Developer Howie Klaus of HK Organization dies at 65

Co-founded Brooklyn firm behind Dumbo complex Empire Stores

New York /
Jun.June 12, 2020 05:30 PM
Empire Stores (HK Organization)

Empire Stores (HK Organization)

Developer Howie Klaus, known for his warmth, vision, and love for his native Brooklyn, died suddenly on June 5 at the age of 65.

Klaus was the co-founder of HK Organization, a real estate development and management firm he ran with Harry Kotowitz.

“Howie was my friend and partner for over 35 years,” said Kotowitz in a statement. “He brought his vigor and love of life to the profession and I will miss him very much.”

Born and raised in Sheepshead Bay, Klaus was drawn to real estate early in life. He recounted in a recent Commercial Observer profile trying at age 17 to persuade his father and uncle to invest in property. He got his official start in the business as a residential agent and property manager.

Klaus met Kotowitz in the 1980s while they worked for a property manager based in Queens, R&C Management. In 1985 the pair and a handful of other partners struck out on their own to form the Kay Organization.

They founded the HK Organization in 2003 and focused on developing and managing affordable housing projects for New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

In the early aughts, the developers pivoted into market-rate projects, converting industrial buildings in Dumbo, Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill into condos.

Their most prominent buildings include 192 Water Street, the Smith Gray Building and, in Manhattan, 52 East Fourth Street on the Bowery, which counted musician John Legend among its residents.

Later on, HK Organization branched into commercial projects with its best known to date being the conversion of an abandoned Dumbo warehouse to the Empire Stores complex with Midtown Equities. Tenants include home decor retailer West Elm, an outpost of Soho House and food hall Time Out New York Market.

Jack Cayre of Midtown Equities described his late partner at Empire Stores as a hard worker who will be remembered for his “easygoing demeanor and his heartwarming smile.”

“He was always so positive and respectful to everyone, from the most powerful people that he dealt with in business to the laborers on his job sites,” he said.

Ken Fisher of Cozen O’Connor, one of HK’s lawyers, said Klaus and Kotowitz had a knack for sensing opportunity and “sizing up what was missing in a neighborhood.”

“It’s what distinguishes the visionary from the dreamer, making it happen,” Fisher said in a statement. “He did it and did it again and then did it again. And he did it with warmth and charm, no matter how tense or frustrating the challenge. He was a special guy.”

Klaus leaves behind his wife Barbara, five children and 14 grandchildren. His family declined to elaborate on the cause of his death, but confirmed that it was not related to a Covid-19 infection.

Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]


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