a project under construction

The 30-Minute Interview: David Kramer

By Vivian Marino

Mr. Kramer, 46, is a principal of the Hudson Companies, which specializes in urban development. The company builds market-rate, affordable and institutional housing, and its projects include Riverwalk on Roosevelt Island and the J Condominium in Brooklyn.

Interview conducted and condensed by Vivian Marino

Q. How do you divide up the responsibilities between yourself and William Fowler, the other principal and the founder?

A. Bill is sort of our C.F.O. and I’m our C.E.O. I take the lead on all of the developments and Bill is in charge of things like cash flow, taxes and insurance and running the company. Alan Bell, the other founder, participates in some of our projects; he left Hudson on a day-to-day basis last year.

Q. How is business?

A. Our rental portfolio is doing quite well. I think our vacancy rate is about 1 percent. Rental rates are about 5 percent above 2007, which was when rents were good before they began to decrease.

The New York City rental market is very strong, because there hasn’t been a huge amount of supply over the last five years. The last rental building we built was Riverwalk Crossing, which we built with Related on Roosevelt Island. That building is fully leased; we’re getting rents of $48 to $50 a foot.

Q. You are doing quite a bit of work on Roosevelt Island.

A. We were designated to build a new neighborhood at Roosevelt Island that we have named Riverwalk. It’s nine buildings and we’ve built six of them. We just started working on the design of the seventh building and we break ground early next year. It’s most likely to be a 21-story rental building at market rate.

There’s been a mix of condos, rentals, affordable housing and staff housing there. For instance, we built an apartment building for Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Weill Cornell Medical College, and we built faculty housing for N.Y.U., and we’ve also done condos and rentals. So that’s the residential part of it.

Q. And the commercial side?

A. Last summer we were designated to take over the retail corridor — 33 stores, 100,000 square feet — that had been poorly managed over decades by the state agency, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. The new leadership realized that it was important to have a private real estate operator oversee and manage the retail.

So we want to turn that around and have a lot of plans to make it a bustling retail shopping corridor. I think six months from now it’s going to be a real dramatic change in the stores, the leasing and how it looks.

Q. There are many other changes going on at Roosevelt Island.

A. I see a bunch of game-changers happening — between the F.D.R. memorial opening at the southern tip in October and the new Cornell campus coming where Goldwater Hospital is. Between those changes and the retail makeover we’re planning we’re quite bullish on where Roosevelt Island is heading as a place to live.

Our biggest challenge is to get people to come to Roosevelt Island. I have friends who say to me, “How’s that project going on Randalls Island, I mean Rikers Island, I mean Governors Island.”

Q. Let’s move on to Brooklyn and your two recent condo projects.

A. We have two apartments left to sell at Third + Bond, and the Knick condo has six apartments left.

Q. What’s the breakdown between rentals and condos?

A. Here’s the way I like to describe Hudson. We sort of have three markets that we work in: we do affordable, market-rate for both condos and rentals, and the third is what I call work force and institutional housing.

Today it’s about a third, a third, a third. Eight years ago it was mostly market rate. We started doing more affordable in the last couple of years.

Q. Is there a common thread here?

A. We try to be a very green company. We have been everything from LEED-certified to LEED platinum on our projects.

Q. You were also the chairman of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. How is that project coming along?

A. It’s almost half-done at this point and there’s funding for two-thirds of it. Just to run along the piers is terrific.

Q. Do you run, too?

A. I ran the New York City Marathon in ’96. And after I woke up and could barely walk for the first week, I decided if I ever did a marathon again I wouldn’t jog it, I’d walk it.

As a real estate person having a six-hour walk through the five boroughs is a great way to spend the day and see different buildings. One time when I was walking, I saw a retail tenant that I wanted to recruit to the J Condo in Dumbo, called Choice Market. So while I was walking the marathon, I thought, I’m going to go in and give the guy a quick pitch. I go into Choice Market and it is packed. I’m on a long line and the guy I’m trying to pitch is incredibly busy. After a while I’m thinking, what am I doing here? I’m in a race. So I left.


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