Building up and out

Randy Salvatore is one of the rising stars among area developers.

It may be his job to build them, but walls can’t quite contain developer Randy Salvatore.

Nor can borders. The much buzzed-about founder and president of RMS Cos., a real estate development firm based in Stamford, is about to make his mark on the burgeoning waterfront in Yonkers. 

It’s a typically firebrand move for Salvatore, whose career has been characterized by leaps of faith and a commitment to staying ahead of industry trends. Colleagues tout his efficient managing style and ability to realize a vision quickly. They are traits that inspire confidence around his projects and have facilitated the velocity of his rising star. 

Salvatore has been called an interesting case study for the savvy moves he made during the height of the recession. But he says his formula for success is simple — “meeting the trends and continuing to evolve. The next thing I do has to be better than the last.”

As one of the development pioneers in downtown Stamford, Salvatore had the foresight to anticipate the city’s renaissance. He jumped into the hotel business in 2009 with Hotel Zero Degrees, a New York-style boutique hotel with 97 guest rooms that he converted from the YMCA. The move proved he was brave.

The success of Hotel Zero Degrees eventually led to two more of them (in Norwalk and Danbury) and set Salvatore on his journey toward altering landscapes across the Constitution State. RMS, which he founded in 1995, grew to have projects in Hartford, New Haven, Bethel and Southport.

Growth has been rapid for the Stamford native turned New Canaan resident and father of four. RMS has grown in size to about 250 employees with a portfolio of properties ranging beyond boutique hotels to luxury rentals, historic renovations, townhouses and condos.

“I like the diversity of it,” Salvatore says, “creating products and stepping back and seeing how they’re used.”

Depending on the project, RMS can develop, construct, manage and provide hospitality services. That versatility gives Salvatore a competitive advantage when brokering complex deals.

“Our business is based on execution,” he says,  “not just a macro event in the marketplace.”

In Yonkers, Salvatore and his team are about to unveil Stratus on Hudson, 74 luxury rental units on Warburton Avenue with soaring, 8-foot-high windows and a rooftop deck overlooking the cliffs of the Palisades. The property will come to market soon. It’s a transit-oriented development lying mere steps from the Greystone stop on Metro-North’s Hudson line. The location makes it an easy commute to Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal and its amenities are designed to attract a modern, metropolitan clientele. 

It’s that desire to curate a lifestyle for his properties that sets Salvatore apart. Take The Blake in New Haven, a design-oriented, boutique hotel that was slated to open last month. Salvatore has brought in Michelin star chef, Matt Lambert of Nolita’s Musket Room. The hotel’s restaurant, Hamilton Park, is set to open this month.  “It’s going to create a vibe for the whole hotel,” Salvatore says. 

Back in Stamford, Salvatore is bucking the recent trend of a rental market and instead driving the pendulum back the other way with a concentration of owner-occupied properties called Ainslie Square, which has been marketed as “a neighborhood within a neighborhood.” It is composed of 37 townhouses and 25 single-family detached houses with two-car garages near downtown but with the type of shared amenities that entice the modern homebuyer. Prices start at $569,000.

Salvatore’s ambition started early. At age 12, he launched his own landscaping business, hustling around school hours to tend to 20 overgrown lawns. “I was always working, trying to make money.”  

During high school, he’d often wander through a recently constructed subdivision. The rapid arrival of a seeming little neighborhood where there had previously been nothing caught Salvatore’s young imagination. Creating something from scratch and being able to point at it and say “there it is” was an intoxicating prospect to him. Plus, “I was never the kind of person who wanted to sit behind a desk.” Instead, he saw that developing property was — no pun intended — was something concrete. “When you’re done, you have something to show for it,” he says. “You can see the product of it.” 

So, at 18, before he finished high school, he took the profits from those years mowing lawns and bought a studio co-op as an investment for a $7,000 down payment, then rented it out. “I still own that same condo (in Stamford),” he says. “That’s one I’m not gonna sell.”

When Salvatore graduated college in 1991, the market was in a downturn. For a year, he worked at Coopers and Lybrand (now Pricewaterhouse-
Coopers), a multinational accounting practice, while he plotted his next move. He still had dreams of becoming a developer. “But you don’t start without money or relationships,” he says.

So, he changed tack and started in commission-based real estate at brokerage company William Pitt, “where I banged at a lot of doors and had them slammed in my face.” 

The first year he struggled. But he brokered a good deal the second year and used the profits to buy and develop “a tiny little piece of property” in Stamford. It was a modular home because at the time he didn’t know anything about the construction business. That’s where he began to teach himself how to build. Then came a second and a third property. “It was a very gradual, organic process,” he says. 

Fast forward to 2008 when RMS built an $85 million condo complex in Stamford’s Springdale section. It would be a year later that he took the plunge with Hotel Zero Degrees.

So, now that he’s made his foray into Westchester, it begs the question, what’s next?

“To continue expanding outward geographically,” he says. He’s considering New York City, Massachusetts and other locations in Westchester. But in order to ensure that his connection to each property remains personal as he expands, he has drawn a radius around his base in Stamford. 

“I try to get to each property every couple of weeks and I have a good group of people,” he says. “We’re in sync. The culture (at RMS) is such that we think along the same lines. It allows me to think ahead.”

The other thing he thinks about as he moves ahead? Maintaining his integrity. “Because that’s what you have when it’s all said and done,” Salvatore says. “The products are a reflection of that philosophy.”

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