Mana Tree Properties Restores Historic Hudson Valley Spaces

With an eye toward community, Newburgh's Mana Tree Properties transforms old spaces into modern, well-designed, market-rate housing.

When it came to choosing a name for the Newburgh-based development firm Eric Edelman co-owns with partners Jake Chai and Michael Engels, he didn’t want to overthink it. “I had a background in startups and had agonized many times over naming things I’d been a part of in the past,” says Edelman, who cut his teeth at tech companies in San Francisco and NYC. “I resolved to not spend so much time on it this time and make it fun.”

A primary bedroom at the Foundry.
A primary bedroom at the Foundry.

After some brainstorming, the team ultimately landed on Mana Tree—a fictional plant that produces what’s known in fantasy games and literature as mana, or energy. “We’re nerds at heart,” says Chai, a veteran entrepreneur and avid fan of franchises like Magic: The Gathering and The Lord of the Rings. But the playful moniker is more than just a nod to the team’s fondness for the fantastical: The concept has become a metaphor for how the trio approaches building housing in the Hudson Valley and beyond. “It’s proven to have a deeper meaning in terms of putting down roots in communities, which is something that’s really important to us,” explains Edelman. “It’s not just building projects and making it all about the finances, but really about how we can be positive contributors to the community.”

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That ethos has guided the firm since its inception in 2019, when Edelman, Chai, and Engels decided to parlay their shared passion for real estate into a full-fledged development firm. The group’s focus? Boosting housing affordability and supply through the restoration of historic properties. For Edelman and Chai—who first crossed paths while working at Common, the country’s largest operator of co-living spaces and micro apartments—accomplishing this goal in areas within commuting distance of major cities like NYC and Boston, where middle-income residents are routinely priced out, was especially enticing. The Hudson Valley, with its proximity to the Big Apple and ongoing housing challenges, seemed like the perfect spot for their new business. “I think we were early in understanding that people didn’t need to be going into the office every day and that the commutable distance had expanded,” says Edelman. “That was a huge part of the appeal of Newburgh—knowing there are these synergies with New York City and that if we built a great product, we could draw people in from a large population base.”

Mana Tree co-owners (from left) Michael Engels, Eric Edelman, and Jake Chai.
Mana Tree co-owners (from left) Michael Engels, Eric Edelman, and Jake Chai.

Of course, setting up shop in Newburgh made sense for another reason, too: With roots stretching back to the early 18th century, the city brims with the type of architecture that Mana Tree aims to preserve. “I was just struck by the beauty of the buildings,” says Chai, recalling his first visit to the riverside town where he now lives part time. “The energy of the place felt like this mix of perseverance and possibility. And we were catching it at a time where there was a lot of emphasis on preserving the culture and renovating historic buildings that were in complete disrepair.”

Exterior of The Lofts at the Foundry in Newburgh.
Exterior of The Lofts at the Foundry in Newburgh.

Case in point: The Lofts at the Foundry, a 19th-century rail car factory turned condo building that opened 59 new market-rate units to renters in November 2023. Although the city had approved the multi-phase conversion project four decades earlier, a series of starts and stops left the building languishing in a partially complete state for years. That is, until the Mana Tree team and their partners at locally based Attic Labs and Affordable Housing Concepts intervened and finished the job. “The property went through four or five different sets of developers and the existing homeowners really had a lot of trauma around this unfinished building,” says Engels, who had a career in healthcare marketing before making the switch to real estate. Now, with the project fully complete, residents have a new outlook. “At the ribbon cutting [last November], a bunch of the local stakeholders and even the existing homeowners, had really nice things to say,” he says of the feedback the team has received. “We just kind of looked at each other and said, you know, this is a happy ending to a really tough story.”

Exterior of The Lofts at the Foundry in Newburgh.
Exterior of The Lofts at the Foundry in Newburgh.

With roots stretching back to the early 18th century, Newburgh brims with the type of architecture that Mana Tree aims to preserve.

It’s the type of outcome that Edelman, Chai, and Engels hope to achieve with their upcoming projects, too. The team—which currently manages 132 apartments and 30,000 square feet of commercial and retail space—has several developments in the pipeline, including a few historical properties in Poughkeepsie and the Shaw Building in Newburgh. For this once-industrial site, located across the street from the Foundry, the firm is considering a mixed-use model wherein the ground floor would be reserved for a commercial tenant and residences would occupy the upper levels. Currently, Mana Tree is employing this approach in Providence, Rhode Island, where the team is converting an old office building into housing and retail space. “[Mixed-use] gives us the opportunity to think about what holistically benefits the broader community as opposed to just what’s the best business plan for this building,” explains Chai.

A living room in one of the 59 units at The Lofts at the Foundry.
A living room in one of the 59 units at The Lofts at the Foundry.

Because, after all, effecting positive change for the communities they build in is what drives the team in the first place. “Making room for everybody to live is hugely important,” says Edelman. Chai agrees. “Something that comes with renovating historical buildings is that you have the opportunity to revitalize a neighborhood without [displacing] anybody,” he says. “What we value is adding new housing supply and doing quality work that can be cherished for the next hundred years.”

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Related: This New Build in Stanfordville Is a House for the Ages

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