With contemporary art installations, Modernist architecture and loft spaces, New Englander David Wasserman’s 550Q ushers West Palm Beach into a new era.
By Sara Churchville
Photography by Peter Fontaine
My company, Wasserman Real Estate Capital, is the fund manager of opportunity funds that do investment and development of real estate. People generally find opportunity funds, then seek out developers.
After some 23 years in the business, David Wasserman of Providence-based Wasserman Real Estate Capital LLC finds he’s now able to marry his passion for art with his development savvy. The first of several planned art-meets-condo mixed-use projects, the 10-story, 335-unit 550Q features a dramatic installation by artist Jorge Pardo.
HL How and when did you become passionate about art?
DW It began while I was a student at Columbia. One Saturday, I wandered into Pace on my own. There was a show of Robert Reinman’s all-white paintings that I was just baffled by, and I happened to strike up a conversation with a dentist who told me he had no money because all he did was buy art, and he took me around to a bunch of different galleries that afternoon. That afternoon really piqued my interest, and when I got married, we started to buy in New York. When we came to Rhode Island years later, people started asking my wife to help them buy things. She ended up opening up a small gallery in Providence showing blue-chip art from New York that became kind of a happening place; she started selling work to the Whitney, MoMA, Moca, RISD, and became close to trustees in museums. I love being immersed in the art scene, everyone from curators to trustees to artists to grad students; I love the creativity of it all. I finally figured out a way to apply it to my business.
HL How did you go about choosing Jorge Pardo, Leo Villareal and Rudolf Stingel as the artists for 550Q?
DW I was very familiar with Leo’s work and really wanted to make this an iconographic building that would really make a statement in West Palm Beach. In addition, I wanted to do an International Style modernist building, which hadn’t been done in Palm Beach. Leo’s work made sense. Leo’s wife, Yvonne Force, works with Jane Holzer and Rudolf Stingel. Jane and I met for lunch and talked about Jorge; he made sense for such an aggressive sense of building; I get it, he gets it. Jorge’s now doing landscape architecture and the entire perimeter of the building.
HL You’ve been commencing new projects under the name Vornado Strategic Real Estate Fund. Have you merged with Vornado Realty Trust and, if so, what are the major advantages of this change?
DW We haven’t actually merged. My company, Wasserman Real Estate Capital, is the fund manager of opportunity funds that do investment and development of real estate. People generally find opportunity funds, then seek out developers. We are both the developer and the fund manager. Vornado Realty Trust offered to make a significant investment in our fund, and because they’re such a bunch of brilliant real estate people-they own 87 million square feet of real estate in the United States-we wanted to offer them participation on our investment committee. To date, we’ve broken ground on mixed-use projects in Pasadena, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Boston and New York.
HL What was your vision in acquiring Hamilton Hall, Scotland, across from one of the top-ranked golf courses in the world? It’s pretty far outside your usual working regions of California, Florida and New England. Was it the golf that attracted you?
DW We’re really providing a product that doesn’t exist in each market we work in. Everything I work on is an off-market opportunity. In this case, I had dinner with someone on Christmas Eve, and the opportunity just happened to present itself and be workable. I’ve never been a golf developer, but it was fun to happen upon a property that so relates to something I love.
HL I notice 550Q includes 17 live/work loft spaces as well as a resident art gallery, storage for residents’ own collections and even a two-year memberships to the Norton Museum. Do you envision West Palm Beach becoming a new mecca for artists?
DW A good percentage of people who will live in the building have probably never heard of the artists working on the building. I think it’s a way to encourage people to explore their artistic horizons and what it can mean in terms of quality of life. I’ve traveled to West Palm Beach for nearly 35 years, so I know the market very well. For someone who’s tired of the craziness of Miami and finds Fort Lauderdale uninteresting, West Palm Beach is the last urban frontier. I’m bullish on it. In fact, I’m getting one of the live/work loft spaces myself. It’s a different way to live in WPB, a true, big New York-style loft space. So many people build faux lofts, so this is the real deal, for a different way of living, without the typical wicker furniture, balcony, terrace. For anyone who wants to put a toe in the South Florida market and have a livable place, it’s a great building. People who want to be in Palm Beach but find the price point is too high will also be attracted to the building.