Christopher Albanese on Building Green in the Big Apple

Christopher V. Albanese is Executive Vice President of the Albanese Organization, a nearly 60-year-old real estate development and management firm founded by his father and uncle, now known for its innovative environment-friendly developments.

Albanese grew up in Queens and attended Cornell University where he majored in Economics. Following a stint at Coldwell Banker after college, he joined the family business in 1987. After three years, he left to pursue his law degree at St. John’s University. After law school, Albanese worked as a litigation associate for Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke LLP, where he focused on real estate, environmental, and banking disputes. In 1995, Albanese rejoined the family business.

Although Albanese noted unequivocally that he “does not miss practicing law,” he was quick to point out that his legal background has proved to be “enormously helpful,” especially when dealing with the Albanese Organization’s real estate financing and acquisition issues. Fresh out of a cab from the firm’s main office in Garden City, Long Island, to the sales office of its newest Battery Park City green development, Albanese shared with CityLand his thoughts on recent breakthrough projects and the prospects for green building in the future.

Solar powered development. According to Albanese, his firm first made a commitment to environment-friendly development when the Battery Park City Authority released a request for proposals in 2000 that required proposals to abide by strict environmental guidelines. Albanese proudly recalled how his firm “beat out eight other developers” and broke ground in the spring of 2001 on the Solaire, the first high-rise residential building in the country to achieve a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The 27-story tower was finished in 2003, after a year-long delay following September 11th, and has produced a steady stream of “very high rents” for the Albanese Organization. Among its many innovative features are a green roof, photovoltaic cells within the exterior walls that supply up to five percent of the building’s electricity demand, and a wastewater treatment system to supply the HVAC cooling tower and eliminate the use of potable water for the building’s flush system.

It pays to build green. Albanese credited government initiatives that created incentives for environment-friendly development, pointing out that the Solaire benefited from the New York State Green Building Tax Credit and assistance from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. This public financial assistance, according to Albanese, also helped develop the first multi-family high-rise building in the country to receive a Platinum LEED rating, the Verdesian, located just steps away from the Solaire.

Albanese said that he has noticed an increase in interest in green projects from the private sector as well. Eight years ago, when the Albanese Organization was shopping for lenders and investment partners for the Solaire, it was met with skepticism. Now, according to Albanese, lenders want to be associated with green projects. Albanese remarked that his firm is now “approached by green funds” looking for investment opportunities. Albanese predicted that in 10 years, environment-friendly development will be the norm and seen as a way to create “long lasting value” in the real estate sector.

Albanese said that his firm’s green buildings realize higher rents than competitors’ more conventional buildings. The firm is currently building the Visionaire, a 35-story, mixed-use tower across from the Ritz Carlton in Battery Park City. The Visionaire’s condominiums are selling well, despite the “slow market.” Albanese suggested that customers are willing to pay more for superior air quality and the Visionaire meets this demand by drawing in fresh air from the roof, which is sent through a high efficiency filtration system, and then pumped into every room.

Optimistic, but shifting strategy. Despite the recent economic downturn, Albanese remained optimistic about the future of real estate development in New York City if developers adapt accordingly. The downturn has meant “land prices are too high” for development in the traditional sense, but Albanese predicted that this will simply cause developers to shift their attention to purchasing and upgrading existing buildings. One benefit of the slow market: a shortage of new supply has resulted in less competition for the buildings already in the Albanese Organization’s pipeline. In the meantime, Albanese said that he is always on the lookout for green building opportunities and other potential projects here in the City.  — Jonathan Reingold

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