Real estate is in Andrew Caspi’s blood; the enigmatic property magnate, a former musician who recently celebrated his 30th birthday, has put down the guitar and joined the family business.
Caspi Development, founded by Andrew’s grandfather Joseph Caspi in the 1950s, has an impressive portfolio. With headquarters in Westchester, the business has expanded substantially in recent years with a myriad of residential, commercial and hotel estates across Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. The company specialises in transforming undervalued and underutilized properties.
Downtown had a talk with Caspi about his adjustment from music to real estate, the TriBeCa hotel project he’s currently working on and ‘micro’ apartments, the latest property trend in the city.
You’ve got a diverse background; how has your career in music benefited you in your current position?
Andrew Caspi: I just turned 30 last Sunday; the past 15 years have been spent more or less like an off-road Enzo at the Dakar Rally. On a practical level, my career in music has benefited me in several different ways. Living and performing in cities like Paris, I spent a lot of time in servants’ quarters from the 15th arrondissement to the Marais, to Leroy Street in Manhattan and Back Bay in Boston. I’m very familiar with small apartments and dozens of flights of stairs. Not to mention a lot of brasseries, art galleries and night life venues, making music and observing how they operate.
On a more artistry, craft and creative level, I was just listening to a Robert Fripp interview, the guitarist of King Crimson, and he is someone whose work I think is beyond words in many ways. Every memorable artistic person, whether it’s Robert Fripp or Robert Moses, is trying to funnel something greater than themselves to bring meaning and joy to their life’s work. Studying and learning that ethos in particular has benefited me immensely. I was also playing a style called ‘Jazz Manouche’ or ‘Gypsy Jazz’ for a while, and I definitely took that traveling spirit with me, that desire to tackle as many new experiences and markets as I can.
Why did you decide to give up your music career?
I’ve been around the real estate business my whole life but the decision to join the company came while I was in Samois-sur-Seine in France. I was playing my guitar, sitting next door to the house the guitarist Django Reinhardt lived in and thought to myself, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ I love playing music and will continue to do so, but something about it didn’t feel right anymore. With the current state of the music industry, there’s not much of a market for making guitar music, but there’s plenty of space for me in the generational real estate business.
Rendering of the TriBeCa hotel on Greenwich Street
What does your average day look like?
I don’t have average days. Today I’m in San Francisco at this funky Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel, where I’m writing this. A little later, I’ll be on a flight to LA, where I don’t even know where I’ll be staying; I think I wore out my welcome of complimentary stays in the Montage presidential suites. We had a tremendous amount of top hotel brands courting us for our TriBeCa project but ended up going with a different and extremely special one from France. As of today, it seems as if they’ve stopped answering my calls there in Beverly Hills.
I could be picking out marble at a factory in Brooklyn for our soon-to-be beautiful apartment building at 15 West 55th Street, or I could be meeting a super and plumber at another property to fix a banging pipe. I could be hiking Runyon Canyon Park in LA with our EB5 partner selling him on the merits of our hotel deal. Or I could be in our designer Martin Brudnizki‘s offices in Chelsea looking at a rendering of our new headboard. I could be touring vineyards in Oregon or multifamily residential in Oakland, meeting institutional partners in London or futilely preaching to my dad the virtues of the Spanish housing market and how it’s poised for a rebound. Usually I’m just driving around New York in my RS5 convertible, visiting sites and deals, listening to music and waiting for my dad to yell at me about something.
What projects are you working on right now?
I’m really excited about the TriBeCa hotel. It was a heavy lift in the current financing market. Lenders are afraid of a saturated market and other competitive factors such as Airbnb, which I am admittedly a fan of. The strong dollar and Trump travel ban has also deterred tourism but we have something special and we made it work. I have an audiophile nightclub and music venue, Speakman’s, that’s set to open later this year in the old ASPCA building in Gowanus, Brooklyn, that I’m pretty pumped about.
You have multiple properties in Downtown including the TriBeCa Hotel on Greenwich Street and commercial real estate in Bowery. Why have you chosen to invest in these areas?
TriBeCa has a certain je ne sais quoi that attracted us. From its quiet charm to the proximity of great restaurants and neighborhoods like Soho and the West village. Add to that the great history and the sparkling jewel of the Hudson River park, and we just knew this was the perfect location for a one-of-a-kind world class hotel.
What do you think is on the horizon for NYC real estate?
The city is definitely trending towards smaller ‘micro’ apartments. While they’re obviously not for everyone, I’ve spent my fair share of time in plain old basic and small apartments. The idea of an efficiently designed unit with great common areas is a trend that should continue and get passed through zoning immediately. The beds that are engineered to fold into walls and all the ergonomic design of appliances are so cool and innovative, and while the population of NYC continues to creep towards 10 million they’re not adding any new land to Manhattan that I know of. Personally, I could live in a lot of areas in New York but I rent in a new construction building in Williamsburg because of the fast new elevators, big roof space and all the amenities, including a recording studio and movie theatre. Not to mention, they allow me to stay there with my big Rottweiler boy.
Rendering of the TriBeCa hotel on Greenwich Street
Is there a new, trendy area of choice for those moving to New York City?
New York is great. It has countless virtues. That being said, the 2017 Bob Dylan isn’t moving down to the village anytime soon to rent an apartment on Bleecker Street. As far as trendy, I’d have to say Brooklyn is the best. Not so bullish on Mott Haven and I’m not sure Gowanus will be the Venice of the new world but the trend is certainly shifting east from Bowery, over a little bridge at the end of Delancey.
What are your top tips for people looking to invest in their first property in NYC?
It’s very capital intensive, so if you have bank robbing skills or a gushing oil well somewhere, that helps. More realistically, if you are choosing your first property you should pick good partners who you get along with and buy near public transportation, within an hour of where you live. You should treat your tenants fairly and promptly, and if you’re building from the ground up, don’t hire the cheapest architect or cheapest building materials. Try not to give personal guarantees and understand the character of the neighborhood before you go into it.
What do you enjoy most about working in the property sector?
The beauty of creation and the human interaction of it, with all the trades from brokers to architects, tenants, designers, retail operators, and even the bankers and lawyers on occasion. I’m also big into history, there’s something about the mystery of all the years and people who have gone before us. I love going to a building like 45 Fifth Avenue that my grandfather bought in the 60s, thinking about him and his handsome mustache and debonair way of making an investment that has brought such great joy and prosperity to his family. Or the grand concourse plaza hotel in the Bronx that my grandfather owned, where all the Yankees like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio hung out before the games. I lived in Rome when I was a junior in high school around the corner from the Trevi fountain and used to walk those cobblestones and think about things like that a lot.
This week, I had the chance to visit the national trust Pittock Mansion in Portland and ponder the evolution of a city. What I enjoy most is the ability to preserve, restore and — hopefully in the near future — create some things of real significance.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
Driving around with some friends and the top down, going to our Chambers hotel at 56th and 5th or eating at Má Pêche, and soon to be doing that at our Barrière Fouquets TriBeCa restaurant on Greenwich street.
Photos courtesy of Caspi Development