Ziel Feldman, founder of HFZ Capital Group, is one of the most active condo developers in New York City. His company currently has 8 projects in the works and 5 million square feet of residential space under development or management. Feldman has bought, sold, and developed over 10,000 residential units during his career. In this month’s newsletter I am featuring The Real Deal’s 2013 interview with Ziel.
What’s your full name?
Date of birth?
May 28, 1958.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kew Gardens, Queens, where [thanks to the prevalence of cemeteries] there are more dead people than live people. It’s a nice suburban community, but kind of claustrophobic.
What did your parents do?
My dad was in the textile business, and my mom was a homemaker. My dad was born in Germany, and my mom was born in pre-Palestine. My dad came to the U.S. in 1939 and my mom came in 1952. They still live in Queens.
Do you have family members who lived through the Holocaust?
My dad escaped Hitler — he was about 12 when he fled. But my father-in-law, who is Hungarian, was one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz.
How did you meet your wife?
I met her through the Jewish singles scene back in the 1980s, in Miami during Passover. [It turned out that] her father and my parents, as refugees, met in school. I believe her parents were actually at my circumcision.
What drew you to each other?
What drew her to me is obvious! [Laughs]. I found her inner beauty even more striking than her outer beauty. She’s extremely personable and can make conversation with a hat rack. [We] have three kids.
Where do you live?
I now live in Manhattan at one of our buildings at 11 East 68th Street, which is currently under construction. But we still have a home in Englewood, N.J., which has been on the market for sale. We [also] have a home in Bridgehampton, where we spend a lot of time.
Why are you selling your Englewood home, which is designed to look like a French Chateau?
I built it in 2000. When my youngest daughter was about to go to college, we decided to move back to the city, where we lived for about 15 years when we were first married.
How much are you asking for it?
Around $12 million. At one point, it was listed at $20 million.
How did you get into real estate?
I graduated from law school in 1983 and got a job in a small [real estate] legal practice. When the market collapsed, I could have become a bankruptcy lawyer to help my clients who went bankrupt, but instead I formed a real estate company called Property Markets Group, which I co-founded with Kevin Maloney.
You worked a little with Extell Development’s Gary Barnett during that time?
I was introduced to Gary through a family member. He lived in Belgium and was in the diamond business with his wife’s family. He wanted to bring investors to New York in the early 1990s. We bought a lot together, including the Belnord in 1994. We were partners for a number of years and then at a certain point he moved to New York and started doing his own stuff.
Why did you decide to leave PMG and launch HFZ?
Kevin’s interests had moved to Florida and it was time for me to be on my own.
You were a bidder in the race to buy 650 Madison Avenue last month. What’s the story behind that?
The story’s not over yet.
What’s been your biggest career mistake?
I was involved in investing in a rock-and-roll amusement park in Myrtle Beach. Our timing was a little off. We finished it under budget and early, but it opened in the summer of 2008, which was the worst time to open up. Most people drive to Myrtle Beach, and gas prices were at a record high. It was very hard to attract people. It went bankrupt and was sold.
Did you at least get to try out the rides yourself?
Yes. They had a Led Zeppelin roller-coaster ride, set to “Whole Lotta Love.” We had a Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin” roller-coaster ride. Are you a rock ’n’ roll fan? I like Bruce Springsteen and Simon & Garfunkel. The Rolling Stones are wonderful.
Have you ever played an instrument?
Years ago, I went to accordion lessons, which is kind of embarrassing. I guess my mother wasn’t cool. I played the accordion without the monkey.