- Franco Vogt
- Developer Luis Martinez in his New Paltz office.
On a balmy Tuesday in New Paltz, developer Luis Martinez is talking excitedly about two passion projects he's working on.
One is La Estancia at the Ridgeview, an estimated $50 million project that Martinez's construction company, Lalo Group, has proposed, aimed at bringing residences, a boutique hotel, spa, restaurant, and retail space to a long-neglected lot in downtown New Paltz.
The other project is also in development and extremely important: His eldest daughter's quinceañera.
"It took us almost a year," Martinez says about planning his daughter's upcoming 15th birthday, a major milestone celebrated in Hispanic cultures, typically with a lavish party. This one has 314 invited guests, including this writer, who was handed an invitation after the interview.
After spending just a few minutes with Martinez, one might conclude he's just as passionate about bringing people to his big family party as he is about bringing them to a new home smack in the middle of New Paltz. He says his job as president of a construction company isn't a job at all, primarily because it quenches his desire to give back. He's now hoping his desire turns into steel and glass, a lasting mark on the community signed with his name.
Finding that name took a while.
- Franco Vogt
- A scale model of the proposed development La Estancia at the Ridgeview.
What's in a Name?
"In Mexico, we had a different mentality," says Martinez. "It's like, you don't have a dad, you don't have a name."
When Martinez was three and living in northern Mexico, his father was killed after a wedding. According to the story he was told, his father broke up a fight involving his brother. But as his father walked out of the party at the end of the night, someone fatally shot him.
Though his mother, Maria Luisa Reymundo, later met and married another man who would assume a parental role for Luis, growing up without a birth father in his Mexican town immediately made him and his younger brother Jesus outcasts to their peers. They'd tease him and scorn him— constant reminders of the loss of his father and his name.
Reymundo soon moved the family to America, first to Florida, then to New Jersey, and finally in 1992 to New Paltz. She and her new husband found jobs at Dressel Farms, selling strawberries and working as foreman, respectively. Martinez and brother Jesus, meanwhile, enrolled in New Paltz schools, where they had to quickly adjust to life in a quieter town near mountains and farms.
"When I came here I went into the classroom and I was the only [Hispanic] kid," says Martinez. "I didn't see a black kid or Spanish kid, or even one who was a mix of everything."
He loved growing up in New Paltz and spent years working at Dressel. During the summer, he'd start a shift at 6 am, picking strawberries for four hours as the sun rose over the Shawangunk Mountains. He'd help pick the apples during the late-summer harvest, then make cider. He never felt stressed out on the farm.
Jesus, meanwhile, was beginning his amateur boxing career, scoring three early knockouts at age 18. Jesus also longed to make an impact in others' lives, so he started befriending young people, some affiliated with gangs based in Newburgh. He'd help arrange dances for at-risk youth, then take kids to the gym to box, hoping to turn around their fortunes while giving them a new place to hang.
Early in the morning on May 9, 1999—Mother's Day—Jesus offered a friend a ride home after a party in Plattekill. After Jesus and his friend got out of the car, they ended up talking for a while on Renwick Street. Sometime after 4 am, a car drove by and gunshots rang. Jesus was fatally shot in the head.
To this day it's not known whether Jesus was targeted, but reports at the time detailed that Jesus had befriended a member of Newburgh's Mexican Mafia, La M.
Martinez had already lost his father. Now he lost his brother. He was uncertain about his future. He left for Seattle for a brief respite, which is where his construction career took off. Disillusioned with an opportunity in the city's restaurant industry, Martinez scrolled the classified ads and found a client in need of a construction team for a job.
"He said, 'We're hiring, do you have a crew?'" says Martinez. "I said 'Yeah.' But I had nobody."