Boy Developer Ben Shaoul Wants to Live Forever

Location: You’re 30 years old, but you have over 1,000 rental units, including a big new development at 636 East

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.

Boy Developer Ben Shaoul Wants to Live Forever