Pictured: Jerry Pi, Founder and Chairman of Pi Capital Partners
Jerry Seinfeld isn’t the only Jerry to decry the so-called ‘death’ of New York City. Jerry Pi, the Founder and Chairman of Pi Capital Partners, is a born and raised New Yorker who believes in the resiliency of America’s most populous city. While others fled at the onset of the pandemic, Pi hunkered down at home, determined to retain the company’s employees and support tenants through challenging times.
The NYC-based developer touts a portfolio of more than 40 properties, from affordable, high-end residential apartments to innovative workspaces that promote employee well-being. Pi’s latest project is The Elm West, a $150 million mixed-use rental project in Elmhurst, Queens. The development features 142 apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail and over 200 parking spaces.
Pictured: The living space of a two-bedroom unit at The Elm West
The contemporary, six-story building has remained in-demand throughout the pandemic thanks to its spacious floorplans, private outdoor spaces and adapted on-site amenities. Priced from $1,650 per month, the apartments are just steps away from Grand Avenue-Newtown Station, offering connections to the MTA subway M or R trains.
Livabl recently chatted with Pi to learn more about the company’s response to the coronavirus and to glean his predictions on the future of the New York City rental market.
Livabl: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your role within Pi Capital Partners?
Jerry Pi: My name is Jerry Pi and I am the founder of Pi Capital Partners. Our family has been involved in the real estate industry for over 40 years. In order to expand and grow our real estate portfolio, I started the company in 2006. It added an organizational structure where we could streamline and consolidate our real estate holdings. Our company focuses on real estate acquisition, development, construction and asset management.
Pictured: The master bedroom of a two-bedroom unit at The Elm West
L: Tell us about your background — were you immersed in the real estate industry from a young age? Did you always know that you would go on to join the family business?
JP: When I graduated from school, I worked for a business consulting firm as a software developer. We designed business underwriting solutions to increase productivity at Fortune 500 firms. I was team leader for a team of developers focusing on the financial services and manufacturing sectors.
After three years in development, I decided to help out with the family businesses. We had several large businesses including photo film manufacturing, cruises lines and restaurants. Each of these businesses generated good cash flows back then. We would use these cash flows to acquire real estate properties.
As the years went on, many of our traditional businesses died out because of new technology and changing consumer tastes. Our film processing business began dying out after 9/11 and we closed it in 2010. Our restaurants closed in 2012. We sold our Victoria Cruises company in 2018. By the time we sold Victoria Cruises, real estate had become our main focus anyway.
Pictured: COVID-19 safety measures in The Elm West lobby
L: How has your company navigated the COVID-19 pandemic?
JP: When the pandemic hit, our first and most important goal was for everyone to be safe. I told my staff that there would be no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts. Many of our employees have been with us for generations, back when my father first started in real estate. We are like family. I wanted my staff to feel safe from the coronavirus, and more importantly, I wanted them to know that our company would survive.
After my staff, I told my residential tenants that they would be safe in our buildings. I would not be doing evictions or kicking people out onto the streets. I don’t put families in the streets, no matter how bad things get financially. Despite the economic destruction caused by COVID-19, we received rent payments from 100 percent of our tenants.
In the end, I was so thankful to my team and staff. They have been the true heroes throughout this crisis. They came to work, cleaned the buildings, took care of tenants and provided essential services during NYC’s darkest hours. My staff and I stayed in NYC throughout the lockdown and we became closer than ever.
L: How would you describe the company ethos of Pi Capital Partners?
JP: Real estate is a people business, a relationship business. We take extra care in working with tenants and subtenants. Our residential, commercial and retail tenants value our commitment and service to them. We aim to exceed the service expectations of our real estate customers.
Pictured: A classroom at Forte Preparatory Academy
L: Which past projects are you most proud of and what have they contributed to the real estate landscape of NYC?
JP: We recently built a state-of-the-art charter school in Central Queens. It was custom built for Forte Preparatory Academy, a grade 5-8 middle school. It is a National Blue Ribbon-awarded school and provides a free education that rivals the education at a private school. The student body is 100 percent minority with most students coming from low and middle-class areas throughout Queens. Our 210,000-square-foot building is home to the charter school and is an exceptional facility built with safety and COVID-19 protocols in place.
L: How has the NYC rental market bounced back since the early days of the pandemic?
JP: This summer, the NYC rental market was very slow. Rental rates decreased and concessions increased. In August 2020, NYC had a record 30,000 vacant apartments. The one thing I promise you is that in 12 months, NYC will not have more than 30,000 vacant apartments.
The rental concessions and discounts are moving rental apartments very quickly. So the rental market activity has been high. We are looking at rent price decreases of about three to five percent, but the market activity and rebound have been astounding. While some people think the urban rental market is dead, we feel that rental rates in NYC will rebound very soon, possibly by the end of 2021.
Pictured: A preliminary rendering of The Elm South
L: What’s in the project pipeline for Pi Capital Partners?
JP: We are aiming to break ground in 2021 on a 142-unit senior housing project worth about $125 million. The project name will be The Elm South. It will be approximately 132,000 square feet, seven stories high, and will include a brand new school.
We are also working on an affordable luxury rental project at 335 Fifth Avenue, right across the street from the Empire State Building. There will be 82 modern apartments targeted at entry-market renters. NYC needs more affordable, luxury housing to attract even more intellectual talent. Having an educated workforce creates innovation, creativity and economic growth.
Finally, we are working on a large renovation project in Chinatown. The retail building sits in the heart of Chinatown, which has been economically devastated by this pandemic. With the economy so slow, we are taking the time to upgrade a lot of our older properties to bring them into the modern age.
Pictured: The onsite gym at The Elm West
L: Residents recently began moving into one of your latest projects, The Elm West. How does this residence appeal to renters who are working from home and in need of flexible living spaces?
JP: The number one thing our tenants love about our building is the vibrancy and energy that it gives off. Our staff goes the extra mile to make sure tenants are looked after and taken care of. We address all of their requests and questions upfront.
The Elm West was also a huge success because our product is built for the post-COVID world. The apartments are spacious, bright and open. In addition, our amenities focus on social distancing and mental wellness. Our outdoor terrace allows tenants to “zen” out and go for nice walks and our 24-hour gym provides a safe, private environment for working out.
L: In your personal opinion, what’s in store for the future of the NYC rental market?
JP: The future of the NYC rental market is stable and looking positive. Throughout the pandemic, the residential rental market has weathered the storm the best. We still have a lack of affordable housing in NYC due to the incredibly high costs associated with construction. Ultimately, talent density provides opportunities for innovation and new technologies. This is where NYC thrives — it has the largest pool of intellectual talent in the country.