With a history that dates back over 100 years, the Fisher Brothers has become a staple in the New York City real estate scene. Its roots began in 1915 when Martin Fisher, the son of a Lithuanian immigrant, formed a construction company and was later joined by younger brothers Larry and Zachary Fisher. Through the years, the company has expanded from primarily focusing on residential properties in New York’s outer boroughs, to major commercial landmarks like Park Avenue Plaza, 1345 Avenue of the Americas and 605 Third Avenue in Manhattan. That’s just a sample of the over seven million square feet of Class A office buildings within its portfolio.
Now in its third generation — led by Kenneth, Steven, Winston, and second-generation partner Arnold Fisher — the Fisher Brothers continue to seek new residential opportunities in New York City and in Washington DC. Their latest endeavor is House 39, a sleek and modern 36-storey apartment building in midtown Manhattan’s Murray Hill. With a sought-after location, resort-like amenities and contemporary style, the 297 unit residence is sure to become another shining success in their ever growing property portfolio.
To learn more about House 39, the developer and upcoming projects, we caught up with Fisher Brothers Partner Winston Fisher, who leads the company’s Finance, Acquisitions and New Developments team.
BuzzBuzzNews: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and where did you attend school?
Winston Fisher: I grew up in New York and went to Public School 158, and then attended high school just outside of Washington DC at a Quaker school called Sandy Springs Friends School. I continued my education at Syracuse University, where I enrolled in a Liberal Arts program studying philosophy. I am a huge proponent of Liberal Arts in today’s world. I think it’s one of the few teaching styles that actually teaches you to think.
BBN: Can you describe your career trajectory from when you left school to becoming a Partner at Fisher Brothers?
WF: After my time at Syracuse, I moved into an analyst training program at Chase working in the aerospace and shipping department for two years. After that, I moved over to Heller Financial working on asset-backed financing for LBO companies. My father was a strong proponent of working outside the family business to learn new skill sets, so my experience in those companies was very helpful. I was then able to come into the family business having that experience and a certain level of confidence and basic business skills that allowed me to be a productive member — not just because of my last name — but because I actually had something to offer.
BBN: When was the company established and who were the original Fisher brothers?
WF: The original Fisher Brothers were Martin, Larry and Zack. We trace our roots back to 1915 when my grandfather Martin and his two brothers, who were bricklayers and general contractors, founded a construction company. They grew up in Brownsville in Brooklyn and were tough guys, dirt poor and had nothing. But they were hard-working and they created this company. It’s really quite extraordinary what they accomplished.
The second generation, which includes my father, my uncle and Arnold Fisher, really took what my grandfather and his brothers created and brought a new level of financial and operational sophistication. They were very instrumental in leverage buyouts and they understood the complexity of capital structures.
As for the third generation — which is Steve, Kenny and myself — I like to think that we’ve continued that legacy and sophistication by expanding our holdings and really becoming active in both commercial and residential developments.
BBN: Can you describe your role within the company?
WF: I am very involved in sourcing and structuring new deals. Of course, all this is a partnership with Kenny and Steven so when I say “I”, I’m always hesitant because it really is a partnership. I think that’s a very important component of our success.
One of my major tasks right now is overseeing a major re-investment program happening in our office portfolio. This includes upgrading lobbies and property management services to enhance the tenant experience.
On the new development side, I spend a lot of time working in design. I’m very into space making, creativity and how we plan spaces. Space planning is a big thing, particularly for our residential offerings. We have to consider how the space is going to be used and lived in and actually make sure that it’s operationally carried out.
BBN: So you must work very closely with your architects?
WF: Yes, very closely. I’m very big into design. And it’s not just about pretty pictures. It’s about how the space going to be used and making sure that we think about how it can be an enhancement to somebody’s living experience. At the end of the day, it’s not just planning but really bringing it all together.
BBN: What does Fisher Brothers look for in a potential site for development?
WF: We look at the neighborhood and try to really understand the community. We ask questions like who does it cater to? What are the economic drivers? What’s happening that is not only sustaining the neighborhood today, but what’s going to be the growth catalyst for the neighborhood in the future? What is it missing?
We also like to look at the neighborhood’s history and consider how it has changed and where do we think it’s heading. Is it accessible through public transportation? Are there shops, restaurants and services that residents can easily access?
BBN: Did House 39, your latest project in Murray Hill, have those attributes? How would you describe the neighborhood?
WF: We’ve actually owned the site of House 39 for 30 years or so when we purchased the garage that was previously there. We decided to develop it now because Murray Hill has really grown and become a thriving community. There’s the “Old New York” that still lives there, and then there’s also a lot of young people because of the affordability.
It has some really cool local establishments too. Everything from dive bars to packed boutique restaurants at happy hour. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the sophistication of the neighborhood with more services and higher end restaurants moving in. And the location again, I mean you’ve got Union Square to the south and the traditional business district in midtown to the north, so you’re in between two sought-after places.
BBN: What else can you tell us about the building? What are some of the unique amenities that residents can look forward to using?
WF: A lot of people talk the talk and I like to think we actually walk the walk about really creating something special. What we like to do is get the best, talented people and we let them tell us what can happen. I want to hear their ideas and work with them to help shape that and to make sure it works and is viable. But I really want the creativity from people. So on this project we worked with renowned designer David Rockwell to create the interiors and amenities. And the type of amenities we offer is very unique because we wanted to offer ones that are actually useful and enhance the user’s lifestyle.
So when you rent in our building our amenities become an extension of your house. For example, we put in a hammam. We’re not talking about a small steam room. This is a luxurious marble hammam that can seat up to twenty people. We also have an oversized gym, bike room, an indoor fire pit with seating areas, as well as an outdoor firepit.
The building also offers a working test kitchen where we’re going to have cooking classes and demonstrations, private grills on the rooftop terrace, ping pong tables, skee-ball, and an indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub. So these are all designed for real use. They’re not designed to just look good in pictures, they’re actually designed to be used by you and your family.
BBN: Fisher Brothers is also developing a condo project, 111 Murray, in Tribeca with Witkoff Group. Will the next Fisher Brothers project in NYC be condos or rentals?
WF: The answer is I don’t know which one it will be. Our first choice is to do rentals because we like the long-term ownership, but we will do condos if it makes economic sense. The benefit of a rental building is that you get to build an asset and watch it grow in value over time. It also provides a steady and stable cash flow.
However, I think a lot has to do with the neighborhood and the amount of supply. I look at the Upper West Side today where we did a condo a few years ago. If I could build on the Upper West Side again, I’d build all day long — rental or condos — you just can’t find spaces.
BBN: Outside of New York, Fisher Brothers is developing an apartment building called Station House in Washington, DC. Are there any other areas in the United States you’d like to expand into?
WF: We actually own a lot of property in Las Vegas so we’re looking at doing some stuff out there. We took a pause during the financial crisis, but the market is now doing really well so we’re in the process of starting up some of these projects.
We’ve also been looking at doing more projects in DC and New York City, as well as places like Florida and Nashville. We’re open and sometimes when you’re looking and you least expect it, that’s when something pop ups.
BBN: Any major projects coming down the pipeline that you can share with us?
WF: We have a few big ones that I can’t really share right now, but in terms of areas we like Queens, I think short-term they have a lot of supply. I think the Far Rockaways are an interesting market. They’ve got a ferry service now to Manhattan so I think there’s some good potential there. I think Brooklyn will continue to do well. I really like that area out there and I think it’s become a really mature market.
You’re also seeing a lot of economic activity in the Bronx. It’s a little bit different, but you are seeing lots of housing out there. And the community itself has been growing with film studios, and even medical life science opportunities. There’s really so many opportunities. There’s no shortage.