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Commercial Real Estate
Business Observer Tuesday, May 31, 2022 1 month ago

Investors transforming buildings for today's workers tackle major multi-million dollar renovation in Tampa

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New York real estate firm run by two brothers — including one who is a musician and former hedge fund manager — reimagines what office work in Tampa looks, and feels like.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

About three years ago, before COVID-19, social distancing and pandemics had joined the lexicon, two brothers in Manhattan decided they wanted to take a new approach to the office building sector.

Rather than buying a building, keeping it clean and well maintained and running it, they wanted to recreate the space into something that the modern worker was looking for.

Little could the brothers — Joshua and Ari Sason and their partner David Rottenberg — have known that within a year office life as we knew it and how we work would be upended, leaving companies not only to reimagine how they interacted with employees but how they use their space.

That change has played right into their hands.

Joshua, Ari and Rottenberg run the Sason Organization a real estate investment firm in New York. They recently bought The Bridge building in Tampa, formerly known as Presidents Plaza II, at 4904 Eisenhower Blvd. They intend to spend $4.5 million to completely transform it, implementing their ownership model by creating a space they say fits today’s employees. The deal and others pushes the firm's investment in the Tampa region, in total, to nearly $30 million. 

Joshua Sason, co-founder and CE0 at the Sason Organization. (courtesy)

With that investment, what Sason does is buy older buildings in decent shape and modernize them. Going far beyond a fresh coat of paint, they create indoor/outdoor spaces and upgrade amenities and technology. That includes bringing in natural materials, light woods and luxury furnishings that are “comfortable and welcoming” as well as focusing on health and wellness by updating and integrating fitness centers in buildings that are often gathering dust.

This, the company believes, will make its buildings a destination for company and tenants looking for space that is more than a traditional office.

Sason currently own five buildings in the Tampa area and seeks to expand statewide. It also has a deal in the works in Miami and is looking at properties in Palm Beach. In all, the company owns about two million square feet in nine states.

The three partners are in their early- to-mid 30, and the brothers grew up in real estate — their father is a New York builder.

Joshua, CEO of the Sason Organization, says as they were launching about three years ago, they identified the office sector as undercapitalized because “tremendous dollars” were flowing into multifamily, residential and industrial properties. This was pre-COVID, which only exacerbated the dynamic.

This gave the company a space to work in.

Joshua says Sason’s approach is to create an experience for the worker by providing “usable amenities” that make the space more akin to a hotel than an office. This, Joshua says, allows tenants “to feel like they’re going somewhere special when they go to the workplace.”

“Frankly, we’re contrarian in nature, it’s the way that we think about things,” he says. “It’s made us a lot more excited about the ability to acquire great, great office assets at great prices and really reposition them for the work of the future.”

For Joshua, it’s personally satisfying as well. Before launching the Sason Organization, he ran a hedge fund called Magna. He's also a musician and the real estate business, especially given what the company is doing, allows him to tap into his artistic side, which is both personally and professionally rewarding.

Why Tampa?

Sason targeted Tampa for the same reason other out-of-state investors have in the past few years.

The Sason Organization, which recently bought the building formerly known as the Presidents Plaza II, is planning a $4.5 million upgrade that will bring building to the modern age. (Courtesy)

The company likes what’s happening downtown with Water Street Tampa, and that officials embrace commercial real estate growth and are pro-business.

But there’s also a large, and still growing, population of younger professionals which look at work differently than older generations. Based on those demographics, “which is where we focus our time and energy, we identified Tampa, and the greater Tampa area, as a place that we want it to be investing about three years ago.”

The Sason Organization first came to Tampa in August 2020, when it bought a property in the Sabal Park Industrial Park at 3804 Coconut Palm Dr. The nearly 41,000-square-foot building, which has reflective glass all around, is called the Glass House at Coconut Palm. Sason paid $3.5 million according to Hillsborough County property records.

“We bought it vacant, and this was in the thick of COVID,” Joshua says. “People thought we were off our rocker a little bit.”

That buy was followed in December 2020 by the purchase of a second property in Sabal Park, at 3812 Coconut Palm Dr. The company paid $2.8 million for that 23,664-square-foot building.

Those purchases, so early into implementing its model, helped the three partners begin to understand what tenants were looking for in the new world of COVID and what the future of work looks like. With this in mind, they took a “complete repositioning approach,” sprucing up the two properties in an attempt to make them the preeminent buildings in the industrial park.

Combined, the 64,664 square feet in Sabal Park are 97% leased today. (The company bought a third property in the industrial park last year but quickly sold it.)

“Frankly, we’re contrarian in nature, it’s the way that we think about things.” Joshua Sason, CEO and principal, Sason Organization.

About a year after the first Tampa purchase, the Sason Organization bought a 10,927-square-foot building at 28059 US Highway 19 in Clearwater. It paid $4 million according to Pinellas County property records.

The company is currently renovating that property which, when complete, will have a new lobby, new common areas, new corridors and upgraded elevators. “It’s effectively going to be be almost a new asset,” Joshua says.

New frontier

But the pièce de résistance for the Sason Organization’s Tampa portfolio is its newest acquisition: The Bridge. The 98,105-square-foot building was built in 1985 and recently got $650,000 worth of improvements, including an HVAC upgrade, renovated restrooms and a re-roofing.

The Sason Organization bought the building in late May. According to public records, it paid $99,575 in documentary stamps, which puts the sale price at about $14.22 million. The company is planning to spend $4.5 million to renovate the property.

The Bridge is in good shape and has been well run and maintained over the years, but Joshua says it’s got a “real 80s sort of vintage appeal as it sits today.”

“So we’re taking this asset and bringing it into the modern age — complete facade, redevelopment and restoration.”

The plan is to modernize the building and give it a whole new feel as you enter by creating landscaping out front and completely redoing the lobby, adding “attractive and beautiful modern standards” and improving lighting throughout.

The “real special piece about this particular asset, and this is characteristic of a lot of the assets that we’re buying now across the country” is the ability to work inside and out, he says.

Behind the building is a lush green space with a private island connected to the main area by a bridge — hence the new name. Sason plans to transform that space by creating shaded spots where tenants can come work and have access to Wi-Fi and seamlessly connect with their offices. The goal, Joshua says, is to create the feel of a campus feel rather than a traditional, staid office building.

The renovation is also going to include a complete overhaul of the fitness center, which will get new equipment as well as a locker room with showers that will open up to the green space in the rear.

Work on The Bridge began the last week of May and should be complete by the end of the year.

Joshua says when done “It’s going to be an exciting place to spend your time.” And that’s a statement rarely uttered when discussing an office building.

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