Five Hartford region developers tie knot to pursue realty stakes- Hartford Business Journal
BY GREGORY SEAY
Newly renovated North Park Shopping Center in Bridgeport is among the first realty ventures for the quintet behind Figure
In the business world, the road to success, it’s often said, is paved with valuable networking and people relationships.
A quintet of Hartford area developers are out to put their own spin to that adage.
Six years after collaborating to gain development access to a moribund Bridgeport supermarket site, second generation office and apartment developers-landlords Bruce and Harris Simons of West Hartford and retail developer Richard S. Korris have united their real estate skills and friendships into a for-profit realty partnership, Figure Eight Properties.
Joining them are two other veteran realty entrepreneurs: Jeffrey Digel, a capital-markets pro who founded a preparatory school in Hartford; and third-generation area office-retail landlord, Steven J. Neiditz, whose grandfather and father built several downtown Hartford buildings on Pearl and Lewis streets.
The Figure Eight partners’ business model is to acquire retail and office properties for their own portfolio as well as broker or consult for clients, sta1ting first in southern Connecticut before expanding into the rest of New England, then Florida and Texas.
The model is similar to the one driving larger realty broker-advisers such as CB Richard Ellis, Cushman & Wakefield and Jones Lang LaSalle. In the past year, East Hartford realty broker-adviser Goman + York expanded its professional roster with adviser-consultants with varied talents in architecture, economic development, property marketing-leasing, among others.
According to Bruce Simons, the partners conjured their venture’s name to connote “both uncompromising strength and boundless opportunity.”
“In one interpretation, the Figure Eight is an essential knot used in sailing and rock climbing,” Bruce Simons said. “Without it, these activities could lead to failure and disaster.”
Each Figure Eight principal, Harris Simons said, for years individually has plied his skills in real estate. By pooling their expertise, capital and property portfolios combined with an estimated $500 million, the quintet says they can be more successful identifying and capitalizing on opportunities to buy and sell commercial assets for themselves and clients.
“We want the best management possible for our properties,” Harris Simons said. Also, coming together with individuals he knows well has “made it fun to get up each morning to come to work,” Harris Simons said.
The group is coy as to their funding sources to do deals, which they say includes banks. They insist they have access to enough capital to fund operations and pursue deals.
Eventually, the partners say, their goal is to acquire, develop or redevelop for themselves or third parties, properties stretching from Maine to the Florida west coast to parts of the Midwest southward to Houston, Texas, where the Simons have had a presence for years.
Simons Real Estate Group is housed in West Hartford, in the brothers’ Corporate Center West office building, off South Main Street. It’s the same building where Figure Eight now has 40 of its 95 U.S. workers; the rest are in Houston.
Neiditz’s development roots, in particular, run deep in downtown Hartford. His grandfather, for whom the firm is named, opened 111 Pearl in 1949 and 37 Lewis St. in 1956. 101 Pearl, which originally housed former United Bank, also was developed in the 1970s by his father Daniel Neiditz, Uncle Raymond Neiditz, and Cousin Walter Schultz. Vacant 101 and 111 Pearl’s new owners have them slated for conversion into more than 200 apartments.
The partners insist each has equal footing, that all important decisions are shared collectively. However, they admit that in certain cases, each may yield to the others when it comes to immediate decisions rendered in one or more partner’s area of expertise.
They relish telling about the beginnings of their partnership, the first fruit of which was on display in the recent dedication in Bridgeport of the 50,000-square-foot North Park Shopping Center, on Park Avenue, in Sacred Heart University’s shadow.
For two years, Korris said he tracked the previous landlord’s travails owning the former A&P grocery and a bank branch whose mortgage had gone into default. Through Harris Simons and other industry contacts, Korris eventually got the ear of Digel, a former Wall Street capital-markets rainmaker involved in establishing the Covenant Preparatory School in Hartford.
I know how to connect with people and raise money,” Digel said.
With each plying his expe1tise, the partners laid out 35 cents on the dollar to the Bridgeport real estate securing the underlying $4.3 million note, they said.
As Korris, a lawyer and once the director of real estate at former Ames Department Stores, had envisioned, the old retail site was razed and replaced with a modern facility, one that’s also back on Bridgeport’s active tax rolls with a value between $7 million to $10 million.
The partners recently got Farmington land-use approval to develop a new branch for Berkshire Bank at 763 Farmington Ave. Berkshire’s first Farmington branch is set to open in 2015.
Figure Eight also is a partner with Farmington developer Metro Realty Group in converting the former Haven Healthcare nursing home near West Hartford’s Bishops Corner into 64 luxury apartments. They declined to disclose their project equity and the development price tag.
© 2014 HartfordBusiness.com