The speaker is Debbie Cruse, whose vision was to salvage, stabilize and revitalize a century-old gem of New York City multifamily housing that seemed destined for the wrecking ball. That she achieved those goals is a testament to the gutsy, entrepreneurial savvy and spirit that drive New York’s economy. Her success also demonstrates the value of having a bank that thinks like an entrepreneur.
In 2002, Ms. Cruse, an accountant with her own practice, took a close look at the accelerating decline of the building in which her father lived: an early 20th-century five-story walkup on West 149th Street, in the Sugar Hill-Hamilton Heights section of upper Manhattan.
It was a property in disrepair. As the 1980s and ‘90s passed, mounting costs overwhelmed the co-op, and apartments were abandoned or rented to non-shareholders. Deterioration accelerated, and the building seemed on the way to becoming inhabitable.
But Ms. Cruse envisioned how to alter that destiny. “I knew it could be, and should be, saved,” she said, noting the property’s seven-room apartments, proximity to Hudson River Park, and its desirable neighborhood. She set the legal machinery in motion that would allow her to assume control over the abandoned apartments. She then turned to small asset-based lenders for funds to enable her to correct existing violations, settle back utility bills and begin refurbishing the units.
However, relying on that type of capital source was expensive and troublesome. Her enterprise, although unconventional, needed a more conventional and solid financial backer.
“I approached many banks; most were not even interested in hearing my story,” Ms. Cruse recalls. “But at Savoy I finally found bankers willing to listen and make the effort to understand that my vision for this building was sensible and viable. At last, I was able to put a permanent mortgage on the property and begin a relationship with a financial partner that wanted to see me succeed.” Since Ms. Cruse took the reins, the property already has tripled in value. It has been substantially re-tenanted, with a new apartment added, and the basement rehabbed. “I’m proud of the new living environment that’s been created there, and I’m eager to find other buildings that could benefit from the same approach,” she says. “But it could only have happened with the right bank. Savoy enabled my vision to become reality.”