At the age of 18, Fred Afari came from his home in Iran to study engineering at UCLA, never to return – a path that set him on a course to become a real estate magnate in the largest city in the U.S., Los Angeles.
Shortly after arriving, his family – trailblazing industrialists in Iran’s mid-century modernization era – joined him. They were strangers in a new land with nothing but their street smarts and ingenuity, since everything they owned was confiscated in the Iranian Revolution. Engineers, architects and businessmen by trade, Fred, his five brothers and his father went into real estate development during the boom of the 1980s, mostly focused on projects throughout Southern California.
In 1988, Fred decided to go out on his own – at a time when opportunities for developing residential buildings in Los Angeles began to grow and many historic buildings were vacant. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, even more properties became available at good prices, followed in 1999 when the city began to rezone commercial property for residential use. This rezoning provided further incentives, though the risks were still high.
“We saw the potential before others did in what were considered bad neighborhoods with high crime rates,” Fred recalls. “Essentially, we were pioneers in revitalizing these areas. We saw undervalued and overlooked buildings and wanted to turn old factories into contemporary loft spaces and transform bungalows from the 1920s and 30s into high-end homes.”
“At the time, some people thought we were crazy, but we brought these old buildings to their original glory and were catalysts in the revitalization of downtown LA,” says Fred’s son Ryan, who joined his father in 2014 after gaining invaluable experience as an acquisitions and capital markets analyst at Prudential Real Estate Investors.
“IDB came through for us in a way others didn’t. They understand our vision, and they’re willing to turn a deal around fast. If there are issues, they find a way to work through them.”
Since then, Fred and Ryan have worked closely together at The Hillcrest Company, which has developed design-driven residential, commercial and hospitality properties for vibrant, creative and culturally diverse neighborhoods with compelling economic profiles.
“I was interested in art and creativity and wanted to build beautiful things,” Ryan says about joining the family business. “My interests and knowledge, combined with my father’s deep experience, were just right for pursuing nontraditional strategies and executing grand visions in unexpected places.”
A case in point is the Chapman Building, a 180,000-square-foot high-rise and ground-floor retail property, which was completed in 2008 and helped fuel the downtown boom. In 2013, Hillcrest also started purchasing buildings in an industrial area that is now known as the Arts District.
Hillcrest’s innovative design concepts and dynamic amenities speak directly to contemporary tastes and interests. Because of the firm’s thoughtful approach to the character and context of each site, every development is uniquely suited to elevate the quality of the location.
Altogether, Hillcrest has developed over 680,000 square feet of commercial, office and retail space and over 2 million square feet of residential space with more than 2,400 rental and condominium units, primarily in the greater Los Angeles area of Southern California. And now the firm is actively pursuing acquisition and development opportunities in other growing urban centers across the West Coast, including San Francisco, San Diego, Portland and Seattle.
“We take a long-term view, and we don’t cut corners, treating the properties as if they were our children,” Ryan says. “We want to do the best thing, not necessarily the easiest thing.” While managing city bureaucracies and antiquated zoning codes can be frustrating, he says the result is always satisfying.
“You have to be resilient and find the creative solutions, which requires educating lenders and investors about opportunities that aren’t immediately apparent. Information is the most valuable commodity,” he explains.
For the last few years, Ryan and Fred have partnered with IDB to help realize the company’s vision. “IDB came through for us in a way others didn’t,” Ryan says. “They understand our vision, and they’re willing to turn a deal around fast. If there are issues, they find a way to work through them. IDB is super, super helpful, and they’re willing to take risks with us. Relationships are their biggest strength.”
Through these relationships, Hillcrest, known for staying a step ahead of current trends, will continue to build the neighborhoods of tomorrow, supporting emerging new lifestyles with the feel and historical significance of the surrounding environment. A blend of the new and the classic – we say, bring it on.