In the New York City real estate world, it can be difficult for a son to emerge from his father’s shadow. But that task is even more daunting when the father once owed millions to creditors and was being pursued by a slew of litigants.
So far, those circumstances are not stopping Sam Boymelgreen, the son of developer Shaya Boymelgreen. Sam struck out on his own in 2012 and is working on a handful of new projects. Naming his development company Boymelgreen LLC is one clear sign he isn’t trying to hide his family affiliation.
Slight and soft-spoken, Sam stands in contrast to his gregarious father. But some industry sources are wondering if Shaya’s money is secretly behind his son’s latest investments, which include two ground-up residential developments in Brooklyn.
The younger Boymelgreen, 37, also recently leased a 96,000-square-foot loft in the up-and-coming Gowanus section of Brooklyn, where he has ambitious plans for a mixed-use project, though he declined to provide details. The 49-year ground lease allows Boymelgreen to develop the site, which is owned by the Acaad family.
A falling out
Before things went south during the recession, Shaya Boymelgreen was building more than 2,500 units in Manhattan and Brooklyn. At many of his projects, he was teamed up with fellow Israeli Lev Leviev, a billionaire diamond magnate who helped turn Boymelgreen from an upstart developer into a household name in the New York real estate industry.
But several of the duo’s high-profile condos, like 20 Pine and Downtown by Philippe Starck at 15 Broad Street, were dogged by allegations of shoddy work. And in 2007, the partners had a nasty fallout.
Leviev got many of the properties in the split and one of Boymelgreen’s companies fell into bankruptcy in 2009.
The legal messes didn’t resolve themselves quickly. In August 2012 — the same year, Sam launched his own company — residents of Dumbo condominium Beacon Tower filed suit, accusing Shaya of falsifying Department of Buildings records to obtain the property’s temporary certificate of occupancy. The next appearance in the ongoing suit is scheduled for May, according to court records.
Not everyone holds the elder Boymelgreen’s past against him.
“Every developer who had projects in 2007 in New York City had legal problems,” said Ofer Cohen, founder of Brooklyn-based commercial brokerage TerraCRG.
But Boymelgreen’s troubles were more dramatic than those of many other developers of the same vintage, partly because of a rapid and ill-timed global expansion.
Others have harsh words about the elder Boymelgreen’s company. “They were known as a reckless, loose organization,” said one fellow developer who asked not to be named.
As a result, the association could be a burden for the younger Boymelgreen, who served as his father’s head of operations for 12 years.
And despite a 2010 announcement from Shaya that he was getting back into real estate with a focus on Manhattan, his firm, Boymelgreen Developers, does not appear to have any plans for new buildings in the works. An email to Boymelgreen Developers seeking comment bounced back.
The family business
Sam is the third of eight children reared in an observant Jewish family in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He left school at age 14, and moved to Israel to study on his own.
He later got his GED, but never expected to work in real estate. In fact, he said, when he was in Israel studying “18 hours a day,” he did not even consider what he would do for a living.
“I was too philosophical to care,” he told The Real Deal.
At 21, he went to a construction site for the first time, for a rental building Boymelgreen Developers was putting up in the East Village. There, he decided he wanted to be part of the real estate world and “create homes for people.”
He promptly joined his father’s firm, where he served as head of development and construction for nearly 40 projects, including 20 Pine, the luxury rental 88 Leonard, and Downtown by Philippe Starck — which were trailblazing buildings, adding residential stock to Lower Manhattan at a time when the area was mostly office buildings. Both 20 Pine and Downtown by Starck were later hit with suits over construction problems. Asked about the suits, Boymelgreen said he did not supervise day-to-day construction on the projects and he is “not in any way a part of any of those allegations,” adding “it is not my place to comment on them one way or another.”
Indeed, in this case, the apple might have fallen far from the tree.
Shaya made waves with his brash style, for instance reportedly telling tenants who were alleging subpar construction in a Brooklyn building that they shouldn’t expect the same quality construction in an outer borough development. “What do they expect — a Manhattan building?” he said, according to the New York Times.
Sam, however, takes a different tack. Slight and thoughtful, he is guarded and careful with his comments.
Developer Jacob Frydman of United Realty Partners is considering working with Sam on a hotel project but declined to provide details, citing a confidentiality agreement. Frydman noted that Sam and his father “are very different people.”
“If [the industry] took the time to get to know Sam in his own right,” said Frydman, “he is a person of tremendous ethical base.”
Behind the curtain
Meanwhile, Sam quietly embarked on a development in Windsor Terrace starting in 2012 named the Kestrel.
The 126-unit rental project, at 33 Caton Place, will hit the leasing market in April, with Halstead Property as the exclusive marketer for the building.
Some are skeptical that Sam is the actual Boymelgreen behind his ventures.
One real estate exec at a firm that provides financing said that when the developer was shopping for equity partners for the Caton Place project, investors were told it was Shaya’s endeavor.
Sam maintained that his father has “absolutely no connection to the project.”
Another executive, who also asked not to be named, said the project did not hold up well during the recent winter storms, noting that snow leaked in and damaged the apartments because proper precautions were not in place to protect it. Sam denied that allegation.
Sam said it doesn’t bother him that industry players assume he’s working with his father.
“It seems natural — and perhaps it’s par for my course, given my father’s well-known name — that when people hear my name, they make a mistake and assume it’s my father.”
Even if Sam’s business is merely a front for his father, that might not be a problem. Many New York City real estate dynasties have seen second chances, especially after the recent recession, sources said.
Bound to Brooklyn
Sam also recently made decisive bets on the trendy Clinton Hill area, where he is redeveloping a house for himself, his wife and three kids in addition to a 10-unit condominium at the corner of Washington Avenue and Fulton Street. Sam said part of the reason he started his own firm was to focus solely on Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn has nursed me,” he told TRD from his office at 7 World Trade Center, which is, perhaps ironically, not in Brooklyn. He says he often sees the sun rise after pulling an all-nighter working on projects. “I always knew I was committed to Brooklyn.”
He said his office is in Manhattan because most people he works with are based there. “I like to be considerate of other people’s time,” he said.
And the younger Boymelgreen’s sights are set on more than condos.
Massey Knakal broker Clifford Winfield, who specializes in Gowanus, said Boymelgreen’s project there, located at 255 Butler Street, will be a “hotel or office development.”
Sam said he is interested in building mixed-use “entertainment” projects, throwing out a “tennis school,” as an example of something he might build.
The developer has also ventured into less-profitable projects. He put some money up when he assembled a coalition of investors to develop a progressive Jewish private school in Prospect Heights, back in 2006. Boymelgreen has never earned a penny from the Luria Academy, he said. His only reward was having a school to send his three kids to.
What remains to be seen is whether Sam can make his own name and distinguish himself from his father.
“In due time people will get to know me and what I do and who I am,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the location of a condominium building Boymelgreen is developing. The 10-unit building is rising at the corner of Washington and Fulton avenues, in Brooklyn.