Season 2:

Episode 20

September 28, 2021

7Seventy House with Chris Mazzola

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Today we will be speaking with Chris Mazzola, the Director of Development at Bijou Properties and a developer who focuses on residential anchored, mixed-use developments in New Jersey. He has been with the company for seven years and has shaped many of their major projects in the process, from acquisitions all the way to leasing. On today’s episode, we will hear more about the 7Seventy House, a new major mixed-use development in Hoboken, New Jersey, and dive into Chris’s personal experience working on this development. At a broader level, we will also touch-on the impact of climate change on urban real estate portfolios and how this has led to evident shifts in urban development projects.

How can built environments mitigate the effects of environmental hazards? The 7Seventy House has kept this question in mind while undergoing development, its nascent occurring on the heels of Hurricanes Henri and Ida. Chris shares with us how water management infrastructure along with municipal policies can address the broader issue of flooding for waterfront and riverfront cities across New Jersey and New York. Join us on this week’s episode as we speak to him about this topic, his personal journey working with Bijou Properties, and how the 7Seventy House is allowing tenants to experience Hoboken living like never before.

About Chris Mazzola

Chris Mazzola is the Director of Development at Bijou Properties, which he has been with for the past seven years. Previously, he worked at JP Morgan and Brookfield Properties. Born in Long Island, eventually moving to Hoboken, he is passionate about introducing individuals to residential collections that allow tenants to experience Hoboken living. As the Director of Development for Bijou Properties, he oversees the development of multiple projects, including acquisitions, financing, design and construction, marketing, and leasing.

[00:00:00] Intro: What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way, or you’re just curious about what goes into one-of-a-kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.

In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes from the. And soon to be famous designers and developers responsible for them. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture & Design.

And now your host, award-winning architect turned entrepreneur, Atif Qadir, AIA.

[00:01:09] Atif Qadir: This is American Building, and I’m your host Atif Qadir. We are recording from the historic home of world-renowned architect Michael Graves in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture & Design YouTube channel. Now, let’s build something.

Today, our guest is Chris Mazzola. Chris is the Director of Development at Bijou Properties, a developer focused on residential anchored mixed-use developments in New Jersey. He has been at the company for seven years and has shaped many of their major projects in this process, from acquisitions all the way to leasing. Previously, he worked at JP Morgan and Brookfield Properties.

We will talk about the 7Seventy House, a a new major mixed-use development in Hoboken, New Jersey, and that’s currently just wrapped up with leasing. On the heels of Hurricane Henri and Ida, we will also talk about the realities of climate change for urban real estate portfolios and how those challenges can potentially be mitigated.

Thank you so much for being here with us, Chris.

[00:02:15] Chris Mazzola: Thanks Atif, I’m excited to be here.

[00:02:17] Atif Qadir: Awesome. So let’s dive right in. You’re a Long Island guy who moved to Hoboken, so you’re just like me. And you had a four-year interlude though in Cleveland for college. Tell us about that and how you made your way back to New York.

[00:02:32] Chris Mazzola: So yes, I am a Long Island guy, as you say, born and raised. But today I wouldn’t classify myself as that, Hoboken, New Jersey, is where I live, work, and, you know, most of our projects are developed there. So really that’s where I would geographically define myself as a characteristic. I spent most of my youth traveling around the United States and internationally.

So once I graduated from Chalmette high school in Long Island, I just want to try something geographically different. And that would be the case Western Reserve University in Hoboken, in Cleveland, Ohio, where I pursued a BS in Finance. After four years, I was ready to get back to New York fairly quickly. That hadn’t specifically, but in May of 2009, as you can imagine, there weren’t too many opportunities for someone looking to work on Wall Street.

So with dismal prospects, I really just bided my time. I found my way into, um, NYU’s Masters in Real Estate program where I pursued finance. And that’s really what cemented my desire to work in real estate. And after graduating that program after two years, I landed my dream job at JP Morgan, working on their acquisitions team, covering the Northeast. Within a few years, really good years, coming out of the recovery, had a couple of billion dollars worth of acquisitions in office, residential and retail under my belt.

And I was ready to start thinking about the next step.

[00:03:54] Atif Qadir: Remember when people used to go to the office? There’s thought about the alphas acquisitions. So you graduated, you said from the it’s the Shaq Institute at NYU, right?

[00:04:02] Chris Mazzola: Correct.

[00:04:03] Atif Qadir: So you’re at JP Morgan. You’re doing awesome acquisitions projects. Why did you make the move into development and then why more specifically visual properties?

[00:04:12] Chris Mazzola: Well, I would love to say that I forged my own path, but really I had an easy opportunity that was put in front of me, Larry Bijou who is a company’s founder and managing partner. He’s my stepfather. So there’s always an opportunity and an open door for me to pursue working there. And really though, we don’t discuss it this way, I guess I’m second generation.

So once I had cut my teeth in the real world, it was just a natural progression for me to join Bijou Properties, albeit on my own timeline, you know, in my own terms.

[00:04:46] Atif Qadir: So you’re the Director of Development, but you’re responsible for more than just the design and the construction of the company’s projects.

What would you describe your day-to-day?

[00:04:59] Chris Mazzola: Really, no two days are exactly the same. And I think it really just depends on which of the various projects I’m working on at the time, which stage of development are in, either pre-development or construction. So, I really try to plan my weeks or, you know, focus on one project a day.

It never really works out that way, but just for the sake of argument, if I’m focusing on one project and I’m in the construction phase, it’s really just, my schedule is a little more straightforward. It’s working with the general contractors, making sure that we’re on time, on budget, really via the OAC meeting schedule on the side. I’m working with leasing and marketing, various third party consultants and property managers.

Just get our operating budgets in line and make sure that when we open, you know, we’re, you know, hit the ground running. If it’s pre-development, that’s where my schedule is a little bit more sporadic. So, you know, I can wake up and say, I’m going to work on this, this or this, you know? I could open up, you know, my phone, see a social media post by a local advocacy group covering, you know, local parks or, you know, local bike advocacy group.

And I say, okay, you know, that’s sort of what I need to focus on today. So I’ll reach out to the person who is the president of that respective local group. And next thing you know, I could just be walking around Hoboken, just trying to get an idea of what that particular group’s vision is for Hoboken and trying to incorporate that into our project. Because, you know, placemaking is very key for Bijou Properties and a lot starts at the computer level or, you know, on the site to understand, you know, what makes this site special? Do the numbers work, but it’s the various stakeholders that really are the ones that are important, you know, from the get go, just to implement their vision into our vision and make sure it’s a successful project.

[00:06:51] Atif Qadir: So when you said, ‘OAC’, that stands for Owner, Architect, Contractor.

[00:06:56] Chris Mazzola: Correct.

[00:06:57] Atif Qadir: Got it. And, uh, with placemaking talk us through what that means for the firm. The reason being that under the cities that you work in are historic cities that have architectural history, cultural history for many decades, if not longer, does placemaking there say means something different than say for example, like the Newport neighborhood of Jersey city, which didn’t really exist until just a short while ago?

[00:07:22] Chris Mazzola: I think placemaking really starts at the core of, you know, what that particular neighborhood needs. No two neighborhoods are exactly the same. So some neighborhoods might need more open space. Some might need a local school, some might need a local theater, you know, on the arts and culture side. So we start looking at the site that we like typically in high barrier to entry markets, just because we’re not so competitive.

We look around and say, we want to find, you know, the most ready to go project and the best municipality. We say, what’s the best municipality we can find? What’s the best site within that respect in this capacity that we can find and work from there? And then, you know, our bread and butter is really multi-family mixed use.

So typically if the numbers work, the next step is okay, well, typically an entitlement aspect to getting this project approved. I mean, if the project’s already approved, it’s typically not really within our wheelhouse. If a site is call it ‘zone industrial’ or something, other than residential, we have to take it through the land use process or the redevelopment process, depending on what kind of zone it’s in.

So placemaking, really, what it means to, you know, a New Jersey developer is, what does that neighborhood need? What does that neighborhood want? Sometime neighborhoods don’t necessarily know what they want and often I not to sound cliche, but I think you look at Steve Jobs and, you know, he didn’t wait for people to tell him what they wanted. Right. And then when the iPhone came out in 2007, people were happy with their clamshell phones, with their, you know, less than, uh, I think terrible cameras. But if something we didn’t know we needed and it’s really up to us as developer, you know, in order to get from A, which is fine, to Z, which is, you know, building the project, we sing it up is B is really, you know, the first step is what does that neighborhood want because they’re not going to be entirely open to what we propose.

So if you can find something that, that neighborhood wants, like a school, like a theater or a wide open space and execute it well, then those people who were sometimes in opposition will be your advocate. And that’s, you know, that’s really something that we take a lot of pride in. And the first meeting with these local groups, it’s never, you know, rightfully so their caution is up and it’s up to us to make them think differently.

And we have a track record and that helps a lot. But sometimes you walk into a room and say, you think someone knows who you are. And you know, I did this so many times in Hoboken, it was success, you know, it’s always like, how is this gonna affect my parking? How’s this gonna affect my driving in and out of town? And you know, thing I’ll add to that is, you know, we like to build things typically on a larger scale because the larger the project typically means you can create more by way of placemaking.

So, a third unit project, you know, the way the numbers stack up is you can’t do as much as you would in a dollars and cents side of things as a 424 project like 7Seventy House.

[00:10:25] Atif Qadir: So, just a quick question, Chris, for people to have a gauge of what small, medium, and large would mean in Hoboken, would you consider 30 units like a mid-size project in Hoboken or a small?

[00:10:36] Chris Mazzola: I would consider 32.

You know, 70 units sort of mid-size, you know, you can really point to a handful of large scale projects in Hoboken. It’s not like Jersey City where you say large-scale scale and they say left to right in front of me or behind me, they’re all over. Hoboken, it’s, you know, either large scales on the waterfront, which ultimately led to the development of the waterfront from what it was prior to it, which was somewhere that you wouldn’t want to go.

[00:11:04] Atif Qadir: That’d be the Hudson Tea projects by Toll Brothers.

[00:11:08] Chris Mazzola: Correct, that or the shipyard or the W downtown, all these projects on and Hoboken on the waterfront. You know, they were part of the stakeholder process with local residents and, sure, it wasn’t easy for them then. Much like it isn’t always easy for us, but we understand that and we try to create something special.

And, ultimately, I live in Hoboken. Bijou is in Hoboken. Yeah. It’d be difficult for us to walk around, go to a restaurant. And in the back of our mind, knowing we didn’t create something that people didn’t love, you know, it’s great when people interrupt you at dinner and they say, you know, you might not remember me.

I was the first person to say, Hey, did your project when it was on a board and a big community room, but you know, I lived there now, the park has been realized and I take my kids there every day after school. That’s special.

[00:11:55] Atif Qadir: I think that what I love about your description is this idea that it is likely inevitable that a developer is going to have a bullseye on their back, that they can’t change.

But the question is, how do you actually respond to that situation? And I think that some developers may choose the path assuming that they know what’s best and what they want to do will happen. And I think there’s probably a small select few of people that, that do what you described, which is actually start the conversation before it gets to a contentious kind of environment.

Look for some of that information to help shape what you’re proposing. I think that’s, that’s absolutely spectacular. So I want to talk about 7Seventy House. So 7Seventy House located in Hoboken, and tell me about some of the unique aspects of that particular site.

[00:12:46] Chris Mazzola: I’d like to focus more so on the experience when you walk into the building, but it’d be hard to ignore what’s around the building.

When we first approached that site in that neighborhood, it was not a place you’d really want to go unless you were going to the Montereau Center For The Arts, which 10 years ago was developed as an adaptive reuse commercial builds. It has over time developed into about a hundred different kind of small retail and office tenants.

And if you wanted to take your kids, you would, you know, for pottery making classes, for dance classes for, for anything really that’s a place you would go, but you wouldn’t linger there. There was a lot of adjacent sites that were yards, warehouses with many previous heavy industry uses there. So it wasn’t technically safe.

What we did was we assembled all the land that we could put together in that area, which eventually comprised three acres. We said, okay, this isn’t a redevelopment zone. That’s a good starting point. But the redevelopment plan at the time was about 20 years old. So it wasn’t indicative of modern tastes and modern planning.

So what we did was we concentrated density into one building, opened up roughly two acres of open space,

[00:13:56] Atif Qadir: That’s a lot in a small city. Like Hoboken’s only one square mile, right?

[00:14:00] Chris Mazzola: Yeah. It’s one square mile. So, you know, when people say, you develop an Hoboken, like where do you develop? It’s always the outer edge. So it’s where people don’t get their shoes dirty going to when they walk out of the path or off the ferry and the waterfront it’s, I would call it Northwest Hoboken, which there are a lot of large format or full block industrial sites, prime for redevelopment.

So anyway, We put together about 424 units. And our plan was don’t, you know, develop and donate two acres of open space to the city, which manifested itself in a gymnasium, a large quad grassy quad, and then just like a hard and an active and passively hardscaped and landscaped plaza. That project was, you know, probably two year approval process.

From there, we developed a 424 units, which was out of scale for the neighborhood, but by way of what we were giving, it was certainly a net benefit, exceedingly net benefit, not just quantitatively, but qualitatively to the residents. So we developed that and it was a real risk because people come to Hoboken and they say, well, I want to be close to the path train because I commute to Manhattan or, you know, I want to be close to the waterfront because I want to, you know, city view or be always reminded I’m closer to Manhattan. We’re about as far west, as you could go

[00:15:21] Atif Qadir: You’re literally right up against the Palisades, right?

[00:15:23] Chris Mazzola: We’re up against the Palisades. We were in an area no one really ever would want to linger. As I mentioned, unsafe in a lot of ways, definitely avoided. I’m going to use that word and we developed this really high-end market rate with an affordable component.

And right out of the gate, we started leasing in August, 2019. And within six months we were exceeding our underwriting, which is always a great thing when you underrate something and has entitlement risk, and maybe it takes a little longer to approve, but if you have a vision and you stick to it, sometimes the market responds.

I shouldn’t say sometimes, in our experience, the market always responds. People want quality. They want place-making aspects that make living within a city like Hoboken, more habitable. So I would say locationally, our site really created a nucleus for the neighborhood. So once you get there, you know, you see all the parks and the plaza and everything around there.

The Monterey Center For The Arts was really the commercial anchor for the year. Once you step into the lobby, you know, it wasn’t going to be the neighborhood that kept you there. It was going to be the building. And a lot of developers these days are talking about resort style living, and it’s kind of like the buzzword, which is green.

You have to use the word sustainable and you know, mean it via the various sustainable frameworks. You can’t just say green, but let’s just call, you know, resort, style living, sort of the green in this aspect. You know, I don’t consider myself ‘cool’. But, you know, I know cool people, or I know how to hire.

[00:16:50] Atif Qadir: You’re a pretty cool guy, I’ll give you that.

[00:16:52] Chris Mazzola: I appreciate that. But yeah, we try to identify well as a developer, you got to identify the people who know what they’re talking about. So, you know, when we talk about resort style living, you know, the architect laid everything out, but really came down to the finishes and the experience within the building.

So we hired a firm out of Brooklyn that actually based in industry city. So actually an interior designer and fabricator. So their name is factioned and they immediately knew what to do. They immediately knew how to, I don’t even wanna say, respond to the market cause they weren’t responding to the market.

They were creating a new offering in the market. Yeah. I mean, you see a lot of these offering of finishes within the units. I mean, every unit is going to have the stainless steel package. It’s going to have, you know, the same cabinets, you know, now every cabinet is going to the ceiling, where it can ,very similar. In this case, yes. I would say, trying something relatively different on the unit finishes, but it was really the experiences, you know, within the building we had about 40,000 square feet of amenities space, and that was a bit overwhelming. Cause, you know, when we did Bijou Properties, we’re working with our architect, you kind of create these boxes and you say, man, that’s a lot of space.

And how do you connect it? How do you create an experience? You know, it’s easier when all the spaces consolidated, but we had a vision where people don’t really want to be, you know, you don’t want a club room next to, or from home space or work from home, wasn’t really what was called business center, whatever you want to call it. They said, no, this is an asset. Having the spaces separate is an asset. We know how to kind of create a signage package, wayfinding to make it like you would be in a hotel. So that’s where we kind of left them to it. And, you know, they really did an incredible job. So as soon as you walk in the building, you know, you have these custom accent pieces in the lobby and they’re all fabricated actually at Factions, industry city, a warehouse.

[00:18:44] Atif Qadir: So you mean custom lighting fixtures? or custom artwork?

[00:18:48] Chris Mazzola: Custom lighting fixtures, sculptural lighting features, some of the images that I shared with you. There’s a three story tall planter wall then it really acts as a kind of like in your face. Wow moment, as soon as you walk in.

So that’s really everyone’s first impression. And then, you know, what’s going to compel you to keep walking in this building. People’s attention span is very short and, you know, if they can figure it out online, maybe they don’t feel like they need to come in. And, you know, especially nowadays where you can do virtual tours throughout buildings.

A lot of the images on our website, don’t do the actual spaces justice. So hopefully what they do is they compel people to want to come to our building, you know, oh, that’s a cool fitness center. It’s got a great view or, oh, Hey, this is a really nice pool deck. And it’s, you know, it’s got all these things.

So it’s creating a desire for people to want to come in and see it for themselves. And then once we can get them into that building, then they can see, you know, maybe being on the waterfront in Hoboken, isn’t, you know, where I want to be. Maybe being next to the path isn’t where I want to be because there are other places in Hoboken where I can live and have the quality of life that I want.

And, you know, I heard from a resident the other day who I’m friendly with, they said, the problem is I don’t leave the building. There’s a gym, there’s a pool. There’s a lot of open space out front and many times, you know, I lived into many building, heavily amenitized building before. And you know, you think you tell yourself I’m going to do laps in the lap pool or work on the gym all the time.

That’s kind of like, you know, the, what gets ya. And then after like two months, you’re just like, you know, why am I paying this amenity fee? Why am I living here? What we found is, you know, we’re having above market retention rates. So if the market typically has 50% of the people will stay there, you know, when their lease expires, 50% will leave to go somewhere else.

We’re seeing, you know, in the sixties, mid sixties, which that 15% means a lot from a operation standpoint, from a underwriting standpoint. You know, we did come to market, you know, right before the pandemic set in. So I wouldn’t say it wasn’t without its challenges. We opened in August 2019 and six months in, we said, oh wow, we’re going to reset this building in one year, that’s 382 market rate units, the rest of our affordable.

So they were leasing up quite well as well

[00:21:09] Atif Qadir: Are those on a waitlist the affordable units or are those done in a very similar way to market rate?

[00:21:14] Chris Mazzola: The way it works is we hire a separate company who handles only affordable units. And we work with them very closely and yes, it’s usually on a waiting list. So that’s how it works.

[00:21:25] Atif Qadir: So then I just want to highlight a few things. So the, in terms of the numbers of this project, it’s a 14 stories tall, 424 units, both market rate and affordable 40,000 square foot of amenities. That’s a lot. And I think that’s, that’s really cool. You guys spread it out through the building and there’s also 25,000 square feet of retail. Is that leased up or what’s, what’s the story?

[00:21:48] Chris Mazzola: We’re about 60% leased up.

[00:21:50] Atif Qadir: Okay. So you chopped it up into different spaces.

[00:21:53] Chris Mazzola: The retail’s about 60% leased up, the multifamily aspect is 95%. We stopped. So for all intensive purposes, it stabilized the retail. I think in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 retails been a challenge, you know, you don’t have to be a, an analyst understand that e-commerce has been dominating our retail landscape.

So I think, and, this is something I very often tell whichever municipality we’re working with on the entitlement side, is that the right kind of retail that we want here, you know, if we’re going to call it a curated retail where we say, okay, you know, we have 25,000 square feet of space. We know we want a restaurant, we know we want a cafe. So things of this nature, laundry is going to, you know, you’re going to find laundry immediately. Every building knows they have a captive audience. So, you know, laundry’s the first person, you know, the first tenants come in and say, I’ll pay whatever you want. Get me in this building.

You know, I want to take this off the market, but it’s a little harder with those tenants that are really going to be the ones adding to the placemaking aspect of it. So whenever I speak to municipalities, I have to say, the multifamily is gonna have no problem. People want to live in Hoboken. It’s highest and best use. Retail, I think there just needs to be an awareness that the retail that we want in a neighborhood, that’s going to create a neighborhood that needs to be subsidized by the landlord. In some cases, it’s a loss-leader when we design spaces as a restaurant. For lack of a better word, they just say, can you build it for us?

You know, can you take it, you know, all the way? And we say, well, we’re not an architect, you know, we’re not contractors. We don’t know what you want. And they’re like, okay, well, so you’re telling me I have to hire someone. Yeah. You have to hire someone. Okay. Can you pay for it? So it’s very difficult. It’s a lot more hands-on, you know, for a project like 7Seventy House, the focus wasn’t so much on creating the retail experience as creating the neighbor to experience via the, you know, open space and the parks and the plazas. That’s not to say we didn’t try to find the best retail users possible. A lot of the food and beverage uses just couldn’t come around and they couldn’t justify. An area that doesn’t have as much foot traffic as call it main street, which, you know, main and main and Hoboken is Washington Street.

They just couldn’t justify it. So we were finding that all these term sheets we were getting was, you know, so heavily disadvantaged to ourselves. So, we had to, you know, lease it up, you know, we, we waited two years and then we found good tenants, but it’s not the tenant that’s going to be a cafe. It’s not going to be a bookstore and other neighborhoods where, you know, we were afforded the opportunity to say, okay, there’s not such a large retail element or the retail isn’t really carrying the proforma.

You know, we can say like, okay, we’ll take this loss and we’ll put a bookstore in there. And, you know, we put a rock climbing gym in one building, we put a cafe bookstore. We put I’m a culinary cooking school and then even in another. So these are uses that we really like and create neighborhoods. It’s great.

When a municipality understands that in order for this to be a neighborhood in order for place-making to really take off, we understand that retail is going to be a loss leader for you. And that’s not always a case from a acceptance side on the approval side.

[00:25:08] Atif Qadir: Let me ask you this. I think that what you brought up is really emblematic of residential anchor mixed uses. What the heck are you doing on the first floor? And in terms of earlier economic downturns, Jersey City, particularly the Heights neighborhood temporarily, which ended up being for decades, allowed residential on the ground floor, which I don’t think is something that you have to do, uh, given the look in the field and what you’re trying to do, but have you guys thought of, perhaps some of these retail uses that you see are core to placemaking that being a spinoff business for Bijou Properties to have like Bijou restaurants or Bijou daycare or something else like that? I’m sure you’ve had that like at least that internal battle that around.

[00:25:50] Chris Mazzola: We’ve have had our foray in, you know, very specifically curating, you know, redevelopments towards a restaurant space and much like I was saying before, you know, we had to basically become investors more than just landlords become investors. So take it through the improvable process for that tenant, you know, invest in the property.

And all I can say is restaurant businesses is a tough business. I think unless you have an operator who knows exactly what they’re doing and has a track record and has a balance sheet. All we can do as landlords to say. Here’s the largest tenant improvement allowance that we can give you. Here’s the people you should hire to do it, but we don’t want to be involved in your business because we weren’t from that.

I mean, we’ve invested with fails businesses, failed restaurants in our buildings, and it’s never really fun.

[00:26:40] Atif Qadir: I think, in that regard, I want to pivot a little bit towards the design and the planning process, and specifically all the care that your firm put into the water management and the mitigation. Could you talk our listeners through what that process was like? And what were the things that you included in that project to manage water issues that would be present in the west side of Hoboken?

[00:27:08] Chris Mazzola: Yeah, well, I think Hoboken’s identity is largely focused to the outside world as a city that floods, and while it irks me, you know, we’ve had at least three heavy storms this summer and heavy flooding occurred.

So, because we are creating these large-scale developments in Hoboken. We have to be solving these issues, not creating more issues. We’re not taken up impermeable lot coverage, or typically either putting in impermeable, but then there’s a green roof or something I’m incorporated within it for stormwater mitigation for 7Seventy House.

That’s in a part of town, which when what’s just say Sandy, when Sandy hit. It created almost like a vacuum for the water of the storm surge to come in and it just sat there. So we knew that it didn’t matter how much you liked the neighborhood or how much we trusted our vision to create something special.

We just knew that flooding would always be a lingering issues.

[00:28:07] Atif Qadir: Time to build a lake.

[00:28:09] Chris Mazzola: Time, a big old lagoon out front as an amenity. So what we did was we said, okay, well, the best we can do is bring in engineers who know what they’re talking about, because I don’t know how to solve flooding issues. We work with the city and North Hudson Sewer Authority who have a long-term control plan to effectively mitigate stormwater runoff, to engineer a system which ultimately manifested itself in half a million underground detention system. Half a million cubic square feet, or what’s the measure? Half a million gallons, gallons. Okay. So it’ll hold, you know, if there’s a heavy storm, whatever rain hits the surface, it’ll ultimately end up in this half a million gallon underground tank, and it’ll be held back until, you know, the storm lines have, you know, wet out enough.

And then North Hudson Sewer Authority, which is our local sewerage utility, they can remotely control an Opti Val, which, or an actuator that, or at least a stormwater. So it’s a very complicated engineered system. And it’s not what you can see. That’s one of the best benefits or best amenities of living in that building is what you can’t see.

Everyone likes the parks and the gymnasium and day one, you know, kids were running around. Right. That’s great. But when we had our first series of storms last year, didn’t flood. And that area always flooded surrounding areas flooded so we never had any major issues. So I think even this last storm or during Hurricane Ida, we had no flooding in the streets and other parts of town where we have other buildings, they all flooded.

[00:29:42] Atif Qadir: Well, let me ask you this. So given that you put the care and the cost and the effort and everything into a mitigation plan, what if your neighbors are all bozos and they didn’t do anything? Would you just keep on drawing the water that they’re throwing off? How do you prevent that from happening?

[00:29:58] Chris Mazzola: In that area in particular, you know, most of the buildings are three or four family townhomes, so they’re not really contributing to any storm water mitigation, one by virtue of when they were built.

I mean, that wasn’t really a top priority when they were built 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. Also, there’s only so much you can do with a small lot. You know, we were dealing with three acres. So two of those acres being open space, we were able to kind of spread out that underground attention to. So it was a real opportunity.

[00:30:29] Atif Qadir: Okay. And then I am going to pause here and let our listeners know that we were having our first affordable housing developer on the show next month. That’s Johanna Anderson who’s Executive Director of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services. Her work is even more important. Now as millions of New Yorkers still struggle to secure a safe housing that meets their budget during the pandemic.

So make sure to subscribe to the American Building Podcast so you don’t miss any of our terrific season two episodes. And so you mentioned, Chris, the hurricanes that we had this season on Henri and Ida. And, uh, when we last spoke, you actually were walking around Hoboken, surveying the, the impacts to your particular buildings.

What other ways do you stay on top of these really sensitive, important issues for your


[00:31:22] Chris Mazzola: I think most of our projects to date have been in Hoboken, as I mentioned, where I live and where my office is. So it’s not really hard to find out what’s going on in your neighborhood, in our neighborhood, where we develop.

So I spent a lot of time just talking to local businesses, just spending time on foot, not nine to five. After hours on weekends talking to people and you find out a lot that way. So I think there’s a real significance, a real value to being a hyper-local developer. And that you’re not just coming in from 30,000 feet and saying, what are the problems here?

Okay. And then, you know leaving. You know, so sometimes I almost have to be an active resident myself and say like, this is a problem in my particular neighborhood, this is what we need. And then we’re a developer so we can enact change. So when we incorporate these things into our projects, you know, we can speak from experience, but it’s not, you know, then when we speak to, you know, when we try to create support for our projects, people can agree with you.

They may not agree with the height or the look or certain things of the building, but they agree about what the problems are. And if we’re solving the problems, at least we’re starting off in somewhat of a good place.

[00:32:34] Atif Qadir: I think that that’s a really good point that you bring up this idea of identifying a problem and then being able to look towards a solution as opposed to allocate blame.

So you mentioned the water infrastructure that you’ve set up or mitigation. You’ve set up for 7Seventy House. Held up well, and then from the past projects that you’ve done, as well as this one, what are some of the best practices that you will continue implementing in your future projects?

[00:33:01] Chris Mazzola: I would say we wouldn’t really change anything that we haven’t done for 20 years.

[00:33:07] Atif Qadir: Good point.

[00:33:08] Chris Mazzola: I’ve only been at the company for seven years. There’s problem solving, which, you know, placemaking can be part of the problem solving equation too. You go to a neighborhood and it’s not really a neighborhood. There’s really no place to call the center of that neighborhood. So development is a lot about problem solving and it’s not about just.

How do I solve to an IRR so I can get investors in a bank to financing it? You have to finance it. Of course, that’s I wouldn’t call it a problem, but you’re solving to something local, you know, a problem for local residents who have really no incentive to see our projects get developed if they can’t benefit in some way.

So, you know, the case is always just going to create more parking issues, more traffic issues and things of that nature. But sometimes people don’t realize. Well, the closest park is five blocks away. Don’t you want something nearby or, you know, we’re creating 25,000 square feet of retail. Don’t you want a local place to shop or, you know, things like that.

So I think I don’t want folks in the open space aspect of it, but you know, Hoboken as a whole, certainly, you know, is really a question of neighborhoods and every neighborhood needs its own thing. So we don’t really have to do anything differently. I mean, when we have a new project, a new site and Hoboken, we already know what the problems are and what Larry Bijou started doing 20 years ago is what we’re doing today.

[00:34:30] Atif Qadir: I think what you’re describing collaboration about being upfront and having a comprehensive long-term solution to the problem seems to be a great template for many of the other cities across new coastal, New Jersey and New York that face very similar problems to Hoboken. So thank you so much for joining us today on the American Building Podcast.

If you want to hear they behind the scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country were designed and built subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google, or wherever it is that you like to listen. You all know, real estate is a tough industry to make it. So how can professionals stand out and make a name for themselves in today’s world? Hear from me, the team at Michael Graves and many of our spectacular guests, like Chris, on what we did to make it where we are. Grab our exclusive guide Seven Tips on How to Stand Out in Your Field at American Building Podcast.

Finally, we live in the richest country, in the history of humankind. We must reach beyond the boundaries we see, and the boundaries we create in order to help build homes and communities today. Chris and I have made donations to the Sierra Club of New Jersey, which focuses on preventing and addressing climate change and other environmental changes in the Garden State, I encourage you. Our listeners do support their worthwhile work as well. My name is Atif Qadir and this has been American Building by Michael Graves.

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