Ari Rastegar, a private equity executive bullish on Texas real estate, has invited a group of real estate editors to dinner in Austin, his hometown. He tells us to get ready—he will be ordering one of everything on the menu. Oh, tequila shots, too. At 37, he is one of the youngest investors in commercial projects across the state, and has invested in at least 30 U.S. cities and one foreign country.
Ari Rastegar’s first development project in Dallas is a particularly ambitious one: 1899 McKinney, a 0.45 acre Uptown/Victory parcel near Victory Park in a prime location just north of downtown with physical challenges—it slopes, it’s triangular—that have turned off previous developers. His acquisition is surrounded by some of the priciest dirt and buildings in Dallas. This is where Rastegar Property Company plans to build the city’s next luxury, up-scale multifamily tower, including something this city sees infrequently: stellar, jaw-dropping architecture.
Rastegar Property Company
His firm now boasts a multimillion dollar diversified portfolio. Rastegar, as the founder and CEO, oversees firm operations, but really identifies himself as the “deal guy.” His favorite: recession-proof assets in the $3 million to $95 million range.
Though it is trying to embrace public transit, Dallas is still a car-oriented city and high rises have to plan for abundant parking. Remarkably, the huge burst of growth in the inner core since the 2009 recession has come about because of transportation: buyers young and old want to be within walking distance of restaurants, nightlife, museums, galleries, even grocery stores. The stereotypical Texan who drives from one end of the parking lot to the other in his longhorn-adorned Caddie — as the very first shoppers did at Red Bird Mall in the ‘50s — has moved north to Collin County. Until recently, the Dallas Way for multi-family was to build a parking garage and plop the living units right above it.
Rastegar has elected to do full subterranean parking.
Rastegar was born in Austin, but spent his formative teen years just north of his newest acquisition, in tony Highland Park, where his taste for real estate was developed at an early age.
“As a child growing up, my dream was to build a part of the Dallas skyline. I actually said that when I was 12 years old,” he laughs. “Now, my three favorite cities for commercial real estate investing are Dallas, Austin and Phoenix.”
Memorable architecture is vital. Rastegar has said he will forgo squeezing every penny out of a real estate deal to increase margins at the expense of good architecture and high quality construction. The effort, he says, pays in the end, “because it benefits the end-user.”
In Dallas, he has enlisted the international firm Turner Construction, which opened a Dallas office in 1986, for the build out. And he looked to Chicago-based SCB Architecture for architectural design.
Not only is Rastegar challenging high rise design standards in Dallas, where the status quo can be ho-hum, he is throwing his hat in with home-grown Texas CRE stars and legacy firms: Perot Partners, Stream Realty, Ryan Companies, Red Development (The Union), Crescent Real Estate Equities, and another Austin player, Endeavor Real Estate Group.
While his property does not abut the five golden acres of the city’s successful Klyde Warren Park, views from one edge of the new high rise will have a street-straight shot of the green space. The most successful park in Dallas history will be the new building’s front lawn.
“We are calling it the “Crown Jewel” of McKinney Avenue, which is Dallas’s Michigan Avenue. Or Park Avenue,” says Rastegar.
Klyde Warren Park is 5.2 acres of green space that supports 10,000 people atop a busy freeway, cutting smack through the center of one of the nation’s largest cities. Completed in 2012, the $110 million over freeway park (named after Texas oilman Kelcy Warren’s son, and fully funded during a recession) married the Dallas Arts District to Uptown, shooting surrounding property rents to local record highs of $55 a square foot.
Rastegar Property Company
Rastegar bought the property in May, 2019. It has housed a variety of businesses over the years, from an office furniture showroom to a night club. And Rastegar is shopping for more high-profile Dallas properties to turn. Once you buy a flagship property, he explains, you build out around the flagship to gain a foothold. Right now he is investing heavily in multifamily projects across Austin, and recently acquired a high-rise lot in downtown Phoenix, which is in a qualified opportunity zone. By right his company could build the record highest building in Arizona: 550 ft.
“Millennials are not buying homes as much as their parents were,” says Rastegar. “Millennials are moving jobs more than any other generation, which is creating a huge demand for apartment rentals.”
That’s why Dallas is now Dallas 2.0, becoming an urban city with Uptown/downtown corridors, moving a highly single family culture to vertical living.”
Rastegar Property Company
His company has been particularly prolific over the last four years, as Rastegar Property Company and its affiliates have co-invested in about 40 buildings, or more than 4.9 million square feet of real estate, across the U.S. The focus has been on self-storage, industrial buildings, discount retail, office and student housing, and apartments.
“We plan to be very active in the coming years,” he says. “We have three vintage multifamily properties under contract to close before year’s end. Our focus remains high on the southwest.”
Texas roots run deep through Ari Rastegar. The son of an Iranian immigrant living in Austin when Ari was born — his dad attended law school in Fort Worth — Ari moved to Richmond, Va. to live with his German-American mother and step father until he was ten, when he moved back to Texas with his father, Shay Rastegar. They lived in the posh Park Cities, one of Dallas’ most affluent communities, chiefly so he could attend the highly rated schools and receive an excellent education, which was paramount for his father, who came from a highly-educated family.
Though the community was posh, Rastegar’s own home was not. But he was a high achiever, popular, and a wrestler; Highland Park has one of the best high school wrestling programs in the country. Perhaps it was being surrounded by so much wealth and pricey real estate that motivated him to work hard for his own piece of the rock. He went to Richland Community College for a semester, then Blinn Community College before finishing undergraduate at Texas A&M University, where Rastegar graduated Cum Laude with a degree in English literature. He then got a law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. His law education was self-funded by a combination of scholarships and work — delivering pizza, selling cars.
It was in 2006, after his first year of law school, that he realized real estate was exploding in San Antonio. I can relate: my own son was a student at nearby Trinity University at the time, and San Antonio homes were so reasonable you could practically put them on a credit card. Rastegar took a small loan from a college friend’s father, plus savings and (gasp!) his scholarship money, invested it in a small development of single family lake homes in Spring Branch, Texas. The homes sold during framing.
Euphoric, his investors wanted more. Rastegar borrowed, sold, got into a few more deals, and banked his powder before the real estate market crashed in Dec. 2007.
He passed the Bar Exam and was licensed to practice law in May, 2009.
His first job out of law school brought Rastegar back to Dallas, working for well known Dallas attorney John Read, who represented a group of high profile sports promoters. John was not a sports fan, so Ari got the sports-related business. New clients wanted to sue a nightclub for backing out out of a deal to host an NBA All-Star party for LeBron James and Drake in 2010. Instead of suing, Rastegar found them another venue to have the party: The Mosaic in downtown Dallas.
He even attended the party.
But real estate deals were always on his mind.
Armed with his experience as an entertainment attorney, Rastegar moved to New York City to run an entertainment company he co-founded with a prominent real estate executive, with a focus on large Dallas events for Super Bowl XLV.
The firm was to promote and host two of the biggest star-studded parties for the big game in Dallas, where Rastegar had contacts and connections.
Mother nature sure didn’t cooperate that weekend. All those connections froze as Dallas was hit by a rare but brutal ice storm that devastated the game and all but wiped out any parties.
Except for his.
Newly minted Cowboy’s Stadium in Arlington got a horrible rap because some fans were without seats they had paid for (1200 seats were not finished on time), and icy snow falling from the stadium roof injured workers and photographers.
Then a week later, in L.A., another disaster of a different nature. The Playboy Mansion got hit with Legionnaire’s Disease, wiping out an NBA All-Star game party hosted by Snoop Dogg, sponsored by Myspace.
Ari Rastegar was beginning to be known as the guy who holds it together when all hell breaks loose.
Rastegar was desperately looking for an alternate venue. That’s when Ari met his future wife Kellie Carreno, at a nightclub in LA . Kellie was working with her then-boss, super star Johnny Depp.
Ironically, Kellie had been at Ari’s two Super Bowl parties in Dallas, but the two never met.
Legionnaires Disease got them together in LA.
“Let’s just say it was a jolting, challenging time,” says Ari. “I had to prove resilience.”
Like Ari, Kellie Carreno had parents born outside of the U.S. The child of a Spanish father and a Guatemalan mother, she grew up in Hollywood. Her father was an aviation engineer, her mother a housekeeper. When she was 18, Kellie’s father died, so college was not an option: she worked in administration at a private aviation company, but soon asked to be trained to be a corporate flight attendant to make more money.
Her first job was flight-attending Leonardo DiCaprio. Shortly thereafter, she was called to be Jim Carrey’s exclusive flight attendant.
The couple married on the sand at Venice Beach the morning of September 27, 2011. The day before her wedding, Kellie was still in London on set for Johnny Depp. She told her superiors, “you know I’m getting married tomorrow, right?” She flew non-stop to LA, got married, and flew back to London two hours after her wedding.
A few months later, she resigned, and moved to New York with Ari. A year later she birthed their first child, Victoria, at Lenox Hill Hospital.
“After Victoria was born, we decided to invest in, and build our business in Texas, so we moved to Dallas for a year,” says Ari.
They lived at the Mosaic, the same building that had helped make him the disaster-busting entertainment attorney. Soon their pipeline began to build in Austin, so they moved there permanently.
The couple now live in Westlake, a posh Austin neighborhood, have two children, Victoria (6), Kingston (3) with a third due in November. Rastegar speaks English, Spanish and Farsi. Their children are bi-lingual.
In 2015, Rastegar launched his own Austin-based firm, which became Rastegar Property Company, a private investment firm investing in real estate, with multi-family as a primary focus.
He has also developed an on-line education platform designed to bring quality real estate investment education to investors called Light Tower.
If you are going to invest in real estate, he says, we know the right questions. His goal is to give real estate investors the benefit of the macro economics his firm has absorbed.
“We are in the longest bull market in history, everyone wants to be in real estate,” says Rastegar. “I thought it would run out a few years ago, it didn’t. The world isn’t governed by the same rules it once was. There is electronic trading, AI, different products and services, the past changes we looked for traditionally are now missing variables. Historical analysis to judge the future is almost irrelevant.”
He does not believe retail is dead.
“As humans, we want a touch and feel experience,” says Rastegar. “Going on line has de-humanized that experience. The whole retail apocalypse was an over-correction.”
Big shopping malls disappearing? They will be repurposed, he says; retail will see a resurgence, not the way it was, but more experiential. He thinks retailers overestimated the online marketplace. But this late in the cycle, he puts his money on residential.
“The massive inflow of companies moving into Austin and North Texas won’t stop — Uber is moving to Dallas’ Deep Ellum. Phoenix has one of the highest organic rent growths in the U.S.”
Phoenix got killed during the last recession, he says, but has done an amazing job rebuilding.
As has Rastegar, personally.
While living in New York City, Rastegar found his health suffering from the stress of building his business.
“It wasn’t a health scare per se, but I was suffering from insomnia, was not exercising and had constant anxiety,” he says.“I’m an athlete, so I got to the gym, experimented with Yoga, and tried different things to get healthy.”
Most did not work.
Then he found clean eating — mostly vegetables, lean protein— hormone replacement therapy, and a Life Coach. She was the world famous Lauren Zander, founder of The Handel Method. Rastegar says, unequivocally, she changed his life.
“She is incredible, I’ve been working with her for seven years,” he says. “She helped me rebuild my inner dialogue, the rules around my life, and taught me the true meaning of personal integrity. We text or email almost every day.”
Zander, he says, is his accountability partner. He also has attended several Tony Robbins events over the last four years. He meditates daily and follows a rigorous age management regiment, created by a physician in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s moderation in all things,” he says, “including moderation.”
Rastegar says he is not eating healthy to win an award, but to enjoy a time of indulgence with family and friends. And it is also to be as productive and efficient as possible.
“If I don’t eat and exercise the way I’m supposed to, I get home with nothing for my kids and wife,” he says. “That’s what all this work is about, my kids, my family.”
I’m a contrarian thinker, he says; I don’t follow, or eat, the herd.
“Mark Twain said whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority,” says Ari Rastegar, “it is time to pause, and reflect”
Back to dinner: Ari did order everything on the menu at Red Ash, a hip restaurant on Colorado run by the team behind Eddie V’s —decadent Texas wood-fired Italian fare.
Midway through the meal, he asks the waiter to please bring us a new tablecloth.
“Watch and see how this refreshes the rest of the meal,” he says.
He was right. It was almost like starting over again, pausing, making the fabulous meal twice as memorable.
“I told you, it’s going to be a busy night,” Rastegar tells the waiter, “but don’t worry: I tip very well!”