unfortunately, there was a multi-building collapse there in 2006–2007, and because of the complexity of the site, and the extent of the structural dam- age, it essentially had to be rebuilt brick by brick without power tools. It was really quite an undertaking. As I like to joke, “We all got our Ph.D.s in Chumley’s.”
There are many capable women in real estate in New York and I have had the privilege of working alongside many of them.
What’s the best part about building and developing in New York?
It’s always interesting. My job draws on many disciplines; it involves psychology, law, construction, engineering, architecture, finance, history and culture; and how it all comes together. I focus on residential properties, and try to always pay attention to how people want to live. People have very strong opinions about their homes, and it’s important to have an understanding of how spatial situations affect daily ritual and comfort; say, when you come home from work you want to hang up your coat because it’s winter and therefore you need a coat closet; even basic intuitive things like that start to become opportunities for exploring how we think and live.
What are some of the biggest challenges of developing?
New York attracts the world. So there is no shortage of people trying to break into the market, which can be both good and bad Additionally, it is a highly regulated city, so navigating the waters can be very challenging. It is rewarding, but it can be challenging.
You are the first woman developer that we have featured. Do you have anything to say about being a woman in this field?
There are very few of us. To my knowledge, I am the only woman running a company of my kind in New York City. There are many capable women in real estate in New York and I have had the privilege of working alongside many of them. I am not here to prove a point that women can do this, I’m doing this because this is what I love to do. New York is a really big pond, and I am a very small fish. Possibly I have gotten more attention as a result of being female, but at the same time. I’ve gotten myself into some interesting situations, having nothing to do with gender.
What do you with your free time?
That’s assuming I have any free time! I bake, I cook, I rollerblade, I sail, I work out. I have children and spend my time dropping them off, picking them up, and coloring with them.
Do you have any favorite places in the city?
Yes. My favorite places happen to be based off of where I am. So if you ask me what my favorite place is in one neighborhood, I can give you the answer; if you ask me what my favorite place in the city is, it’s almost impossible [to respond]. My new infatuation close to my office is the NoMad Hotel, which goes from power breakfast to a fierce cocktail. We run a few buildings up in central Harlem and so Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is my favorite up there. It depends where I am and what day of the week it is. What I really love to do is jump in a car and drive around a new neighborhood that I’ve never seen before, in or out of New York City.