John: I am here as the publisher for both Model Citizens Magazine and the Long Island Journal with Scott Burman. Scott, you have been nominated by Model Citizen for everything that you do for philanthropy and the Long Island community. However, before we get there, I see that you are a competitive endurance athlete for over 20 years. How do you get into competitive endurance sports, and what do you focus on?
Scott: I was a swimmer starting from a young age. I swam through high school and college although I was not a particularly great swimmer. However, I trained high-volume which means my body got accustomed to a high-level training mode. I tried my first triathlon, just as a fitness goal, when I was still in college. It was a local triathlon that runs still to this day every Father’s Day called the Gold Coast Triathlon and is held in Port Washington. I must admit that I barely finished that first race.
John: Well, that is all that counts right?
Scott: Yes, I did it! Absolutely.
John: How long how long was that one?
Scott: It was a sprint race and I’ll just add this as an anecdote, I went back to that race and finished second overall. That was many years later but was my crowning achievement to go from a guy who could barely finish, to a guy who came close to winning the whole race.
John: My father went from smoking five packs of cigarettes a day to running 100-mile races in the desert and 50-mile races in zero degrees. So, if he could pull that off, I think anyone can do just about anything.
Scott: That’s very impressive! That is really what drove me for all these years, the mental aspect more than the physical. I got more into it over about 10 years and then progressed to a half Iron Man. At that point I realized that I was spending a lot of time training, was really into it and thought it may be time to get a coach and a team to see how far I could take this. My head was really in it, so I actually met a local guy named Jose Lopez. Jose became my very good friend and mentor and trained me from an eight-minute run to a sub-six runner in six months.
John: For our readers, can you please share who Jose Lopez is so that they know?
Scott: Jose is an amazing person who got me involved with the Long Island Tri-Coach association. It is his group with hundreds of people. I was one of the athletes he coached, and I quickly got very competitive where I was finishing in the top five at local races. I started traveling all over the place to the West Coast all over the East and even did some racing in the Caribbean Islands. I was competing at a high-level in the Olympic distance and eventually got more competitive in the half Iron Man as well. It has become a huge part of my life.
John: It’s addictive.
Scott: It’s very addictive. I was saying before the real addictive part for me was always the mental game. I like how I can train my body appropriately and be prepared for race day. Then it becomes a game of chess. You are playing against yourself, against your competitors. Then it becomes a mental game, more than physical. This is the part that attracted me to endurance sports. As I got older, I diversified into long-distance open water swimming, some swim run racing. The first adventure type race I did was called SOS up in New Paltz, New York, which is a seven-stage triathlon race where you swim and run through many race stages. The swim-run racing is a new form of racing founded in Sweden and is growing like crazy in Scandinavia and Europe, and now in the United States it’s becoming very popular. I’ve done the US championships in Maine and some other exciting races over the years. I really like it because it is fun, challenging and different. It keeps me fit and it keeps my head screwed on straight.
John: I have run several marathons and in the College Point half marathon. I used to run the mile race in the park and ran track. My best mile was 4:59. I was very proud of breaking five minutes. I wasn’t because I was a tremendous athlete but just a determined competitor. My father and my whole family lived our entire lives around competitive sports and endurance sports until I got sick. It’s all very interesting.
So, obviously many people know your company, but I am not so sure people know how philanthropic you are. It is you and your dad as business partners, right?
Scott: It is me, my father and my brother. We also have a bunch of non-family member partners. I will tell you that giving back is important in our business as well, we are in the business of caring for elderly people with our senior living businesses
This past year we opened an addiction treatment center called Wellbridge, to help people who are struggling. Caring for people and fgamilies, is one of our core values. We’ve been successful and we’re very thankful and proud of what we have accomplished, most importantly proud that all of our businesses are really about people taking care of people. This core value of caring for others certainly translates into philanthropy. It is something that always makes me feel good and sleep well at night. As I started gaining personal success, I got involved with other philanthropic ventures. Giving back to the community is what attracted me to LIREG. I’ve been a board member for many years and a past president. At the end of the day giving back to the local community is the most important thing.
John: LIREG gives a lot to the community.
Scott: They certainly do. They give a lot of money every year to various charities. I’m also very active in the Long Island Children’s Museum. A friend called me many years ago to ask if myself and my wife would be the honorees at the annual gala. We agreed and I fell in love the place so much and what they did so much that I quickly joined the board. I’ve been active there ever since. I have been involved in a lot of different charities including the UJA which is the United Jewish Appeal.
John: Can you tell us about UJA?
Scott: It’s the foremost charity within the Jewish community and is one of the largest charities in the world. They do incredible work all over the world.
John: My mother is 51% Jewish and my grandfather as well. He had to change his name. He was Nathaniel Waxman and a multi-billion dollar real estate developer in Arizona In the 1960s. Everyone was so prejudice against Jews in the west and they carry guns, so he changed his name to Ned Warren because he was afraid.
Scott: That’s unbelievable. I think we’ve grown as a world and general society, but that was understandable. Many Jewish people changed their names.
John: Even today, when you travel the world, you’d be amazed at what you hear about Long Island and the Jewish community. The anti-Semitism still exists around the world and especially in the Middle East.
Scott: It certainly does.
John: I also noticed that you are on the board of directors at the REI in Stony Brook. Can you tell us what REI is about?
Scott: The Real Estate Institute at Stony Brook. I very recently joined and am really intrigued by the work they do on behalf of the real estate community including lobbying for our industry.
John: Which is really necessary with all crazy restrictions in townships and villages.
Scott: 100% you’re correct. They also engage with students at the University, who do a lot of research on behalf of the Institute. I will have an opportunity to teach at Stony Brook, which I love to do. I’ve taught classes at Hofstra Law and a few other places, so it’s another way I like to give back. I give as much of my time as I can. I am also on the LIPA/PSEG Community Advisory Board and I’m very involved with the Young Presidents Organization’s Metro NY Chapter. I am on that board as well and it has been life-changing for me. I try and do as much as my schedule permits outside of my day job.
John: Let’s talk about your day job because your company has been very successful. It’s really impressive what you guys have done. Didn’t it start with your father?
Scott: Yes, it did. My family was in the industrial real estate world for many years and then in the late 1990s my father sold 39 properties to a company called First Industrial Realty Trust from Chicago, that was 1997. Around the same time, he started building his first residential development which was a 438-unit modular housing project in East Meadow and was very successful.
John: I grew up in East Meadow.
Scott: That’s great! My father identified a piece of property right down the street and had an idea to do an assisted living facility but do it in a way to cater to people like him. He told me that he realized if he ever needed a place for my grandparents, he didn’t feel there were any choices. At the time, a lot of the places were converted hotels and motels and what I would consider sort of B or C class properties.
John: Yes, I agree they were all run down.
Scott: Exactly! He had an idea to do a high-end private pay model catering to people like him and his friends. When he was working on the site in East Meadow, he found out he was competing with a guy named Syd Engel, but instead of competing, they teamed up and built the first Bristal together. That property opened in 1999 and then I joined them a couple years later in 2001. After that, we grew our business organically over many years and now we’ve got about 30 operating senior living properties across New York and New Jersey. We have locations in Long Island, Westchester, North Jersey, and Manhattan. In addition, we have built more than 5,000 homes in the local market. As I mentioned before, we’ve gotten involved in lots of different businesses in diverse spaces. It has genuinely been a lot of fun. I got to really grow up in it. When I joined, we had a few properties in the senior living space and now we have 30. We built all those homes and other things, and I was proud to live through all that growth. It’s always been exciting and fun work.
John: But not without its challenges. I understand that trying to build on Long Island is no picnic.
Scott: It’s definitely not. It’s a very cash intensive business and a difficult political landscape here. Obviously, we have had some significant downturns over the years in the market. Living through the great recession was a very humbling experience.
John: To say the least
Scott: So not without challenges and not without downturns, there’s no question about that.
John: What’s going on in the real estate market in your opinion? I keep hearing it is feast or famine with regard to inventory and collecting rent end, especially in Covid times.
Scott: It’s a very difficult time in the market, however I would say that Long Island has seen some interesting things happen due to Covid. Our main business is the senior living business and we’ve been somewhat stigmatized by what has happened in the state and across the country. It’s a very difficult decision to place your parents in senior living and to couple that with the Covid crisis and lockdowns, and all the things that we’re living through right now, it’s been even more difficult for people. Also, the actual operation of the properties have been very very hard. We have had periods of time where our residents have been in complete lockdown and that’s not what the senior living facilities are all about. It’s really about socialization and getting people out and staying active, doing things. But the upside for Long Island has been what we’ve seen with a big uptick in the residential market. This is driven partly because nobody wants to live in the city right now. I think the days of living in the city are dwindling a bit. We will see what happens when we come out of the other side of this crisis. I think some things may change for a very long time such as living in the city specifically to work in the city, or the days of going to an office every day could be over as well. I think we’re going to see some shifts there. We also have about 1,000 rental units coming online right now on the Island, and they are leasing like crazy. We have a couple of hundred condo units we are working on and they are selling off of plans, so there are exciting things happening in the suburban residential markets as a result of Covid. Unfortunately, the commercial market is extremely difficult. We are not heavy in that space, but our tenants are all hurting. I think generally things are not good, but there are pockets of the market that are doing better.
John: Since you guys are really solving a major issue on Long Island, which is housing diversity for seniors, I’d like to talk to you about a similar issue. My son left Long Island recently because of the lack of housing and the cost of living. It seems the statistics and analytics show a lot of the younger people are leaving Long Island.
Scott: Yes, that is the trend.
John: I know the real estate industry discusses things like this. How do you think that we can solve this, because I’m a Long Islander and I always will be?
Scott: This is definitely something we’ve been looking at in this community and discussing for many years. It has been labeled the “brain drain.” The reality is young people can’t afford a $500,000 home and that’s really what it means on Long Island to buy an entry level house. Even on a low end you are at $400,000. Someone who is coming right out of school and has their first job, that’s just not obtainable. Historically we’ve not had a lot of rental housing options or diversity in housing and it’s caused a big conundrum. This coupled with the political system which is heavily controlled by civics and driven by communities being fearful of rentals and fearful of the things that we need to thrive as a community makes it difficult. The good news is that is starting to change. We are seeing more quality rentals come online which really started with the high quality rental buildings in Mineola by the courthouse and now across the Nassau and into Suffolk and in the downtowns; the paradigm has shifted. This is great because we desperately need more rental housing. As I mentioned before, we’re building a lot of rental units and they are filling quickly. I would say that would not have been possible five or seven years ago. But now communities have come around and realized this can be a positive thing.
The other thing I want to mention is that we are wrapping up a project right now that will come online this year in 2021 called The Brix. It is a brand-new business model for us. It’s a rental housing model geared toward young people. What we did was design the units in a way where there are two bedrooms each with their own bathroom and then the two tenants share a common kitchen and living area. This keeps it affordable and allows them each to have their own lease.
John: That’s a very good idea.
Scott: So people can come and rent their individual room and have a shared living space. The property also offers a generous amenity package which includes a large clubhouse with a gym and areas to work and play, as well as a grab and go for some food on the way out. We are working on busing services to Hofstra and Adelphi and figuring out ways that we can really cater to Graduate students and people in their first jobs. Perhaps even a very young family. We want to create an affordable option of housing for people which really doesn’t exist right now. I am hoping that this is successful, and we will be able to roll out more of this product over time.
John: Recently in the state of the state address by Governor Cuomo, he suggested that we take un-leased commercial property and allow it to be turned into affordable housing. What are your thoughts on that? I think it’s an innovative idea, but a lot of people are questioning Governor Cuomo these days.
Scott: It doesn’t sound like such a bad idea and is probably something he picked up from the private sector. There’s a lot of talk now about what we are going to do with all the brick-and-mortar retail space. A lot of the experts don’t think that those properties are going to come back in the same way. This it was a significant trend that was happening pre-Covid due to Internet retail, Amazon and the like.
John: Yes, most people are shopping online these days.
Scott: Covid was a huge catalyst for that trend. A lot of private companies are picking up retail spaces and empty malls and figuring out ways to repurpose them, and residential is the primary thing I’ve been hearing. I haven’t seen anyone do it successfully yet, but there’s a lot of chatter about it in the industry.
John: Well, I’m all for it and think it’ll solve a lot of issues on Long Island for our youth. I love the whole dorm community living concept with the Brix. I think that’s a great idea. I know some people that are starting to rent houses together with maybe five people, but there’s not a lot of houses to rent.
What about the demographic where people had their children on Long Island, all their friends are here and now they are living alone in a gigantic house? Maybe they don’t want to take care of it anymore. What about that community aspect for the lonely adult singles?
Scott: I think it’s a very real and significant. A lot of our businesses are addressing it, active adult communities and Independent living. There’s a growing trend of people who don’t want a single-family home anymore. They’re very happy living in a spacious condo, having a community and a country club sort of lifestyle. They can go to the clubhouse, they can use the gym, they can talk to people and play card games. We have also included movie theaters, bistros and libraries in our places so people can be active and enjoy that country club lifestyle environment. We are building a lot of independent living units which is like assisted-living but without the medical services.
John: That sounds very cool.
Scott: Encore luxury living, which is a property we built in Jericho, was our first one and it has beautiful two-bedroom apartments and many amenities. We added a golf simulator, a spa and a gym. It’s really like a nice hotel. This is all sort of a movement toward diversity in housing, which is giving people new options. I think people trend towards socialization as we are generally social creatures. We learned a lot about that through Covid with being forced into isolation and lockdowns.
John: Absolutely, the isolation has been difficult. One last question for you. I’m a firm supporter of everything that LIREG does for charity and everything else here on Long Island. Can you tell me about the current President and Co-President?
Scott: I know them well and they are two of my favorite people. They are both highly driven, very successful in their careers and involved in family businesses. I’m sure you and I have both seen the family business can go a lot of different ways. Both of them are carrying the torch forward in a very special way and they both love to get back to the community. I am huge fans of both of them.
John: As am I. It has been great to get to know you at this more personal and deep level. Thank you so much for sharing your story with fans and our readers. You will be highlighted in both the January issue of Long Island Journal Real Estate Magazine, as well as Model Citizens Magazine.
Scott: I thank you for the opportunity and for thinking of me and I really appreciate hearing your story as well which is pretty amazing. God bless, it’s really awesome!
John: I’m very lucky to be here and as I always say, live in gratitude, pay it forward and cherish your chapters of love! It’s my motto.
Scott: I love it, that’s great.