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Developing a new neighborhood in the heart of New York City: David Kramer’s impact on Roosevelt Island

May 12, 2022

After graduating university and contemplating his career path, David Kramer thought there were three ways he could help save the world: education, city government, and affordable housing.  David decided to pursue the third option, and now leads a real estate company with over 30 years of commitment to affordable housing throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

On November 18, 2021, the Baker Program in Real Estate had the pleasure of hearing from David Kramer, President of Hudson Companies, a full-service, primarily residential real estate firm responsible for $2 billion of multifamily developments in New York City.  The company covers the whole spectrum of housing strictly within New York City, from affordable to market rate to institutional housing.  This presentation served as the second part of a case study for the Baker students on the Cornell Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City, the first part being a discussion with Simon Allen, Associate Vice President for Asset Management and Financial Strategy at Cornell University.

Mr. Kramer grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and has been contributing to the greater New York City community for the bulk of his career.  Mr. Kramer became heavily involved in homeless policy during his time at Yale University, and upon graduation was accepted to study Public Affairs at the Coro Foundation’s Fellow Program.  He worked at Skid Row Housing Trust in Project Management and then joined Hudson Companies as a project manager who ultimately worked his way up to become its President.

David Kramer

Photo: David Kramer

While Mr. Kramer walked through several fascinating developments, from the Founder’s Hall Residence at NYU to the Atlantic Center affordable housing project in Brooklyn, the highlight of the session was the discussion of Roosevelt Island, namely the residential portion of the Cornell Tech campus.  Hudson Companies, in partnership with Related Companies, was chosen through a request for qualifications to further develop Roosevelt Island, an unassuming island owned by the city of New York with a ground lease to the state of New York.  Prior to this request, the first developments on Roosevelt Island were built during the architectural period of ‘brutalism’ and gave the island a rather unpleasant reputation.  Hudson and Related went on to form an even-split joint venture and have since developed nine, soon-to-be-ten, beautiful and highly-desired residential buildings that makeup the Riverwalk neighborhood.  These residences have completely transformed the look and status of the island into a charming, outdoorsy, and quieter alternative to the main island of Manhattan.

Roosevelt Island

Photo: Birds-eye view of Roosevelt Island

This development put Mr. Kramer and the company in prime position to be chosen for The House, the five-hundred-unit Passive House standard residential building on the new Cornell Tech campus.  A creative and magnificent example of a public-private partnership, Mr. Kramer vouched that the House likely changed the world by becoming the tallest building ever developed to meet the passive house standard of design and construction.  Mr. Kramer went on to evaluate the idea of the passive house standard, a set of design principles used to attain a certain level of energy efficiency within a certain comfort level through five building-science principles and compare it to other classic environmental and social buildings codes such as LEED and WELL.  To illustrate the effectiveness of the passive house standard to students, David described how with body heat and the constant use of screens, a 3-bedroom passive house standard unit in New York City may never need to turn on its heat.

Cornell Tech Campus

Photo: Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, The House being the tallest building pictured

To round out the fascinating case study of The House at Cornell Tech, Mr. Kramer walked students through the capital stack composition of the project.  The materials he presented exemplified the exact methods for feasibility analysis his team used, a description of the earnings waterfall between Hudson and Cornell University, a description of their debt negotiations, plus stories of how the Cornell University Board of Directors used creativity and timing to make this project happen.

Mr. Kramer’s presentation of Hudson’s work provided fascinating examples of how real estate development has the capacity to help impoverished communities, celebrate and preserve history, build entirely new neighborhoods, and show us an energy efficient future.  It was a fantastic celebration of progress in all boroughs of New York City and how real estate reflects the human experience throughout time.

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