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Brick By Brick, Winchester Vision Takes Shape

by Paul Bass | Jul 5, 2013 2:00 pm

(12) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Housing, Newhallville

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are pouring into the shell of a once-proud, now-devastated apartment building on a devastated corner of Newhallville—along with big dreams of helping to rebuild transitional neighborhoods.

The money is going toward fixing up 555 Winchester Ave., an eight-unit, circa-1916 brick building at the corner of Starr Street.

Thomas MacMillan Photo Pockmarked with broken windows, bereft of much of its interior, it anchors the corner next to abandoned lots and across the street from a boarded-up house surrounded by two more empty lots. Down the block from the Taurus Cafe, a magnet for crime, 555 Winchester is part of a bleak stretch of a neighborhood struggling to rebuild. Two notorious slumlords milked the property, then left it to rot. A couple of other would-be developers, including David Nyberg, picked up the property, then offered it back for sale without reviving it.

It’s one more abandoned property amid some of the 30-plus city-owned empty lots in the surrounding neighborhood. The abandoned properties may have held back the neighborhood. But they also represent an opportunity: People in the neighborhood as well as in City Hall are trying to figure out how to build Newhallville’s forgotten properties back up. (Click here for a related story.)

Enter Yonachan “Yochi” Levitansky, a 26-year-old budding developer who grew up in Beaver Hills’ close-knit Chassidic community. For the past few years Levitansky has worked for one of New Haven’s fastest-growing real-estate empires, Pike International. Seven months ago he set out on his own, forming his own company in hopes of redeveloping and managing properties all over town.

Paul Bass Photo His first challenge is 555 Winchester. And what a challenge. He recently picked up the 7,376-square foot hulk for just $150,000. He said he has enough financing (from unidentified “out-of-state investors”) so he can spend up to $400,000 in all. He plans to gut the building, preserve all the original brick, replace cheap interior “garbage wood” walls with new brick, put in hardwood floors, central air-conditioning, and all new heating and plumbing and electrical systems.

His goal: Rent to a mix of good tenants, be they students or subsidized working families who pass rigorous background checks. He envisions four one-bedroom apartments; as well as one three-bedroom and three four-bedroom apartments with two bathrooms apiece.

In the process, Levitansky is attempting to repeat what a man named Nicholas Junjulas, whose name is carved above the building’s entrance, accomplished in 1916: Construct a sturdy, inviting place for lots of families to live in the heart of Newhallville. (More on Junjulas later in the story.)

He has hired a local 10-person crew to carry out the work. “We took it down to the bones,” he said. The crew includes Mark Lee, who has his own plumbing and heating company; general contractor Tony Hoyte (pictured) ...

... and workers like Mario Callahan (pictured), 42, who’s concentrating on the framing and sub-floors. “It’s coming along nice. It’s nice to see” it coming together, Callahan said during a break in the work.

Levitansky said he hopes, “God willing,” to have the building all ready to rent by September. But he’s just getting started. He’d like to purchase the abandoned house across the street from its out-of-town owner. And he has his eye on the grassy expanse right next to his building. It comprises four separate lots that the city acquired over the years, then left alone, well maintained but not put to much use. Levitansky has inquired about buying all that land from the city in the hopes of constructing a mixed-use development, a mix of storefronts (for wholesome, perhaps not-for-profit enterprises, he said) and homes.

Eventually, he said, he’d “love” to purchase the next seven homes down to Division Street in order to “bring Science Park up to” Starr Street.

He has pitched the idea to Erik Johnson, head of New Haven government’s anti-blight agency, the Liveable City Initiative (LCI). Johnson grew up on Shelton Avenue in Newhallville. He’s trying hard to pull people together to come up with a broader strategy by the end of the year (when a new administration prepares to take over City Hall) for how to address all the vacant and abandoned properties in Newhallville.

A lot is happening piecemeal in the neighborhood, Johnson observed: the construction of a new charter high school, grassroots neighborhood clean-ups and community gardens, the renovation of beautiful old homes by not-for-profit Neighborhood Housing Services, the construction of a new mini-neighborhood at Science Park. At the same time, problems with slumlords and crime have threatened to hold back progress. It makes sense to put together a smart, comprehensive approach to knit together all the positive developments brewing, he argued.

Johnson told Levitansky he’d need to see more before considering the sale of the large lot. The city won’t do “a speculative development deal for an entity with a limited background,” Johnson said. Levitansky would need to show he has the money. And he’d have to demonstrate some successes on other projects.

Levitansky said he’s working hard on that, eying properties in different parts of the city for revival. He watched Pike International’s Shmully Hecht do that.

Now Hecht is focusing his company more on upscale development.

“I’m Shmully’s protege,” Levitansky said. Hecht gave Levitansky a second chance after Levitansky had a run-in with the law. “I worked my way up from the bottom. I learned a lot from Shmully, almost everything I know about real estate.” He’s younger than Hecht, and perhaps more prepared to take on riskier projects. Like the properties at Winchester and Starr.

“I see him where I was when I started,” Hecht, who’s 38, said of Levitansky. “I’m excited to see young guys tackling some of the neighborhoods that have been overlooked.” Outside of Jim Paley’s Neighborhood Services, Hecht said, “we collectively have failed in Newhallville in the public and private sector.” Maybe, he said, the new up-and-comer can succeed where his predecessors failed.

Or where Nicholas Junjulas succeeded a century ago.

Local historian Colin M. Caplan looked into the story behind the name above the entryway to 555 Winchester. Here’s what he found:

“Nicholas Junjulas was 47 years old when he had 555 Winchester Ave. constructed. It was designed by local architecture firm, D’Avino & Marchetti, and contained two stores on the ground floor and four apartments. Nicholas was a Greek immigrant who ran the Olympia Candy Company on the corner of Chapel and Church Streets. 555 Winchester Ave. housed his large family with included him, his wife, Mary, and their nine children: Helen, John, Peter, Parre, Antonia, Gustav, James, George & Christopher. They moved to the Bronx during the 1920s.”

For now, at least, Levitansky expects to stick around his hometown and make his mark with multiple 555 Winchesters.


Previous stories about Newhallville’s turnaround efforts:

Gardeners Prevail; Vacant-Lot Challenge Remains
After Crash, Neighbors Seek Fix For Blind Corner
Newhallville Confronts A Mega-Landlord
Newhallville Bounces Back; House Will Get Built
Levin To Newhallville: “We’ll Be Back”
Newhallville Up For “Historic” Boost
Cops Make Arrest In 83-Year-Old Prof’s Mugging
Harp Probes The Newhallville Conundrum
“Let There Be Light” (Emitting Diodes)!
“Serenity” Takes Root On Shepard Street
Bird Garden Fights Blight
Yale Flees Newhallville After Prof’s Mugging

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posted by: anonymous on July 5, 2013  2:28pm

Good piece, hope we can track progress on this over time to see if Levitansky will be different from the slew of previous developers and slumlords.

posted by: HhE on July 5, 2013  3:20pm

This sounds very promising.  Welcome to Newhallville.

posted by: Threefifths on July 5, 2013  4:14pm

His first challenge is 555 Winchester. And what a challenge. He recently picked up the 7,376-square foot hulk for just $150,000. He said he has enough financing (from unidentified “out-of-state investors”) so he can spend up to $400,000 in all.

People you better have your bags packed.Check this out.

Coming to America: Foreign Investments

Foreign investors leverage a weaker dollar to go on multifamily buying sprees.

http://www.multifamilyexecutive.com/equity/coming-to-america-foreign-investments.aspx

posted by: Grasshopper on July 5, 2013  8:58pm

Three Fifth, “pack your bags?” Not sure what your concern is….there were similar fears in the ‘80’s when the Japanese seemed to be buying up many trophy properties.  The US real estate markets overall has a very small percentage of foreign ownership, but even if that increases, it only helps create more robust markets and opportunities.  Connecticut (and new Haven) don’t see a significant amount of this capital because we’re a small market.

posted by: Stephen Harris on July 6, 2013  9:21am

Good luck. But it’s near the Taurus and that bar is a big problem. It’s too bad we couldn’t close it. Maybe someone can buy it and knock it down.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on July 6, 2013  10:00am

I hope he succeeds, and it is not a far stretch that young, single, professionals, who work within Science Park, or attached to Yale, would welcome housing this close to those locations, at affordable prices.

The trade off is the risk of random violence that still exists in the neighborhood. The Murder of Mitchell Dubey, the attack on the Yale project manager at the house construction on Lilac St, and the double shooting several blocks away two days ago.

Imagine New Haven with no gang violence. Is it possible? Right now the progress in numbers is hard to value. How does one celebrate a 20%  drop in gun deaths, when what that actually means is instead of 26 dead bodies, there were 21. 21 people murdered in public, on the streets and sidewalks of New Haven. There is nothing to celebrate there. And ignoring the past deaths, over one thousand in the past thirty years, creates the mind set that continues the murders.

Sorry for the rant, but it is something for anyone who wants to move into the center of “Bloods” territory in southern Connecticut, they should be aware.

posted by: TheWizard on July 6, 2013  2:43pm

threefifths - why the hate this week?  You trash Stratton when he won’t back Harp, you trash this guy for trying to improve a bad neighborhood, you trash anyone who dares suggests that unions suck money from the working class….what do you support?

posted by: Threefifths on July 6, 2013  10:28pm

posted by: TheWizard on July 6, 2013 2:43pm
threefifths - why the hate this week?  You trash Stratton when he won’t back Harp, you trash this guy for trying to improve a bad neighborhood, you trash anyone who dares suggests that unions suck money from the working class….what do you support?

I call it like a baseball umpire.Can you prove what I write is trash.You ask what I support.The truth be told.

posted by: Threefifths on July 7, 2013  9:52am

posted by: Grasshopper on July 5, 2013 8:58pm
Three Fifth, “pack your bags?” Not sure what your concern is….there were similar fears in the ‘80’s when the Japanese seemed to be buying up many trophy properties.  The US real estate markets overall has a very small percentage of foreign ownership, but even if that increases, it only helps create more robust markets and opportunities.  Connecticut (and new Haven) don’t see a significant amount of this capital because we’re a small market.

You need to check out harlem.Foreign ownership is growing.In fact Foreign buyers will put the money up to buy using american people as the front person.

Corrupt Chinese Politicians are Buying Billions in U.S. Real Estate

Posted on January 22, 2013  

http://libertyblitzkrieg.com/2013/01/22/chinese-criminals-are-buying-billions-in-u-s-real-estate/


U.S. home market pulls in more Chinese buyers.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/economy/housing/story/2012-04-03/us-homes-lure-chinese-buyers/53977638/1


Indians among top five countries buying properties in the USPTI : Washington, Wed Jun 26 2013, 09:14 hrs

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/indians-among-top-five-countries-buying-properties-in-the-us/1133985/


Remeber he said he has enough financing (from unidentified “out-of-state investors.Could be from one of the above.Like I said keep your bags packed.

posted by: Threefifths on July 7, 2013  11:44am

@TheWizard.You said you trash anyone who dares suggests that unions suck money from the working class.Unions make the middle class strong by ensuring workers have a strong voice in both the market and in our democracy. When unions are strong they are able to ensure that workers are paid fair wages, receive the training they need to advance to the middle class, and are considered in corporate decision-making processes. Unions also promote political participation among all Americans, and help workers secure government policies that support the middle class, such as Social Security, family leave, and the minimum wage.
The problem is U.S. labor is divided against itself with government workers pitted against private-sector workers.Both who are taxpayers.The people you should be blaming is this group.

It’s the Inequality.

How Rich Are the Superrich?

A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

Case and point when you say a civil service worker retires say at 100,000 dollar a year.he has to pay taxes on this.But the richest Americans make more money and beat the IRS.
Only Little People Pay Taxes

Why a janitor ends up with a higher tax rate than a millionaire.


http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/taxes-richest-americans-charts-graph

And last you can fix this problem by doing two things.You private-sector workers can form a union or take the test fot the civil service jobs.I know I use to work for the private-sector and I took the civil service test in 1974 and I am now retired.The new haven police and fire department is hiring.take the test.

posted by: HewNaven on July 7, 2013  2:24pm

So, Levitansky defrauds customers for over $200,000 then walks away and starts a development firm with intentions to buy up property in a poor neighborhood. I honestly hope this is part of a rebirth (of the person and the neighborhood) and not just another get-rich scheme.

I agree with anonymous, it would be nice to build a database of all these developers and their projects to see where they end up and determine who invests and who profits. Why is it a secret where the money comes from, or where it goes? If its an honest deal, there should be nothing to hide.

posted by: Curious on July 8, 2013  7:24am

NHI, no mention of how much of the $237,000 he intentionally stole from everyday people in those eBay scams he’s paid back yet?

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/ebay_scammer_gets_1_year_in_slammer/

Where did he get the $150,000 to buy this building from?  These aren’t topics you dug into a little bit more?

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