The Last Fuel Station

It’s not the last fuel station on the island of Manhattan, but the last operating station below 23rd Street in the city. The area south of that gas station covers 4.2 Square Miles and includes some of the densest streets in the city.

Area Map Lower Manhattan

The South of Manhattan’s popular neighborhoods include the Financial District, Battery Park City, Tribeca, Chinatown, West Village, Alphabet City, parts of Chelsea, Meatpacking District…with all the cars, delivery trucks, TAXICABS, two tunnels and two bridges…no place to fuel up until you get to this Mobil Station on West 13th Street and 8th Avenue.

Who owns this place? One can speculate based on what you find on ACRIS, but there’s one Curbed article that gives us a clue about him here. I walked into this gas station on a Sunday afternoon and chatted with a gentleman at the counter who identified himself as an owner. For starters, he’s not selling, he made sure to tell me that. He’s also not into all the questions and I can understand why–his fuel station sits on a lot that could bring in a good sum to an owner who’s willing to part ways with it, he receives offers routinely.

Here are a couple shots of the station and its surroundings:

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The property is zoned a C1-6 which is a commercial district, but there is a residential equivalent that would expand the structures’ height from an FAR (Floor Area Ratio) of 2.00 as a commercial structure, to an FAR of 3.44 or more as its residential district equivalent of R7 (if you want to read about these zoning codes, go here).

I’d like to cap off this post with my reflection that this station serves so many so well. The place is busy and it offers all the conveniences of a traditional gas station with an air pump, ice machine, ATM and cheap snacks in a neighborhood where this is nearly nonexistent. For as long as it remains, people will reflect on this station fondly.

Its likely though that high property taxes, the oil industry’s steady decline and the city’s ongoing anti-congestion policies will eventually squeeze into the profits of this gem. Leaving me to wonder whether its a constraint of excessive debt, a series of bad fuel leases or some other factor that’s got this shop holding out for the long run.

I spent the better part of the afternoon walking the neighborhood and test shooting with a new friend who convinced me to take this shot, it was my favorite of the day.

IMG_8749 v

Streets of Madrid

There’s an eerie feeling around the streets when I visited Spain…the image below was taken in the middle of Puerta del Sol in Madrid, a few steps away, there were protesters chanting against the current situation in Venezuela, there were homeless people asking for change, and others selling counterfeit goods on the lookout for the police. 

Parallel to this scene, was a completely different setting, full of tourists, five star hotels, expensive restaurants and old world architecture that reminded me of  the decadence of the Spanish empire.

Although it is general knowledge that Spain is on a long road to recovery from the economic crises of the of the early 2000’s, this contrast got me wondering about the income disparity that could exist in a place like Spain, where the unemployment rate was still hovering around 18% at the time I traveled.

Below is the data–as of 2010, 24% of Spain’s population live in lower income households and 13% are in the upper income brackets, their statistics are starkly similar to that of the United States, where 26% of the population live in low income households and 15% are in upper income households. The difference is that America’s unemployment rate is under 5%, and Spain’s is more than TRIPLE that number, YET, they have less households living on the edge of poverty, and more middle income households than we do in the US.

Food for thought….

Index of Income Inequality in Europe & USA





Loveday 31 Astoria, Queens

Astoria is a popular residential neighborhood north of Long Island City in Queens, New York. Its a few train stops out of Manhattan on the N and Q train lines, but I rarely make it to that side of town because the retail landscape hasn’t drawn me in. Largely made up of auto-body repair shops, local distributors, business services and food establishments, I was surprised when a friend invited me vintage shopping there, and found the most special shop nestled between blocks around the 31st Street stop.

Here are some notable reports on the real estate front:

  • Does a 2 Bed Condo at $489K sound like a good price? Street Easy has a great neighborhood highlight on Astoria–see the neighborhood and residential availabilities here on Streeteasy
  • Want to see what developers are doing with small lots? See the specific project listing by clicking on this Yimby Link
  • And lastly, Hallet’s Point. It’s the largest development in Queens, at a $1.5 Billion cost, 2000 apartments and new retail. Its faced some setbacks from the phasing out of the 421-A program. See the drama here on Curbed.

To satisfy my fashion  craving that weekend, I focused on the accessories and found the most fun gold jewelry I could get myhands on; from studs with gold accents, necklaces with vintage pendants, as well as gold rings and bracelets. As an aside, my rule is one ring either on the ring or middle finger for most occasions; and three rings dispersed between hands (displayed above) when you really want to make a statement. I wouldn’t generally recommend any variations from that rule!

See a more detailed  post on the fashion end, from my friend at One Creates Oneself  here.

Deal Book 44-46 Purves Street

In 2012 during my time in Grad School, the university let me play Real Estate Developer for the first time and sent me off in the world to try and make a deal. This is the first time I sought out my own development site, researched zoning, determined the highest and best use, sourced construction loans, talk through the deal with brokers and created a full development deal book that was reviewed by industry experts brought in by the University.

This was the cover photo of my investment memo, for a deal I named Thompson Lofts at 44-46 Purves Street in Long Island City. 44-46 Purves Street Marketing Photo

This site was on sale in the spring of 2012 at $130/buildable SF. I was going to create a project that would bring a unique residential loft product to this market at prices affordable to those who were working as local artists or at Silvercup Studios.  Not super luxury, but a great location, and no subsidy needed from the city. 57 units, and a total development cost of close to $13 Million, $387/SF after construction cost (yes, I realize now, that number was not realistic) .

But alas, most investors do not take on the risk of ground up development for mediocre returns to satisfy a social mission, without some incredible incentives or upsides. Which is why I believe the current owners waited out the LIC market, and will now deliver this product at rents 20% higher than what I proposing.

Here are some photos of my ideas:


This is what actually happened:

Fast forward a year, and the site is purchased, allegedly by an investor who plans a hotel. Deal goes quiet for a couple years, I research online every once in while and found nothing promising.

In 2015, the same owners scratched their hotel plan (LIC was completely over saturated with this product type), and envisioned a residential building that gave some honor to my my original idea. They’ve modified the plan to include a retail space on the Thompson street side, and fit about 33 residential units with a Purves Street lobby.

44-46 Purves Street

Looking Back

Now that I have solid experience with these deals, there are many aspects of my original proposal that I would change. Here are a few:

  • Construction costs at about $210/SF, they would realistically be upwards of $400/SF at that time
  • Operating expenses, too low, would bump them up to 45% of stabilized revenue
  • Exit cap rate today would conservatively land at 5.5%, and this would have balanced the increases above and leveled the returns.
  • Rents underwrote them at an average of $46/sf/yr, for a high end product they are likely upwards of $55/sf.

I’m excited to see the Jewel Liton, LLC venture develop this site, I cannot wait to report on the construction as it develops.

Want to see this student project and related return metrics? Link below:!AohDHQmdRqtshgHsu4VfJtlL2vRE




Coming Up on the Lower East Side

Hotel, Residential and Mixed-Use in the pipeline

Hotel, Residential and Mixed-Use in the pipeline

Have you been to the Lower East Side recently?  There’s a little neighborhood sandwiched between the south side of East Houston Street and the north side of Delancey Street, full of the most fascinating development activity.

Residential Rehab Site

Residential Rehab Site

The uniqueness of this area, I suspect is driven mostly by the large inventory of apartment buildings still very heavily under rent stabilization and the mom-and-pop feel of the retail spaces, many still available under $125/psf/yr.

So the price of land for development is still within feasible measures compared to neighboring Soho or Tribeca. A few development listings found through Cushman & Wakefield and Besen & Associates, came in within $400 and $900 per buildable square foot. These typically include certain FAR bonuses for exclusionary housing or low income housing tax credits.  This seems hardly like a bargain, from a neighborhood that has been transitioning in price and investment activity for years–but finally, has caught up as any new development will likely cost as must as most competing NYC neighborhoods. The value here is in the existing stock of real estate, both residential and commercial where the inventory of older spaces are abundant enough to offer a thriving economic environment for up-and-coming businesses.

Retail Landscape in LES

Retail Landscape in LES

Lastly, there’s a cool factor in LES that I have not yet seen replicated in other NYC neighborhood; it’s colorful, busy, full of style and hustle. The shot below was taken by a local butcher on a cigarette break outside of a graffiti-clad market, who volunteered to capture me in this scene because he could not stand to see such an artistic opportunity go to waste for my lack of a personal photographer. This sort of thing only happens in a place like this.

LES Graffiti Art

How Brickell and Wynwood are transforming Miami

A recent trip down to the very swanky land of Miami, really peaked my interest in how they are redeveloping their downtown neighborhoods and building this center of mega developments to rival some of their best North Eastern neighbors.

I took the full tour of most of what you would call “Downtown”–particularly the Brickell area. And what really stood out were the number of cranes in the sky, at least half a dozen developments under construction within a 10 block radius. I focused on the condo project Brickell Heights developed by Related Group, with Moss Construction putting up the steel and concrete.

According to my friends and family, this area of downtown 10 years ago was a bland mix of unattractive office buildings, a typical business district, somewhat derelict and in need of some real urban redesign. In comes a slew of major developers, including those representing the Related Group–some of whom had acquired parcels since the 1990’s, and began generating activity which is slowly turning Brickell into a top destination. The addition of The Shops at Mary Brickell Village, restaurants, supermarkets and coffeeshops create a true residential feel for the new owners moving into Brickell Heights when construction is completed in 2016. A total of 690 units across two towers, with NYC style amenities such as party rooms, pools, Equinox gym and Soul Cycle, starting at about $300/SF for smaller units, and up to $600+/SF for larger apartments. South Florida, oh you tease!

Moss Contruction
I headed out in this very special aboriginal necklace and authentic Panama Hat, toured the area, and befriended some construction workers who gave me some details on the site. Incredible, and well worth the trip.


Driving north from Brickell, we began to notice every building was covered in the most colorful graffiti art, and we found ourselves in Wynwood. The art district where every corner exists a mural that is as colorful as it is inspiring. Wynwood Art

And so I learn another fascinating neighborhood transition story–the Wynwood arts district, previously occupied by old warehouses, these structures have now been re-purposed as artist studios, design showrooms as well as a gentrified residential area and tourist attraction.

Here’s an example of a mural along a side street on NW 25th Street.

NW 25th Street MuralThe increased interest in this neighborhood was driven primarily by the low costs of retail storefronts and artist workspaces. But for property owners who started out years ago when this area was under-valued, this means a gold mine of financial and business opportunity. Much like what Williamsburg was to Brooklyn, Wynwood is transforming South Miami in a very unique way.

Fair Market Value Challenged by Faith

Faith Ministries Church

Faith Ministries Church

Recently, my mom came home to tell me of a big real estate deal her pastor discussed one Sunday at church, involving millions of dollars in real estate. Obviously, I had to find out more.

Its an issue around the site that the Sayreville government obtained by eminent domain from Faith Ministries, NL (National Lead) Industries, New Jersey Highway Authority, The City of Perth Amboy and a few other parties, and underwent almost a decade in litigation over market price and fair compensation. The land has also been subject to massive contamination and environmental clean up efforts since at least 1998, and received millions of dollars from the Sandy Fund.

Here’s a photo I snapped of one of the empty lots: Parcel B

The Plan

In 2006 Sayreville Economic Redevelopment Authority (SERA) passed an official ordinance that designated much of its waterfront land as a “Redevelopment Area”. The development of over 900 Acres includes every type of attraction, retail, hotel, residential, waterfront marina, office, you name it–see for yourself in the video posted on Luxury Point’s YouTube channel at the end of this post.

SERA and the various property owners were quietly negotiating the acquisition of the land in the early 2000’s, when eventually one or both parties became disenchanted with the process, prompting a series of lawsuits alleging that SERA was low-balling the fair market value of the parcel to discount the cost of the cleanup. Meanwhile, the current owners, who had already begun the cleanup, refused to stop and turn the process over to SERA for fear of being coerced to accept an unfair offer. And so, Sayreville flexed their government muscle and condemned the land to acquire it by Eminent Domain. Read More Here

Holding Out On Faith

Today, it appears as though most of this has been settled, Sandy Fund provided millions to contribute towards the cleanup effort and the developer, O’Neill Properties, is moving forward with plans for at least part of the development. However, from the whisperings amongst the Faith Fellowship congregation, some of the land surrounding the church is still  under negotiation,  as Faith Fellowship holds out to collect on a larger sum. If you look carefully below, Faith Fellowship church and its surrounding property is on the north east portion of Parcel C, containing a bulk of the anticipated income stream of this site. And so, holding out on faith, looks like a good call.

Luxury Point_Sayreville

Dead Malls

Short Hills MallAs the holidays pass and the end of the year approaches, either you or someone you know spent a considerable amount of time in a shopping center. Depending on your neighborhood, shopping preference and ability to travel- chances are you are willing to go some distance to a place that has some combination of entertainment and your favorite retail outlets.

But once in a while, there is a mall that is poorly thought out, their retail tenants are suffering, and require some level of repositioning. I learned of these through the site Dead Malls and I focused on this for a recent real estate valuation assignment.

The subject property is Fashion Center, in Paramus NJ developed in the 1960’s to be the next 5th Avenue.

B. Altman

B. Altman

Fashion Center, was prosperous through the 1970s. But as the years progressed, other malls in the Paramus area, including Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus Park, The Shops at Riverside, and Bergen Mall began to capture its local market share. All 4 of these competing malls were further South along Route 17, which meant that motorists and customers had to drive far fewer miles from Manhattan to reach the other competing malls with equally high scale retailers. These malls included a wide variety of high-end retailers such as Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Abraham and Straus (now Macy’s), Sears and Fortunoff. Overall, there was an additional assortment of 70 upscale stores, in more accessible areas South of Fashion Center.
The demise of B. Altman, its largest tenant was a major blow to this development. B. Altman went bankrupt and shuttered its doors in the late 70’s due to poor management and strategy by its current owners. Since then, Fashion Center has been unable to re-lease the space to another equally high-scale tenant. Other retailers followed suit and gradually moved out after their leases, leaving Lord & Taylor as its only anchor store and leading some to refer to the Fashion Center as a dead mall.

This is what Fashion Center looks like today, repositioned as a retail center with no interior mall space. Fashion Center Paramus_Atrium

So, What could have been done differently?

Fashion Center is located on a major route, easily accessible and with good frontage along Route 17. Unfortunately, the competition had access to better locations with better proximity to Manhattan along the exact same route as our subject property.

The BEST alternative action by the owners of this mall would have been community activism to prevent or delay the opening of nearby malls, like Simon Malls did in the Cerro Wire/Oyster Bay Mall proposal. The ability to control the velocity of your competition is incredibly important in the retail landscape.  See this website, otherwise known as the gangster opposition from Simon Malls to prevent their competitor Taubman Centers from opening a competing mall No Mall Here.

Everywhere I went this holiday season I reflected on the economics of real estate assets, the effect of every dollar I spent, and how these dollars represented a vote to reinforce the feasibility of these establishments.

These photos you see, strutting about in these pink Hangisi satin pumps were taken from Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, NJ. There isn’t another shopping attraction comparable to this mall anywhere within 15 miles of this location. Perhaps by design, but its an important competitive advantage.  Taubman Centers is its current owner and am hopeful they learned some important lessons from their competitors at Fashion Center and Simon Properties.

The Mall at Short Hills