By Julian Nazar – Staff Reporter, New York Business Journal
Aug 10, 2022 Updated Aug 11, 2022, 11:52am EDT
Bentley Zhao, CEO of New York City developer New Empire Corp., wants to bring luxury living to neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Long Island City and Woodside.
"Most first-time homebuyers or investors can’t afford to live in Manhattan," Zhao said. "They can’t afford the hot neighborhood. They can go to a secondary location but still not be more than one hour away from the city."
New Empire Corp. was founded in Brooklyn in 1997 by Bentley Zhao's father. Bentley Zhao moved to the United States in the early 2000s after finishing high school in China.
His first degree was in finance at Baruch College. To help the family business, Zhao later decided to study architecture at CUNY New York City College of Technology. He remembers the early days at New Empire Corp.
“We grew the company from a small construction company,” Zhao said. “In the beginning, we were doing 10-family buildings that were three to five stories.” He was named CEO in 2004.
Today, New Empire Corp. has completed more than 100 projects in New York City. Zhao estimates that 90% are residential condo projects and 10% are hotel, office, and retail. Most of New Empire Corp.'s customers are first-time homebuyers or investors.
Notable past condo projects include The Neighborly LIC, located at 37-14 34th Street in Long Island City, and 208 Delancey Street, which is located in Manhattan. The Neighborly LIC was one of the top selling condos in New York City in 2020.
A look inside a recent New Empire project, an apartment building at 208 Delancey St. in Manhattan.
NEW EMPIRE CORP.
New Empire is currently working on three projects this year. According to the website, all three are expected to be completed in 2025.
Bentley Zhao spoke with the New York Business Journal about his criteria for residential condo projects, what neighborhoods have caught his eye and the impact he hopes his projects have.
How do you decide where to build condos in New York City?
Every month our team is looking for hundreds of empty land and buildings in the market. We select one from the 100. In general, we only do a project if it is at least 50,000 square feet. We look for projects that are close to the subway. We look for projects in a location that will enable us to a do better design.
We are not only looking for hot neighborhoods. We are looking for deal by deal. Most of the deals are for local New Yorkers who work and live in New York. Most of our projects are within 10 minutes of walking distance to the subway. We try to do at least 50,000 square feet plus for every project so that we can create amenities for our residents.
What are some neighborhoods in the city that have caught your eye?
We just purchased land in Long Island. You can say that’s a hot neighborhood. It’s convenient. It attracts younger professionals who are still single. They like to stay in New York City because it is convenient for them. It’s only five to 10 minutes away from Midtown. That’s where the headquarters are for most of the corporations. Convenience for them is number one.
We are looking for projects based on the price of the land. It's important. We can control our costs for construction and material design. We make sure our decision team is looking for decent land. We are looking for a piece of land at Woodside in Queens. It is 15 minutes away from Long Island City. That is a secondary Queens neighborhood. It’s still only 30 minutes away from Midtown. It’s a very convenient location.
Our last project was at the Flatbush location. For that project, we are the top two seller in New York City in 2021. The neighborhood is about 40 minutes away from Manhattan. That's also a come-up neighborhood. It's a little bit case by case.
We would like to bring city living into up-and-coming neighborhoods. Most first-time homebuyers or investors can’t afford to live in Manhattan. They can’t afford the hot neighborhood. They can go to secondary location and still not be more than one hour away from the city.
What amenities are prospective condo owners looking for?
Most developers you see do residential lawns. Gyms. Garden space. For our concept, we are creating an excellent, basic amenities package. Gym. Residential lawn. Garden. We target a lot of rooftop garden and rooftop amenities. We are looking for individual balcony. We try to relay a lot of comfort living for everybody.
We always give the best area to the residents compared to most developers who keep that rooftop space for the penthouse owner. We like to give that most valuable space to all our residents than as supposed to only one penthouse owner. That is our concept.
What impact do you hope your projects have in the neighborhoods you develop in?
For each neighborhood, when we bring a quality building into each neighborhood, we create some land price increase for that neighborhood. We bring a lot of professionals into that neighborhood. High-income residents move to that neighborhood. That changes a lot for that neighborhood.
When other competitors see that we can create condos over there, more and more other small developers will continue to develop in that neighborhood.