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Today, I’m joined by Head of the New York City office for Lendlease Development, Melissa Román Burch. Melissa is a leading property executive and developer in New York with twenty years of public-company real estate experience.
In our conversation, we discuss how growing up in Ohio, attending college in Cambridge, and living her adult life in New York City has shaped her outlook on real estate. We touch on the role of academic institutions as economic generators for the cities in which they’re situated and the connection between community and higher education.
Melissa shares the three main lessons that she learned from her time on the Pacific Park/ Atlantic Yards project, a massive mixed-use commercial and residential development in Brooklyn. We discuss getting buy-in from the community, learning how to build in a dense urban environment, and understanding the nature of public-private partnerships.
Melissa’s currently working on the Claremont Hall renovation and provides some details on the background, challenges, and opportunities that she’s seeing with the project. We get into the New York City phenomenon of air rights and Melissa shares how the team is monetizing 300,000 aerial square feet to weave together the gothic collegiate style into modern living.
Melissa also shares the importance of incorporating community feedback and local organizations on development projects, namely through the lens of the 1 Java Street project. Lendlease is transforming a vacant, single-story industrial warehouse into 850 units of housing, 30% of which will be affordable. They are also redeveloping the waterfront into an esplanade that will be open to the public. As property and rental prices skyrocket, housing access is top-of-mind for Lendlease.
We round out the conversation by discussing the core purpose of Lendlease and what drew Melissa to join the team. Because Lendlease has construction, development, and investment under one roof, they’re set apart from almost every New York City developer. She describes some of the significant carbon reductions that they’re making towards their goal to be absolute carbon zero by 2040. A lofty goal, but Melissa believes it’s achievable given their resources and dedication to the mission.
Melissa is the Head of the New York City office for Lendlease Development where she spearheaded the Sydney-based firms’ entry and expansion into the New York market and originated a pipeline of large-scale, ground-up developments for the firm.
Before joining Lendlease in 2015, she worked at Forest City Ratner for 12 years, where she oversaw the Pacific Park/Atlantic Yard project featuring the Barclays Center. She started her career at Merrill Lynch. She serves on the board of the Henry Street Settlement, Citizen’s Budget Commission, Urban Design Forum, and Coro New York Leadership Center. She is an alumna of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.
[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.
[00:00:33] In season two, we learn about everything from skyscrapers to single family homes, from the famous 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, and design.
[00:00:57] And now your host award-winning architect turned entrepreneur, Atif Qadir AIA.
[00:01:11] Atif Qadir: This is American building. And I’m your host, a co I’m, the CEO of, of Redis, a technology company focused on innovative public financing. For real estate projects, 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 and design YouTube channel.
[00:01:37] Now let’s build something today. Our guest is Melissa Birch. Melissa is a leading property, executive and developer in New York with two decades of public company, real estate experience. Over her career. She has initiated the entitlement and development of over 10 million square feet of commercial and residential mixed use projects.
[00:02:02] Uh, and those are often ones that are distinguished by urban place, making environmental leadership and innovative partnerships. Uh, currently she is the head of the New York city office for are Lendlease development and spearheaded the company’s growth into this market. Before joining Lenley’s in 2015, she worked at four city Ratner for 12 years where she oversaw the Pacific park Atlantic yard project that features the Barclay center.
[00:02:28] She started her career at Merrill Lynch currently in terms of her community involvement, she serves on the boards of the Henry street settlement, the citizens budget commission. The urban design forum and the Coro New York leadership center. She’s an alum of Harvard college and Harvard business school.
[00:02:47] Today. We’ll be talking about the new mixed use development known as Claremont hall, near Columbia university. More broadly, we will talk about how real estate developers can successfully part partner with academic institutions and community organizations. So thank you so much for being here with us,
[00:03:05] Melissa Román Burch: Melissa.
[00:03:07] Thank you so much for having me.
[00:03:09] Atif Qadir: Absolutely. So let’s start with Ohio. You are originally from Ohio. It has four major American cities, 12 million people has an industrial heritage and much more. As I saw during my travels in the state, uh, last year you spent all of your adult life or at the beginning of the year adult life, uh, in Cambridge and Massachusetts, and then in New York city.
[00:03:32] So could you compare these different parts of your life and how they have shaped your outlook as a real estate professional?
[00:03:40] Melissa Román Burch: Absolutely. Well, thank you for asking me about Ohio. Uh, Ohio is an important part of, of my roots and of my heritage. I have not lived there since 1994 when I graduated from high school, but I always say that Ohio and Columbus in particular is a great place to be from mm-hmm and do have a bit of a.
[00:04:03] Of a game that is a bit of a running joke with my friends and family, where everyone has got some sort of tie or connection back to Ohio, and it’s all about finding it. So, you know, reflecting on Columbus, when I left Columbus, it was 650,000 people. Mm-hmm Columbus today is. 900,000. And I have to say, as I was growing up in Columbus, the one memory that I, that you know, that is impressed upon me, time and time again, is that it really was a rapidly growing city.
[00:04:33] And that played heavily into the backdrop of me thinking about the urban environment. Mm-hmm , you know, that I was living in and, and how it was evolving. The other thing is what a diverse economy. I always considered Columbus, Ohio to be Columbus is the state capital. It’s also an incredible business center retail.
[00:04:55] Insurance banking. And the big one that I wanna talk about, because this is a theme that I think is really connecting many stages of my life is the role of higher education. And specifically in Columbus, the Ohio state university, which is an incredible institution, an incredible campus that’s situated right with in Columbus.
[00:05:14] Both of my parents are alumni of the Ohio state university. So we have a lot of focus on Ohio state sports. We are big Buckeye fans. And even as I sit here on the upper east side of Manhattan, we are always rooting for the box. So go box.
[00:05:32] Atif Qadir: I just wanna mention this, Melissa, I need to basically stop from pressing the end button on our interview because I’m a huge Michigan fan.
[00:05:39] And my grandfather went to the university of Michigan as well as bunch of family members. But I’m cool with it. We can keep, we can keep doing this interview.
[00:05:47] Melissa Román Burch: well, that’s one of the great things about. The Ohio state university are the amazing rivalries as well. And of course the Ohio state, Michigan is a great rivalry, not in terms only of colleges, but in terms of states and economies mm-hmm
[00:05:59] And I think having those rivalries is really healthy. And so I look forward to carrying that forward Atif so, you know, as I think about Columbus, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then my, my time in New York, I really wanna come back and it really connects to this. Theme that we’re gonna talk about today with Claremont hall is the role of academic institutions as sort of economic generators for the cities in which they’re situated.
[00:06:25] And I can’t imagine Columbus, Ohio without the Ohio state university and the role that it plays in the vitality of the economy in bringing new young people into the fold and in how helping to propel new centers of innovation. I absolutely feel that way as I think about the time the seven or I’m sorry, the six years that I spent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, both in undergrad and in business school, obviously Cambridge, one of the most famous college towns connected to Boston and Boston being just an incredible center of education, higher education.
[00:06:57] And as a result, a leading city around innovation. So I think then about New York and in particular about Brooklyn, which is where I’ve spent the vast majority of my professional career, 12 years with forest city rat companies, which was situated in downtown Brooklyn. And when I went to work for forest city Ratner companies, back in 2002, it was really not the Brooklyn that people today was really just starting this incredible phase of growth.
[00:07:27] But the one thing that we kept on coming back to, to really situate Brooklyn within a bigger context is we talked about how many students were in Brooklyn. And we would repeatedly compare Brooklyn to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and say that Brooklyn has even more students than Cambridge, Massachusetts. So Cambridge, Massachusetts, I think has something, you know, Something approaching more than 75,000 students.
[00:07:53] And that is an incredible number. When you think about that situated within Brooklyn. So thinking about the role of higher education it’s Ohio state university, it’s certainly my time at Harvard. It’s certainly Brooklyn and thinking about the role of the institutions in the borough and specifically the role that they played in my own formation as a real estate executive.
[00:08:18] Atif Qadir: Let’s talk a little bit more about your career at, for city rap. So there you worked for our friend, uh, mentor and also another season, two guest on the podcast, Maryanne, Gil Martin. Tell us about what you learned, uh, working with her on our team and then. Particularly on the project that you mentioned Pacific park and Atlantic yards as a lot of supporters would have some haters too, as well.
[00:08:40] So tell us about that.
[00:08:43] Melissa Román Burch: So it’s a great question. and you know, the Atlantic yards, you could really write a book about it is mm-hmm, a very complex, uh, large scale project and spectacularly, one of a kind. At 8 million square feet spanning 22 acres in downtown Brooklyn and six full city blocks. It is a behemoth.
[00:09:03] It also sits on top of a transit hub, which is a really critical part of understanding its success and also the vision for how someone could dream of situating, a brand, a new 20,000 Cedar arena and a multi. Million square foot, residential and commercial complex, um, of this scale at the intersection of so many neighborhoods.
[00:09:26] Mm-hmm so the transit piece is key. I definitely cut my teeth in the real estate world through the entitlement phase of this project. Mm-hmm have worked on it all the way since the inception, and then ultimately led the project as it’s executive vice president and head of development. And there were many, many lessons and many things that I reflect on, but I think I’d like to bring maybe three of those or so, you know, the first is that.
[00:09:53] This was a project that required a significant amount of environmental review. It was a complete new rezoning and it was a public private partnership with the city of New York, with the MTA and with the state of New York. So there was a very intense community process that was, um, important and needed to really position the project for the entitlement phase and to create the.
[00:10:20] create the buy-in within the community. And I think it really comes, you know, for me, everything that I think about the community really comes back to this project. And, and the key learning for me is that the community is not a monolith. The community is really a mosaic. A lot of times people ask, you know, well, what does the community think about this project?
[00:10:39] community is a singular voice Uhhuh. And you know, the community is a myriad of perspectives and a myriad of. Community groups that are sometimes in complete opposition with each other mm-hmm and as was the case with Atlantic yards, there were many different community groups that had a lot of different perspectives on.
[00:10:59] What the goals and ambitions of the project should be. And if they were happy with how the project was progressing. So that was a real wake up call because it was really my first time in the development business I had just started, you know, I just graduated from Harvard business school and was starting with Bruce Ratner, you know, back in 2002, when Atlantic yards was just to seed in the idea.
[00:11:20] Well, it was just a seed of an idea in his mind. And putting that project together really required this incredible coalition. And the coalition at times felt, you know, United around a certain community benefits agreement. And at times it felt like, you know, everyone was at odds with each other. So the community is Mo is, you know, is not a monolith.
[00:11:41] And I think that that’s real opportunity in a genuine way for developers, because by the way, Developers also don’t have one perspective either. And I think that that’s where we, we like need to break down the conversation to really think about not just specific stereotypes of what people want or don’t want, but really this is about people.
[00:12:04] Real estate development is about people. The community is ultimately about people and it out trying to forge and bring people together and to really share and enable participation in the process. So I’m really proud of the community process that took place there. I think it was highly participatory. I have a lot of memories of going to churches and giving presentations about the project, about going to community board meetings, going to Nicha complexes and sharing about what this project could mean for the community.
[00:12:37] And. Helping to bring people into understand some of the risks and opportunities of the development as well, because in order for people to understand how they can effectuate a development, I think there’s a piece about helping folks understand what is the development process and where are we in that stage?
[00:12:57] The second major learning that I had from that project is, um, it’s such a fascinating example of how does a dense, urban environment continue to grow. This was one of the few projects and one of the first projects in New York that was proposed to deck over a rail yard. So about a third of the land of this project is not a firm up.
[00:13:17] It is going to be on a platform that needs to get erected over an active rail yard. And of course now there are examples in New York there’s Hudson yards. Mm-hmm , there’s no place. There are proposals for doing this at Sunnyside yard, but I think all of these really highlight the incredible complexity mm-hmm and the challenges of urban development.
[00:13:39] We obviously do not want a city that is a 10 R or a high D city zone across all of New York. We need. Variety. We need different neighborhood scale. Not every place can handle the density, but density at a transit hub is where we should locate it. Mm-hmm , there is a very significant transit hub at this location, but in order to.
[00:14:01] Create the opportunity for the density you had to, you know, quote unquote, create the land and creating the land is about utilizing very creatively. All of the urban infrastructure that we have. But obviously this is incredibly expensive. It’s fr with complexity. And I think though, figuring that out over the long term is going one of the key success pillars for New York, as it tries to meet the housing need that it is.
[00:14:28] Seeking to solve.
[00:14:29] Atif Qadir: So for any guest that may not be from or listeners that may not be from New York city, could you explain what FA or floor area ratio is?
[00:14:38] Melissa Román Burch: Sure. So floor area ratio is the amount of square footage that can be built on any piece of land. In New York, you can calculate that by effectively taking the land area of a parcel that you control or that you own and multiplying it by the AR.
[00:14:56] So 10 AR would be a very high density, uh, zone in New York city. The vast majority of New York city is not zoned for high density development. And in fact, there have been significant down zonings all across New York city that are really protecting some of the low scale residential character of many of the neighborhoods.
[00:15:17] So these high density zones are quite rare. Mm-hmm, quite unique and are in short supply. So maybe to give a little bit more context to that New York has as of right zoning, which means that every single piece of land in New York city is what I call pre zoned. There is predetermined the amount of density.
[00:15:40] Or the amount of square footage that can get built on that parcel as well as the height that can get built on that parcel and where the setbacks need to occur on that parcel. So this is really unique because the New York city zoning code is that guidebook for developers. that is applied to every single site.
[00:15:58] And of course, as you combine sites, you create incredible complexity around. Wow. How did these different zoning lots come together and thinking about New York city zoning and interpreting the New York city zoning code? I describe a lot as interpreting the United States tax code. It’s all written somewhere, but there is.
[00:16:18] Regulation after regulation, after regulation that are passed and applied at different times. Mm-hmm . And so it really is an art form to figure out how to interpret the zoning code. And it is a, an incredible sort of niche expertise that has been developed within the land use attorneys who really are.
[00:16:37] Side by side with developers and figuring out how to unlock development in New York. The third is that is really the nature of public private partnership mm-hmm and for a large scale project that, that public private partnership needs to have flexibility and how it creates a master plan. Because at the end of the day to develop 8 million square feet at a singular project in downtown, Brooklyn is a generational development project.
[00:17:04] It outlives any administration mm-hmm and in particular, our project at, at the Atlantic yard Pacific park was entitled under governor George Pataki. This is a state project. So I’m gonna focus on the state governors for a moment to sort of highlight this point. So entitled under Pataki, we then launched the sort of transition from entitlement into delivery under the Spitzer administration, which lasted about a year and a half, then followed by the Patterson administration who was only in there for two and a half years, then, then followed by Cuomo.
[00:17:37] So we already see, and by the way, the project continues now with governor Kathy ho. So. This is an important point because not only has the partnership needed to have flexibility to manage the evolving priorities of New York city and New York state, but obviously the economy has gone through incredible transitions.
[00:17:57] This project was approved in 2006. It went through one of the worst economic crises of our time, you know, the oh eight. Great financial crisis and the ensuing recession, and then through periods of incredible boom and now through pandemics. So my point on this is, is that public private partnerships for the generations, I think is a interesting concept.
[00:18:19] And this one really spoke to it. And I think that there was a lot that we thought about and the creation of the master plan with flexible. You. Application, so that projects could swing from commercial to residential or different types of residential. Maybe it’s rental, maybe it’s condo, because you need to have ultimately a project that can be built mm-hmm and in order for it to be built, it needs to make financial sense and a lot of different economic conditions.
[00:18:43] So, you know, I think each time government does this, we, and, and the private sector does this. We learn more from that process and I don’t think we’ve cracked it, but I think that we have contributed to the acknowledgement of the flexibility specifically in the uses in order to enable building throughout different economic.
[00:19:04] Cuz if we’re only building housing, when the capital markets are functioning perfectly and when the. You know, cost profile projects make sense. We’re going to have these huge spikes, which is what we have often seen in New York, where we have these like very cyclical sort of building times of housing, and then these drops and we need to create more consistency and that delivery.
[00:19:29] And I do think that public private partnerships because of their public of sponsorship are ripe to enable that consistent delivery over the course of the project.
[00:19:40] Atif Qadir: So the Claremont hall project is located in upper Manhattan next to Columbia university and on the campus of the union theological seminary.
[00:19:51] Uh, tell us about this context and the challenges and opportunities of the site itself.
[00:19:57] Melissa Román Burch: Absolutely. So the union theological seminary was founded in 1836. So it has been, um, an important and vital institution in New York for a long time. It is a graduate school for non-denominational ministry. And it, uh, completed its campus up in Morningside Heights, which is where the campus is located back in 1910.
[00:20:21] Mm-hmm the campus is absolutely beautiful. It is a combination of two full city blocks built in the Gothic style of architecture, the neogothic style of architecture. And when the New York city landmarks commission was first created back in 1965. It landmarked three of the buildings on this campus, just to give you a sense of the sort of history and the architecture that’s really at work here.
[00:20:49] So union is situated within the cultural and academic community of Morningside Heights. And I think it’s important to talk for a minute about that context of Morningside Heights, which really sits what I call the crown of the upper west side and is oftentimes referred to as the academic Acropolis. So coming back to the theme of higher education and the importance of higher education in thinking about the vitality of cities, we call this the academic Acropolis, because, you know, at first sort of references the esteemed history and architecture of the neighborhood.
[00:21:24] Uh, but also because we’re really sitting in Morningside Heights at a very elevated position. At the summit, um, of a hill on the upper west side. And, you know, lastly, obviously the academic Acropolis because of the numerous colleges and universities, there’s seven colleges within a 15 block stretch along Broadway in this neighborhood.
[00:21:45] We’re talking Columbia university, Barnard city, college bank street, teachers, college, Jewish, theological seminary, and the union theological seminary. I mean, it is, it is an incredible constellation of, you know, inquiry of, you know, academic, you know, endeavors and you know, of all of these sort of in, and new thinking that sort of spills out of these campuses.
[00:22:11] The other thing that’s happening in this neighborhood that is really important is that Columbia. Committed, um, over a decade ago to, um, expand and grow in New York city and is in the process of building out a $6 billion investment into a second campus called Manhattanville mm-hmm , which is on 120 fifth street.
[00:22:33] And is the home, um, actually the new home of the Columbia business school, which just opened mm-hmm , there’s a very significant building called the mind brain building. I think the Jerome green science center that is all focused on. Life sciences research brain research, and is really part of the cutting edge of industries that are being cultivated now within New York, as well as like performing arts buildings that are a part of this campus.
[00:22:59] So it’s a really diverse, you know, from a academic standpoint, a second campus and our building at Claremont at hall and the union theological seminary campus really sits at the midpoint between the main campus and this Manhattanville campus. So that really sets the stage, I think, for the, um, for the sort of academic positioning of this neighborhood.
[00:23:23] And I think lastly is just, you know, we have to talk about transit. This is well served by transit right on the, on the one train subway line, 20 minutes, right into, uh, you know, the heart of Midtown. And of course the incredible resources of the park system. We are one block from Riverside park, which is the river.
[00:23:42] Which is the ribbon park that runs all along the Western edge of Manhattan. This site overlooks the Hudson river and Saura park. So it is incredibly well resourced neighborhood, um, in terms of some of this physical infrastructure. And that really is the setting for what, um, we can get into in terms of the transformation of the union campus, as it thinks about renewing for the next a hundred years.
[00:24:12] Atif Qadir: Excellent. So this partnership between lend lease and union theological seminary, help our listeners understand what a partnership like that means from a legal, financial, and operational perspective.
[00:24:27] Melissa Román Burch: Sure. So first let me perhaps address why the partnership exists to begin with between unle as developer and union theological seminary as a campus, you know, who was undertaking a campus renewal project.
[00:24:44] The rationale is that this. Project is really a project with a purpose. And the purpose here is that union theological has a hundred year old campus that needs to be renewed. Uh, the campus is, um, experiencing the challenges of being a hundred years old. Mm-hmm , you know, pipes are bursting. It’s infrastructure is aging.
[00:25:03] Um, it has, uh, deferred capital repairs that need to occur to, you know, maintain the beautiful architecture of the campus. It needs to be modernized to, um, you know, adapt to ADA and other. Codes that, you know, enable accessibility. So all of that requires money and the unit theological seminary found that bill of, um, items that need to be addressed to be totaling a number that was nearing on the entirety of its endowment.
[00:25:33] So it had to really think creatively about what can we do to enable these repairs. And we touched earlier on the New York city zoning. Code and as of right zoning in New York, and one of the things that exist in New York that also is a true New York city phenomenon are things called air rights. Um, because every single piece of land in New York is prescribed for how many square feet you can build on it.
[00:26:02] There are parcels of land that are built in New York, not to their full amount of density mm-hmm and anything that is excess. That is sort of, um, untapped. I, I is known as air rights, so they are unused development rights that are sitting above existing buildings. But the interesting thing about air rights is that they cannot be transferred across a New York city street.
[00:26:25] So air rights need to be activated on the parcel with which they are associated with. Mm-hmm . So in this case, as union was thinking very creatively about how do we address this aging infrastructure? It, you know, came to know the realization of having 300,000 square feet of air rights sitting above its campus and, um, sought to partner with a developer.
[00:26:48] To ultimately figure out how to locate this in a new building and to sell those air rights to a developer to monetize that asset. So that is what the seminary ultimately did. And that is what lend lease with our partner L and M development. Um, our effectuating together for, for the seminary.
[00:27:09] Atif Qadir: You, you talked about the team.
[00:27:10] So, uh, L and M is one of the, the people that we’re working with lend lease. There’s a, a very large, very talented, uh, team of firms that, that Lendlease is working with. Could you tell us about them and what their different roles are?
[00:27:23] Melissa Román Burch: Absolutely. So partnership is so important in the development business and there’s many different types of partners and some of them are capital P partners and some of them are lowercase P and I say that because some of them are more about a mentality about how we approach creating new buildings together.
[00:27:42] And others are, you know, maybe capital P partners that have sort of. A financial interest, you know, or an equity interest in a project. So this project, Claremont hall has an incredible group of people that have come together, um, you know, to support its creation. So first and foremost, we’re partners with the union theological seminary, um, because in addition to developing a 340,000 square foot building, Um, on their campus, you know, which is a mixed use building, which contains 165 condominiums that are being offered for sale.
[00:28:15] The first nine floors of this building contains square footage, 54,000 square feet dedicated to the university itself. So two union and within that 54,000 square feet, it, our new classrooms, new office space and 27 units of faculty housing. So, not only are we partners in the sense that we have entered into a development.
[00:28:40] Transaction together, but we are also long term partners because we’re going to be sharing this building together. Mm-hmm and the faculty of the unit theological seminary will be, um, living in this building for the foreseeable future and, you know, will be an important part of the community of Claremont hall.
[00:28:58] So in addition, we also have a development partner, all and M development, and we have Diwa house who was our equity partner in the project and Barings, who was the construction lender for the project. So I think interestingly and a real Testament to the strength of the partnerships is that our project has a very long and winding road to the starting block.
[00:29:20] And what I mean by that is that mean more so than normal,
[00:29:23] Atif Qadir: right?
[00:29:26] Melissa Román Burch: yes. Which is that these air rights have been contemplated to have been developed for decades. And I can talk more about that later, but the point that I wanted to make is that in June of 2020, Is when we closed on the construction loan, we closed on the purchase of the development rights.
[00:29:45] And when we closed on all of these partnerships that I just described, and if you wind back the clock, June of 2020 was right in the middle of the early stages of the pandemic. And I have to tell you, there was a lot of uncertainty in the world. It’s hard to wind back the clock and really remember that moment, but it was a very uncertain and.
[00:30:09] Scary time in the city. You know, we were reading about, you know, the incredible death toll and, you know, the toll on people that the pandemic was having. And New York was at the epicenter of that. And I think it really speaks to the conviction of Linleys and our partners in New York, but also to the conviction that we all felt that there was a purpose for this project.
[00:30:34] And a reason for this development to move forward was to really help. Enable an important institution to grow and to secure its future in the city. And so we all came together in a very difficult time to say, let’s close on this transaction and move forward and launch into development. So that’s what we did in June of 2020.
[00:30:56] And so we are now almost. Two years later and today you’ll see, we have a building that has a completed super structure. The building is almost fully enclosed. It is a beautiful building it’s, uh, designed by Robert am stern architects, who was the design architect for the project with slice, who was the architect of record and cetera ready?
[00:31:17] Who has worked with us on the amenities space. We are working in partnership with buyer blender, bell who is working with union theological on their campus transformation. So you see another form of partnership here, which is that we have a number of design firms that are collaborating together along with the development team to really enable the best outcome for the project.
[00:31:38] And this project weaves together, the old and the new, which I think is quite interesting. This is a historic campus, which I’ve talked about. But the new tower seamlessly integrates with that campus, uh, through an architectural language of its Gothic collegiate language that Robert am stern is so well known for and so skilled in, uh, bringing and I think in particular, Their firm.
[00:32:04] And the way that we’ve thought about the project is really bridging, you know, the past and the present. So borrowing the language of the neogothic campus, but in a way that is suitable for modern living. And there is a piece of the project that is referred to as the refactory. The refactory was the, the old dining hall for the unit theological seminary that had over the years really been converted away from an active dining and gathering facility into more of a space for special events.
[00:32:39] We are weaving that building into our new tower and transforming that refactory into. A very dramatic and very exciting new pool for the project, uh, pool and spa facilities. So I think that, um, what I love is that it wasn’t just a blank slate. We didn’t just sort of bring, uh, you know, creative footprint from scratch.
[00:33:05] We are thinking about ways of adaptively reusing older structures, and then linking that into brand new construction.
[00:33:15] Atif Qadir: So talk to us about, uh, if our listeners, uh, walk through their project, describe what they would be seeing along the way in terms of the finishes and the looks of a lot of what you just described.
[00:33:26] Melissa Román Burch: Sure. So this is, uh, you know, as I mentioned, a, uh, 340,000 square foot building mm-hmm , but just to give you a sense of size and scale, it rises 460 feet above sidewalk level and stands 41 stories tall. It has, you know, the project is clad with the beautiful brick and cast stone facade. It is in that classic language of setbacks and outdoor spaces that you have come to, um, see in many of the RAMSA buildings across New York city, such as 15 central park to 20 central park south.
[00:34:06] The Belmont on the upper east side. So there is this beautiful language of setbacks that I think really, um, enables this building to live in harmony with incredible landmark structures, right across the street. For example, like Riverside church, which literally sets across the street from this building.
[00:34:27] As you walk along Claremont avenue into the front door of our project, you are walking along the campus of the union, theological seminary. So you’re walking past, you know, James Hall and James Church and the, you know, in the Riverside church and Sakura park. So you’re really sort of, you know, immersed into this beautiful sort of historic and, you know, the greenery of the park system, um, you know, which is right there.
[00:34:52] Mm-hmm and you walk into Claremont hall. And, um, you know, go up, um, you know, as a unit owner, um, you know, as a residential owner, you know, into this project and we have an array of units, one bedrooms, two bedrooms, threes, and fours. And I think that that sort of unique and diverse. Unit typologies is really important here because, you know, we want to be able to welcome a lot of different types of buyers to this project.
[00:35:20] And we think many different buyers will be, you know, sort of attracted to the opportunity to live in the academic Acropolis and to, you know, live, you know, proximate to the union campus and among the, you know, history of the neighborhood and the proximity to the park system. There are sweeping views from practically every single residents.
[00:35:42] And that’s owning to the fact that the residential units for sales start on the 10th floor. Okay. Because the first nine floors are really dedicated to the academic portion of the project. So you’re already sort of, you know, situated above of the campus and have this nice perch and really sweeping views of the Hudson river.
[00:36:03] Of the Midtown skyline of central park and of Riverside park, you know, to the Northeast, west and south. So it is a very special project. We are thrilled that we are launching the project for sale this spring. Awesome. We are opening up a sales gallery on the corner of a hundred and ninth and Broadway.
[00:36:21] That will be an important location for us to really share the story of the project. You know, certainly the purpose behind the project, which we think is an important. Part of the history to understand, but as well as really taking buyers through the, you know, incredible detail and craftsmanship behind the kitchens and the back roads mm-hmm and the detailing throughout the amenities spaces and the common areas.
[00:36:45] Atif Qadir: And do folks, can I just drop by or sign up ahead of time? That’s the way that the tours
[00:36:49] Melissa Román Burch: work. So we’ve had already a, you know, incredible in the property. So there’s quite a waiting list in order to, um, tour, but, uh, please go to Claremont hall.com and register your interest. And our sales team will reach out to you to schedule an opportunity, to receive more information about the project and to have a tour of the project.
[00:37:12] Atif Qadir: I am going to take a break here to share with our listeners that we’ll be having the amazing urban designer ioma Evo on the show. Next month, when we’ll be recording in Austin, Texas during the south by Southwest festival, head to American building podcast.com to check past episodes and get direct links to our podcast on.
[00:37:34] ITunes Spotify, Google, or wherever you like to listen. Regis is a technology enabled company transforming how real estate developers use public incentives like tax credits and tax abatements. The real deal recently said, uh, these programs are often hard to understand, even harder to apply for and line as they come from often a countless number of agencies at the federal state and local level.
[00:38:00] And why does this matter? Over a hundred billion of public financing is given out every year. Go to red.us to find out more. Finally Holland Knight’s real estate hospitality and leisure practice is a provider of legal services for zoning land use and related issues for real estate developers, investors and property owners.
[00:38:22] I use them when I worked at Xcel development. Learn more about how they can help you on your upcoming email@example.com. So Claremont hall is just one of the mega development projects that you have worked on at Lendlease. Tell us about 2 77, fifth avenue and one Java treat. And what you learned and are learning about establishing relationships and working with stakeholders to create partnerships like you mentioned.
[00:38:55] Melissa Román Burch: Absolutely. So we’ve really taken the mindset with all of our development projects that the fact that they are, as of right, does not mean that we should not have a robust opportunity for community and stakeholder engagement, so said differently. Uh, we really see stakeholder engagement across us, all these projects as core of the development process.
[00:39:18] And let me give you a couple examples of that. You mentioned one Java street. Uh, so one Java is a full city block redevelopment on the Greenpoint waterfront that we are undertaking and will transform from a single story. Industrial warehouse that was sitting vacant mm-hmm into 850 units of housing. 30% of those units will be affordable and we will also redevelop the waterfront into a waterfront Esplanade that will be open to the public.
[00:39:50] So. There were a few opportunities that we have really taken, you know, advantage of to get to early days, reach out and connect with the community of Greenpoint. And I think that the design of the waterfront space was a really important part of that story. The waterfront space is open to the public, so it was an exciting opportunity to go out to community groups.
[00:40:14] Like the north Brooklyn neighbors and the waterfront Alliance and the north Brooklyn parks Alliance and the west street block association, mm-hmm and to, um, engage in a conversation around, you know, what do you like about your neighborhood? What is the neighborhood missing? What are the qualities of the open space that you are seeking?
[00:40:33] What types of activities do you wanna do on the waterfront mm-hmm and those are the types of questions that we. Worked through with each of these groups in order to solicit feedback on the waterfront design. And we’re able to incorporate this feedback into our design before the design was complete. So sort of doing this early days before we even had anything for any community group to look at.
[00:40:55] And that process was really exciting because it actually has led to other ways for us to collaborate. We are also now collaborating with these groups around, uh, workforce. Hiring and even collaborating around. Um, one of the neighbors was interested in figuring out how we could do more to honor the history of local women in green point.
[00:41:19] And we’re working on a women’s history project together. So, so it’s really interesting. The pathways that get opened up when you sort of open yourself up to this sort of dialogue. I wanted to give another example, actually back from the Claremont hall project, because it also is an example of how the community dialogue really enabled us to create an innovative opportunity to work together.
[00:41:45] And that is through the Morningside Heights community fund. So. At the union theological seminary project. I think one of the interesting elements of that is that early days we met with electeds and we met with local community groups, including the Morningside Heights community coalition. We’re interested in figuring out a way of making development safe.
[00:42:07] And responsible in their community and Lendlease. Um, and our partner L and M were interested in speaking with them to figure out how we could both communicate with each other around, you know, construction and safety, and to sort of bring them into that process as well as how we could create sort of more connective you between our project and the community through the creation of a fund that would.
[00:42:34] Enable small community groups, um, in the neighborhood to, you know, support their work. We committed 1.1 million of our, um, purchase price to union to be dedicated actually to mm-hmm the investment fund $700,000 of that went to Poe, which is a homeless prevention organization that works with tenants on tenant advocacy and tenant rights to prevent people from.
[00:43:02] Becoming homeless in the first place. And then another portion of that fund $400,000 was set aside for the Morningside Heights community fund, which, um, is administered by the New York community trust and the Morningside Heights community coalition, you know, to enable the work of, not for profits across Morningside Heights.
[00:43:24] And there’s over 20 groups that have already been funded through this. So that has been actually really exciting because we announced this back in 2018. We funded almost all of our commitment. You know, it will be fully funded by the time that we, um, finished construction. But during the construction phase, we already started putting this money to work mm-hmm and no one could have predicted a pandemic, but what we have heard back from the Morningside Heights community coalition and from Polan is, is.
[00:43:54] This money was vital in this period for enabling and continuing, uh, the work of supporting those that are vulnerable in the neighborhood. So that is, you know, exciting to see that type of dialogue with community result in sort of a shared commitment to, you know, to fund the work of community groups. But then that, it’s just more than.
[00:44:19] Um, a check, but that it’s really sort of an ongoing relationship around, you know, how is the money being used? How is it put to work? You know, how can we do more with community groups and support their work? In other ways you mentioned
[00:44:33] Atif Qadir: Pante and their focus is on, uh, housing access. That’s a huge issue.
[00:44:38] That’s top of, of mine for elected officials and for many people that live. in New York city right now. Could you talk about across your career at the various firms and the various institutions that you have volunteered your time with what housing access means to you and, uh, where you see that kind of moving forward for New York city?
[00:45:00] Melissa Román Burch: Sure. I think that for us to talk about housing access, we really need to talk about housing supply, and I think it’s really important to frame. The size of the problem. And there’s a lot of different ways to frame this up, but I think simply there is a dearth of supply of all types of housing within New York city.
[00:45:21] There is also a dearth of supply of affordable housing within New York city. And there’s many statistics that really tried to get at how many, much people are paying towards their. Of their income towards rent mm-hmm and making sure that that number stays around 30% and doesn’t peak up to 50%, which is where we’re seeing a lot of households that are experiencing vulnerability and stress and not just
[00:45:50] Atif Qadir: in, in many parts of the United States.
[00:45:52] Melissa Román Burch: Absolutely. I absolutely. So, you know, th this is such an interesting challenge because there’s so many ways I think that we need to think about. As, as a development community and as you know, civic, you know, as a civic community coming together around this topic. So there’s 560,000 housing units needed in New York by 2030.
[00:46:14] There was a report that was just released by revenue that was put together by a K RF, which is an environmental firm, um, that has done this, um, study in order to quantify the problem. And I think that what’s interesting about it is that they identify that out of the 560,000 units that are needed. Mm-hmm 225,000 of those are needed to.
[00:46:36] To address sort of the existing need. That’s like where we are today. We are already undersupplied sure. And then 330,000 is, uh, you know, 330,000 units of new production is needed to handle future growth. And that’s future growth that is anticipated by the year 2030, within New York. Mm-hmm so work has grown significantly over the last 20 years.
[00:47:02] I guess just maybe focusing on the most recent census, the 20, 20 census new York’s population grew 600,000 people and only 248,000 units were produced in that period. New York is expected to grow another 500,000 people in the next decade by 2030 mm-hmm . So if the problem is not going to get easier, it’s actually going to get more ambitious and more, you know, it’s going to require a lot more innovation.
[00:47:32] So I think that I do think this is an important topic for us to touch Sean, because there are important tax. Policies in New York, the affordable New York program has been one critical program that has been utilized by the development community to stimulate the production of new housing. Mm-hmm . And the tax abatement enables developers to build and receive the abatement in exchange for delivering a certain number of units of affordable housing.
[00:48:02] In the example, at one Java, uh, we’re delivering 250 units of affordable housing. That’s 30% affordable. and that of course is without, um, any, um, capital investment from the city. Sure. It’s, you know, foregoing, um, future tax revenue for a certain number of years, that program is up for renewal in actually in this year, it expires in June of, of 2022 and figuring out the future of what affordable New York should be, um, is the topic for a whole nother podcast, but is really a question because they’re.
[00:48:40] It, it, it has been a very successful. Abatement because it has stimulated housing. In my view, it hasn’t stimulated enough. So there is some debate, you know, should it be abolished. And I think that that is a very tricky question because I think we find ourselves not having, you know, we are not able to say mission accomplished on having produced the number of housing units.
[00:49:03] So I think that it’s prudent to consider what that program should look like moving forward. But it also, to me means that. Government intervention is not only enough here. We also need technological innovation. And I think about coming back to modular, coming back to cross laminated timber and other type of.
[00:49:27] Innovations in construction. We need to figure out how we can deliver units faster and more cost effective. And that’s going to require technological innovation to address the fact that the construction industry has been challenged for decades around productivity gains. So I do think there is an interesting moment in time because technology firms and development firms are now talking more than ever.
[00:49:53] They are collaborating more than ever. And technology firms are very interested in the issues now of housing and their civic environments. So I think the moment is right for us, but the challenge in the need is quite great.
[00:50:08] Atif Qadir: I think that’s, that’s really a great point. And some of the themes that you have brought up in this.
[00:50:13] Interviews so far really weave together in terms of. A response to housing access, the idea that, uh, density and embracing density, for example, the denominator that’s often used for New York city and determine the number of units that can go on a site is 680 and, uh, reducing that number through projects like Carmel place, uh, which encourage micro units, I think is an excellent option.
[00:50:39] Another one that’s, uh, Top of mind right now is the ability to convert underutilized hotels through the housing. Our neighborhoods development act of also called Honda people, love acronyms, and the ability to convert uses that have really their needs have really transformed over the short amount of time of the pandemic to see how we can now drive more housing through conversion, not just new construction.
[00:51:01] And then, uh, through the process of modular, how do we build faster and just reduce that timeline associated with it. And then the, in the startup world, uh, we often talk about the mission of our companies and help me understand what you see as the mission of Lenley’s development and of the Claremont hall project, um, that we discussed today.
[00:51:26] Melissa Román Burch: So the mission of Lenley’s development is to create places where communities thrive. Mm-hmm and that is a global mission for the firm that is deeply felt and held within our development teams and projects. And I love that the word communities thrive is that the heart of this. Purpose. It’s actually not our mission.
[00:51:51] We actually call it our purpose. And I think it’s a great, you know, it’s very freeing as a developer that the company that I’m sitting within, um, is putting that at the center and core of what it is seeking to do. So that really comes in, you know, what does it mean to have a community that thrives? And of course, we talk a lot about this and we talk a lot about it, you know, in, in reference to, to our, what we refer to as mission zero, which is our corporate goal for decarbonization.
[00:52:22] Uh, we have a very ambitious corporate target. and corporate ethos. Mm-hmm, a all around, um, environmental sustainability and social sustainability that has been honestly, you know, over a decade in formation, but has now come to, to a head in a very exciting way. Um, it’s really opened my eyes, uh, to the role that we play as developers and creators of the built environment in the climate conversation.
[00:52:50] What mission zero means at Lendlease is that our ambition is to live in a world warmed. By no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and to be responsible for creating measured social value on that journey. Mm-hmm um, so it’s really weaving together the environmental and the social project by project. We are bringing this to life.
[00:53:11] I think what’s so exciting about it is that it’s something that as a firm, that all thousand of us across lend lease are figuring out how we’re going to accomplish this. It’s not the work of four or five people at the project level, trying to, you know, it’s so much more powerful, you know, with all of these team of teams, sort of working together to figure out how we’re going to accomplish it.
[00:53:33] So what does this mean? This means by 2025, we are going to be net carbon zero mm-hmm by 2040. We’re going to be absolute carbon year, which that is a, a. An incredible statement that the firm has made because by the way, there is not clarity on the roadmap of how we completely remove all carbon from our, you know, all of the embedded carbon from our building processes by 2040, we’ve set it as a goal and as a sort of a rallying point.
[00:54:04] And it has, it is going to unlock all sorts of innovation and new thinking within our firm. And it’s going to. I think the other exciting thing are the partnerships that we’re creating around this mission. Excellent is, you know, not the work of one firm alone, we are doing it in all sorts of interesting consortiums, you know, consortiums with other builders around steel and with other startups around concrete.
[00:54:28] And, and so this to me, I think, you know, when I think about what is the mission of what we’re doing, I think we have. An incredible sense that like our work has purpose mm-hmm for our company, but also for, um, you know, our communities at large, specifically at Claremont hall, our project will be lead certified gold.
[00:54:51] So, you know, I think that. Lead has been an important first step in this conversation. Uh, but we’re going so far beyond that to really looking at sort of the embodied carbon. I was actually just talking with our sustaina, you know, with our sustainability group, um, who was telling me about the significant carbon reductions that we’ve already made through our concrete mix that we’re using at.
[00:55:13] Claremont hall. And so it’s like really getting into the weeds of our building process. Like these aren’t necessarily things that you put on a marketing brochure. I mean, some of them, you know, are because some of them really have very quantifiable benefits for purchasers in terms of, you know, air quality and, you know, Material quality.
[00:55:34] Um, but others of this are sort of deeply embedded into our construction process. And one of the truly unique things about lend lace is that we are an integrated firm. Mm-hmm . Um, we are so that apart from almost every New York city developer, because we have construction development and. Investment under one roof.
[00:55:55] And so what that means is that we’re thinking about sort of the whole life cycle of the development process, not just the idea generation, but, but the execution of that idea through the delivery process and the financing process from day one. And I think that that really enables us to have a different seat at the table in this decarbonization conversation.
[00:56:13] And you’re really getting deep into the supply chain because. Parts of our firm, different arms of our firm are all talking in conversation all the way up at the acquisition stage about how are we going to figure this out? You know, when we get into the procurement of building materials and you have to think about it that early, if you are really going to try to chip away at a target of getting to absolute zero by 20,
[00:56:38] Atif Qadir: I think what’s so fascinating.
[00:56:39] What you described is by having that connection. There is the ability then to not only realize that the improvements that are necessary are a large sum of incremental movements and movements forward, and this constellation of different technologies. And, uh, processes that are necessary, but also the idea that with a shared mission, then actually being able to, to, to move the needle is, is more realizable.
[00:57:05] Uh, so I think that, that you have such an interesting perspective and opportunity in the role that you play at Lenley’s it’s. I think it’s absolutely fascinating.
[00:57:15] Melissa Román Burch: I can of thank you so much. It is exciting to see our developments really be a canvas for these ideas to come forward regarding decarbonization and sustainability.
[00:57:25] And I look forward. I hope if I have an opportunity to come back and speak with you in the years ahead about one Java, because what we’re doing there on the environmental and social side is also, I think we’ll be some, you know, firsts for New York city. And I think we’ll. You know, enable us to really push the envelope and to bring a lot of this innovation into our thinking and delivery.
[00:57:48] Atif Qadir: Excellent. So thank you so much for joining us today on the American building podcast, Melissa listeners, if you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how iconic buildings in our country. We’re designed and built subscribed to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google anchor, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen, rate and review us on iTunes to help us reach a wider audience and follow us on Instagram at American building podcast, we all know real estate is a tough industry to make it.
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[00:58:42] Finally, we live in the richest country in the history of humankind. We must reach out beyond the boundaries that we see and the boundaries that we create in order to help build homes and communities. Today, Melissa and I have made donations to Coro. New York. Coro is a civic leadership organization that helps train inspire New York city change makers to build coalitions across the private public and nonprofit sectors to tackle New York city’s most pressing issues.
[00:59:12] CO’s 2022 leadership. The conference is in New York city and is on April 6th and open for public registration at www dot Coro, New York. Dot com I encourage you, our listeners to support their worthwhile work. My name is opt KA, and this has been American building.
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