On Friday, April 5, The Fordham Real Estate Institute (REI), The Business Council of Westchester (BCW) and Westchester County Government brought together real estate professionals and local officials to unpack the biggest trend to impact commercial real estate in years: Opportunity Zones. As described by the IRS, an Opportunity Zone is, “an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.” The standing-room only event was hosted at 800 Westchester Avenue in Rye Brook and took a deep dive into what Opportunity Zones are and how the program impacts the County’s eight municipalities that house them.

The morning began with remarks from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who vowed to work with local municipalities to help them reap the biggest rewards possible from the federal program. “We each have a responsibility to help make our County the best it can be. We are dedicated partners to our cities and towns, and it will take partners to make a better Westchester,” he said.

The formal program began with an informative presentation from co-keynotes James Nelson (Principal and Head of Tri-State Investment Sales, Avison Young) and Louis Tuchman (Partner; Member, Executive Committee; Chair, Tax Department; Herrick Feinstein LLP). Nelson spoke about the benefits of Opportunity Zones for the real estate and the business community, and why he believes the program will greatly benefit Westchester County, while Tuchman focused on how the program works and ways investors can get involved.

“When you look at the cost of space per square foot in Westchester County compared to New York City, we believe it is a much more desirable market for investors looking to receive the tax benefits available from the Opportunity Zones program,” said Nelson.

Pravina Raghavan, Executive Vice President of Small Business & Technology Development at Empire State Development, then gave a special presentation about New York State’s perspectives on Opportunity Zones.

“The Opportunity Zone program is still in flux, and we’re still waiting on new regulations from the federal government,” said Raghavan. “With 514 zones throughout the State, we are dedicated to helping towns and cities make the most of the program.”

Following Raghavan’s presentation, two panels took place which focused on how the real estate industry and local municipalities viewed and participated in the Opportunity Zones program. The first panel, “The Wizards of ‘OZ’,” featured: Timothy Oberweger, Esq., Vice President, Stewart Title (moderator); Sarah Jones-Maturo, President, RM Friedland; Brandon Lacoff, CEO, Belpointe REIT; Andreas Michaels, Vice President of Investor Relations, Halpern Real Estate Ventures; and Abe Schlisselfeld, CPA, EA, Co-Partner-in-Charge of Real Estate Group, Marks Paneth.

While the panelists discussed how their various industries participated and benefited from the program, they were quick to share that a property being built or renovated in an Opportunity Zone is not the only factor that will make it a success.

“An Opportunity Zone will not make a bad deal suddenly good,” said Lacoff, who shared that Belpointe REIT is the only public Opportunity Zone REIT in the country. “We’re focused on areas where there is job growth and where people want to move. If that’s not there, then we’re looking for the best value.”

In addition, Jones-Maturo shared eye-opening statistics on the number of real estate sales in Opportunity Zones in Westchester versus the Bronx, which highlighted that this was not as popular in the County as in nearby areas.

“In 2018, there were 20 multifamily sales in Westchester, with zero in Opportunity Zones. In comparison, there were 32 multifamily sales in the Bronx with nearly half of them (13) in Opportunity Zones. And six out of the 30 retail sales in Westchester were in Opportunity Zones in 2018 compared to nine out of 39 in the Bronx,” she said.

The second panel, “Shaping the Future of Westchester Cities and Towns,” featured: Joe Czajka, Senior Vice President for Research, Development & Community Planning and Executive Director of the Center for Housing Solutions and Urban Initiatives, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress (moderator); Luiz Aragon, Commissioner of Development, New Rochelle; Marilyn Crawford, IDA President, Mount Vernon; Jean Friedman, AICP, Director of Planning, Peekskill; Carl Fulgenzi, Town Supervisor, Mount Pleasant; Christopher Gomez, Commissioner of Planning, White Plains; Wilson Kimball, Commissioner of Planning and Development, Yonkers; and Eric Zamft, AICP, Director of Planning and Economic Development, Port Chester.

The discussion began with each panelist sharing information on the Opportunity Zones in their municipality. Several speakers noted that the areas designated where not what they had expected. However, they all believed it would positively impact their communities.

“In New Rochelle, we have always set out to create certainty for investors,” said Aragon. “We are delighted to have Opportunity Zones in our community. Westchester is the right choice to live and work, and our County has a very bright future.”

The most prominent sentiment of the day was that Opportunity Zones are providing a positive spotlight on the County.

“Opportunity Zones have brought attention to our cities and towns and have put them back in the media,” said Kimball. “It helps us be on people’s minds and lets them know that Westchester is here to invest in.”

Behind the Headlines – What Opportunity Zones Really Mean for Westchester Real Estate was sponsored by Advance Testing, Alianza, Cooper Horowitz, Genesis Realty Group LLC, Houlihan-Parnes Realtors LLC, LeChase Construction, PWC New York, Streamline Realty Funding LLC, and Walison Corp. Event partners included Co-Communications Inc., Stewart Title and the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.

ABOUT THE FORDHAM REAL ESTATE INSTITUTE
The Fordham Real Estate Institute (REI) currently offers a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE), graduate certificates in real estate development and construction management, and a comprehensive array of professional certificates in real estate and construction at its campuses in Manhattan and West Harrison, N.Y. Serving professionals and owners/investors of all stripes, the MSRE curriculum presents the essential elements of real estate finance, investment, development and management. The programs are developed and taught by leading industry practitioners and are centered on imparting real-world professional skill sets. Flexibility and convenience are program hallmarks as classes can be taken in-person, online, and at various paces. REI is a part of Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies. For more information, visit http://www.fordham.edu/realestate.

About The Business Council of Westchester
The Business Council of Westchester is the county’s only business membership organization focusing on economic development and advocacy. It is the county’s largest and most prestigious business membership organization representing more than 1,000 members, including multinational corporations, hospitals, universities, biotech pioneers, not-for-profits, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes. As the most influential economic development and advocacy organization in Westchester, The Business Council of Westchester’s members enjoy unparalleled access to today’s top thought leaders, diverse business development opportunities and lawmakers at all levels of government. The BCW Data Exchange provides the latest demographic research to help guide smart business decisions. The LEAP program, a one-of-a-kind initiative, gives members direct access to lobbying efforts at the county, state and national levels on issues that directly affect their businesses. Build, Connect and Win with The Business Council of Westchester. Visit thebcw.org to connect today.