Jonathan Zamir, 32, Founder, Keystone Equities
Jonathan Zamir thinks Chinatown has been undervalued and is ready for prime time, and he's using a retail strategy to gain ownership at favorable prices.
At the end of 2012, he bought 77 Bowery from East West Bank for $20M, structured a sale-leaseback that created significant retail value on the ground floor, and in effect reduced his basis for the office component.
Then in mid-2013, he partnered with Apollo Global Management and paid more than $41M for 202 Canal St. Though the building was 95% vacant when purchased, within a week he announced a flagship lease with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (USA), a subsidiary of the largest bank in the world, and renamed the building after it. Less than six months after purchasing it, he sold the retail component for $36M, dramatically reducing his basis in the office part, which he plans to convert to luxury office condos.
Jonathan formed Keystone Equities in 2010 to purchase value-add investments in the city. He focuses on all asset classes but has a penchant for properties with prominent retail that can increase the underlying value and thereby let him pay a higher price per SF than competitors.
Using this strategy, he's become one of the most active owners in Chinatown. However, he owns assets across Manhattan and is exploring ground-up projects in both Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Born and raised on the Upper East Side, he says he's fortunate to have seen the gentrification of New York first hand, which helped him envision the potential of undervalued real estate.
Jonathan’s father came to the US from Iran in ’73. It was in the Persian Jewish community in which he was raised that he found his first real estate gig, working for Moinian founder Joe Moinian. At 18, Jonathan crammed his college courses at NYU Stern’s School of Business into two days a week so he could work the rest of the time for Joe. Though he made only $8 an hour, the experience of managing Joe’s Chelsea portfolio was an education worth paying for, he says, adding that Joe taught him how to network, talk, and negotiate with people.
Eventually, Jonathan went to work at an investment bank during the dot-com craze but didn't like it because the institution was so large and compartmentalized that he felt employees couldn’t fully understand the business.
He went on to NYU to get his master's, where he met Infinity Real Estate's Steve Kassin, another extraordinary mentor who brought Jonathan under his wing as director of acquisitions for three years. Jonathan learned the investment side of the business and how to value and buy real estate, crunch IRRs, and calculate equity multiples.
Jonathan's a huge soccer fan (captain of his high school team) and enjoys tennis and kite surfing.