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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Matthew Adell

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-09-22

In Matthew Adell's world, there are two types of landlords: those who live in their own buildings, and those who don't.

Mr. Adell is president of Adellco, one of the city's most active and profitable real-estate companies, one that acquires, finances, develops, manages and brokers properties. The fact that he articulated his world view at the outset of his conversation with the reporter certainly left no ambiguity about the kind of landlord he was.

"I'm heavily invested where I live," Mr. Adell said. "Landlords need to experience for themselves that buildings are more than just bricks and mortar. At the end of the day, my business is no better than the services I deliver."

He isn't just the landlord and tenant of his building, the 267-unit Aston at 800 Avenue of the Americas. Mr. Adell built it. He also built the nearby Capitol, which has 387 apartments, office and retail space, and underground parking.

An even more significant accomplishment, in Mr. Adell's view, is that he was responsible for rezoning nearly 6 million square feet on Sixth Avenue. No plaques celebrate his achievement, but the transformation of the area between 23rd Street and 31st Street from a warehouse zone into one where tony residential buildings are cropping up is almost entirely the result of his efforts, according to city officials.

"We saw the possibilities two decades ago," Mr. Adell said. "We always thought that the area was underutilized, and that it could benefit the city economically through controlled growth. We were credible in our forecasts for Sixth Avenue."

The "we" consisted of Mr. Adell and his father, Leonard, a licensed real-estate broker and a major influence in Mr. Adell's life. He joined his father's company not long after graduating as an economics major from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Wharton, of course, gave him analytical skills in finance and management. But Mr. Adell had most certainly learned his real estate by osmosis, having enthusiastically observed his father's career. He knew from his early youth that he, too, would enter the same field.

And so he formed Adellco LLC.

"I'm one of the lucky ones - I enjoy my day," Mr. Adell said.

That's sweetly put, but it belies the fact that his days are long and his work is relentless. Mr. Adell is not only a landlord, builder and developer; he acts as property manager for private owners. He's sometimes appointed as a trustee by court receivers and financial institutions. He brokers commercial and residential leases. He sells co-op and condominium apartments. He trades in commercial space. He negotiates and closes on commercial mortgages.

"I realize that real estate isn't a 'soft touch' business, that one has to deal with the hard, and often harsh, realities of the industry, particularly in New York," Mr. Adell said. "But I think that I bring discipline, honesty and openness to the table. At the end of the day, you've got to be able to say that you showed respect to people universally, not selectively."

In New York's scrappy real-estate industry, Mr. Adell is widely admired for precisely that - his ability to work congenially with people, even those whose professional interests put them in an adversarial position with him.

But it isn't just his courtesy and conduct that are lauded. His business acumen and success are also recognized.

"My business is about performance and execution," Mr. Adell said. "I am a hands-on developer. I have always completed projects ahead of schedule and below the budget."

He's confident that his current projects will follow that pattern. He's building condominium apartments at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 28th Street. He's also building a 340-unit rental apartment edifice in Long Island City, just across from the Citigroup tower.

"It's becoming harder and harder to build affordable housing," Mr. Adell said, noting, however, that the Aston and his Long Island City are both "80-20" buildings - meaning that 20% of the apartments are being rented out to low income New Yorkers.

He's also confident that New York's construction boom will continue well into 2006.

"There's enough money in the market to sustain such building activity," Mr. Adell said. "I've never been gloomy about New York. It occupies a dynamic position in the world - and I believe it will always be that way."

That is not to say that he doesn't have his worries. Mr. Adell knows that market conditions can change in the most unexpected manner.

"The key to endurance in real estate is to be adaptable," he said. "The road is seldom straight. But you've got to believe in yourself and take risks. You've got to set the bar high. You can never compromise your reputation. And you've got to be careful who you do business with."

Mr. Adell paused briefly, then said: "When I look at one of my buildings going up, I feel good about it. I can honestly say that I've given that project my best. That's what I'd like to continue doing."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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