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I had the pleasure of conducting the keynote interview with Michael Stern of JDS at the recent Massey Knakal Multifamily Summit. Michael did a wonderful job answering every question in detail. He told the story of his humble start speculating single family homes in Florida to building one of the highest residential towers in NYC today.

Michael propelled himself into the spotlight by buying a property at 212 West 18th Street in 2009 for around $25 million. That project, which would come to be known a WalkerTower, has to be one of the most successful development projects of all time.

After finding extra FAR using mechanical deductions, Michael and his partner PNG raised the building even higher, towering over his neighbors. The loft style units ultimately sold around $3,000- $4,000/SF, combining for a total sell out of over one billion dollars. The units in the 200,000 square foot building were bought in 2009, so the hard costs ended up at only $400/SF while still providing the highest level of finish.

Michael parlayed these successes into assembling 111 West 57th Street which will rise up 1350 feet. He stated his blended purchase price was $900/SF. Clearly, on this block luxury condos are the obvious exit.

Although luxury condos have received the bulk of JDS’s press building, rental housing has always been Michael’s preference. He has built several projects in Brooklyn.

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He built 202 8th Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He achieved $62/ft rents in a market that averaged $50 and below by delivering condo level finishes. Our firm was fortunate to sell the building this year for $37.75 million which is $755/SF.  Michael said selling a rental at this level has far more tax advantages, and provides for a quicker and safer exit.

JDS’s latest rental development is on conEdison’s site at First Avenue, between East 35th and 36th Street, formerly owned by Solow. Michael is building two 80/20 towers which will total 800 units.

Michael struck the deal earlier last year below $300/BSF. He said that at the time the site was large enough that it only attracted a limited amount of suitors. If marketed today, Michael said it would almost certainly go condo as the land is probably worth double.

Michael admits that it is virtually impossible to find land today in NYC priced for rental. On the opposite end of the spectrum, luxury development sites are also nowhere to be found, even at today’s exorbitant land prices as most great sites have already been assembled over the last ten years.

Michael is already looking into London, as well as other cities in the US, as he feels he might have to go elsewhere to keep up his astronomical pace.

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