For this episode, we welcome Samer Hanini. Samer is the founder and managing partner of the Hanini Group, a development company with an affiliated architecture firm, Brick Design, and a construction management firm, Hanini Construction. We are talking about the Peoples Bank Building, his recently completed 120,000-square-foot mixed-use building in downtown Passaic, New Jersey. This historic landmark was built in 1931. After standing empty for nearly 30 years, it was completely renovated to include both retail and office. For this project, Samer and his team served as developer and designer as well as construction manager.
A Risky Leap into Develop
Samer knew that he wanted to make a name for himself in real estate after graduating from NJIT in 1990, but with a limited budget and even less experience, buying property near New York City was going to be difficult. When a series of historic building shells in Newark New Jersey came up for auction, Samer jumped at the chance. The only problem was he would have to purchase the property without ever setting foot in the building. His brother, Thafer, and a friend scraped together the cash they needed for 10% down and made the purchase. 30 years later, he still points to these early days of trial and error as examples of how his company has worked against the odds to deliver high-quality assets that transform the communities they inhabit.
Making the Numbers Work
Working in cities throughout New Jersey that were once industrial hubs has allowed Hanini Group to build expertise in historic rehabilitations. Samer explains that a critical element to his success has been to get creative about financing by using federal, state, and local tax incentives. The construction costs in New Jersey are similar to those of New York City, but the rental rates are almost a third of what you could get in the city. Cost is the primary reason so many historic buildings in New Jersey sit empty for decades. Taking full advantage of every tax incentive, grant, and government programs is the only way to get the balance sheet of a historical rehabilitation in that area to work, Sameer explains. There is no better example of Hanini Group’s creative financing than with The Peoples Bank Building in Passaic New Jersey.
Working Around the Challenges of a Historic Building
The 12-story Peoples Bank Building was constructed in the depths of the Great Depression. In subsequent years, it bore witness to Passaic’s rise as an industrial city. It was and still is the tallest building in the city and can be seen from miles away. Samer saw an opportunity to breathe new life into this historic landmark and the neighborhood surrounding it. After sitting empty for two decades, however, the building had its own challenges. Samer explains that there was ten feet of water in the basement when he purchased the building because it is built on stream. Determining how to keep the historic integrity of the building while making it suitable for modern tenants was also a feat.
A New Era of Develop for Passaic
Five years later, residents of Passaic once again see the lights of their favorite local landmark shining through the day and night, and the historic clock on the front of the building is operational. Many believe this is essentially the beginning of a new era of development for Passaic. As the largest project in his portfolio, Samer is proud of the community-minded approach he took to the entire building process. Just like his first development in Newark, he now has another example that he can point in the future of just what his passionate team can accomplish with the right combination of clever financial maneuvering and respect for the unique past of every building.
About your host:
Atif Qadir is the Founder & CEO of REDIST, a technology company making it easy for commercial real estate professionals to find and use the $100B of real estate incentives given out every year in the US.
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