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Martinez knew four guys laid off from the restaurant industry, so he grabbed them with promises of pay, then grabbed a bunch of used tools and began his first job. Within 12 weeks he employed 14 workers and was landing jobs that paid up to $2,000 per week.
He had found his calling building homes and helping to give others the opportunities that he had in New Paltz, the opportunities that his brother wanted to give kids. He came back to New York in 2001, ready to make his impact. Instead of naming his business after his father's name, Martinez, he opted with Lalo—a diminutive form for his middle name, Eduardo—and started installing drywall in the New York City area under his own moniker. Lalo Dry Wall, later renamed the Lalo Group, has contributed in projects including Morris Heights Medical Center and Senior Housing in the Bronx, the Fulton Avenue Residential Complex in Brooklyn and City Point in Brooklyn, a more-than $7 million mixed-use complex.
At City Point, Lalo Group completed carpentry and drywall installation, according to Kieran Power, senior project executive at ZDG, LLC, the lead developer at the site. He praised Martinez's work and said he'd recommend him "for any complex project."
As his New York City portfolio grew, Martinez sought more work in Ulster County, wanting to build for people living and working in and around his hometown. In 2010 his team worked on Vineyard Commons, a 185-unit senior housing complex in Highland.
Working on others' developments was fine, but Martinez wanted to be the lead developer of something new for his hometown and home region. He bought a lot in Plattekill where he's proposing an apartment complex with 88 market-rate units. The idea there is to give middle-class workers in Newburgh the opportunity to live in garden apartments in nearby Plattekill, while boosting that town's tax revenue.
In August 2015, Lalo Group bought a lot in New Paltz known informally as "the Pit" for $1.25 million. Across from Village Hall, the site is an overgrown wooded lot that until the 1940s was home to the Tamney Hotel, and now it could be the future home of La Estancia at the Ridgeview.
The project was first proposed as a development with a 96-room hotel and 81-unit condominium complex standing seven stories above ground. Residents of the village pushed back against the height of the condominium structure and potential traffic issues.
Martinez has since altered the plan; it now features a 97-room hotel and separate residential complex with 70 units in three above-ground stories. A restaurant, day spa and 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space all hope to attract tourism. Martinez hopes to solve some of the traffic issue with a two-level underground parking lot capable of housing 400 vehicles.
There have been other issues to iron out, including the development's water source (Martinez says it'll be repurposed local storm water). That, with the added foot and vehicular traffic, plus the increase to New Paltz's downtown population, means La Estancia at the Ridgeview would dramatically alter the village. Martinez has continued to engage the public through the proposal process, attending public forums and luncheons to address concerns and answer questions.
"I appreciate that Luis is following this route" says New Paltz Village Mayor Tim Rogers about the public forums and feedback sessions over La Estancia. "If you're gonna try to pursue a big, ambitious project, this is how you have to do it."
Martinez says La Estancia will address the village's need for accommodations for tourists to the Shawangunk Mountains region and visiting family members of SUNY New Paltz students, plus provide incentive—through downtown apartments that provide walking access to shopping and dining—for graduates, young professionals and downsizing retirees to stay in New Paltz. In fact, La Estancia is Spanish for "The Stay."
"It's very difficult to accomplish anything, because so many people want things to remain the same. So this is very ambitious of him and generous of him," says Suzanne Holt, director of the Ulster County Office of Economic Development, and a New Paltz resident. "He's a very successful builder in New York City, and he doesn't have to be building here. He's doing this because he cares about this community.
A lot is riding on this project for Martinez. Besides the obvious shifts La Estancia at the Ridgeview would cause in New Paltz, this is an opportunity for a local guy who picked strawberries at the nearby farm to stamp his identity—the Lalo name—in his hometown. Martinez knows he can't get to groundbreaking without a public buy-in. (The development's website indicates a hope to build in 2018, but he's realistic about an even slower timetable.) He says he's more than prepared to see that through. "In life, we have to take risks," he says. "If I stop and don't pursue it, then I'll be a loser. It's gonna be a tough thing, but I want to bring something nice to the community."