New Land Enterprises’ Owner on Development

by Sonya Jongsma Knauss / photos by Vince Bushell

Boris Gokhman immigrated from the portion of U.S.S.R. now known as Ukraine in 1989 with almost no money and no command of the English language. A little more than a decade later he has built more Milwaukee condos than any other developer in town. With an unmistakably Russian accent, sitting at the kitchen table of a condo he built, sold, then later bought and lives in, he describes how he got from there to here. He seems perfectly comfortable with his Milwaukee condo lifestyle. On leaving Ukraine, he says: “It was the right time to leave… I didn’t believe in what was going on there. The system was not in place.” He is a believer in what he builds, and his success shows he is adept at using “the system.” By the system, he is referring to capitalism and the way things work here. There are set procedures for developers to follow when they want to purchase and develop property. There are regulations governing what can be built in certain areas, how things can be built, and what materials should be used. “Here, you follow the rules, and the rules support you… with whatever you desire to do,” he says. “I don’t do business just to make money,” he says, complaining about an article he had read recently that referred to condo developers as “piranhas.” Instead it’s the excitement and challenge of figuring out how to do a project, within all the various building and code requirements, on often difficult-to-develop parcels in Milwaukee. “All the easy spots (to develop) were taken a long time ago,” he says. “There are no easy projects left — everything always has to be done in the context of the neighborhood.” Gokhman works mainly on the East Side and downtown, and often deals with infill or irregularly shaped development lots. Any East Side developments have the added challenge of providing adequate parking per code and Ald. Mike D’Amato. “City development doesn’t leave a lot of room for amateurs,” Gokhman says. He outlines what he calls the “friendly but complicated process” developers must go through with the city before going ahead on a project, ticking off items like zoning and re-zoning issues, appropriateness to the neighborhood, and figuring out how to do construction in a way that minimizes neighborhood disruption. Gokhman and his wife, Raisa, have a grown son. Their “baby” is Gosha, a pretty white umbrella cockatoo that sits on Gokhmans’s shoulder, climbing behind his head as he talks. He pauses to kiss the bird and whisper to it from time to time. He dodges a question about his indictment for medicare fraud. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Gokhman is facing four counts of health care fraud for work he did as an employee of Cares R Us, a home health care firm. “What does that have to do with development?” he asks, and quickly moves on to talk about the Royal and Farwell condos, paging through eight architect’s drafts and tracing the chronology of neighborhood meetings and city code changes that have extended the project’s timeline. Gokhman went to school to train as a construction engineer before he came to the U.S., and he picked up work painting while his family rented their first place in Shorewood. He decided to use his training to get into the buy, rehab, and sell business, turning over several east side properties in fairly quick succession and for good profit. His first large project was a condo project on Stowell near Sendiks. “People didn’t believe there was a market to sell condos for as good or better than single family homes, but… there are two different lifestyles and approaches.” Gokhman believes the “young professional/empty nester” demographic will continue to grow and have an interest in city living. Thus the interest in condo development, where there is little concern about maintenance and upkeep that would be involved in owning a house with a yard. He and his business partner, Walter Shuk, own New Land Enterprises, LLC, which has built more than 250 condos in the city, including some along N. Water and Commerce Streets. He claims to have built up an additional $100 million tax base for the city in just 6 years. ‘This is not a Milwaukee downtown trend only,” he says. “It’s all over the U.S. You have people who aren’t necessarily interested in dealing with the maintanence and care of older housing stock.” So is he looking to build in Riverwest anytime soon? He pauses, thinks about the possibilities. Hmm, there’s that city-owned parking lot on Bremen and Locust… “The neighborhood has been improving, hasn’t it?” he says. He is always looking for a new challenge. Gokhman brushes off concerns about pricing lower income residents out of the market. He doesn’t think the condo market is going to lose strength anytime soon. He believes it is a trend that will and should continue. “A city cannot stand still. There is always movement. It’s like a living organism — you are either fighting for positive change or you are dying.” Density, he says, allows people to support local businesses that are located nearby. “Is it too dense? Personally I think that density was, is, and will be good for the city. The definition of a city is density. You just have to have some common sense about how you do it.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 9 – September 2003