The Silverman Brothers- Big Developers for Small Business
The Silverman Brothers- Big Developers for Small Business
By Lauren Bull Digest Editor
Give any city 30 years and its entire trajectory can change. Jersey City’s last three decades have marked a pivotal shift in its story, and the narrative comes around again and again to SILVERMAN, the property-development company brothers Paul and Eric Silverman started in 1981.
All the key “r” words- restoration, revitalization, rebuilding- have been central to the business since they started acquiring properties, which today include Hamilton Square luxury condos, Schroeder Lofts, Park Foundry, The Majestic Condominiums, Padua Court and The Whittier House. Building anything requires a certain amount of planning, but physical construction only scratches the surface of the company’s objectives. If Paul (business guy) and Eric (design guy) were to build a city out of Legos, one gets the impression they’d figure out some way to get inside and walk around in it. The two have made great efforts to shake off the stereotype of Big Bad Developers by showing up- to art shows, to fundraisers, and to the latest restaurant or retail store that just opened in the neighborhood. They have been champions for small businesses, including Madame Claude Wine, GP’s, Smith & Chang, Hamilton Health and Fitness and Hound about Town. In their Jersey City, it’s important to reach out as you build up.
Building Neighborhoods is your company’s mission. When you started buying properties in 1981, what was the Jersey City you saw and what was the Jersey City you envisioned?
Eric: well, at that time, the waterfront was barren. We had the PATH stations, but no infrastructure. But there were nice historic districts, so you could tell there were some good bones there. If it could be renovated, it would be nice. That was kind of our vision- that one day all the architectural gems would be brought back to life and that the waterfront would be developed, and the area around the PATH stations would be developed.
Paul: We saw a lot of crumbling buildings, empty buildings and people moving out of Jersey City- happy to get out. Our vision was beautiful old buildings in pristine condition. People fighting to move into Jersey City. People working in Manhattan or throughout New Jersey living in Jersey City. Good schools. good arts scene, a lot of business being done, great restaurants. A support for New York City. We never, ever thought that we would be the best city in the world. We knew that New York City is, and we want to be that good urban suburb of New York City. Another borough.
Sometimes people can be suspicious of words like “redevelopment” and “re developers.” It seems like it’s been important to you guys to infuse a lot of integrity into your business and participate in what you’ve built.
Eric: Because we want to be community-focused developers, it’s about more than just throwing up a building and leaving town. It’s just good for business if we do the right thing. That means giving good service, building the best buildings we can possibly build, and introducing activity on the street level through good stores and restaurants and other commercial tenants.
Paul: Landlords and developers have this awful reputation of being out of touch and just in it for the buck. A key part of our Building Neighborhoods- we’re not just building a building. That’s where we get a lot of our credibility. We have art shows. We have events. We have retailers that we help support by giving them a lower rent, or selling them a liquor license at a discount, or helping them finance their equipment. The building is one thing, but getting people to live here and like living here- a vibrant community- is really important to us.
You’re both known as small business advocates. What are some of the steps you take to help a small business owner get an idea of the ground, especially in an area that can be so expensive?
Eric: We help with the red tape. We handle the building department. Sometimes we finance the operations. And I guess the biggest thing is we look for creative, nice people who live in the neighborhood presently and who have a dream of opening a business. You do well, and the community does well, and it’s a nice circle.
Paul: We help them with design. My brother has a really good design sense, so they give us an idea of they they want their space to look like and Eric can counsel them with that. And I have a good business sense, so I help them with their business side to make sure they have a realistic plan of how they’re going to make their money and pay their bills and be successful. Once we get past that stage, we physically help them out, whether it be helping to build their spaces with construction or helping them get the approvals to build by using the reputation that we have. And then with almost everybody we do something, whether it be cheap rent, no rent for a period of time, financing equipment, eating there a lot. GP’s Restaurant has been open for three weeks, and I’ve eaten there four times already (laughs). Trying to promote it. Bringing in people from Jersey City and out of town to help them get started. I remember doing the same thing at the Merchant, eating there every day. And Hamilton Inn, when he reopened. Even though he wasn’t our tenant, he’s in our neighborhood and we wanted him to be successful.
Downtown Jersey City has become known for its vital arts community, and your company has had a big hand in making that possible. What are some of the specific projects you’re most proud of?
Eric: I would say sponsoring the Art House Productions and Christine Goodman, who started it. Hosting the two art venues we have, one at the Majestic Theatre condominium lobby and one at the Hamilton Square lobby, where we rotate art shows.
Paul: At the Majestic Theatre condominium, we’ve had 18 or 19 art shows already. Hamilton Square, we’ve had probably seven where our curator Brendan Carroll finds local artists for us and curates the show. We pay for the curator, we pay for the invitations for the cocktail party for the opening, and then we get to enjoy the art for four month up on the walls. We’re supporting all these artists to give them a place to show, give them a party where they can invite their friends and colleagues and prospective customers. Generally, each artist has been selling stuff off our walls. I was in our apartments in Hamilton Square a few weeks ago, and Michelle Doll, who had a show- one of her pieces was up on the wall. And it brought such joy to me to see us make that connection happen, where one of our residents loved the art, bought it, and put it up there. Everybody’s happy all around. It makes for a great cocktail party with residents, with neighbors, with other artists.
We’re celebrating many family-run businesses in this issue. What’s it like working so closely with your brother?
Eric: Certainly it has its challenges, but the ability to work with a brother who you get along with outweighs the challenges.
Paul: It’s a great thing. If I’m falling out of a building, I want my brother there to catch me. It’s that feeling of absolute trust. And we’re very different from each other. Eric’s for the design sense, and I don’t. I’ve got more of the organizational skills that he doesn’t have. We compliment each other that way. We’re different enough.
Describe Jersey City as you see it using five words.
Eric: Potential, active, historic, proximity, diverse.
Paul: Accessible, cool, exciting, vibrant, historic.
What does Jersey City look like 20 years from now in your head?
Eric: Safer. Much more dense. Newark Avenue will be a pedestrian mall. City Hall Plaza will be beautiful.
Paul: Probably 500,000 people. Greenville will be a safe, vibrant community. Transportation wise- my prediction is that the PATH will be part of the New York City subway system. That’s a dream I’ve always had. There’s that stigma of getting on the PATH train to Jersey. Instead, you could just say whatever number or letter the city assigns it. It’s just getting on another subway, like going to Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx.
Jersey City Digest- Mom & Pop Edition Sept/Oct 2012