LeFrak’s Magic Man

LeFrak isn’t just Nick Pantuliano’s employer—he considers the company a lifelong friend

The former Gansevoort Hotel in South Florida went under extensive renovation, including a rebuild of its pools. (Eric Laignel)

With job hopping being more of the rule rather than the exception among business executives, the idea that staying with one company affords freedom may seem paradoxical. Yet this has been the case for Nick Pantuliano and LeFrak for 20 years.

From the company’s office in midtown Manhattan, where he is now director of construction, Pantuliano can look back all the way to 1996, when he began his career as an intern. After earning his engineering degree from Villanova University the following year, he came on board full time. Since then, he’s moved to positions of increasing responsibility, with no reason to search further afield for work.

“I think people tend to move around to go up the ladder because they’re not fortunate enough to do that internally,” he says. “I have been able to do that here over time. The 20 years went fast.”

He first entered the field during a construction boom, living and breathing the sawdust of the company’s actual building efforts. At such a young age, he was in awe of the scope of the projects being handled by the family-owned business. After two years, there was a shortfall on the project management side, and the vice president of construction, Anthony Scavo—who Pantuliano considers his mentor—brought him into the office. The rest was history; they worked side by side for 14 years.

“I absorbed everything I could, and I loved it,” Pantuliano recalls. “Right from the start I really liked the guys I worked with. That’s been the consistent thing from position to position. I’ve had a good relationship with my colleagues and my bosses, and I want to keep building with them.”

In his current role, much of his job is standard issue—overseeing change orders, staying on the general contractor, and managing the design process. However, he also maintains a tight relationship with the ownership side, and is tasked with ensuring that projects go in the right direction and hit the mark.

“When it comes down to it, a lot of the job is definitely putting out fires,” he says. “We need to make sure everything is moving and doesn’t get bogged down. But the great thing about the ownership group is they let you get involved in many [other] aspects of a project; you are part of the decision to add kitchens and flooring, or add various elements of the condo. I really like that, as opposed to if I was just putting out fires all day or handling paperwork.”

Pantuliano has worked on some major projects with LeFrak, but none bigger than Newport. What was originally a tract of land in Jersey City with a lonesome train station became a thriving mixed-use community. He was able to work on 10 residential towers, two hotels, and six office buildings. The building on that project went unabated for 12 years, until the construction downturn in 2009. One of the benefits about being with LeFrak in those lean times, Pantuliano says, was that there was so much in the company’s portfolio that it always had something to fall back on. It was also insulated from the layoffs other construction firms went through. As such, the LeFrak team was able to focus on renovations at Newport and a project in Battery Park City.

In 2012, Pantuliano was the lead construction executive on the LeFrak side for another massive project: the renovation of the former Gansevoort Hotel in Miami Beach, a 1,200-unit complex. LeFrak partnered with Starwood Capital and Invesco to purchase the historic property. The hotel was to become the flagship in a new brand Starwood was launching with others planned in the New York area. Spending 90 percent of his time in South Florida (his office was only a block from the construction site), Pantuliano worked closely with the senior vice president of construction, Gavin Middleton, and co-director of construction onsite, Mark Piekarz. Together, they oversaw a major overhaul of the hoary property, including façade reconstruction, rebuilding of pools, remediation of 900 balconies, renovation of a 400,000-square-foot garage, and design of the new brand’s now signature hotel interiors and condominiums. The three were a tight and effective team.

“I can’t express quite how much the project was in the red when it comes to functionality and buildings systems,” Pantuliano says. “We went three times over budget on the remediation side.” Still, it was worth it. “We just took an old building and made it beautiful,” he continues. “There was an extremely talented design team on the project that I learned a lot from, and a lot of that started with the Starwood Capital design team. One of the more impressive accomplishments on the project was that we were able to achieve a LEED Silver rating due to the extensive nature of the rehab of the façade and MEP systems.”

As with each project he’s been given at LeFrak, this one gave Pantuliano the chance to learn and put even more arrows in his quiver. With his counterpart at Starwood, he worked on drawing up plans for approval when an architect was slow to answer. He also got deeper into the financial aspect of the project. “I learned a lot from my colleagues and was able to complement that with my existing project management experience,” he says. “I was able to learn from a lot of different people and add a lot of different skills.”

As the South Florida project wraps up and Pantuliano settles back in at home in New York, he returns to the relationships he’s had with LeFrak over the years and the opportunities that have kept him always physically moving, but professionally in one place.

“I’ve been fortunate to represent LeFrak on the construction side and direct projects on the granular level, in both an office and a field setting,” he says. “Maybe if I had gotten pigeonholed, I would have gone somewhere else, but that didn’t happen. I like answering to the LeFraks, and I feel a lot of loyalty toward them. It’s hard to top this monster we just finished, but I’m looking forward to the next one.”