Ron and Alice Kweller
Binghamton, A City of Full Opportunity
Owners of RentBing – Management and Development Properties – Lives in Vestal – Works in Binghamton
It all started for me, when I came to Binghamton University back in 1999. My love for Broome really began once I moved off campus in 2000 to downtown Binghamton at 130 Washington Street. My college friends and I were some of the first students to live downtown at the time. To be honest, it was a ghost town.
As I walked around, I saw how much potential there was for development. There were these beautiful buildings and an amazing infrastructure…all I saw was the opportunity. I met true downtown visionaries and believers such as Mark Yonaty, and Sherry from Garland Gallery, to name a few. The community was very friendly and tight-knit, so it was exciting for me as a student to feel like I was part of it. We talked about the downtown revitalization opportunities and how much could be done. But above all, two people stand out as the most influential to me as I look back on those days. The first being Eugene Beautz, an architect whom I look to as a mentor; the other is Bob Williams, from whom I rented my first apartment. They had developed a bunch of properties in the urban core and were very passionate about downtown. We often talked about the many vacant buildings there and what it could become. I felt that excitement for the future and I wanted to be part of that movement.
Once I graduated in 2004, I moved to San Diego and lived by the beach for a year, then back to New York City for another, but nothing seemed to fit. My mindset was always in Binghamton. So, in 2006, I got an apartment in Binghamton, and commuted back and forth from NYC looking for my first downtown revitalization property.
I looked at several buildings and found 29-31 Court Street. At first I was nervous because there was so much work to be done; the property was in bad shape. But Eugene told me to go for it and jump in. So as a 24-year-old, young, eager, and a bit overconfident at the time, I took on that challenge. That was a real learning experience.
What was really interesting about this particular project was that at the same time I worked on my property, there were four other revitalization projects all on the same block and all by private developers. I could feel the energy, the excitement, the turning point happening and I was right in the middle of it all.
Within the next couple years, I finished the 29-31 Court Street property which included student housing apartments and then moved onto 23 East Clinton Street. This was an exciting project because it was the first time I got to work with commercial tenants. Roxanne and Marc, a young couple, wanted to open the first hot yoga studio in downtown Binghamton. They were passionate and I quickly realized that true revitalization involves working with the right potential tenants, with positive energy because they can influence a whole block, as the yoga studio certainly did.
As I developed these properties, I was dating my wife, who is also from Queens. She was in investment banking in the NYC area and I would often would bring her up to see the potential in the area. I remember her looking at me like I was a crazy as we saw just shells of buildings, but eventually, she too fell in love with what Binghamton could become. So in 2008, when the financial market crashed, we asked ourselves, “What do we want to do? What kind of life do we want to live?” The answer was clear; we knew we wanted to make a life for ourselves in Binghamton and after our son was born, we officially moved up here to pursue just that.
We continued with our revitalization projects. Our next project was 40 Court Street where we developed four gorgeous, unique student housing units and a ground floor retail space, then 58 Court Street with more apartments above and opened up The Colonial on the first floor.
The Colonial was part of a bigger vision as well for downtown; it was not just another restaurant idea. As a previous student, I wanted to bridge the gap between the student population and the community. My partners and I (two of whom were also BU students and two who are from the area) wanted to create a place where a professor, a young professional, or a family could sit next to a student and feel comfortable together. That integration between the student population and the community was very important for us. That mix of energy is crucial for the student experience and for the overall downtown vibe.
I noticed through the different properties I’ve worked with, how important it is to work with fun, young people who are vibrant and entrepreneurs in their own right. So, my next project was 139 Washington Street, in which the commercial spaces host Strange Brew, owned by a young, super creative couple, and Mana, the first fully vegan restaurant downtown also owned by a young, hardworking visionary for the city of Binghamton. It’s energy like this that brings people downtown. The key to bringing great businesses downtown is having great people living downtown, and good people will only want to live downtown if we have great commerce for them to enjoy. These two go hand in hand, and it is all about the perfect synergy.
My current project is 60 Court Street, at the corner of State Street. We acquired the property in February 2017 and got right to work. The three apartments above are large with beautiful high ceilings, and in the heart of downtown. They are already finished and rented due to the high demand in a cool urban living experience. Now, we are finishing the commercial space below with a total of 5 store fronts ranging from 1,000-4,000 square feet each, two of which are already taken. One of them will be a Mexican restaurant with the same energy as the Colonial, and it will have 100 different types of tequila and great food for people to enjoy.
Overall I can say this, as a co-partner with my wife Alice in business and in our family, this is the place to be. My kids, Ariela who is a 6, and Joshua who is 9 enjoy being outdoors, playing baseball, karate, swimming and having a great time with friends, having bon fires, and just having fun. We work extremely hard, get to be part of beautifying our city, bring new food and fun experiences to our community, while still having plenty of quality time to enjoy with our family, friends, and the perfect work/life balance that Broome provides. Who knew that coming to Binghamton University would turn into such an awesome life!