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Jeff Simpson, the CEO of Greystone Development, is due to celebrate his ten year anniversary with the company this February. In his decade with the real estate firm, founded in 1992, he has overseen Greystone’s reemergence into the New York market by tapping into emerging neighborhoods around the city. Before he joined Greystone, Simpson worked with the Equity Office Properties team, helping reposition a number of their New York City office buildings, and oversaw over $100 million of redevelopment projects for Jones Lang LaSalle.

Simpson has more or less done it all when it comes to real estate, holding roles in investment, construction, engineering and management across all sectors of the market. At Greystone, he oversees the firm’s development team, managing new acquisitions as well as design, construction, sale and leasing. CityRealty spoke with Simpson on how the company has distinguished itself as a New York developer since it ramped up its investments in 2012, taking on projects in City Island, Brooklyn and Harlem. He also filled us in on new projects the company will debut next year—and the one development that’s most meaningful to him.

When did you join Greystone? What was the company up to at that time?

I joined the development business of Greystone in 2007. Within the development business, we were invested in several larger buildings in Lower Manhattan in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, with a mixture of condos, office conversions and multi-families. The firm was successful in those initial investments but after the completion of those properties, there was a decision to invest outside of New York because the pricing wasn’t right.
L to R: 180 East 93rd Street, Printhouse Lofts, Waterbridge 47
From there the development group pursued projects in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Maine. In the mid-2000s, we decided to return back to New York. Our return to New York started in 2006-2007 with a townhouse conversion [into a single-family home] at 130 East 70th Street. A small project that was a success for us. I then brought on a project in the Upper East Side, 180 East 93rd Street, with seven high-end condos in 2008. When the project finished, in 2010, we decided to sit on the sidelines and watch what was going on with the downturn. Around 2012, we really pushed forward again. That’s when we started on 139 North 10th Street, also known as Printhouse Lofts, and a 25-unit condo in Dumbo called Waterbridge 47.

How has the company changed since 2012?

We’ve really ramped up the business since then. We’ve expanded our abilities internally to take on construction, marketing, development and financing. We’ve got a team designed to act quickly on interesting projects. So since 2012, we’ve had 20 projects happening. Right now we’re down to 15, because we’ve sold some.

How would you characterize the current real estate market? Is Greystone approaching anything differently in this market?

I’m not sure it’s much different. We’ve always recognized that it’s hard to be successful to go to the most established corner of “Main and Main”—like Trump Tower, 57th and 5th. To do a development there today—even 15 or 20 years ago—was not in our investment criteria. We’ve always looked for opportunities where we could help establish communities and expand them.
We’ve got a project in Clinton Hill, which has always been an established neighborhood. But the location where we are [at 531 Myrtle Avenue], the area’s got infrastructure now that it didn’t have a year ago. Our vision in the early days is no different today—we’re looking for those same opportunities.
531 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn. Image courtesy of the architect ABArchitekten

The nature of New York neighborhoods now is that they are changing quickly. As a developer, how do you respond to this rapid, and often unpredictable, change?

Every place we develop in, we are looking at other developments and the success they’ve had, we’re looking at what the community groups are saying, we spend time in the retail shops to hear how people feel about the neighborhood. It’s not our intent to go to a neighborhood and transform someone’s home and make it an uncomfortable place. We want to make it better, we want to work to further develop neighborhoods and bring design in that feels contextual to what’s already been there for many years. We’re not interested bringing in an obnoxious design to further someone’s ego.
It’s not our intent to go to a neighborhood and transform someone’s home and make it an uncomfortable place.... We’re not interested bringing in an obnoxious design to further someone’s ego.

What pushed Greystone to develop On the Sound? City Island is a unique neighborhood for such an ambitious development.

We were presented the opportunity where the site was already rezoned. We saw the opportunity and saw a market with very little new development where we could offer a great price point for New Yorkers. There are very few charming neighborhoods in New York, especially around the waterfront, where you can spend a low price per square foot and also have a home.
On the Sound???City Island. Image courtesy of Paperfarm
Each building has two units and our goal was to develop something contextually and then functionally, to design something as cutting edge as possible with equipment, air conditioning, construction methods. We have units that start in the $400,000s, and some as much as $1 million dollars with great waterfront exposure. We now have only 25 percent of the units left, and we’ve sold at both the lower and high price points.

What projects are Greystone currently working on?

Our property at 69 East 125th Street will be leasing up sometime in the first quarter of 2017, and it’s some of the first new product in that corridor in awhile. There are a lot of nearby projects that have been talked about in the press, but ours is built and we’re almost ready to open.
175 West 10th Street. Image courtesy of Paperfarm
Our West Village condominium 175 West 10th Street will also open in the first quarter. That’s a very boutique, unique building. And we’re delivering two buildings in Clinton Hill that will be rental properties and we will start leasing in about a month.

What makes a Greystone development stand out?

We’re very much focused on the folks we believe will be living in the units and what their needs are. For example, for properties in Brooklyn--there are many folks that take their bicycles to work everyday. So we’ve got more places to place your bike in those buildings than, say, a condo project on the Upper West Side. We look at each location and product differently, to find the needs in the market… layouts, room counts, a mixture between bedrooms and bathrooms. The goal is to deliver a product that’s more efficient at not a huge price point.

And what do you consider your most rewarding project with the company?

I don’t usually think of it in that way. But I really enjoyed the uniqueness of Printhouse Lofts, in Williamsburg. It was a really interesting building, a warehouse conversion, and some of the warehouse features we could keep. What we brought into the building continued with that theme… so that project jumps out at me.
Contributing Writer Emily Nonko Emily is a Brooklyn-based writer who has covered New York City real estate, architecture and design for Brownstoner, The Wall Street Journal, Dwell and other publications.
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