Asher Abehsera, a 30-year-old California native, was in the parking lot of Two Trees Management’s Dumbo headquarters when he made the call that would lead to Brooklyn’s biggest deal so far this year — the $375 million acquisition by Kushner Companies, RFR Realty and Invesco Real Estate of a package of buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Abehsera had just quit Two Trees, the Brooklyn development firm where he quietly spent eight years moving up the ranks, to co-found a development and management firm called LIVWRK. Moments after the door swung shut behind him, he dialed the Witnesses’ Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, gauging whether they would part with a string of sand-colored buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront.
He’s not not known for dilly dallying — he started his firm a month after leaving Two Trees in April and joined real estate full-time fresh out of high school — and the phone call resulted in a meeting with Watchtower, an organization seen as friendly to such proposals.
He had prepped his next move as well, making contacts over the years with real estate players such as Michael Fuchs, principal with developer RFR, and Jared Kushner, CEO of the Kushner Companies, a major office and residential landlord. They were interested in working on a deal.
Abehsera attended the first meeting in April along with Fuchs. Kushner attended subsequent sit-downs. They submitted their so-called “best and final” offer in June, and inked a contract in July and put down a $37.5 million deposit, one insider said.
“[They] were given the opportunity to make an offer on the property, and that went on for several weeks,” said Richard Devine, a spokesperson for the Watchtower group. “It all revolved around [a] vision of a commercial and residential combination.”
But the group had competition from several other bidders, Devine said.
In fact, one of the bidders was Abehsera’s former employer, but Two Trees fell short by $50 million, said David Walentas, the company’s founder.
In the end, a team of Kushner Companies, RFR and LIVWRK won the day, later joined by Invesco as an equity partner. After closing on five of the six buildings in the 1.2 million-square-foot package last week, they outlined plans to pump $100 million into the site. The vision calls for the creation of a tech hub with office rents north of $50 per square foot, and close to 50 percent reserved for residential units, one team member said. (They plan to take title to the sixth building, a hotel, following the official acquisition in 2017.)
LIVWRK, which is participating in the development process, did not put any equity in the deal, several insiders said, but will get a cut of the upside.
Kushner, for one, credited Abehsera with getting the deal rolling.
“He is persuasive and he is good with people,” Kushner said. “He heard the deal was going and figured out how to get a meeting. He opened the door and the RFR-Kushner-LIVWRK team worked hard to circle the deal together.”
Abehsera grew up in Los Angeles, Calif., a child of the television industry. His Moroccan-born father is a producer and director who specializes in television commercials and his mother, also from California, is a casting director.
Abehsera skipped college after Crescent Heights, a Miami-based national condominium developer, hired him straight out of Beverly Hills High School (after starting as an intern there at 16). He rose to director of sales and marketing for the West Coast.
He moved to New York City about eight years ago and strolled into Two Trees seeking a job.
“I had no interest in him. He walked in cold,” Walentas said.
But after talking with him, Walentas discovered that the then 23-year-old Abehsera was bright and hired him to work on The New 110 Livingston Street residential conversion in Downtown Brooklyn.
“We hired him to sell condos and he was amazingly successful,” Walentas said.
In the intervening years, Abehsera was integral to a string of prominent deals. He sourced Two Trees’ $185 million purchase of the massive Domino Sugar factory site in Williamsburg from the Community Preservation Corporation and Katan Group in October 2012. He stumbled on the deal while walking around the neighborhood after losing out on another acquisition there. He ran into Yehuda Backer, a co-owner of Domino, and that serendipitous introduction led to a purchase.
That deal was partially funded with profits (through a so-called 1031 exchange) from the $170 million sale in February of 162 apartments on the upper floors of the Mercedes House at 555 West 53rd Street to Dallas-based Invesco, another deal which Abehsera orchestrated.
He also arranged Two Trees’ 2010 purchase of 50 West 23rd Street, a 13-story office building, from Moinian Group for $129.5 million.
Abehsera launched LIVWRK in May with Aaron Lemma, the 36-year-old former Corcoran Group broker who works as the company’s chief operating officer. They met after Lemma joined Two Trees in 2006, where he worked until joining Corcoran in 2009.
“After [Domino Sugar] I was faced with what do with my career,” Abehsera said. “I could be involved in Domino for another 10 years. [However] I felt the market was ripe enough now to build my own company.”
Though LIVWRK is not the lead on the Watchtower deal, the firm expects to play such a role on projects down the line, Lemma said. And Kushner said he and Abehsera are already discussing future deals.
“[Abehsera] is one of the young guys in the business who has a very bright future,” said Kushner, himself a young gun in New York City real estate. “He has a good nose for deals.”
For his part, Walentas wished his former employee success.
“Asher is very smart, ambitious and personable and very good with people. … He has been here for only a few years and he knows everyone, and I have been here 50 years and I don’t know anybody,” Walentas said, half-joking.