Resident Manager, Jovica Jovic
25 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
No one ever issues a press release about the hiring of a building superintendent.
The P.R. copy goes out from real estate developers to announce the employment of “starchitects,” plans for 70-story towers, approval by city zoning commissions, and the breaking of ground at a construction site.
But finding a good super can be every bit as important. Maybe more so.
That’s one of the lessons that the manager for 25 Fifth Avenue vouchsafed during the building’s conversion from a rental building to a condominium. Two blocks up from the arch on the north side of Washington Square Park and one block from Mark Twain’s old New York address, the 14-floor structure, which went up in 1920, sits at an elegant, historic, and monied spot in Greenwich Village.
Yet, when new owners took possession of it in 2005, they found that much of the building was in bad shape. A mix of rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments, its upkeep had been haphazard. The basement was a mess, the front lobby needed to be redone, the elevators required repair, and the backyard garden was shabby. Many of the kitchens and the bathrooms in the individual units hadn’t been updated in decades. Paint was peeling, electrical lines frayed. Pipes and boilers were wearing out. Original fireplaces weren’t working.
An inside-out renovation was required.
The sponsors and their managing agent were in luck, however. They hired Jovica Jovic, and in doing so found a superintendent with a background in architecture and project management. Their good fortune reflects a combination of seemingly disparate and happenstance factors: the unstable politics of the Balkans, one man’s interest in sailing, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The Man from Serbia
A tall, slim figure with dramatic features, a somewhat weather-beaten countenance, and a still dark, thick head of hair, Jovic arrived in the United States from Belgrade, Serbia, in 1991. After attending university architecture school, he came to the US with the idea that a couple of years of labor here might provide him with the money to buy the sailboat he wanted. However, while he soon put away the money for the boat, Yugoslavia’s rapid dissolution and its civil war deterred him from returning to a city and country in which his mother and sister faced nighttime bombing raids.
In the meantime, Jovic had started work at MS General Contracting, a firm that specializes in project management for New Jersey hotels. It would be the beginning of a seven-year stint. Through it he would learn the fine points of the business along with an ethos that “you start today, and they want you to finish yesterday.”
In putting up hotels in such places as Livingston and Secaucus, he discovered that he enjoyed seeing “after a day of work what you’d done.” What Jovic didn’t like was the constant traveling the job required, and as he was starting a family, he began to think about settling in and taking charge of one place.
Hence, in 1999 when Jovic learned through a client about a building in the Wall Street area that had “so many issues” and was in need of someone with his skills to direct its renovation, Jovic moved into 55 Liberty Street with his wife and two young daughters to take charge of the project.
But 55 Liberty Street is 220 yards from the World Trade Center. So, on a September morning two years later, Jovic was there when the planes struck, something he saw from an angle almost directly below as he took his older daughter to school.
He doesn’t say so, but the tragedy, striking so close to his home, probably influenced Jovic. As soon as he had finished the immense job of getting 55 Liberty back on its feet, he relocated his family to New Jersey, returning for a time to the hotel construction management business across the river. But his desire to be settled in New York led him in 2005 to return to the Big Apple and take on the task of guiding the condo conversion at 25 Fifth Avenue.
Given the title of resident manager, Jovic at once began making changes. He’s grateful that the building’s sponsor, Classic Realty, knew what his skills were and trusted him to make decisions, many of which had to be made on the spot. Still, that confidence was not immediately shared by all the building’s existing residents.
With 86 apartments in the building and incessant work taking place on the units up for conversion, Jovic says that for a time resident complaints led to “constant dealing with [city] building inspectors” who had been called in.
This was in spite of the improvements that Jovic was shepherding. Among the changes benefiting all the building’s tenants, renters, and owners alike were a Brazilian wood fence, wrought-iron chairs and lamps, and a pergola in the backyard; striped wallpaper and marble floors in the lobby; a new laundry room; new fire and electrical systems; a new gas boiler; and renovation of the elevators.
Trust the Super
The building’s sponsor “had great trust in me to do all this,” Jovic says. “They invested a lot of money because they wanted to make it one of the nicest buildings on Lower Fifth [Avenue].”
That confidence was motivated by an awareness that Jovic was “someone with an architectural background,” says manager Ellen Kornfeld, a vice president with the Lovett Group. “Jovica has the training to read blueprints. With the skills he has, he was able to make a lot of recommendations both to the unit-owners and to the sponsors. He was good at dealing with each of them and understanding their needs. And he’s good at interacting with architects, engineers, and contractors. That’s very important.”
Condo board member Mike Susco appreciates that Jovic attends the board’s meetings and is well-prepared and “very organized.” He adds: “We had a major overhaul of the heating system a year ago. Jovic was on top of it, and no one lacked for heat or hot water.”
That kind of experience, of course, makes the building desirable. Jovic is himself a beneficiary of the restored elegance of 25 Fifth Avenue. He and his wife and one of his daughters live in a unit there. And he notes that he has no plans to leave.