John A. Catsimatidis made his fortune – some $3.1 billion now – with a vision of small supermarkets that paid off and now has Ocean Dreams – the name of a 425-unit luxury rental complex overlooking the Atlantic in Coney Island, towering over the mostly poor and moderate income 50,000 residents who inhabit a place known for a carnival park and hot dogs.
Catsimatidis, 70, who unsuccessfully ran for New York Mayor in 2013 and has parlayed a smart strategy of buying land in what seems undesirable areas and sitting on it until the time is right to development, has now added Real Estate King to his title an triumphs.
While grocery stores have shrunk to less than 2 percent of the assets of the Manhattan-based Red Apple Group, real estate development in New York City now represents about 15 to 20 percent of his many dreams company, the New York Times wrote in a feature on his gambits that are paying off big time so far.
Ocean Dreams, two 21-story structures that will give residents that precious view of the Atlantic, will open next summer but Catsimatidis, itchy for more successes, has plans to expand his vision of luxury rentals looking toward the water and away from the drearier aspects of Coney Island, a long way from the Roaring 20s Boardwalk Empire and still more like the down-and-out home of The Warriors, the 1979 film in which a gang caught in the Bronx had to fight their way home.
Catsimatidis knows what he’s building. Ocean Dreams comes after he built four luxury buildings on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene, naming three of them after his wife, daughter and son, brick reincarnations of neighboring structures and a soaring glass building he called the Eagle.
He can see so far ahead of others in business he’s a double visionary and now he’s looking at rebuilding and rebranding Coney Island and adding more waterfront towers– could it become a tony address and lure the young?
“We tamed Myrtle Avenue,” Catsimatidis told The Times. “Now we’re taming Coney Island.” He knows New York too, having lived in the city since his Greek parents brought him here as an infant.
It looks like gentrification instead of taming and the buildings are drawing some complaints from residents who worry about traffic and a change in their neighborhood.
He has been approved for an 11-story luxury rental near Ocean Dreams but said he hopes to revise it to 21 stories to match the others, and add another where residents were hoping a closed complex that once housed a social-service agency that’s set to be demolished might become a community center: he envisions instead two more towers and is maneuvering like Nucky Thompson, the fictional character of Boardwalk Empire.
He wants others to share what he sees in what real estate can do, for residents as well as the developer, and work is proceeding on two towers with angled sides to increase the number of apartments with ocean views, as well as terraces and balconies.
Three-quarters of the apartments will be studios and one-bedrooms, with the remainder mostly two-bedrooms. Although rents won’t be set until closer to the start of leasing in the spring, Catsimatidis said that a two-bedroom might be priced at $4,000 to $5,000, “depending on the floor.” A 24,000-square-foot common terrace on the second floor will include a bocce court and a putting green, among other goodies.
In the rear of Ocean Dreams, the Coney Island boardwalk will be widened and outfitted with exercise equipment, benches, and plantings, while the front facing Surf Avenue will have ground-floor retail space earmarked for a grocery store and a pharmacy, the paper said.
With the nearest subway station on Stillwell Avenue a mile away, Catsimatidis said he’s going to run a shuttle bus that looks like San Francisco cable cars and says his buildings will have 301 parking spaces, sparking neighbor’s concerns about traffic.
He’s betting he’s going to be right again and that Coney Island, which draws revelers in the summer, will grow with him. It’s an expensive move: Ocean Dreams could cost as much as $280 million but he thinks people will see what he does.
“When you’re up there and you open the balcony doors and breathe in the ocean air,” he said, “you’ll live 10 years longer.” Don’t bet against him.