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Asher Abehsera made a name for himself buying and building major real-estate projects in New York City during the past decade, some of them alongside Jared Kushner.
Now that association with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law has returned to haunt the 37-year-old developer. Abehsera told Business Insider that even though he hasn’t spoken to Kushner since the real-estate scion left the city to become a senior White House advisor four years ago, he is suffering blowback from the past connection as he tries to close on the $100 million acquisition of a Los Angeles mall.
In large real-estate markets such as Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, where politics leans left and the Trump administration has been deeply unpopular, Kushner and his family’s real estate firm, Kushner Companies, have become partners that major real-estate developers, investors, and lenders have sought to avoid.
For those like Abehsera, even past associations have become a liability.
Abehsera’s experience shows how Kushner’s potential reentry to the real estate business could be rocky as he exits the White House and returns to the private sector.
Kushner Companies, which is helmed by Kushner’s father, Charles, disputed the notion that its name had become tarnished in real estate. It also remains unclear whether the controversy surrounding Jared Kushner and the reticence it has sparked in business circles could fade now that President Trump will be leaving office.
“Any inference that Kushner [Companies] lacks partnership opportunities … is nothing short of false,” the company told Business Insider in a statement. “We are proud of our many partners and banking institutions who have remained loyal and true to the Kushner family and to Kushner Companies.”
Kushner Companies, it should be noted, has notched at least one recent success. It recently settled a lawsuit that had delayed a pair of soaring residential towers it is planning to erect in Jersey City. The firm is planning to break ground on the 64-story spires in 2021.
Kushner fallout reaches the West Coast
In 2018, Abehsera returned to his native LA to focus on investments there. In recent months, he has been arranging a reported $110 million purchase of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, a deal that has stirred local controversy over concerns about outside investment and gentrification.
The ferocity of the backlash, however, has surprised even Abehsera, who is accustomed to the rough-and-tumble world of real-estate investment. Community opponents recently picketed in front of his office, left him threatening voicemails, and passed out leaflets disparaging him to his neighbors. One evening in late November, protesters descended on Abehsera’s home, chanting anti-gentrification slogans over a bullhorn.
Abehsera said opponents to his mall takeover have latched onto his past dealings with Kushner as a key critique, even though he insists that he no longer has close business ties to Kushner. The two coinvested in five projects together before Kushner’s entry into politics, Abehsera said, and they both remain invested in two.
“I was quickly accused of being the wrong kind of guy to do this project, and that Jared will secretly be in the deal,” Abehsera said. “Neither Jared nor his family are in any way, shape, or form involved, and if they asked to come into the deal I would say, ‘No, you can’t participate.'”
Abehsera’s assurances, however, haven’t deflected the attacks. He said he believes critics are using Kushner as a lightning rod to turn public sentiment against him at a delicate moment when his real-estate firm, LIVWRK, is in the midst of finalizing the mall purchase, which is slated for December.
A wider pattern of Kushner baggage
Other real-estate investors have experienced the baggage of a connection to Kushner.
Over the past two years, real-estate investment firm Cadre was turned down by at least two potential investors that had considered pouring millions of dollars into the company and its deals after the parties discovered that the Kushners have a stake in the firm, according to a person with direct knowledge of the potential investments.
Jared Kushner and his brother Joshua cofounded Cadre with company CEO Ryan Williams in 2014. Jared Kushner has retained his interest, revealing on recent financial disclosure forms for federal employees that his stake is worth between $25 million to $50 million.
A source close to Cadre denied that the incident took place. Cadre declined to comment.
In 2019 Bloomberg reported that SoftBank considered, but then declined to make, an investment in Cadre because of its connection to Kushner.
In 2018, Brookfield Asset Management found that major banks and lenders were unwilling to finance a planned acquisition by one of its funds of a 49.5% stake in the office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue from the Kushner Companies, according to a person with direct knowledge of those negotiations. At the time, Kushner Companies owned the tower, and the firm was planning to retain its majority interest in the property in the proposed deal.
A senior executive at a bank that had been approached by Brookfield about financing responded, “No way, I’m not going to be hauled down to Washington DC to testify,” according to the source.
The banker’s wariness represented the widespread sentiment among lenders that a large loan to a project involving the Kushners would draw public and, potentially, political scrutiny, the source said.
Because of the difficulties, Brookfield wound up arranging a different structure to take control of 666 Fifth Avenue that would further distance itself and the operation of the property from the Kushners. It ground-leased the office tower, with an option to buy out the Kushner family’s continued hold on the land.
A spokesman for Brookfield Property Partners, which manages 666 Fifth Avenue for the Brookfield Asset Management fund, declined to comment.
An acquaintance of Charles Kushner told Business Insider that he has complained about how banks and financial institutions have, in some cases, steered clear of involvement with the firm.
Kushner Companies recently put a portfolio of residential properties it owns on the market for $800 million because investment partners in the properties wanted to cash out, The Real Deal reported, citing a statement by Kushner Companies President Laurent Morali that the investments had reached the end of their time frame.
Reputational hurdles await
Other real-estate firms have struggled with broader connections to the White House.
The chairman of Related Companies, billionaire Stephen Ross, was pilloried by the public last year for hosting a big-ticket fundraiser for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in the Hamptons. The backlash included boycott movements against the Equinox and SoulCycle fitness chains in which Ross is invested.
Vornado Realty Trust recently suspended its efforts to recapitalize 1290 Avenue of the Americas and 555 California Street, two office towers in Manhattan and San Francisco, respectively, in which the Trump Organization, Donald Trump’s family real-estate firm, owns a roughly 30% stake in the properties.
A Vornado spokesman didn’t return an inquiry seeking comment.
There has been speculation that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, once prominent Manhattan socialites, may avoid New York City and turn to other endeavors beyond real estate after January’s transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden. Last month, the couple drew up plans to expand their property in New Jersey.
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