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Highline developer has big picture approach to business

By Konrad Putzier

It didn’t take long to realize Ashwin Verma is a bit of a cosmopolitan.

The managing partner of Siras Development, who grew up in Dubai to Indian parents, spent the first five minutes of his interview with Real Estate Weekly talking about European soccer and later explained his bullishness on the Far West Side by drawing an analogy to rural land values in developing countries.

ASHWIN VERMA
ASHWIN VERMA

Verma’s international background stands out in an industry still dominated by local family firms. It is also, arguably, one of the reasons for his success.

As global capital floods into New York real estate, the ability to win over foreign financiers has become increasingly important. Unsurprisingly, Verma has proven particularly adept.

Siras is co-developing its most prominent project to date, the Soori High Line at West 29th Street, with Singapore-based architect and developer Soo K. Chan, and is financing it with the help of Chinese investors.

For its next and more ambitious project, the 47-story condo and hotel tower Hudson Rise at West 38th Street and 11th Avenue, Siras partnered up with the Chinese private equity firm Kuafu Properties.

This access to foreign capital has allowed Siras to swiftly rise from relative obscurity to become one of Manhattan’s most active residential developers.
But if the story of Verma’s rise is about globalization, it is also about the High Line.

Siras bought its first parcel near the elevated rail track in 2007, when developers had yet to start piling onto the former manufacturing neighborhood.

“We could be seen as a pioneer,” Verma said. The High Line deal marked the first major foray into Manhattan for the firm, which Verma co-founded in 2001 with Saif Sumada.

The parcel, an auto body shop at 518 West 27th Street, became the 56-room Hotel Americano, which Siras co-developed with Sean Ludwick’s BlackHouse Development and financed with South American capital.

In the adjoining parcel, Siras developed an office building that now serves as the firm’s headquarters.

Buoyed by the project’s success, Siras, Blackstone and Soo Chan’s Oriel Development bought a nearby lot at 522 West 29th Street and began developing the 27-unit condo building, Soori High Line. Blackstone later left the project.

Construction at the building is currently under way, and sales for three of its units quietly launched last August with prices ranging from $3.6 million to $22 million. Sales at the building are set to officially launch this year, but Verma said he already has “strong commitments” for some of the apartments.

Like all developers of luxury condos, Verma faces questions over the high-end residential market, which has slowed down considerably in recent months. While he said he was concerned about the market overall, he believes his projects are safe investments.
He reckons the partners didn’t overpay when they bought the Soori site in 2012, leaving them with a low land-cost basis. “I do find that a lot of people coming here pay a lot for land. That’s the reason why we’re disciplined in our approach.”

According to property records, the site traded hands for a mere $5.3 million in early 2013. Verma also said that Siras saved money by taking over the project’s construction management.
But the biggest insurance against a downturn, according to Verma, is unique design.

“If you spend more on architecture and the market is good, they’re really going to reward you. And if there’s a downturn, it’s more defensible,” he argued.

There is no doubt the Soori’s design sticks out from the new development crowd. 12 of its 27 units have two or more stories, and 16 units will have their own heated swimming pool. The building is designed by Chan’s SCDA Architects.

The Hudson Rise project at 11th Avenue and West 38th Street has an even more unusual design.
First renderings (Verma said they aren’t final) by the Shanghai-based architecture firm, Archilier Architecture, show a building that looks a bit like stacked Lego blocks.

It also features outdoor staircases and tree-lined terraces. The building will have 410 hotel rooms and 51 luxury condos. As with the Soori, Siras initially partnered up with BlackHouse on the development. Verma reckons the extension of the 7 line will make the development attractive.

“When you buy farm land in developing countries and build a road, the land jumps in value,” he said. He believes the completion of the subway extension will have the same effect on the Far West Side.
For Verma, who came to the US as a teenager and holds a Wharton MBA, the Far West Side is a fairly recent focus.

When he began developing in 2001, he initially worked on Brooklyn brownstones. In 2007 Siras switched to Manhattan, and has since embraced its role as a West Side specialist. Verma can walk to his projects from the firm’s office at West 27th Street, and he lives in Chelsea.

“We love the High Line,” he said. “When areas go through a zoning change, they can absorb beautiful architecture.” займ онлайн

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