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16 JANUARY 2023
  Blue Onyx Cos., led by Founder and CEO Levi Kelman, is filling its pipeline with larger, more ambitious commercial real estate projects, including a plan to restore and repurpose a historic mill complex at 241⁄2 Van Houten St. in Paterson. The firm in September 2020 refashioned part of the site as “Paterson Beach,” complete with sand, umbrellas and walking paths in order to engage residents and activate the parcel as it prepares its formal development plan.
Blue Onyx prepares for pivot to larger-scale urban projects, maintaining focus on social impact
Levi Kelman recalls feeling
“very much at home” when he visited Paterson more than a decade ago, as he drove the streets in search of his first real estate investments. With its density, history
and ethnic diversity, he said, the city reminded him of his family’s home in Brooklyn’s Kensington section — a melting pot of a neighborhood just east of Borough Park.
That comfort level was critical as he began to build a portfolio, keying on Paterson and other urban markets
that many buyers might shun.
“I realized how there’s a bit of
a stigma about being in certain municipalities,” Kelman said. “I compare them to just being in different neighborhoods ... and I think someone who grew up in a very suburban neighborhood may feel that when they were coming into parts of Paterson, but I was already very open-minded to it and I just saw the potential there for building good, quality housing at an affordable rate.”
His firm, Blue Onyx Cos., has since completed more than 120 transactions involving more
than 1,000 apartments in the region, largely through value-add renovations of smaller multifamily properties. The rehabs have given Kelman a foothold in Paterson, the state’s third-largest municipality, and other cities seen as emerging markets for development.
They’ve also paved the way for Blue Onyx to tackle larger, more ambitious projects, as it’s now
looking to do, with an eye toward larger-scale multifamily and mixed- use investments that still provide social impact and affordably
priced homes. Its pipeline, which it estimates is more than $500 million in value, includes a highly touted project in Paterson that would restore and repurpose a historic mill complex along the Passaic River, creating spaces for entrepreneurs and creatives, hospitality venues and new apartments over the course of five years.
By Joshua Burd
Photo by Aaron Houston for Real Estate NJ

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