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EXCLUSIVE: Douglaston Looks Beyond New York With New National Arm

JLL Chairman of Investment Sales Bob Knakal and Douglaston Development Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Levine at the 124th REBNY banquet Jan. 16, 2020.

Douglaston Development is building beyond the Big Apple. 

The New York City development firm helmed by founder and Chairman Jeff Levine, known for its multifamily and hospitality projects across the city, has started a new division of its company dubbed DD Nationwide, focused on building outside of the New York metropolitan area, Bisnow has learned.

Michael Kaye, who has been CEO of Douglaston Development for 15 years, will serve as president of DD Nationwide.

"As much as we had been expanding, the combination of our local business, as well as our national business, has been a drain on [Kaye's] time and energy," Levine said. "We made the decision jointly it would be best for Michael to focus on these other opportunities ... and we’re very excited about the future."

DD Nationwide will oversee development on ongoing Douglaston Development projects on the West Coast and in the Southwest, including a 47-story residential tower in Seattle and several residential projects in Arizona such as a  mixed multifamily community in Peoria called Vista Winds, which will contain 216 units of senior housing.

The company has developed and operated senior living facilities in Arizona for decades, Levine said. DD Nationwide plans to expand its footprint to more Sun Belt cities, such as Memphis, Tennessee, and Scottsdale, Arizona, Levine said. 

Douglaston Development owns and has been an active developer across New York City, building senior housing, student housing, affordable housing and condominiums. Notable projects include the affordable housing redevelopment and restoration of the Linden Houses, an affordable project in East New York.

The company also builds hotels, including the luxury 249-unit Gansevoort Hotel on 18 Ninth Ave. in the Meatpacking District, which has taken a hit amid the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the hotel shut down and 91 employees were laid off, according to a Workplace Adjustment and Retraining Notification filed in June. The company sold that project in 2019, a spokesperson for the company said. 

The future of the company's London hospitality venture, The Curtain Hotel, is uncertain, Levine said.

"It was initially quite a success," he said. "Obviously, it — like everything else — has been negatively impacted by the effects of the virus on hospitality, and it looks like that adventure may be coming to an end ... We had done a sale-leaseback on the property and with the closure put into effect, we've effectively shut down the operation, and I don't know what's going to happen going forward."

Levine said that he believes the company's new division, along with its New York real estate projects, will prove to be lucrative successes in the future.

Kaye has had a crucial role in the company's development locally, nationally and more recently, internationally, as the company partnered on some boutique hotel projects in London, Levine said. 

Kaye has been working with the company since 1985, when he served as its outside counsel. He joined the company full-time in the mid-1990s. 

“Michael brings an intellect and an intellectual curiosity to the table as well as a personality that makes people comfortable wherever he goes,” Levine said. “Over the past few years, as our company has grown, his role has expanded as well.” 

In a release, Kaye said that the company would expand to areas that have seen an influx of residents in recent years. 

“We are seeing more and more interesting deals in growth areas throughout the country, most notably in the Puget Sound area, Philadelphia and the Southwest,” he said in the release.

Douglaston is the latest stalwart in the New York-based development world to begin expanding nationally as New York suffers from population loss and budgetary gaps. Silverstein Properties expanded to the West Coast in July, and The Durst Organization started on a huge development in Philadelphia earlier this year. NYC investors were already flocking to Philadelphia after the rent regulation reform bill was passed in 2019. 

Levine said the national expansion doesn't mean that the company will be slowing down in New York. 

“We are born and bred New Yorkers, our participation in the New York market is ongoing and strengthening,” he said. “We are extremely optimistic about the future of our city.” 

CORRECTION, NOV. 21, 2:45 P.M. ET: Levine was referring to the Curtain Hotel project in London when discussing its uncertain future amid the pandemic, not the Gansevoort Hotel in New York, which the company sold in 2019. Michael Kaye was brought on as an executive at the company, not as its in-house counsel as an earlier version of this article previously stated. This story has been updated.