A company without a niche.
As a project management specialist, Levien is called on to complete a number of difficult tasks involved in the renovation of old properties and, less often, the development of new ones. His firm takes on the role of owner/tenant representative, performing such tasks as acquisition due-diligence, team selection and contracting, budget analysis, value engineering, mobilization, and most of the other unpleasant and complicated chores associated with renovation and development.
In order to stay on top of the game in his business, Levien tries to stay away from niches - since the firm's founding in 1992, he and his team have worked on every kind of property imaginable, from an everyday commercial office tower to historically-valuable non-profits, such as the Central Synagogue in New York City. "What makes us different is our diversity," Levien claimed. "We do many types of buildings, including many old buildings, schools, and universities. In fact, we like to challenge ourselves and. seek out projects that: are a little bit more complex, more interesting."
Today, Levien & Company has about six people on its permanent staff, each one specializing in some particular field of project management. Pamela Holzapfel, for example, is a licensed landscape architect, while Barry S. Silverman is an expert on construction and value engineering. But when Levien founded the firm in 1992, he worked on his own for about a year and a half, assuming responsibility for all of the firm's operations. The firm grew as the years went by, but Levien's self-reliance philosophy never altered. "One of us usually handles every project from the beginning to the end," he proudly claimed. "We do everything in-house. That's why it's helpful to have a staff where everyone has a unique talent."
Levien began his own professional career as an architect, but moved on to construction monitoring and due diligence consulting at his uncle's firm Levien, Rich & Co. after only three years. There, he gained experience handling a wide range of projects simultaneously and also saw the potential in project management for the first time. "When I was a partner at Levien & Rick," Levien recalled, "we used to monitor 400 projects at a time, so I would be running from a warehouse to a commercial building to a factory. Understanding what is involved in the renovation and development of all these different properties gives me an added edge as a project manager.
Trying to explain his role, Levien spoke about the difficult of making correct construction and financing decision for people unfamiliar with the real estate and building industry. "Our clients are not construction or design development people," he explained. They need us to help them determine what the building could be used for, how much it will cost, what renovations should be done and could be afforded. My clients are often large, investment-oriented clients, with a lot of assets in real estate. They want us to do a condition report. I go in with a group of engineers, do a check on deferred maintenance, assist in the acquisition process, and- usually end up renovating the property. They would have to spend a tremendous amount of time and energy doing all of those things on their own.
Levien must have the right idea, because in the short time that his firm has lived he has done an impressive array of projects, and is now at a point where he can reject projects that are not attractive to him -- not that he does that often. "Our philosophy," Levien explained, "is that we don't want to take projects on where you don't have to work hard. We like to take projects with unique attributes."
Currently, Levien & Company Inc. is working on more than 20 projects, with a total project value of more that $400 million. Among these is the conversion of a 1920's factory into a residential building at 110 Greenwich St., owner representation for Avon in suburban New York, base building renovation of a 660,000-SF office tower at 685 Third Ave. and the re-building of the Central Synagogue -- a renovation complex enough, even for Levien & Company. According to Levien, more than 20 consultant firms and 3 or 4 different boards are involved with the renovation, since the building has to remain historically accurate.
But Livia Thompson, the executive director at Central Synagogue, is quite satisfied with their services -- "They are still working with us on the restoration, but so far they have been very helpful and very professional," she said. "We were very impressed with both Ken and staff members."
But in addition to being helpful to owners, Levien is also fair to his employees. "We are known for our fairness in dealing with our consultants and contractors," he claimed. "I feel comfortable saying to an owner 'You've made a mistake. I believe that in the end it is better for the project to have a good consultant."
So, with all this success coming his way, will Levien's firm expand? "I would really like to keep the company at the number of people we have now," he said. "I care deeply about my associates, and when the market goes down, I don't want them to lose their jobs."
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|Title Annotation:||Levien and Company Inc.|
|Publication:||Real Estate Weekly|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Sep 27, 2000|
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