Finding Preservation A Source Of Inspiration
By John Jordan

Thirty-three-year-old Steve Kassin and his partners, Etienne Locoh and David Berg, of Infinity Real Estate, LLC have been steadily making their mark on Miami real estate by refreshing the faces (and facades) of some of the area’s most noteworthy historic buildings.

Steve Kassin, founder, managing partner, Infinity Real Estate

May 23, 2018 – – It’s rather refreshing to find someone so young and so committed to preserving the classic architectural designs of the past.

Thirty-three-year-old Steve Kassin and his partners, Etienne Locoh and David Berg, of Infinity Real Estate, LLC have been steadily making their mark on Miami real estate by refreshing the faces (and facades) of some of the area’s most noteworthy historic buildings. Kassin is the founder and managing partner of New York City-headquartered Infinity Real Estate, which now owns and manages more than 60 properties in eight states and has completed more than $2 billion of real estate-related investments since 2005. The firm operates management offices in Washington, DC and Miami.

Appealing to Kassin’s passion for preserving and reinventing irreplaceable real estate, Infinity has completely repurposed, renovated and preserved 28 neglected historic or “landmark” designated properties in high-visibility and high-value locations. His vision, along with Infinity’s “Green Landmark Initiative,” are aimed at modernizing the infrastructure and transforming the spatial programming of historic properties so they operate at the highest efficiency and in the smallest environmental footprint possible, while rehabilitating and preserving precious architectural elements of the historic structures.

For its recent reinvigoration of 728 Ocean Drive, Infinity was awarded last month the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce Better Beach Award for Historic Preservation.

Infinity acquired 728 Ocean Drive in 2015 and partnered with Zyscovich Architects to recreate and preserve the historic design of the building, originally designed by Donald Reiff in 1953. With the support of the Historic Preservation Board, Infinity was able to pursue its vision and ultimately infuse more than $5 million into this landmark property, bringing back many of its original “MiMo” design elements, including the clear circular Plexiglas domes, the stacked stone façade and the open-air stair that was featured as the set of the notorious chainsaw scene in the blockbuster film “Scarface.” The property was also thoroughly renovated for the first time in decades, activating its abandoned commercial space and bringing infrastructure, life safety systems and ADA accessibility up to code.

Kassin spoke to about his company, his passion for architecture, environmental activism, as well as the current economic and real estate outlook in Miami and elsewhere. Have you always had a passion for preserving historic buildings?

Kassin: Yes, at least since I have been immersed in real estate. I am keenly interested in history, architecture and design, and preservation is the perfect convergence of the three. Restoring and reinvigorating a historic building, which in many cases probably couldn’t or wouldn’t be built today, inspires me. Preserving something of historical significance while creating best-in-class space by current standards is even more gratifying if those efforts improve the environmental footprint of the building. Historic buildings that haven’t been touched for decades tend to be the least efficient real estate from environmental and operational standpoints. We find economic upside in our historic projects by fitting them with the most efficient, environmentally conscious building systems, finishes and products wherever possible. This creative, focused work makes our business much more meaningful and fulfilling: it benefits our tenants, the community and the environment, and ultimately makes for good business. What brought you to Miami?

Kassin: A cold call, actually. It was Christmas week about five years ago when I received a call about a time sensitive deal. The rest is history. Miami’s market fundamentals fit squarely within the model of what we look for when acquiring properties: rich history, deep and diverse demand drivers and global investment capital inflow. At the same time, Miami’s unique beach-urban lifestyle appeals to many seeking a thriving and culturally diverse community, which makes all the challenges inherent in our work worth the effort. I also have personal connection to the Latin culture so deeply infused into Miami. Infinity has been investing here for a while now, and currently we have holdings in Wynwood, Midtown, Edgewater, South Beach and Downtown Miami. Most of our properties here are steeped in Miami history and are architecturally significant. What are the opportunities and challenges you see ahead for Miami?

Kassin: Miami has a very bright future, as it continues its steady growth and evolves as a truly international “gateway” city. Our local government and the private sector have done a great job working together to create and grow a number of diverse and culturally vibrant neighborhoods that didn’t exist a handful of years ago. Miami is no longer simply a transient tourist destination: it is a magnet for young people looking to establish roots in a beautiful, family-friendly, and affordable place. That said, I see three threats to Miami’s future: (i) rising sea level, (ii) lacking public transportation, and (iii) an overheated real estate market. The first two challenges are of far greater, long-term magnitude, while the third is a short-term issue. How did you manage through the super storms?

Kassin: Above all, we are relieved that loss of life has been minimal regionally, because safety is our main concern. We are fortunate that our properties were not as affected as some, however, we too experienced damage and the closure of our hotel on Espanola. We are focused on rebuilding and ultimately reopening there, with a much more weather-secure building as well as a much better brand and product offering. We are currently remediating water damage caused by Hurricane Irma and will commence a comprehensive transformation program at that property. We look forward to making announcements about this exciting historic project when the timing is more appropriate. How do you approach climate issues when making an investment, and does this tie into how Infinity’s approaches social responsibility?

Kassin: As with any good business operator, before we consider a new project, we inspect the building thoroughly for environmental and physical issues and also assess how an asset is exposed to climate change. We look at flood maps very carefully, and we inspect for moisture penetration susceptibility as well as potential air quality issues. Our greatest enemy is water (or sustained/trapped moisture), as it is the number one cause of physical degradation to a property and potential health issues for our occupants.

Proactively, at the front end of an investment, we also assess carefully how efficiently a property is operating based on its vintage, infrastructure, systems and technology. Not only is this critical to unlocking potential operating expense savings through increasing the efficiency of these systems, but this also helps us determine a property’s environmental footprint. We have established a thorough proprietary protocol that allows us to craft the best improvement plan for each property early on in our due diligence process. This has become a competitive advantage for us when competing for historic projects, allowing us to identify subtle upside where others might not, and reinforces our commitment to environmental responsibility.

Finally, Infinity Real Estate pledges 1% of our annual revenues to environmental preservation and green-space restoration, as a member of 1% for the planet. We have done so since 2015, and the impacts have been gratifying. We have contributed to the planting of more than 450 trees in the cities where we invest, and we are contributing to two major natural area rehabilitation projects in New York City and in New Jersey.

In part two of our conversation with Infinity Real Estate’s Kassin, he takes a deeper dive into the Miami market and details both its strengths and the possible headwinds it faces in the future.

Click here for the online article.