SAMER HANINI IS NOT your average hotel developer. He answers his cell phone, and you may just pass him while casually walking down Broad Street near his latest hotel development, Hotel Indigo.

Samer Hanini and his brothers, Amer and Thafer, formed their real estate company, Hanini Group, in 2004 and bought their first building on Newark’s Washington Street that year. Since then, they’ve restored and rehabbed more than $300 million worth of real estate, and built high caliber, loft-style, residential, retail, and corporate spaces, many in Newark’s downtown area.

Samer says his company’s success is due to its dedication to the community and “sweat equity”—personally putting in the work to move his projects forward. Whether it’s redrawing financial models 30 times in one night or creating architectural plans—and then executing them—Hanini never shies away from hard work.

The Hanini brothers grew up in Jersey City. Samer graduated from NJIT here in Newark and his brother, Thafer, graduated from Rutgers. “My mom is a teacher and my dad owned a deli. We come from a neighborhood family,” he explained.

Hanini’s parents also owned a small building in Jersey City and, as young men, the brothers did repairs for the tenants and took out the trash. So when they started ­buying buildings, they “knew a little about real estate,” Samer said, “but mostly the handyman stuff.” So why didn’t they become contractors instead of real estate developers? “We enjoyed more of the deal making side, trying to make something out of nothing. We liked the whole concept of creating value.”

The brothers bought their first building at an auction in Newark. “I don’t want to say it was dumb luck, but we weren’t that savvy back then,” Hanini revealed. They poured hours of their own labor into the building—and it paid off nicely. The high-quality work on that first building set the standard for what they could show to future investors. They used their investment capital to start buying and developing properties on ­Market Street.

“This whole process has been a learning experience,” Hanini said. “Every year we learn something new.”

The future looks promising for Hanini if his present work and success is any indication. Consider one of their most recent masterpieces—Hotel Indigo. A tall, slender, historical building on Broad Street, Hotel Indigo was originally built to be a residential building. But the city saw the need for a hotel close to Prudential Arena and Hanini Group was ready to take it on.

“Doing a historical restoration is a lot more challenging,” Hanini said. “But all the buildings we do have sat vacant for 30 or 40 years.”

The Haninis’ meticulous, hands-on approach has been key to the successful completion of similar projects in Passaic, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY. “Now we’re in the process of putting more work into Newark,” he continued. “We’re currently focused on two projects: converting St. Michael’s Hospital into a mixed use building and converting the Maple Avenue School into apartments.”

Hanini recognizes that Newark is a great place to build. Many of their projects stem from public/private partnerships. But Hanini and his brothers know that the key to Newark’s longevity and prosperity is its residents.

“Newark has a tremendous amount of infrastructure—the airport, the building stock. But the people are an amazing asset, too,” Hanini said. “It’s the local residents that see Newark through the rough patches.” 

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