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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Bluefish Property Group Principal Rich Cooper

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.

Rich Cooper has made New England vacations a career for himself and a decadent hospitality experience for his guests. As principal of Bluefish Property Group, Cooper combines his passion for architectural preservation with a penchant for streamlined design into a portfolio of distinctive destination hotels.

Involved in real estate for over a decade, Cooper began his career as a broker in Marblehead, Massachusetts, before developing a passion for restoration and design, particularly on historic projects. 

Bluefish Property Group principal Rich Cooper with his family on Florida's Anna Maria Island

As a guiding force in renovations throughout the region, Cooper was the developer for Field Guide in Stowe, Vermont, winning Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s “Readers Choice Award for Top Hotel in New England.” He also built Gilded in Newport, Rhode Island, rated one of the “Best New Hotels in New England” by Yankee Magazine. 

Eventually, Cooper purchased and renovated The Hotel Marblehead, a 150-year-old private residence-turned-hotel. His design interpretation for property mixes the strong heritage of coastal New England with the organic elements of midcentury modern, capturing the essence of contemporary luxury.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry? 

Cooper: I sometimes have a difficult time describing my job to people in the industry, let alone people who are unfamiliar with commercial real estate development. In a nutshell, I just say that I am a boutique hotel developer. When pressed for further information on it, I describe my job as developing boutique hotels in iconic New England locations from permitting all the way through the final certificate of occupancy. The job sounds glamorous, but I am typically in some of the greatest places in New England during the cold and quiet offseason.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do? 

Cooper: I began my career in real estate as a residential real estate agent, and I am sure I would be doing that. I have been infatuated with real estate since college in Boston. Back then, every Sunday I would peruse the open houses of Beacon Hill and dream. I would then, from memory, jot down floor plans and try to figure out a way to maximize the space. To this day, when I am stressed, I start laying out floor plans for a project. It takes total concentration for me and is a major stress relief.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had? 

Cooper: Any job where I need to be in an office all day long. I lasted six months in my one and only "office job."

Bisnow: What was your first big deal?

Cooper: My first big deal was The Wesley Hotel in Martha's Vineyard. My development partner, Rob Blood of Lark Hotels, and myself had developed a few small inns, but when I saw this 95-room, 40K+ SF hotel on Oak Bluffs Harbor, I saw nothing but potential. Rob and I were turned away by a few investors (and banks) but finally found the right partners. We turned The Wesley Hotel into a Lark Hotel named Summercamp Hotel, and it has been wildly successful.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure? 

Cooper: I have had plenty, but I always learn from them and try to make the next project better. I would say my biggest failure was an ambitious adaptive reuse project from a few years ago. The project had multiple facets to it, including a hotel, restaurants and a roof deck. The budget spiraled, and I ended up having to sell my ownership stake to finish the project. Certainly a tough pill to swallow, but a learning lesson, and the project is still something I am proud of as it looks amazing.

Rich Cooper with his son at Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be? 

Cooper: Commercial real estate in my hospitality world is changing all the time. I would love for there to be less paperwork, as I am always shocked by the pages of paperwork and the cost of our attorney bills at closing (and sometimes beyond). I do, however, know it is an important part of the industry.

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve? 

Cooper: My biggest pet peeve is contractors adding extra hours to their weekly invoices. Once caught, it breaks the trust forever.

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor? 

Cooper: My greatest mentor was a development partner I had for many years: Brad Aham. Brad was a higher-up at State Street Bank who founded Bluefish Property Group with me to develop real estate on the North Shore of Massachusetts. We have since parted ways, but the business acumen and values he imparted on me I will keep forever. Brad didn't have a ton of real estate experience when we started Bluefish Property Group, but he did have a ton of business experience. He taught me to listen more than speak and to treat everyone, from the person doing cleanup on the job site to the attorney at closing, with respect and dignity. This has served me very well in business and in life.

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten? 

Cooper: The best and worst professional advice I have ever received is actually the same: take risks. I have always taken risks in my professional career, and while I try to make them as calculated as possible, quite a few haven't worked out. I wouldn't change a thing though, as more risks have turned out for the better for me, and it is just my nature.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance? 

Cooper: I really like to travel to get inspired. I have instilled this passion for travel in my family, and we love to go on family vacations. I know it sounds cheesy, but they are memories that will last forever. We make it a point to travel as much as possible, and the nature of my business in developing boutique hotels allows us to stay in some pretty amazing places.

Cooper in Stowe, Vt.

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world? 

Cooper: My favorite restaurant in the world is an extension of my favorite place in the world: Martha's Vineyard. When on-island we always have breakfast at The Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven, which overlooks Vineyard Haven Harbor. Great American fare in a classic Vineyard building. You just know you are on vacation when you step into that building.

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say? 

Cooper: I don't think I would have much to say to that man.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken? 

Cooper: The biggest risk I have ever taken was getting out of that office job right out of grad school and becoming a real estate agent. No salary, no safety net, just go and sell some homes. It was the beginning of this incredible adventure I have had in the real estate industry.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown? 

Cooper: In my job, I am on the road checking on projects quite a bit. I truly enjoy going home. There is a causeway in my hometown with Marblehead Harbor on the left and the ocean on the right, and for that half mile drive to my house my blood pressure goes down and leads me to my favorite place: home.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night? 

Cooper: Budgets.

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about? 

Cooper: I have many passions in life, but, most of all, I love my family. They are my world and make me laugh, make me cry and inspire me to do my best every day. (I love tennis, too.)