Though he built a career east of the Hudson River, John Johnson, founder and president of Wellington Real Estate, is happy to be leaving his mark on the iconic landscape of New York City.
“The Charles is a nice, shining success story of my time learning the business,” Johnson said while discussing the 32-story luxury residential building located at 1355 First Avenue, between East 72nd and 73rd Streets.
A Bronx native who was raised in Westchester, Johnson can’t help but beam with pride over his soon-to-be completed tower on the Upper East Side.
The project is being developed via a partnership between Wellington, Bluerock Development, and Victor Homes. It sits on the site of a former two-story bank in which Johnson’s father once worked.
With the building nearly completely sold, Johnson is already off to a strong 2016. But the road to this major milestone began in the Garden State rather than the Empire.
“When I got out of college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” said Johnson who holds a degree in Real Estate Finance from New York University and a B.A. in business from Pace University. Though he had grown up in a real estate household, he had never given a career in the field serious thought.
After it was suggested that he look into the industry, Johnson found a home at a commercial Weichert Realty office in Northern New Jersey. While being trained as a novice broker, his dedication to networking and cold calls had an unexpected result.
Soon the developers that Johnson was attempting to earn listings from became interested in bringing him aboard.
His first project as a leasing agent, Park 80 West in Saddle Brook, spanned over 1.5 million s/f and served as a “really good education on the development side.”
Prior to founding Wellington, John held executive positions managing over $1 billion worth of high profile projects at leading New Jersey-based commercial real estate firms including Alexander Summer, Newmark JGT, Jos. L. Muscarelle, Inc., Centuria and the Whiteweld Company.
During these earlier portions of his 30 year-run he handled all aspects of leasing and marketing for a billion dollar mixed-use—hotel, retail, office and residential—development in Fort Lee, N.J. He also developed over 1,000 single-family and town home residential properties throughout the United States in New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.
Johnson was responsible for the leasing, and construction and property management of some of northern New Jersey’s most sought-after Class A office properties including 300 Tice Boulevard within Mack-Cali Corporate Center in Woodcliff Lake, Liberty Center in Pittsburg, Pa., and Park 80 West in Saddle Brook where he got his start.
Recently, his Wellington Real Estate partnered with Irvine, California-based DPPM Project Managers to assist Kia Motors Corporation. A contact in the business who was handling the rollout of new and uniform dealerships in another region of the country offered Johnson the opportunity to get involved in the development of branded facilities.
“We’re doing project management for KIA on 770 auto dealerships that we’re renovating across the United States,” Johnson told Real Estate Weekly. The dealerships will all share similar designs that help better underscore and present KIA’s distinct brand. “That’s a very good project,” he continued. “We want to grow that side of the business, the project management side.”
This $40 million rebranding program is geared to improve and modernize KIA showrooms, with the individual dealers investing over a half billion in construction dollars over a three-year period.
But while this new venture has certainly been a boon, Johnson is not yet done building in NYC.
“The Charles in New York obviously kept me pretty busy for years,” said Johnson who referred to developing high rises as “an absolute thrill.”
Johnson notes that he’s financially ready to start a new high rise project but the city’s notorious density and surging demand are the roadblocks he must step around next.
“It’s not paying for a site,” said Johnson, “It’s finding one.”
While the next chapter of his New York career may not begin immediately, Johnson appreciates what he’s been able to build thus far in the demanding world of real estate.
“This is a business you’ve got to be passionate about,” said Johnson when asked what he would tell a young professional considering entering the field as a novice. “It is frustrating in the beginning. You work harder than your friends in finance and you make nothing. (But) eventually, it allows wealth creation.”
Johnson was certainly passionate and while there may have been “frustrating” times it appears that he wouldn’t change his path.
“I wish I had maybe gotten started in the boroughs earlier,” said Johnson. “If you look at New York over 30 years, it’s certainly a spectacular story. It’s become an international city. Would I have liked to have been there back in the beginning? I think so. But it doesn’t negate all the experience I had in New Jersey.”