“Dream” comes true for long-vacant Bronx ice house

Jorge Madruga, Eli Weiss and Drew Katz land $50M loan to build charter school

Joy Construction’s Eli Weiss (left), Maddd Equities’ Jorge Madruga (top), and Drew Katz with 20 Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx (Getty; Google Maps)
Joy Construction’s Eli Weiss (left), Maddd Equities’ Jorge Madruga (top), and Drew Katz with 20 Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx (Getty; Google Maps)

Over time, the stately but aging edifice at 20 Bruckner Boulevard became known as History Channel Building for the network’s massive advertising sign on its roof. Naming it after the occupant wasn’t an option — there hasn’t been one for decades.

That will change next year, when the Dream Charter School moves its main campus to the Mott Haven site. Jorge Madruga’s Maddd Equities, developer Eli Weiss and Drew Katz — son of the late philanthropist Lewis Katz — will develop the school in the shell of the former ice house, armed with a $50 million construction loan that closed Friday afternoon.

The building, constructed in 1898 and later expanded, was in the news three years ago when longtime owners the Katz family teamed up with Jorge Madruga’s Maddd Equities and began a renovation that was supposed to wrap up by the end of 2017. But it took a while to find the right tenant.

Madruga, his frequent development partner Weiss, and Katz formed a development entity that entered into long-term ground lease with the Katz family, which has owned the 164,000-square-foot building for years.

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The $85 million project dates back to about 2012, when Madruga walked the property with Lewis Katz, the former owner of the New Jersey Devils, New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia Inquirer. At the time, Katz was thinking about demolishing the building and finding another way to prop up the 14-foot-tall History Channel sign.

“Jorge said, ‘I don’t think you realize the potential of this building and the neighborhood,’” Weiss recalled.

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But the property was in terrible shape. “The building was in such bad condition that it was unshowable,” said Weiss. “You couldn’t even bring a tenant in.”

They set about on a plan to save the structure, which was expanded a century ago by Jacob Ruppert, the Yankees owner who bought Babe Ruth’s contract from the Red Sox. Ruppert used the Bronx property to store ice for his brewery on East 92nd Street.

Katz died in a 2014 plane crash, and his son Drew has helped steer the reclamation of 20 Bruckner Boulevard toward fruition. A community of pigeons was evicted and the building was gutted and reinforced to be structurally sound. It will be the flagship for Dream Charter School, which is based in Harlem.

“It’s one of these projects that you feel will define your whole life,” said Weiss. “You’re taking a building that’s been vacant for decades and using it to educate inner-city youth.”

Weiss, an executive at Joy Construction who is doing 20 Bruckner Boulevard as an individual, said, “My father used to say, ‘They don’t build them like this anymore.’ That saying was made for this building. When you go inside it, it’s just magnificent.”

The History Channel sign came down in 2016 and was replaced by an iHeartRadio ad, which will remain on the roof — along with a gymnasium with a full-size basketball court for Dream. Internationally renowned architect Sir David Adjaye is designing the K-12 school.

Brad Domenico of Progress Capital brokered the debt for the project. The loan, which closed virtually, is from Sterling National Bank with participation from Metropolitan Bank. Justin DiMare of Newmark Knight Frank brokered the 35-year lease with the charter school.