NEIGHBORHOOD RISING

Building a better Bronx?

Getting two projects going within a block of each other came from hard work, and a little bit of luck, of course

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Mark Stagg wants to be part of the solution.

On his way to building properties throughout the Bronx — including his two latest projects along the North Riverdale portion of Broadway — the White Plains native aims to make inclusion a part of his life’s work in real estate.

“I want to help and rebuild all types of housing from the high-end market rate apartments to Section 8, non-profits, and transitional homes as well,” Stagg said. “There’s a demand for all different kinds of populations.”

The son of an electrician, Stagg built his first development — a two-family home — in 1995. Since then, he has gone on to develop a number of multi-unit buildings through his real estate firm, including five structures along the Broadway strip near Van Cortlandt Park, with three currently in operation and plans to erect two more in the near future.

Rising up now are new apartment buildings at 6375 Broadway — next to The W Assisted Living facility — and the other at 6327 Broadway, formerly known as 5278 Post Road.

Those are part of 10 active projects in the North Bronx area, Stagg said, totaling 850 units. He estimates his firm will have created some 400 units in the Riverdale area in just the past five years alone.

It’s a feat Stagg says gives him much pride — but not for the reasons many may think: “It gives me a personal satisfaction that we’re able to employ so many local people in the areas where we develop.”

 

Moving mountains

Before laying the groundwork for the old Post Road site, Stagg had to overcome a mountain of a hurdle. Literally.

Stagg purchased the site last year for $7.9 million from a developer seeking to build something much larger than the seven-story structure Stagg ultimately settled for. By doing that, Stagg was able to avoid much of the government red tape since his project was as-of-right, while the previous owner — Petra Broadway and Destem Realty — looked to go nine stories, requiring a zoning variance to make it happen.

Yet, even with the bureaucratic stumbling blocks out of the way, Stagg still faced a much larger problem: This particular lot was occupied by a massive rock mountain. To build anything close to what Stagg wanted there, it had to be removed.

A daunting task for sure, but one Stagg ultimately completed within weeks. Before long, the developer was going vertical.

“It’s very important to us any time you excavate — especially hammer rock — that it could be an inconvenience to the neighbors,” Stagg said. “So, we were conscience of that and tried to do it as expeditiously as possible.”

Not that there weren’t complaints. Some were reported to Community Board 8 last February, but primarily over claims that work was happening after-hours. It was something Stagg’s senior construction vice president assured CB8’s land use committee at the time would be fixed.

The multi-unit building can be spotted well beyond the Post Road block it sits on. With views of Van Cortlandt Park right across the street, its future residents can expect to enjoy the convenience of hopping off the Henry Hudson Parkway and getting home in no time at all.

The building will feature luxury apartments, although 30 percent will be allocated as affordable housing so Stagg can take advantage of the city’s 421a tax abatement program. Not only does it encourage offering units at below market rate and save developers some money longer-term, it also can help smooth the process through the city’s uniform land use review procedure when needed.

 

The good neighbor?

Barely a stone’s throw away is 6375 Broadway in a grittier part of the strip sitting next to the Van Cortlandt Motel. Many neighbors see that particular establishment as a community eyesore, with its less-than-aesthetically pleasing façade to its long reputation of crime, death and drugs. It also spent years as a homeless shelter, doing little to help its public image.

Still, Stagg hopes to offer the same luxury-affordable split in this seven-story building as he is on the other side of the Henry Hudson Parkway. When that happens, he hopes some of the mayhem next door calms down. In fact, Stagg still has not ruled out the possibility of purchasing that property himself.

“There’s nothing more I’d want to do then to really replace the motel with a beautiful residential building,” he said. “I think that would improve that strip there tremendously.”

Stagg first floated that particular idea last October during a CB8 land use committee meeting, but admitted there were obstacles to making that happen — like the owner demanding top-dollar for the site, and the fact the current property manager has a 50-year lease.

Nearly a year later, not much has changed.

“They just want too much money that I can’t make it work,” Stagg said. “But I got my eye on it, so let’s see what the future holds.”

Stagg expects both of his buildings to be completed by spring of next year, adding to what he describes as positive impacts in neighborhoods.

“I’m part of the community. I’m vested I’m here,” he said. “The communities we develop in, we stay in. We don’t just come, sell our property and leave. That’s what separates us from others. We’re not just building a property and moving on, we’re here for the long haul.”

And that includes what some might consider one of Stagg’s most controversial properties: 5731 Broadway.

Located near the New York Police Department’s 50th Precinct, the seven-story apartment building was nearing completion in 2017 when Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Fair Share NYC initiative.

It was part of an overall plan to stop using “scatter sites” to house homeless people — disparate apartments across the city — but instead to centralize such services into complete buildings, ensuring anyone needing help from homeless services had easy access to it.

Stagg’s project at 5731 Broadway was a prime candidate to become one of these facilities, ultimately becoming a longer-term transitional center.

“Community Board 8 had no transitional buildings and they had 80 people registered at the time in the New York City homeless system,” Stagg said. “I happened to be developing an 83-unit building. We were contacted by the mayor’s office and we were asked if we’d consider utilizing this building for that purpose.”

Stagg agreed, but it was a decision that resulted in considerable community pushback. Hundreds showed up at meetings protesting the facility — including local elected officials — claiming it would lower property values, fill up schools, and create more crime. Instead, it would go on to win an award for the most outstanding family residence in the five boroughs by the city, Stagg says, and none of the doomsday scenarios ever materialized.

“I was inspired to do a Stagg family center that offered residents access to things other buildings didn’t,” he said, “like reading centers and learning centers that nonprofit groups could work out of.”

The building’s success had even prompted Sesame Workshop to film its beloved “Sesame Street” inside the facility.

The episode introduced a homeless character named Lola, who producers had hoped children in the shelter system could identify with.

“So, it turned out to be a wonderful thing,” Stagg said. “There were a handful of neighbors who were opposed to it and upset about it. (But there) also were a handful (who) eventually welcomed it with open arms.”

That latter group would become known as Welcoming Neighbors Northwest Bronx, a cadre of volunteers helping children there with tutoring, and providing other assistance where needed. He told CB8 just last year that he had no regrets on transforming 5731 Broadway into such a facility, because in the end, improving neighborhoods is what he hopes to achieve with each and every building.

“I don’t build apartments, I build homes,” Stagg said. “That’s very important to me. If you give people a nice place to live, they’ll feel better about their lives. And that’s something to be proud of.”

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