Up Close with Jason Halpern
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For the past 15 years, JMH Development founder and managing partner Jason Halpern has been jetting back and forth between his office in Brooklyn and South Florida, where he’s managing multiple projects under development. He sat down with Bisnow to discuss the latest happenings in his portfolio.
Brooklyn best knows Jason from his work on projects like 184 Kent, a warehouse he converted into 340 luxury rental apartments and then subsequently sold to Kushner Cos, LIVWRK and Rockpoint Group for $275M earlier this year. Currently, the firm is finishing the punch list for The Townhouses of Cobble Hill at 110-126 Congress St, which consists of four renovated historic townhomes built in the 1850s and five newly constructed homes; Jason reports that all but one owner has moved into the project.
In June, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the repurposing of the Brooklyn Heights Cinema at 70 Henry St, where JMH will build a boutique condominium building (above) designed by Morris Adjmi. (The firm is just finishing up the pre-development stage, and shovels will soon hit the ground.) And in Long Island City, JMH closed an off-market deal on Northern Boulevard that will house a 130k SF building with 25k SF of retail and a limited-service hotel. Right now, he’s going through the pre-development process and finding a flag, and he expects the project to begin in 14 to 16 months.
Every two weeks, you’ll find Jason in South Florida, where he’s one of the many New York developers building residential projects—but one of the very few building small, boutique buildings, which he feels are more recession-proof than the mega Downtown towers his Big Apple cohorts are building. Most recently, he closed on the $46M acquisition of 8995 Collins Ave, the last remaining waterfront development in Surfside (a view from the beach, above) where he plans to construct a luxury, boutique condo building similar to the developer’s Three Hundred Collins project in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood. The property shares a cul-de-sac with The Surf Club Four Seasons development next door.
In October, JMH launched the sales gallery for Three Hundred Collins, above, a 47k SF boutique condo development; over 50% of the 19 units have been sold. JMH has launched a partnership there with charity: water, in which Jason will donate $20k per each contract signed at Three Hundred Collins to provide clean drinking water to needed areas in Nepal and Ethiopia. (Next week, charity: water is holding its annual black-tie gala at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Jason is part of the host committee.) “We’re looking to partner even more with them,” he notes. At 2901 Indian Creek Dr in Miami Beach, JMH is finishing pre-development and will soon be opening the sales center for the 15 available condo units.
Over the summer, JMH also opened the 235-key Aloft Hotel on Collins Avenue in South Beach, a redevelopment of the historic motel Ankara, which includes The Continental Miami, a new eatery by famed restaurateur Stephen Starr. This project is representative of Jason’s focus on being recession-proof—he originally purchased the site in 2006 for a condo project; when the market turned, other developers continued to build. “But we stopped, boarded it up, paid off the debt and waited for the market to come back.” When it eventually did, he had it reapproved as a hotel project. He continues to be savvy about what he’s buying, he notes, focusing on the Miami Beach area, which has different fundamentals and buyers than Downtown Miami. Most of the deals he’s worked on have been off-market.
Jason’s family has been in real estate for three generations, first as builders in the Bronx, then in lower Westchester. His father began developing on the western side of Westchester, including Tarrytown Corporate Center (now owned by RXR Realty) in the mid-1970s. While he passed away in 1981, when Jason was only 11, he influenced his son to later start his own boutique development firm in the 1990s. Today, Jason focuses on residential and commercial properties from $25M to $300M. The secret, he says, is never working on more than four or five projects at a time. “It allows me to be very hands-on with each development and not have layers between me and everyone else,” he explains. While the way he approaches business is unconventional, including all the back-and-forth travel, he makes sure he sets aside plenty of time for non-business life, including spending time with son Max, 14, and fiancée Veronika. He’s learned some travel tips along the way, including always leaving from the airport on an evening flight—there’s a lot less commotion, he says, making the 2.5-hour flight south more enjoyable.