Features

Cheryl Green – Calamar

GC finds her passion opening doors for middle-class seniors

Bourne, Massachusetts, is a sleepy beach town of more than 20,000 at the western tip of Cape Cod. It’s the kind of scenic place people like to retire to if they can afford it.

But these days, that’s a big ‘if.’ So, what happens to middle-class seniors who have lived and worked in the area all their lives—police officers, municipal employees, schoolteachers—if they can’t afford Cape Cod housing on a pension?

Leaders at Calamar, a real estate company based in upstate New York, took notice of this problem. In May, Calamar opened Connect55+ Bourne, a community for active adults 55 and older. It features a porte-cochere leading up to the main entrance, which opens onto a library and a sitting room beside a large community room. The beige and white three-story community, which resembles an upscale condo complex, also includes activity rooms on each floor—for example, there’s a movie room with 18 theater-style lounge chairs and a big-screen TV.

Calamar is fully vertically integrated, and it handles roughly a dozen projects a year across the country, shepherding them from investment to development to general contracting to property management.

Cheryl Green | Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel | Calamar

Cheryl Green | Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel | Calamar

“We actually take a piece of dirt and turn it into the reality of a living project,” says Cheryl Green, Calamar’s general counsel. “It takes a lot of coordination and discussion—with the local planning boards, with our team, understanding what the environment is in terms of being able to construct.”

After repeated delays—the project paused during the COVID-19 pandemic as construction costs skyrocketed and Calamar tried to get an expansion of its construction loan, a process that ballooned from several weeks to several months—Connect55+ Bourne began moving tenants in this May. With 122 rentable units, it is already completely leased.

It’s the culmination of a long process; the project first got approval from the local planning board in 2017. But it’s also the realization of the foresight of Ken Franasiak, Calamar’s CEO, Green says.

“Our company has been ahead of the curve on this active adult senior housing space for many years,” she says. “Our CEO had a vision well before anyone else in this industry about moving to a lifestyle community for middle America. Because what you normally see in this space are expensive transitions like CCRC’s (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) or a product that retirees are not interested in, like traditional multi-family housing. We look for those communities that are being underserved, where nobody’s really thought about what the seniors’ needs are.”

Getting to move-in day

Green has been involved in the Bourne project since 2019, collaborating with Calamar’s president of development and construction on the entitlement process, among other things. She saw the project through to completion, answering questions at planning board meetings and negotiating with Calamar’s various partners. But rising construction costs weren’t the only challenge they faced—even relatively late in the pandemic.

“When you listen to the news, it makes it seem like things are okay, but when you can’t actually get workers to show up, or you can’t get the number of workers that you need for projects of our size—I mean, these are large buildings, anywhere from 120 to 134 units,” Green says. “We actually meet twice a week as a senior leadership team to talk about these types of issues on a project-by-project basis.”

Cheryl Green | Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel | Calamar

Cheryl A. Green, General Counsel and Calamar CEO Kenneth M. Franasiak, reviewing the site plan for a project in the Carolinas

Labor shortages added up to a time drag, and as Green says, time is money. Yet that’s where the relationships Green had cultivated—with Calamar’s lenders, with its architect and title company, with its outside counsel—came in.

“Our outside counsel becomes very critical in these areas, because they are familiar with the jurisdiction, they know the folks that are on the ground, and they actually help get these types of complexities managed more quickly than if you didn’t have folks on the ground with those relationships,” she says. “From our perspective as a company, our relationships are key in order to be successful.”

A passion project in Topeka

Another example of a vision Calamar’s CEO had, and that Green is helping to realize, is the company’s Topeka, Kansas, project. Calamar has partnered with the Topeka Board of Education to build a senior living community on an education campus. The grounds feature a tree-lined drive dotted with educational buildings—engineering classrooms, science classrooms, the naturalist area of campus and so forth.

Once the community is completed at the end of this year, Green envisions educational projects like a letter-writing initiative between students who are learning history and seniors who lived it. The plans call for 134 units spread across nearly 137,000 square feet.

Cheryl Green | Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel | Calamar

(from left to right): Anton Karoglan, EVP Finance, Jerry Hill, President Construction & Development, Cheryl A. Green, General Counsel, and CEO Kenneth M. Franasiak

“It’s this incredible walking campus of buildings where students and seniors can interact with one another,” she says. “And I think that this project, once it’s completed, will attract many retired schoolteachers from that greater Topeka metropolitan area because this love of learning is going to be a primary part of the programming.”

When she spoke to Vanguard in April, Green was planning another visit to Topeka to do a hardhat tour with the lender who worked out a loan modification for her and her colleagues. She’s already gone out and met with the building inspector, the planning review board and municipal representatives who are interested in the project from a taxation standpoint.

Becoming GC of a successful company

Green received her B.A. from the University of Buffalo, then earned her J.D. from Cleveland State University in 1995. She launched her legal career at Lustig & Brown, where she spent the first 12 years of her career defending professional malpractice cases against insurance agents, brokers and stockbrokers. These were complex, high-dollar-value cases that took her all over the United States.

Green then had the opportunity to serve as county attorney for Erie County, New York—the second-largest municipal government in the state. She had to reinvent herself professionally to thrive in the role, but says it was “a tremendous growth experience.”

After a return to private practice in 2010, she went in-house at The Hamister Group in 2013. In 2019, she joined Calamar in her current role.

Cheryl Green | Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel | Calamar

Amanda Kunze-Sr. Lender, Commercial Real Estate for Southern Bank [lending partner] and Cheryl A. Green, Calamar General Counsel

“It’s just continued to be about reinventing myself,” Green says. “Today, I do consider myself a professional problem-solver. That is my job.”

Green divides transactional attorneys into two camps: deal breakers and deal makers. She has planted herself squarely in the latter camp, and says she tries to surround herself with like-minded lawyers. In-house attorneys sometimes get a bad rap—and everyone loves to make lawyer jokes, Green notes—but she says lawyers like her make projects like middle income senior housing possible.

“I love what I do,” Green says. “I always say to everyone, ‘You know, being a lawyer has been one of the greatest joys of my life.’ Because I get to accomplish something every single day. And I make a positive difference for my corporation, for the employees of my corporation, for communities across the United States. That, to me, is super rewarding.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2023 Edition here.

Published on: July 7, 2023

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