Steve Bodden, a veteran broker who co-founded the commercial real estate firm Sanchez Bodden Lerner in 2005, recently launched a new venture that merges his professional life with his personal conviction.
Bodden started a division called Ecclesiastical Real Estate Services. The company helps churches and religious entities navigate through their real estate holdings and make the best possible decisions for their institutions.
It’s a subject very close to Bodden’s heart. A devoted member of his church, he came to the United States from Honduras to attend high school and college through the help of a church in Florida.
Bodden grew up on an island off the northern tip of Honduras about the size of Manhattan, but “worlds apart” from the Big Apple.
His father was the mayor of the island, Utila, for seven years, and he owned two grocery stores and the first hardware store on the island. Watching his father’s entrepreneurial spirit growing up had an indelible effect on Bodden.
“I always saw that and it was always ingrained in me,” Bodden said. “The burden but also the freedom to work for yourself.”
After graduating from college in Kentucky, Bodden returned to Honduras to teach for two years. He wanted to continue his education and had some family in New York City, so he returned to the U.S.
He did social work for a couple years, working in foster care, and in the late 1980’s switched gears and worked in economic development in Brooklyn. It was around the same time he was attending graduate school at New York University, working to get his MPA.
He started working for the city, managing an industrial park in East Williamsburg, a position that thrust him into working with business owners, helping them through the process of purchasing city property.
Bodden met his future business partner, Jack Lerner, while working for the city, where they worked together for several years before launching their own firm in 2005. They began working with several different non-profits, including the Salvation Army for the last eight years, a path that ultimately led Bodden to form Ecclesiastical Realty Advisory Services.
“I was always looking for a little bit more and we worked well together,” said Bodden. “That was sort of the grounds for which we said, you know what, let’s form this entity together.”
One of his most high-profile deals was working with the Salvation Army to sell its building on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg in 2015. In 2011, they closed the premises with plans to revamp the building and reopen when renovations were complete. But that never happened.
Instead, the Salvation Army sold the site, located at the heart of Williamsburg and the borough’s most expensive retail corridor on Bedford Avenue, to Thor Equities. The price was originally $36 million, but eventually closed for $30 million.
While some in the community were upset that the organization decided to sell the store off instead of continue running it, Bodden was key to helping the Salvation Army realize that it was the best move to sell and reinvest the money into its business and other stores.
“Their doors were being knocked on perpetually, and the value kept going up in that area,” said Bodden. The Salvation Army also closed its Greenpoint store and put it up for sale.
The idea for Ecclesiastical Realty Services formed after seeing church organizations that struggled with making decisions for their properties in New York City’s competitive and pricey real estate market.
Bodden is on a committee of his own Presbyterian church in Long Island that handles real estate and capital programs, and knows first hand the myriad challenges churches can face. He realized he could merge his work and his faith to give churches a much-needed lifeline.
“To be able to come in and assess and give guidance and evaluate the resources is incredible,” he said.
Bodden has heard story after story of churches being taken advantage of because they didn’t know their options, r weren’t aware how valuable their real estate was.
“No matter where you are, churches have been changing, the way we worship and the places of worship are different,” said Bodden.
He has seen the challenges churches face on the financial end to have revenue to continue their services and serve their communities. Some churches have found creative ways to find revenue, like letting another church nest within their property, what Bodden calls a “win-win” situation. Though there are non-profits and organizations that try to work with churches in a similar capacity, Bodden feels his firm is unique because they come with decades of experience in the real estate world and they are religious themselves and have a deep respect for religious institutions.
“Some organizations come in and the line is blurred, but with us it is clear. I think they appreciate that it’s not just a job, but it comes from the heart,” said Bodden. “We get an intrinsic reward out of seeing that we can help the church.”