He founded Claridge Properties over 20 years ago in Brooklyn, NY, but moved the business downtown in 2012.
Pagan said he grew up “poor – I come from very low means”. When he was young, his father bought a laundromat in Brooklyn where Pagan worked after school. He had a small business selling laundry detergent to customers and helped his father close at night.
He explained that his family struggled to find quality affordable housing when they arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic, which inspired him to want to make life easier for others.
In college, Pagan worked as a rental agent and later listed and sold homes. He used the money from his first sale to buy his first investment property. Pagan said he started out focusing on Harlem before moving on to other regions as well.
“I always saw the need for affordable housing as essential and something that wasn’t always there,” Pagan said.
After working on several projects in New York, Pagan expanded to other cities before moving his company to downtown Los Angeles.
“He’s a standout developer,” said Michel Mein, founder of New York-based Seventh Art. “He’s not (from) a super well-connected New York family carrying on a legacy. He started from scratch and as a minority owner he managed to succeed, which is not easy.
Mein is a former architect who now advises developers and architects on real estate branding. He worked on the visuals for Pagan.
Today, Claridge Properties realizes approximately 60% value-added properties and 40% new developments. Its portfolio is 3.7 million square feet.
Some of the company’s largest projects were the Book Tower Complex in Detroit, which includes the 38-story Book Tower and the 13-story Book Building; The Gretsch Building in Brooklyn, a 210,000-square-foot factory that Claridge, along with her partners, has repurposed into luxury condominium units with retail on the ground floor; and the Pencil Factory in Brooklyn, which Claridge acquired for $83 million in 2010.
The wholly minority-owned company now has two main areas of focus: downtown and affordable housing.
landing of angels
landing of angels
Although he thought it was “deserted” at the time, he saw it as a major opportunity to turn the city center into a destination.
The biggest change he is working on is Angels Landing, a $1.5 billion development at Fourth and Hill streets. Pagan has partnered with New York-based Peebles Corp. and San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners on the project, which is expected to have rental units, branded residences, hotels and retail.
“Downtown needs a center or a beacon that can be like its epicenter,” Pagan told the Business Journal last year of his hopes for the project, adding that the project was more central than LA. Live with an indispensable residential component.
Pagan declined to comment on the current schedule or changes to the project.
Nick Griffin, executive director of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said Angels Landing is a big deal for the future of downtown.
“This project embodies the next level for downtown,” he said. “It’s as big and ambitious as the Grand LA project is right now. The Angels Landing project will represent the next level. It’s a project that almost wouldn’t have been conceivable for downtown a few years ago. After Metropolis and Greater LA, it’s well within reach.
Nearby, Pagan said Claridge was working on a project a block away and finalizing deals for other properties.
“We are not backing down. Our commitment to downtown is strong and we are continuing on that,” Pagan said.
Pagan added that although downtown has some challenges, such as the number of homeless people in the area, it “has done better than I thought” during the pandemic, and many projects will soon be released in the region.
“The future of downtown is solid. I believe a city like Los Angeles needs a strong downtown,” Pagan said. “I’m completely committed to the future of what Downtown is.”
Griffin said rising residential occupancy and rental rates downtown bode well for the area’s future.
Mein added that Pagan had a big vision for areas like downtown.
“He has a very good eye for understanding where the next real estate opportunities are and putting together deals. To be a developer, you have to be half marketing and half architect. You have to be a visionary and understand the potential of a neighborhood,” Mein said.
“You need it so badly,” Mein said. “There’s such a demand in LA (for affordable housing)…it’s nice to have a developer like this ready to embrace it.”
Over the past year and a half, Claridge has added approximately 1,500 affordable housing units to its portfolio.
“We’re buying a lot of these affordable housing communities and upgrading them,” Pagan said. “We pushed a lot on that given the income inequality we saw.”
Pagan said many of the company’s recent affordable housing acquisitions have been in the Sun Belt.
“The migration speaks for itself. The number of people traveling to the Sun Belt States is amazing. There are a lot of people who have left the eastern and western states,” he said.
In Los Angeles, Pagan said cost can be a challenge when it comes to creating affordable housing, especially for land and construction. Yet the company is working on these projects in Los Angeles. It doesn’t have a partner for its affordable units in Los Angeles, but does have some in other states.
Over the next few years, Pagan plans to “double” downtown and be more active in affordable housing.
“We want to be a leader in providing this type of housing to an area that will always need it,” he said.
The company also plans to open an office in Atlanta later this year. Claridge already has offices downtown, Brooklyn and Houston.
For reprint and license requests for this article, CLICK HERE.