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Patience triumphs in boroughs.

Developer Joshua Muss has often said patience and time are the common denominators for real estate development in the boroughs of New York City. And, in the past few months, he has proved himself right again.

"If you expect things to happen quickly, they're not," he told REW.

Muss development recently sold the final unit in its 1,150-unit, 75-acre Woodbrooke town home community on Staten Island, and they held the grand opening for the 26,000-square-foot RossvilleShopping Center that will serve the community. Planning for that project began in 1967.

The company also took a critical step last month in its 1.3-million-square-foot Brooklyn Renaissance project when the Brooklyn District Attorney's office signed a 20-year lease for half the office space. The DowntownBrooklyndevelopment, which is almost nine years in the making contains 750,000 square fee of first-class office space and a 350,000-square-foot Hilton Hotel. The lease will most likely allow Muss to wrap up his negotiations with lenders and he plans to commence construction shortly.

"It looks like we're getting into the ground," Muss said with a cautious smile. Since 1985 or 1986, he counts, he has personally attended 192 meetings on Renaissance Plaza.

New Downtown

Renaissance Plaza was originally conceived in 1984 to provide the hotel for the "new DowntownBrooklyn", which, with the city's urging, attracted a number of developers and large corporations during the 80's.

"The present tenants and present corporations do not have a hotel to use," Muss said. Tenants and their business guests, he said, either use the hotels at the airport or the Vista.

An office component was added and the search was on to find a lead tenant. A few years ago, it appeared American Insurance Group (AIG) would become the anchor but they withdrew their tentative commitment. Muss negotiated with the city for the DA's office to move there for roughly two years.

Downtown Brooklyn "as a capsule", Muss said, is not in a recession. There is roughly a 5 percent vacancy in the completed buildings at MetroTech, Renaissance Plaza's neighbor.

Muss won't reveal who is lined up to finance Renaissance Plaza, but, he says, it will bring one or two domestic banks back to the market. The lead construction lender with whom he is negotiating is foreign, he said, but some domestic banks will participate. He is negotiating with a pension fund for the end financing.

In addition to the business traffic, Muss said, he is confident that tourists will "find" Brooklyn, which he says, is a magical city rich in culture and history. "It's a city of neighborhoods - some extraordinarily affluent and some very non-affluent," he said.

Firmly Planted

in the Boroughs

Muss Development has been developing in the boroughs for 80 years - they don't do any Manhattan development - and today, they are the largest ongoing development company in the boroughs in terms of product built and to be built. The firm was founded by Joshua's grandfather, Isaac Muss, who emigrated to Brooklyn, from Russia, via South Africa, in 1906. He was a bestows pioneer in tract housing and a prolific builder in Brooklyn and Queens. Teamed initially with his brother Charles, Isaac's sonHyman, Joshua's father, was responsible for expanding the firm's scope across the metropolitan area, building homes and commercial real estate. During the 80's concentrating on Brooklyn Queens and Staten Island, Hyman and Joshua produced more than 4 million square feet of commercial, residential, industrial and retail space. A fourth generation is represented in the company today with two of Joshua Muss' children.

Muss said his family has always developed in the boroughs for a combination of reasons, including: the lower cost of land, a comparative lack of ego, the sense of challenge, and because they're good at it.

"The bad news is it takes 10 or 12 years to build something and that's sick!" he six two-story buildings remodeled by Muss and now 77 percent leased.

The length approval process is not the said. "But when you get something built you feel good about it."

In all, Muss said, the firm is working on four or five major projects the represent 100 years in planning and approvals.

"There's an extraordinary lead time because of uncertainty," he said. "You just don't know when you're going to build."

They are in the final phase of sales at Captain's Quarters, a 300-unit town home community. The project, which was first conceived in 1963, Muss said, has spanned the different approval processes and a number of economic cycles.

In Flushing, Muss has been trying for nine years to rezone and develop a 14-acre site it owns so they may build a 3 million-square-foot mixed-use residential and commercial development. In the meantime, the company is making the best use of the site it can, according to Diana Jabber, Muss' director of marketing and sales. The property now contains Muss' Flushing Light Industrial Center, only challenge in the boroughs, Muss said, there is also cost . An essential ingredient for developing in the boroughs, he said, is the city's industrial and commercial incentive program (ICIP). "We could not compete without it, he said.

"In the boroughs, you have the cost of Manhattan and you have to be with the rents of the suburbs," he said. "You don't really have the cushion to make a mistake.

"We build our own product - a necessity of the boroughs. You have to be sure what you build is as inexpensive as possible."

Muss adds old-fashion luck to the list of requisites for success. At Muss's Prince's Point project, a 400-unit residential waterfront development on Staten Island, the application process took seven years and "included every approval known to man," he said. They finally received the green light from the Board of Estimate in its last session when the development market had already gone sour.

"If, in fact, it was easy, maybe we would have had a disaster," he chuckled.

It's long been a common belief, Muss said, that the city expedites development in Manhattan, and he wishes the city will use the slowdown in development to re-evaluate its development strategy.

"It's a perfect time for city planning to look at overall planning, "he said.

Muss hopes some of this reflection will enable his plans in Flushing to get off the ground. He said the Borough President Claire Schulman and Councilwoman Julia Harris are working on general rezoning.

"Flushing needs to be re-examined because it is such an important space," he said. "There's so much available infrastructure only used on Sunday or Friday nights when the Mets play."

Muss's office is located in Forest Hills Tower, which, they built in 1980, relatively easily, he said. There were other issues, however, not related to zoning. This was the first major speculative office building for Muss. Con Edison is the anchor tenant.

There is, Muss believes, an unserved need for first-class office space in the boroughs, which, he said, are all major cities in itself.

Muss also built Flushing Plaza, a 250,000-square-foot building in Queens that they plan to expand because of demand. Tenants include New York Life, Prudential Bache, BWIA, and Medtronics, which moved from First Avenue and 60th Street in Manhattan.

Despite all the frustrations, Muss said he believes in New York City and his company will continue to be a part of its growth - in the boroughs.

"Things that do happen is because there's a few of us who don't give up ... There's a certain constitution that you have to have to see this through ... and luck."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Hagedorn Publication
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:real estate development in New York City
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Mar 25, 1992
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