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Meet David Juracich: The Australian Behind The Scenes At JDS

In 2007, David Juracich met a 27-year-old Michael Stern, a developer who said he had a brilliant idea for a condominium development in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood.

Today, the area is on the cusp of a building boom. Eleven years ago, it was mainly known for its toxic canal, and Juracich, then working on Wall Street, said he did not know much about the place.

JDS Development Group principal David Juracich

Stern’s company, JDS Development Group, had by that time worked solely on projects in the outer boroughs and Florida. He explained to Juracich that he had formed an assemblage that would give the development a desirable street address.

Juracich — an Australian who had been working as a derivatives broker since he had moved to the city from Tokyo in 2003 — had been looking to get out of finance and into real estate for a while. It was one of those New York stories: someone knew someone, who knew someone else, who introduced Juracich to a friend, who eventually led him to Stern.

The Gowanus project, at 202 Eighth St., was a compelling idea, the then-37-year-old Juracich thought, and Stern seemed like a trustworthy guy. In 2008, Stern had bought the land and Juracich made a $2.6M investment in the project. In retrospect, Juracich said he might have done it because he was worn out, frazzled by his day job and willing to throw caution to the wind.

"I tell people, especially Aussies, it’s an ‘only in America thing.' Opportunity can just happen," Juracich told Bisnow in a recent interview at Walker Tower. Investing in the Gowanus project "was an expensive litmus test to see how it went, how our relationship went.”

These days, JDS — where Juracich is now a principal — is one of the city’s better-known development firms. Developments like Walker Tower at 212 West 18th St., Stella Tower in Hell’s Kitchen, the Fitzroy in West Chelsea and the American Copper Buildings at 626 First Ave. have put it on the path to making an indelible imprint on the NYC skyline.

Now, JDS is banking that a planned Billionaire’s Row tower at 111 West 57th St. will launch the firm into a new stratosphere of New York City real estate.

The supertall, which has a complex ownership structure and has been plagued by lawsuits, will reach 1,400 feet if completed, making it one of the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.

The firm’s public face is its founder and managing partner, Stern, whose prodigious talent as a developer and for stepping on a few industry toes on the climb up is well-documented. But sources, including Stern, said Juracich has been instrumental in helping some of JDS’ most famous projects come to fruition.

“People love him, “ Stern said. “He's a great investor and partner.”

Property Markets Group principal Elliott Joseph, whose firm has partnered with JDS on several of its projects, including Walker and Stella towers and 111 West 57th St., said while Stern does a lot of pushing and branding, Juracich has acted as a driving force behind the scenes.

“One could argue that David is as responsible for JDS’ success as anyone,” Joseph said. “[David] is a humble, self-effacing guy. He was very successful in finance, and he came to real estate with the same kind of analytic ability and style … he negotiates in a very easy-going, Australian way.”

Juracich, or Wavey to his mates, is an affable man with a laid-back charm. He grew up in Melbourne, in the southern state of Victoria in Australia, rowing crew and playing Australian Rules Football.

After he graduated from the prestigious Monash University in the early 1990s, he went to work on the Japanese Yen interest rate swap market in Japan. He moved to New York 14 years ago to work with Swiss money broker Tradition.

Since joining JDS in 2012, he has maintained a low profile. An online search does not bring up much at all, and he said he is not really one for the New York City real estate scene, which is famous for its big personalities, robust egos and black-tie social events. Friends described his competitive streak, his generous spirit and enthusiasm for buildings that he is working on. Self-promoting is not his strong suit, they said.

“That’s the Aussie in me, I didn’t want to be 'Google-able' for a long time," he said. "And I’ve only in the last few years thought, ‘This is silly.’”

A rendering of 111 West 57th St., also known as the Steinway Tower

The developments he has most recently been involved with are the antithesis of low profile. The American Copper Buildings, a 761-unit rental JDS is developing with Largo, has garnered wide attention for its distinctive design. The dual towers, which are linked by a three-story skybridge, are clad in copper that will slowly turn green over time.

The supertall at 111 West 57th St. has made headlines, not just for its ambitious goal of reshaping the skyline, but for its ongoing legal squabbles and a complicated capital stack.

The Billionaires' Row tower fell into foreclosure in late August. An investor, Ambase, is pursuing legal action against PMG and JDS, claiming it is owed $136M. AmBase is considering selling its stake, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing reported on by The Real Deal last week.

Juracich declined to discuss the lawsuits. He thinks the building, once built, will be in league with the Empire State and Chrysler buildings and One World Trade Center.

“Growing up in the suburbs of Australia, I never dreamed one day I would play a role in changing the skyline of such a faraway land,” he said.

That may have seemed like a stretch a decade ago, too, when he first put up $2.6M for 202 Eighth St.

Soon after he invested, the Great Recession hit. JDS hit the pause button on that and other projects in Brooklyn.

"We weren’t dead, and it wasn’t all my money … I just thought, ‘We’ll come back to this,’” Juracich said.

Construction started up at the site in 2011, this time with the company building luxury rentals rather than condos, and the 51-unit building sold to Werber Management for $37.8M in 2013.

Going to work in finance every day during the crisis, it seemed to Juracich the sky was falling. But he said he thought about the people he had read about who had made a killing buying real estate after 1987’s Black Monday, or following the recession in the early 1990s or right after the the dot-com bubble burst. He was more keen than ever to invest in real estate.

In the week Lehman Brothers crashed, Stern walked a building at 212 West 18th St., a Ralph Walker-designed Art Deco building built in 1929 for the New York Telephone Co.

Juracich said Stern rang him, excitedly urging him to look at the building straight away. JDS bought it for $25.25M, according to property records.

Juracich said he put up the full deposit for the building that would become Walker Tower — a total of $3M — by mortgaging an investment rental unit he owned in Nolita. Stern said Juracich was a “critical early investor, who put up a portion of the initial deposit."

Stern claims he never had a shred of doubt the building was going to be a success. But Juracich said he ruminated for a while over his potential investment. Was JDS paying too much? Why had no one else already bought it?

“Coming from a trader’s background, it’s a common feeling to be thinking, ‘Why am I the only one paying that price. What does someone else know that I don’t?’” he said. He decided it was the right call to put in money. “And I was like, ‘Why did I do this, why did I do this?’ — I had massive buyer's remorse."

PMG came on board just days before the closing in 2009. Starwood Capital Group bought a 50% stake in December 2010. Sales at the building launched in 2012, and it set a Downtown Manhattan record when a penthouse sold there for $50.9M in 2014. The building is considered to be the firm’s breakout success, which pushed it into the city’s development spotlight. Juracich now lives there with his wife, Catherine, and their four children under the age of 8.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has pointed to the American Copper Building as an efficient way to use glass

Juracich’s role in the Walker Tower project, and his role at JDS since leaving finance and joining the company as a principal five years ago, has been to get what every development needs but can be terrifically hard to nail down: initial investors.

“It’s calling people, [saying] ‘please, can you lend me 250 grand? Can you lend me 500 grand? I promise I’ll pay you back,” he said. “Even the people at AIG, the funds like Starwood, it still comes down to a leap of faith … they still need to believe in you.”

Stern said he and Juracich have different skills and strengths.

“David’s a great people person. I’m very technically proficient, it’s a great combination,” he said, describing Juracich as a “hell of a guy” with a lot of integrity.

There are a couple of principals at JDS, and while Juracich is in on a lot of deals, there are also a number he is not part of, according to Stern. He has “carte blanche” to take a smaller or larger position, but each deal has a custom capital stack, Stern said.

“David’s not been as public, I don’t know that he’s had a desire to, but certainly, he’s deserving of all the recognition in the world," Stern said.

Juracich put it this way: “None of the projects would have happened if Michael and I weren’t a team.”

He said they both bring a different set of attributes to the table, and there is a large staff at JDS that works on every project.

JDS is Juracich's focus for the foreseeable future, he said, although he recently founded the United States arm of an Australian-based software firm, Profectus Group, that helps with contract compliance and accounts payable.

“I don’t need fame, I just need fortune,” he said. “I just want to get my bank account replenished, love my kids and have a comfortable life.”