America is heading back downtown. After a half-century of expansion out into the suburbs, Americans are rediscovering downtowns. In big cities, small towns and quaint villages, people young and old are looking for “walkable downtowns” where they can live, work and play. It is called the “new urbanism,” and it is a trend that is here to stay.
Why are historic preservation and adaptive reuse good for restoring downtowns?
The preservation and adaptive reuse of historic properties help “identify” a city, town or village. Unique architectural buildings built with expert craftsmanship define a downtown. Without such buildings, everyplace could start to look the same.
Verco Properties believes everyplace can be a place. By respecting the history of a community’s older buildings, a community can restore its “sense of place.” Whether it’s a local Main Street or the homes in a neighborhood, preserving historic architecture bolsters a sense of belonging for residents and defines a “place” for newcomers.
Can you give us a quick overview of your company’s founder and history?
Giovanni Verni was an immigrant who came from Italy in 1919. Like many immigrants who came through Ellis Island, he came with little more than a strong back and an American Dream. Giovanni took whatever work he could find which included digging ditches for the Pennsylvania Railroad and delivering blocks of ice to NYC apartments. Eventually, he started his own business and became a deli store owner. He bought the building his deli was in and raised his family in an apartment above the store. He later invested in other buildings in his Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and the Verni family, real estate business, grew from there.
Verco Properties now owns and manages over 30 properties in the NYC area. Most of these properties have mom-and-pop stores on the first floor like delis, bakeries, coffee shops and neighborhood restaurants with apartments upstairs for middle-class New Yorkers, young people starting their careers, and new arrivals to the country.
Can you describe the types of projects Verco Properties works on?
Verco Properties is focused today on redevelopment. In particular, Verco Properties is focused on redeveloping older properties along the train lines and adaptively reusing these buildings into assets for their communities.
“Redevelopment” is different than “development” because it is not focused on building new structures and sprawling out over the countryside. Redevelopment is focused instead on healing old buildings, struggling downtowns or entire districts of a town.
We use what is already there and put it to better use.
For example, Verco Properties recently bought an old unused train station on a commuter train-line and converted the historic building into a restaurant and loft-style offices. More recently, Verco Properties has embarked on the conversion of an old rundown movie theater into transit-oriented apartments with a coffee shop, bar and grill, and other neighborhood businesses.
Can you describe the way that Verco Properties gets its workforce?
Verco Properties uses local labor to provide employment opportunities to the people in the area many of whom are new arrivals to the country just as Giovanni was when he came to this country. Using local labor provides a ladder of opportunity to people trying to build their own American Dream. To that end, we have laborers and tradespeople who work for us from countries as diverse as Kosovo, Ukraine, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ireland, India and more. Many are skilled in a certain trade which enables us to do top quality restoration with old world techniques.
Is Verco Properties conscious of protecting the environment in its redevelopment work?
It has often been said, “there is no greener building than the one that is already there.” By adaptively reusing historic buildings and older structures, we are not only saving these buildings, but we are protecting the environment. New construction depletes natural resources and pollutes the environment with the emissions brought by the transportation and production of new materials. Fashioning old structures for new uses allows for the repurposing of reclaimed materials and at the same time preserves a sense of place. That is why adaptive reuse is “green” development.
Why are you so passionate about adaptive reuse of historic buildings?
Property restoration can be community restoration. Verco Properties has found historical rehabilitation promotes a sense of optimism and growth in a community while respecting its history. Hiring locally provides opportunities to local residents, promotes the local economy, and fosters a sense of community. Verco Property becomes part of the communities where we rebuild. Being part of this healing process and providing opportunities for others to pursue their own American Dreams is why we are so passionate about our work.