SUFFERN, N.Y. - For decades, the property at 74 Lafayette Ave. in Suffern sat vacant, shielded from the street by a green fence.
That was until January of this year when the construction of Suffern Building Works was completed. The four-story mixed-use office building is the first new building constructed for some time and sits in the heart of the village .
The architect behind the building’s design is also one of its owners and tenants, and a local, 37-year-old Ariel Aufgang.
A Montebello resident and Spring Valley native, the firm which bears Aufgang’s name is prolific when it comes to designing commercial and residential buildings, including hotels, in New York City. However, Aufgang departed from his architectural bread and butter to design the structure that now houses his firm for a reason.
“This is where I like to live,” Aufgang said, adding Rockland is uniquely positioned at the juncture of nature, recreation, and convenience.
Brian Brooker, who founded Brooker Engineering in Suffern, had purchased the property in the village's downtown 11 years prior.
Aufgang subsequently bought in along with a third partner, Steward Strow, an associate with Brooker Engineering. The building is a roughly $5 million investment between all three partners with no PILOT agreement for the property.
Among its seven tenants are four customer-oriented businesses along with professional services that include both Aufgang and Brooker's firms. (Sushi Bada in Airmont is set to relocate to the ground floor space in the coming weeks.)
Aufgang explained that the property was part of a transformational vision for the downtown held by former village mayor Dagan LaCorte. The other two properties central to this vision were ACE hardware on Orange Avenue and the future Orange Avenue apartments.
From his time designing projects in downtowns across the state, trying to keep things the same in a town is fruitless.
“You either grow or you shrink. You can’t keep things the same,” he said.
Part of sparking progress in downtowns involves putting people there. One way to do this is with reasonably priced rental apartments; taxes and a mortgage are a considerable burden for plenty of young families in the area, he said.
“This is where I like to live."
Some might consider Aufgang young to own his own firm. It’s fairly common for someone in their mid-40s to own a firm of his size with 27 architects and planners, he said. Aufgang chalks it up to starting earlier than most as a college freshman at the firm he now owns.
Back then it was the firm Hugo Subotovsky Architects in Pomona and employed six people.
After earning two degrees in architecture and building sciences through a five-year program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Aufgang stayed at the firm because it presented more opportunities.
By 2009 Aufgang became a partner and by 2012 he bought the firm.
For most architects residential housing might be considered a stepchild of sorts; most have an eye toward designing airports or museums. Aufgang focuses on residential housing because it impacts people's lives the most.
“I love being able to express my taste in ways that can positively affect peoples lives,” he said, like a beautiful kitchen or functional office space.
When working on these projects it is imperative to consider the project from the vantage point of a neighbor, to be contextual but elevated, like the Corn Exchange Bank Building in Harlem that Aufgang designed.
74 Lafayette Ave. is very much in line with this sensitivity to a neighborhood’s characteristics, but is an obvious upgrade.
Having joined in on the investment in downtown Suffern, Aufgang is hopeful change and smart growth will occur organically with some help from the village through incentives in certain districts.
“You either grow or you shrink. You can’t keep things the same.”
His next local project is the Town Square Residences in Monsey, a project proposed for the long-vacant Rockland Drive-In Theatre property. Aufgang is the architect and designed roughly 540 units of housing in a variety of forms including one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom units along with 30 brownstones.
If all goes according to plan and the application is approved, the development will blend seamlessly into the adjacent neighborhoods that border the dilapidated property.
“You do what you think would’ve happened, given the right environment over time,” he said.