Crain’s Chicago Business

40 Under 40 2016

When Alex Samoylovich’s business partner and best friend, Jay Michael, died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at age 34, it was a major setback for the Chicago real estate development firm the duo founded in 2003. A financial whiz who began his career as an equity and options trader, Samoylovich was the left brain of Cedar Street. Michael, meanwhile, was the right: the high-profile creative mastermind who focused on design and marketing, including the creation of its Flats Chicago apartment brand.

Friends since elementary school in Skokie, the pair started buying and rehabbing foreclosed homes in 2001, a business that evolved into Cedar Street, which employs 120 and has developed about 5,000 units. But Michael’s death in January left a big void at the top. “It was a very challenging time. What has made it possible is our team,” says Samoylovich, who responded by promoting two executives, Will Murphy and Mark Heffron, to managing director. “We’ve grown from something bigger than just Jay and myself.”

Cedar Street’s development pipeline is bulging at more than 2,000 apartments and counting. And in recent months, it has bought a Loop office tower that it wants to convert into 176 apartments and unveiled plans for a 40-unit conversion of an Uptown synagogue.

“I don’t think Alex is capable of taking his foot off the gas,” says David Ruttenberg, director of acquisitions and real estate at Marc Realty Capital, a Chicago developer that also specializes in apartment conversions. “He’s a low-key guy with a gentle demeanor, but he’s as aggressive as anyone.”
Cedar Street has taken heat from housing advocates for displacing low-income tenants from buildings it redevelops. But the firm has tapped into a market that others have ignored, targeting renters who are willing to live in small studio apartments in stylish buildings at moderate rents. Some units in its Lawrence House building in Uptown are only 235 square feet. “Our Flats brand is like the Target of multifamily housing,” Samoylovich says. “We want to have cool design at reasonable prices.” The strategy seems to be working: The 172-unit first phase of the project leased up in just 60 days at rents 24 percent higher than forecast.

Crain’s Chicago Business | Alby Gallun