Location: You’re 30 years old, but you have over 1,000 rental units, including a big new development at 636 East 11th Street, and you’re constructing the A Building condo two blocks up, the Yves luxury condo in Chelsea and another nearby on West 22nd Street. How?
Mr. Shaoul: I started working as an intern for a realty management company when I was 19 years old. I had already dropped out of college, after approximately one year—I went to a community college in Miami, and then I took some more classes at Baruch. … The people I was working with, they said, ‘Why don’t you go buy a building?’
Who were they?
A small real estate family, people who I knew for a long time—Sky Management, Ben and Jon Shalom [part of the controversial Ohebshalom landlord family]. … I didn’t know anything about buildings; my father had bought one building many, many years before that. It was never renovated; it was never brought up to its potential. I renovated it, I leased the apartments out, I put a lot of money into it, he was very nervous.
What money did you use to renovate?
I used my dad’s savings. He gave me a start with it, and I put a mortgage on it, and bought my first property, at 213 Mott Street between Spring and Prince. At the time it was an up-and-coming neighborhood—1997. I was under contract when I was 19. … I was able to get a lot of apartments vacant quickly; the building was in shambles and a lot were vacant, and we renovated them and leased them out right away. I couldn’t afford to hire contractors so I did it myself.
But where have you gotten the money to build your condos?
It’s come from us, from me. Rentals is the bread and butter of this business; it pays for everything. We buy buildings, we increase the value, refinance the properties and along that path we’ve successfully invested some of our profits into condominium development.
Your East 11th Street rental development, between Avenues A and B, has imported marble and rents up to $7,500 a month. Shouldn’t the far East Village remain gritty and inexpensive and arty?
I think it will always be that way.
Grittiness doesn’t stay if there are $7,500 apartments and imported marble, right?
Um, I think what we try to do is try to maintain the streetscape and do what we can to maintain the grittiness of it. Although we put in marble, we try to maintain exposed brick floors and wide-plank floors.
You were photographed in The Villager with men holding crowbars, at a building you owned on St. Marks Place, to get squatters out of what had been an artists’ colony. Eventually they left with buyouts. Do you regret that?
I’m glad you mention that, because there have been a lot of stories written about that, and most of them are very negative. … We made amicable terms with everyone in the building, and everything was peachy and keen. … Turns out that the guy we paid for the store and the apartment above the store throws a padlock on the door just to get another few three or four thousand dollars. That was it. That was the whole story.
But there’s a picture of a squatter, Jim ‘Mosaic Man’ Power, facing you down, and you have men with crowbars behind you.
The men were scheduled to be at the building, to use the crowbars, because that’s what they do demolition with. … Jim Power was our security guard afterward for many, many months! … I would actually love to have it cleared up that in no way, shape or form would I want to intimidate someone; it’s just not the way we do business.
Is there a neighborhood you wouldn’t touch, because it’s perfect the way it is?
One thing I think about the East Village, which is what I love about it so much, is that it hasn’t become the commercial mecca yet. You don’t see a Best Buy in the East Village; you don’t see a Starbucks on every single corner—not that I would mind that, because I kind of think Starbucks belongs in the East Village, but you don’t see that yet. … I think there’s one Duane Reade in the East Village.
I’m not sure that’s true. And when condos come in, Duane Reades are often the next step.
Sure, but we’re not the first condominium in the East Village.
Would you feel bad if the East Village became entirely gentrified?
Would I feel bad? I would not feel bad at all. I think it is part of evolution. It happens by itself. It’s not me doing it; it’s not someone else doing it.
The A Building on East 13th Street has a 50-foot pool and private cabanas, and that’s between First Avenue and Avenue A. That’s a big example of how the neighborhood’s changing and really gentrifying. Is that something you worry about, or feel guilty about?
I don’t think me building a condominium on a lot that was being operated as a lumber yard, as a dry cleaner that polluted—you know about the pollution over there, or no?—and a bunch of commercial buildings [is bad] … Not everyone can afford to go to the Hamptons on the weekends or go to the beach, or has a car to get to the beach. It’s nice to buy a studio in the East Village and have a pool and be able to lay out.
You’re building the 14-story condo Yves in Chelsea, which isn’t a big, tall neighborhood. Do you feel a responsibility toward maintaining scale where you build?
I don’t think scale is so much the issue—I think it’s the architects’ responsibility to make sure what they design conforms with the neighborhood. You ask any developer, and he’ll tell you the truth: I’m going to build as much as I can, as high as I can.
Who’s your favorite architect?
I’ll get back to you on that.
What about building green, is that something you’ve ever done?
We have a hotel project planned on West 28th Street, we’re growing the site substantially, enlarging it. It is our plan to build the hotel green, be certified. … We will be building new construction, as of right now it’s north of 26 stories … a very high-end business hotel.
Oversupply is what bursts bubbles. Do you worry that too many condos are going up?
With the current credit crunch there will be a lot less development; a lot of condominiums will not be built this year.
You were just called the developer of the year by the Web site Curbed. Would you promote yourself, like Donald Trump does? Do you want to be famous?
I don’t know if I want to be famous. I think I want people to know I build a good product and stand behind my product.
Do you own apartments in your buildings?
I planned on living in one of my buildings—Yves—and I’ve since changed my mind, and am actually under contract to buy a townhouse in the West Village.
You paid $8.25 million for a house on West 14th Street, which you were going to call the Citizens Arts Club, but now it’s the Norwood Club. Who gets in? What happens there?
I am not involved at all in the operations: I am a member, I own the building, they lease the property. … It’s private members, we try to facilitate, and try to put people together. It’s like a hangout place.
What’s one thing you’d like to change about yourself?
I’d like to get married and have children one day. And I’d like to create something big in the city one day. I’d like to build something that’s substantial that will have recognition forever.