RXR sees community support as constant in a changing real estate world

There’s no doubt that RXR Realty is big and getting bigger, but at the same time it reinforces its position as a driving force in real estate development and it also has gone to great lengths to establish itself as a member of the communities in which it is working.

RXR’s portfolio now includes 88 commercial real estate properties and investments with a value of approximately $22.6 billion, comprising approximately 30.4 million square feet. It has a multifamily portfolio with about 7,600 units under operation or development. In addition, it controls the development rights for another approximately 3,800 residential units. RXR has more than 500 employees

360 Huguenot in New Rochell.
360 Huguenot in New Rochell.

At least part of the interest the company takes in communities can be viewed in context with the actions of RXR’s chairman and CEO, Scott Rechler, who for many years has been active in community and government affairs. Among the organizations with which he’s been involved are: the Long Island Children’s Museum; the Tribeca Film Institute; the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; the Regional Plan Association; the MTA; and the 9/11 Memorial.

In New Rochelle, where RXR has been master developer for the city’s downtown revitalization, the company established a Covid Relief Fund with $1 million in seed money to help the city’s residents, businesses and nonprofits. This month, it announced a new $500,000 grant program in New Rochelle. There was a July 1 deadline to apply for a grant.

“The pandemic exacerbated the need for impactful and meaningful programs to support New Rochelle’s children and families,” Rechler said. “After providing over $1 million to help New Rochelle navigate the pandemic, we’re proud to launch the next phase of our community fund with an allocation of $500,000 to support New Rochelle’s youth.”

RXR Hamilton Green rendering.
RXR Hamilton Green rendering.

Other Westchester youth likely will soon be impacted by RXR’s policy of community involvement. The company is preparing to put shovels in the ground for Hamilton Green, a mixed-use project planned for the site of the former White Plains Mall not far from that city’s Metro-North train station.

“When we look at how we operate in the communities we’re developing in, the strategies for RXR and our operational philosophy has always been, and even more so today than ever, is ‘doing good and doing well means doing better,’” Joe Graziose, executive vice president of residential development and construction at RXR, told the Business Journals. “What we want to really focus on is not just creating four walls and a building that we’ll put up and walk out of town. We want to make sure that when we build an asset, whether that’s in New Rochelle or anywhere else in Westchester County for that matter, that we are creating a place where people can call home and more importantly a place where RXR can be proud to plant our flag and folks to know that when we plant our flag we’re not just planting it for the three years that it’s going to take to build an asset but we’re going to be there for the long haul.”

Joe Graziose
Joe Graziose

Graziose said that as RXR was moving into high gear with downtown New Rochelle development, it asked itself how it could do more to engage with the community. When Covid hit, one thing that became obvious was that some youngsters in the community who were prevented from going to school needed the computers and connections for virtual learning.

“Not all students were able to effectively learn from home, so what we did was look at providing students with broadband access and iPads and computers,” Graziose said. “That went beyond New Rochelle. It went to Mamaroneck and Yonkers and with this Covid relief fund we were able to deploy dollars to students and teachers and parents alike to help bridge that digital divide and help bridge the tough days of working remotely, learning remotely and really changing the way the community could stick together despite the fact that they had to stay at home.”

Graziose said that because of RXR’s designation as the master developer for downtown New Rochelle, it is hyper-focused on New Rochelle as a community but it also is doing similar programs in places like Glen Cove on Long Island where it also has a master development designation.

“As we continue to grow our operations in the New York Metro area and nationally, we are including similar community funds into all of our budgets moving forward on development,” Graziose said. “Whether that’s a one-building development in White Plains or even in Phoenix, Arizona, where we’re developing, we need to make sure that we have dollars set aside to engage communities and do good in our communities. It’s across our portfolio.”

Graziose noted that when it comes to providing community benefits, RXR has not hesitated to work with competitors and told about how a competing developer in New Rochelle at the time, Louis Cappelli, decided to add $250,000 from his company to RXR’s community funding pool.

Graziose quoted Cappelli as saying, “I like what you guys are doing, I think it’s important work and I want to join forces with you and when we put our heads together perhaps … we’ll be able to do more together than we would be able to do on our own.”

Graziose pointed out that RXR has established RXRVolunteer, an online platform to connect local nonprofits and small businesses impacted by Covid-19 with volunteers from the RXR community of employees, vendors, tenants and investors who can help them solve business problems.

He said that the philosophy of doing good for the community will continue to be important for RXR even as the development world is impacted by increasing construction costs, supply chain issues and rising interest rates.

“We continue to watch the evolution of new markets. We’re certainly looking at places like the Sunbelt. We recently opened a building in Phoenix and we’re getting ready to open another one there. We’re days away from opening a building in Tampa, Florida,” Graziose said. “We’re really focused on procuring materials as early as possible, getting ahead of our design, working with our lenders and our investors to earmark dollars. We’re more willing today to get creative with our funding sources. What we’re seeing is that as prices rise folks are getting nervous about whether or not they want to put a shovel in the ground today. For us, if a project makes financial sense to do, we’re going to move forward with it.”

Graziose said that RXR has built a reputation for honoring its promises and its community involvement is a part of how it’s viewed.

“We want to ensure that when we’re ready to go public with a project that we are capitalized, designed, entitled and ready to break ground,” Graziose said. “Whether it’s folks that want to live in our buildings or folks that work on our projects or folks that are just going to get excited about the new retail activity that’s going to be generated by a new project, we’re making promises to a whole host of folks who we may never even meet and we want to make sure that when we makes promises, we deliver.”

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