Lester Petracca is a tactician when it comes to traversing the public approval process and building value-added developments
Whitestone-based Triangle Equities is known for its acumen and know-how when it comes to working with government agencies and securing the necessary public approvals to complete public-private development projects in the outer boroughs. The company owns and manages over 1 million square feet of fully developed mixed-use, commercial, retail and residential properties, and has an additional 500,000 square feet of property currently in development. Two big projects are Triangle Plaza Hub in the Bronx’s Melrose neighborhood, a $35 million, 88,000-square-foot mixed-use retail and office facility slated for completion this December; and Lighthouse Point, a $200 million —plus, 485,000-square-foot mixed-use development at the base of the Staten Island Ferry in St. George. The two developments are the result of public-private partnerships with the city and Triangle Equities’ selection through a request for proposals process by the Economic Development Corporation.
With Lester Petracca, 58, at the helm since its inception in 1986, Triangle Equities has focused on developing projects that have catalyzed area-wide economic development and rejuvenation. Commercial Observer talked with Mr. Petracca last week, just hours before he was headed to Bermuda to relax and fish.
Commercial Observer: What will you be up to in Bermuda?
My boat goes there in late May/early June and stays there ‘til August. I’m going there to spend some time with my wife and do a little bit of fishing. I do 10 tournaments annually. We go after blue marlin. [My] boat heads to St. Thomas on the 30th for the “Boy Scout” [fishing] tournament. Reel Lax is the name of my boat. A lot of people think it’s relax but it’s Reel Lax—reel is for fishing and lax is slang for lacrosse, my two favorite sports.
How much time do you spend fishing?
I probably spend 20 percent of my time fishing. It slows down a little bit around the winter, around the fall actually. Then I spend time with my wife in Florida. We have a home in Naples. [But] we live in Manhasset. We’ve been together since we [were] 18 years old. I don’t think she’s ever raised her voice to me.
How about you to her?
I raise my voice at everybody.
I’m passionate about what I do. I’m not condescending. If you push me over the edge, I can be loud. Most of my employees are 15-years-plus. I’m not abusive.
Do you have children?
We have five children. My oldest is Deborah. She’s 30. Then I have a son Evan, who’s 28. My son Christopher is 26. My son Nicholas is 24. And he is currently working for me. My daughter Elise is a senior at Washington and Lee. She’s 21. My children all play lacrosse, three at the collegiate level, and two played golf at the collegiate level. We’re all good golfers, but for me.
Your company’s mission seems a bit unique. Can you explain the differences between Triangle and other firms?
We’ll acquire a loan and foreclose on the loan and complete the project. We’ll respond to an RFP and take it through a ULURP and develop from the ground up. It’s a lengthy process. Some of our projects take as long as 10 years from start to finish. We try to add value. Usually our projects have a lot of hair on them despite the fact that I don’t have any. I shave my head. It is quite comical. Usually they’ll involve a lot of processes and approvals.
Why do you want to deal with all of those processes and approvals?
Because no one else wants to. [Laughs] Because we are good at it. We know the processes and the procedures and we can assess the likelihood of success.
How did you deal with the Lighthouse Point’s public approval process taking eight years?
That’s kind of our little niche, [having] the patience to get through all of the approvals necessary on a project like that. It’s what we do. And we funded it ourselves. We have over $6 million invested and we haven’t even broken ground. It’s a 49-year lease and I think it has an option to buy. Our intention is to buy it.
You said recently that Lighthouse Point would attract young professionals from Manhattan and Staten Island as residents. Why do you think it would draw Manhattanites?
Our price point will be lower than Manhattan’s. I think there are a lot of jobs on their way to Lower Manhattan. I think the commute is easy. We’re right at the base of the Staten Island Ferry. [The ferry is] free. There’s a lot that’s coming to Staten Island on the North Shore such as the New York Wheel, Empire Outlets and Lighthouse Point. Why did Jersey City do so well? Because people didn’t want to pay Manhattan rents. I think people who live in Manhattan who would consider Jersey City would consider Staten Island. This is going to be a project with gorgeous views. This will be urban living in kind of a suburban market.
Have you done any projects in Manhattan?
I have built in Manhattan, [but] not developed. In a previous life I was a contractor and we rebuilt sections of the FDR Drive, from 34th to 61st Streets. My brother Eugene runs that [family business, Petracca & Sons] today. We did the floor of the New York Convention Center [now the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center]—23,000 cubic yards of concrete in 1981.
Why not develop more in Manhattan?
Historically, much of our portfolio has been retail and we specialize in ground-up, comprehensive new projects. Retail in Manhattan, tending to be at the base of an office or residential project, largely occupies just a piece of pre-existing space.
What’s your favorite project?
They all become your favorite when they’re done. I much prefer to do a ribbon cutting then a groundbreaking. They all present different things to like. Triangle Junction in Brooklyn is just a beautiful property. It took a lot to get it done. It enhanced the Flatbush corridor. I’m proud of that. A lot of the projects have had a significant impact on the community. We get feedback at the Junction. All we heard was, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” What we did for the rents was staggering. They are double and triple what they were—$60 a foot now because of what a draw our center is.