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Scott Shnay  and rendering of SK Development's The West condominium in Hell's Kitchen Scott Shnay and rendering of SK Development's The West condominium in Hell's Kitchen
Abe and Scott Shnay, principals at SK Development, have more than $500 million of residential development underway in Manhattan. The busy firm, who routinely collaborates with like-minded developers, has taken the island by storm with high-style condos such as Urban Glass House, 345 Meatpacking, and the celeb-magnet 10 Bond Street. As the city begins to exit the tumult of the pandemic, the father-and-son builders see plenty of optimism in New York's future and ever-resilient economy. As the city paves a clearer road recovery, we sat down with Scott (the son in the duo) to ascertain what they're building and provide his take on the residential market. Scott, 42, steers all aspects of development at SK, from acquisition to delivery, and already has more than $1 billion in sales under his belt.
SK Development Collage of SK Development's projects over the years

How did you get into the real estate development business, and how has your portfolio evolved?

I am fortunate enough to be a third-generation developer. I grew up in Alpine, New Jersey, and went to Horace Mann. My father was a developer in the late 60s — a homebuilder in Queens and Staten Island. He later shifted to developing affordable housing in Brooklyn and the Bronx and I began working with him in 2006. Altogether, SK Development owns and operates about 1,500 Section 8 units in addition to our growing portfolio of market-rate properties.

Over the last decade, we started doing more new construction and market-rate projects. We did downtown condos such as The Jefferson, Reade Chambers, and 10 Bond Street. We also built a few buildings on Midtown's east side such as Frontier and 301 East 50th Street.

Most of our projects have been in partnership with CB Developers and Ironstate Development. Our three firms share a similar outlook and we are all family-based which allows us to be unbureaucratic. In NYC you have to be nimble to overcome the obstacles coming from all sides.

At any given time, we don't have more than four projects in active construction. Currently, we have three projects in the city and one in Hudson Valley. We also have three in pre-development that will soon move forward.

What's your assessment on the residential market right now in 2021?

We are bullish on New York and the residential market. The headwinds have subsided a bit due to the vaccination efforts and the election now behind us. I wouldn't say we have a tail-wind just yet but there are many signs of life in the market. Even towards the end of 2020, we saw some positive signs. I think many people are anticipating coming back to the office. Another interesting thing we've noticed is that most families are coming back to enroll their kids in city schools this September.

We're also seeing people return on the rental side, yet some people may have left for good - New York is cyclical and the pandemic accelerated the cycle. Young people become young couples and then young families who may choose to look beyond the city.

I think work-from-home will continue to be part of the picture because it creates more flexibility for employees. However, I believe full-fledged work-from-home is very difficult for many.

Is there an oversupply of new development condos?

It's interesting. We're seeing pockets of activity. There are always ebbs and flows in the market. Some people are very selective and others agnostic. There is a lot of bargain shopping happening. People have certain neighborhoods they want to be in and they have 180 new developments in Manhattan and Brooklyn to choose from. However, we've seen the discounts being granted slow down a bit.

There is an oversupply in certain neighborhoods. The Upper East Side has a lot fewer new developments, so we're seeing a lot of activity there. Same with the Upper West Side. Surprisingly, in Hell's Kitchen, there's a bit more supply.
Rendering of upper-floor balconies at The West in Hell's Kitchen
Rooftop amenity pool at The West (via Marketing Directors)

Your new projects include 1228 Madison Avenue, The West, and Parker West. How do you set your projects apart from the abundance of choices buyers have to choose from today?

They are all going to be finished in late spring/summer 2021, and we foresee this as good timing to catch an upswing in the market.

We've seen a bit of a flight to boutique smaller buildings as people are less inclined to be in high-density buildings. The Parker West has full-floor homes where the elevator opens directly into your apartment. People want to be back in the city but are sensitive to the density of people in their building. There we also have flexible three-bedrooms where one of the bedrooms can be used as a home office.
At The West, the layouts are very flexible, and they lend themselves well to working from home. They are less cookie-cutter with more nooks and crannies. Many layouts have a small home office, vestibule, and foyers.

1228 Madison is a different beast altogether. We learned if you are going to a higher-end project, make it boutique since they require quite a bit more attention to detail. We work very closely with all our architects in choosing the finishes and right layouts. My family is very involved and we often work with the same trustworthy groups who specialize in construction, design, and materials. For instance, we've worked with the same general contractor since 2010.
The Parker West Rendering of the Parker West and model interior (Rendering credit: Depict; Photo credit: Robert Grnnoff)

How do you strive to benefit the local community or the city with your developments?

One thing we've always tried to do is be respectful to the neighborhoods we build in. For instance, 1228 Madison is adjacent to a school. We worked with the school to ensure proper construction protections are in place. We take a certain level of pride in our community engagement. I think this comes from being a family firm. We don't see any benefit in bullying our way through communities so we try to be good neighbors.

At CORTE in Long Island City, we signed an eyeglass doctor and a pre-school as tenants to benefit the residents and surrounding community. We don't just plop in the highest-paying tenant. That's been harder this year, however, since retail tenants have been scarce.

When we build in historic districts we do a good bit of outreach and consider massings that minimize the loss of sunlight. I believe that over time good karma comes back to you, even if it's not always tangential or able to be quantified.
Renderings of 1228 Madison Avenue credit of GRAIN

Do you have a favorite New York City neighborhood?

I am partial to downtown and lean towards SoHo, NoHo, and Tribeca. As we build and spend more time in other neighborhoods, I appreciate their different fabrics and see how they all work together.

What's your outlook on the city's future?

My family came from Germany in 1951 and we've never left. We're generally bullish on the city, and see a similar attitude among mammoth companies like Facebook and JP Morgan that are planning on having tens of thousands of employees here. People I talk to expect a quick rebound. I think in 60-90 days we'll see a drastically different New York. Additionally, some of the social reform will be beneficial as well as the new federal focus on infrastructure.

Without thinking of the bottom line, what would be your dream project to develop in the city?

Hard to say what my dream development would be but as for existing buildings, my dad and I always talked about Lever House and the Seagrams Building being our favorite buildings. We're Modernists. 10 Bond has a big soft spot in our hearts and it was a project not so much about the bottom line. We also like how people appreciate the architecture and how it sits in the neighborhood.
10 Bond Street 10 Bond Street by Nicholas Venezia via Selldorf Architects

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New Developments Editor Ondel Hylton Ondel is a lifelong New Yorker and comprehensive assessor of the city's dynamic urban landscape.