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Close Up: MJW Investments

Los Angeles

We sat down with MJW Investments president Mark Weinstein, whose Santa Monica-based company has gotten into the student housing market in a big way, buying existing buildings to rehab. The firm has 2,000 beds and is under contract to buy more, besides making offers on several hundred other units. Previously, it stuck to the Western states, but is now reaching to the Midwest and Carolinas. The company likes to buy close to growing campuses with a minimum enrollment of 15,000, strong area employment, barriers to entry, and good football and basketball programs. (Mark made an exception for his alma mater, UCSB.)

Here's Mark flanked by director of acquisitions Adam Barzilay and director of asset management Brennen Degner. MJW recently bought an 816-bed building in Provo, Utah, two blocks from Brigham Young University. Given BYU's restrictions on students' conduct, Mark tells us the building is known as the place where the most people have met their spouses. MJW's trying to enhance this tradition through social programming, helping residents to meet each other and encouraging those from other buildings to visit. The opportunistic investors are also buying apartments and notes at auctions.

Along with Tom Gilmore, Mark was one of the first developers to take advantage of LA's adaptive-reuse ordinance. His Santee Court and Santee Village projects were catalysts for other projects downtown, though the last phase of Santee Village was affected when condos slowed. That said, "We were in early enough and our basis was low enough that overall, we did sensational on the project." Mark would love to do philanthrophy full-time and invest on the side. He's involved with The Jewish Federation's Real Estate Principals Organization, composed of real estate company heads who allocate dollars and expertise to charities selected by RFP. Example: Boyle Heights' Breed Street Shul, which is rehabbing buildings to house social services.

MJW recently sold the 1.8M SF Sears building in Boyle Heights. He bought it in 2004 and went through the approval process, but heading into 2007 the world was changing, and Mark decided to sell. A variety of things--a lawsuit by Sears and "political" issues related to the old CRA--tied up the site for years and got in the way of selling at the top of the market. But Mark says his decision not to do the project opened up his life and "made me available to something that's far more important." He met and married the woman of his dreams, wife Farrah, and the day the nonrefundable money on the Sears sale was released, their twin son and daughter Blake and Brooke were born.