Meredith Marshall’s Mixed-Income Approach
BRP embraces workforce housing development in previously underserved neighborhoods in New York City and other markets.
Developers need a range of talents, including nerves of steel and an appetite for risk. New York-based BRP Cos.’s co-founder and managing partner Meredith Marshall checks these boxes and more. In fact, BRP is undertaking one of the more challenging areas of real estate today: developing within opportunity zones.
Designated at the state level and added to the tax code by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, opportunity zones are appealing because they provide tax benefits to investors and job creation for overlooked neighborhoods. There is still a fair amount of uncertainty surrounding these districts, but that’s something this residential and mixed-use developer actually thrives on. “How do you set the expectations for the investors? How do you aggregate the capital without knowing all the rules and keep moving those transactions forward? You have to look at these deals differently because there’s a long-term hold involved. It’s a different animal.”
BRP has taken on difficult projects before. It recently topped off at The Crossing at Jamaica Station in Queens, N.Y. The more than $400 million project required 11 sources of capital including traditional private equity, brownfield tax credits, state tax credits and low-income tax credits as well as three different mortgages and a tax-exempt piece. The site comprises more than 700,000 square feet and will add 669 units of housing plus retail and a community facility. BRP expects to start leasing at the end of 2019. Also, in Jamaica, Queens, BRP recently procured $15 million in acquisition financing for a 738,000-square-foot site on 168th Street.
BRP is active throughout New York City. “In Brooklyn we’re finishing up four buildings,” he said. “We’re also completing a condo building in Harlem. This project is starting to be sold now.”
The company is also excited about the Bronx, where additional Metro North stations are expected to open. “We think that most people are coming to the conclusion that the Bronx would be a destination for [those] who have been priced out of Harlem and other markets but who want to be in the City, close to transportation and willing to be part of a renaissance, if you will. The current products we have there are affordable. We’re looking at some market-rate opportunities as well.”
In the South Bronx, BRP is developing a 1.2 million-square-foot, mixed-use project called La Central. Marshall describes La Central as iconic and one of the first large, mixed-income developments targeting the complete workforce in the South Bronx. This next iteration of development in the area, Marshall said, will have much more mixed-income housing—not just low-income tax credit development.
“That’s a nuanced approach because in New York City, when you say ‘affordable’ they think ‘low income.’ But, as you can imagine, there are many people who don’t qualify for low-income who still pay a lot of their income in rent who are getting squeezed out of the market,” explained Marshall.
Marshall is passionate about his work, according to longtime associates like Kenneth Colao, founding principal and president of CNY Group in New York. “I met Meredith through a mutual acquaintance in the early 2000s when we were builders and he was organizing a development company,” said Colao. “We first explored working together on affordable housing developments. Meredith has practical expertise and understanding in how to reinvent a neighborhood and create real communities from fallow areas. This is invaluable to real estate in highly urbanized areas.”
Marshall noted: “Sometimes [success] is beyond the typical real estate return: It’s the economic benefits that accrue to some of the stakeholders in the community. We measure our success by scale, but also by the good work—making sure that those individuals and enterprises are successful as well.”
Despite BRP’s desire to effect positive change, Marshall acknowledges that he sometimes faces skepticism in the community. “In the movies, the developer is never the nice guy. He is building luxury condos—not what the people need, whether it’s housing or public facilities or retail establishments or not-for-profit space. We want to do those things and do it well.”
Marshall adds that even some people in the real estate business don’t quite know what developers do. “We’re the conductor of an orchestra working with all of the different instruments to play a beautiful piece of music,” he explained. “A lot of what we do requires skill sets to work with policymakers, public parties, publicly elected officials, community groups, architects and engineers, and finance people.” Then, he said, you have to put it all together while also being able to look into the future to see where and how people will want to live five, six, seven years from now.
Face of the Brand
Marshall and BRP Managing Partner Geoff Flournoy co-founded the firm in 2003. Today it specializes in workforce/mixed-income and market-rate housing as well as commercial development in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and Buffalo, N.Y.; Baltimore and New Jersey. The company boasts more than 600,000 square feet of completed real estate projects and over 3 million square feet currently in development. BRP has development, construction, property management and financial service arms. “I do some public relations and I also have a strategic hat, but I’m primarily in charge of business development for the vertically integrated platform that we’ve evolved to,” said Marshall.
He describes his typical day as “very hectic.” It will involve checking in on the projects under construction, arranging meetings with partners and brainstorming with BRP’s business development team. “Part of a developer’s job is always putting out fires. So, it could be projects that need entitlements—making the arguments for those where there’s zoning and getting plan approval,” Marshall said. “Every day you’re advocating for projects or policy changes or what have you. I wear two hats. One is strategic and working within the vision and bringing that vision to reality in projects. And the other one is just day-to-day blocking and tackling.”
Marshall is a self-described extrovert and connector who enjoys meeting interesting people, creating joint ventures and partnering with different groups. “Most teams have outside and inside/execution people,” he said. “I’m an outside person, so to the extent the company grows, it’s largely because of the business development. I think my style serves the company well because we’ve been on a real sharp growth trajectory since inception when we started with maybe five employees and we have about 70 today. We have really grown in the last five to seven years.”
Marshall also drives much of BRP’s policy work with public-private projects, and he sits on the boards of housing-related advocacy groups and the Real Estate Board of New York. Because of BRP’s heavy involvement with community groups, he enjoys reaching back to under-invested communities and organizations that mentor school kids. “I like sharing our story with those groups,” he said. “I have also spoken at Columbia University and Georgetown to grad students who want to get into the development business.”
Colvin W. Grannum, president & CEO, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. in Brooklyn, has known Marshall since the early 2000s. “Meredith is very grounded, and he maintains a commitment to promote the well-being of people of African descent,” Grannum observed.
“My brother is Meredith’s family dentist and he knew that Meredith, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. and I shared the desire to bring mixed-used, mixed-income, medium-density developments to Bedford Stuyvesant and Central Brooklyn,” Grannum added. “Meredith is a persuasive advocate and generous spirit. He and Geoff Flournoy have assembled a strong team at BRP Properties.”
A Childhood Dream
Marshall has been assembling high-performing teams since his youth in Brooklyn, and he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a business owner. “I didn’t have a specific bent in mind, but I always knew I wanted to be in one of those tall office buildings with a full floor plate, running my own company.” Marshall and his friends washed cars. When it snowed, he was the kid who arranged for the shoveling crews. He got his working papers at age 14. He was involved in baseball throughout high school.
“I knew I was going on to college, but I met some people who owned their own firms and I wanted to be ‘that person,’” he said. “I always gravitated towards business people, and in all of my jobs, I always sought out the owners and asked them a lot of questions. I’ve come to realize I’m a better owner in business than I am an employee.”
Math and science also came easy to him. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School followed by Boston University College of Engineering. He graduated with a B.S.in Electrical Engineering.
“The engineering background teaches you how to think out of the box, and the analytical processes that you have to adhere to as a student really benefit you throughout your lifetime,” he noted. “It was the most intense and rigorous training, and I could think of no better undergraduate education for me than engineering.”
Marshall embarked on a career as a research engineer and spent four years in Boston and the surrounding suburbs. “I worked for Digital Equipment Corp. We got acquired by Compaq. That company got acquired by Hewlett Packard and then I worked for AT&T Bell Labs,” he recalled. The latter transferred him to New Jersey where he still lives. He and his family reside in Bergen County. As a family man, he defines success as follows: “If my kids are matriculating in college and they’re not upsetting their mother, I think I’m doing a good job there. I have three kids (two teenagers) so I lost all my hair.”
Marshall’s professional success has been enhanced by his decision, when leaving Boston, to return to school for an MBA in Finance & International Business from Columbia Business School. “The engineering plus the MBA is a great combination, and I use both skill sets every day,” he said.
Also helpful is the time he spent as a managing director of Musa Capital Advisors, a New York-based emerging markets private equity and financial advisory firm, where he was engaged in mergers and acquisitions prior to co-founding BRP. Before Musa Capital Advisors, he was a senior associate at Wasserstein Perella & Co., where he was an integral member of the firm’s telecommunications and media, mergers and acquisitions practice.
But, while Marshall has worked with investment bankers and business magnates, it’s not their housing needs that really drives him to buy and build. He is mostly focused on housing for the workforce—the bus drivers, policemen, firemen and health-care workers.
“We’re trying to retain them in the city because they’re critical to our employment base,” he said. “We’ve been targeting them in a lot of our buildings [in other boroughs] and those developments have full support of the public partners. We want to expand that [model] into the Bronx.”