“We are actively seeking more investments in Westchester,” Joel Halpern, the fourth generation of Halperns involved in Westchester real estate, told the Business Journal during an interview at The Mason, an apartment and townhome development in Mamaroneck.
“Port Chester is one of our highest-interest markets. Port Chester has great coverage of opportunity zones,” he said. Opportunity zones, designated by the federal government, are areas in need of economic development where investors and real estate developers can have their investments rewarded with special tax breaks.
The 27-year-old grew up in Harrison, graduated from George Washington University in 2014 and immediately got into the family’s real estate business. The property for The Mason project was acquired in 2013 by Halpern Real Estate Ventures and Rosen Development Group for $3.5 million in a bankruptcy auction. The younger Halpern subsequently was charged with managing the project.
The 2.7-acre site is at 270 Waverly Ave. “We bought the site with approvals in place, but it took us a couple of years of predevelopment just managing some of the flooding issues with the Army Corps of Engineers, which we mitigated by raising the site about seven feet,” Halpern said. “We have 100 units in this complex, which is broken up among three main apartment buildings and a cluster of four townhomes. Our units range from studios to two bedrooms with a majority of our units being one bedroom and two bedrooms.”
Ground was broken on the $38 million project on June 16, 2017. “We’ll be fully completed this summer,” Halpern said. “The building is approximately 25% occupied now and we are about 70% leased. What we see in the Westchester market is that it’s usually a 30-day to 60-day turnaround time from a signed lease to the time of a move-in.”
Marketing Directors Inc., a New York City-based firm, was brought in to handle the project’s marketing.
“We have a combination of digital marketing and print marketing, but I’d say our largest, our most powerful marketing source has been the building itself and our building sign, which is visible from the train station,” Halpern told the Business Journal. “We have absolutely positioned this property as a transit-oriented development. We are 1,000 feet from the Metro-North train station and you are 35 minutes to Grand Central.”
Halpern said they’re marketing to a wide age range, from millennials to empty nesters. “Our favorite demographic that we find here is a married couple where one partner works in New York and one partner works in Stamford,” he said.
Halpern Real Estate Ventures was started in 2011. “We raised a sponsor capital fund there, which we now are coming to an end on,” Halpern said. “This project actually is one of our final investments in the first fund. We have now gone out and raised a second sponsor capital fund for opportunity zone investments. We’ve raised $30 million of our $50 million target and we are focusing on investments in the New York metro area, including Westchester, with particular interest in Philadelphia, Nashville and Denver as well, but we are looking at properties all over the country.”
Halpern believes they’ve hit upon the right combination of sleek building design and features to make The Mason successful.
“We’ve put together an incredible amenity package here with a real focus on sustainability. We have what we call a virtual wellness center and the main focus of that is going to be a fitness-on-demand system. You can come down at any point in time and take a Pilates class, a cycling class, a yoga class. It will come up on a screen and there are areas to put out your yoga mats. Bluetooth smart locks provide access into the units as well as into the building. We will have a car-share program for the tenants to use. We also have electric-vehicle charging stations throughout the property.” Solar arrays on the roof of each building will help generate electricity to supply power to the common areas.
Joel’s great-grandfather Harry was a developer of apartments in Westchester and the Bronx in the 1950s and 1960s. Grandfather Joel Halpern became a major player in Westchester real estate with Halpern Enterprises and Halpern Building Corp. and is especially remembered for developing the Tarrytown Corporate Center and the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown. He was killed in a powerboat racing accident in 1981. Jon Halpern, Joel’s father, assumed operation of the company.
“I used to go to construction sites with my dad as a kid and overheard many, many phone calls as well,” the younger Halpern recalled. “The best advice I got was that in this job we’re firefighters. We’re putting out fires on a daily basis. Construction comes with issues, but it’s how you handle those issues and overcome them that makes you successful.”