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‘An idiot savant of deals' Eccentric executive relies on intuition in move from development to investment

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Billy Procida says he became a lender following his own struggles to obtain financing as a builder.
Billy Procida says he became a lender following his own struggles to obtain financing as a builder.

To one longtime investor, there's a reason why Billy Procida has thrived in the real estate business for more than 30 years.

"He's almost an idiot savant of deals," said Michael Getoff, who has invested with Procida for some 20 years. "You could put a deal in front of Billy, and he can smell it and tell you if it's going to work or not. You could give it to somebody else and they can read through it with four attorneys and two CPAs, and they'd say, 'I'm not sure.'"

For Procida — the eccentric, sometimes unfiltered developer-turned-lender and turnaround consultant — the ability to sniff out a good deal remains as important as ever. The Bergen County native now leads a team of six at Procida Funding & Advisors LLC, a firm that specializes in financing and completing distressed real estate projects.

The firm last year provided some $21 million in rescue loans for ailing properties, he said, which were made through one of its latest investment vehicles, the 100 Mile Fund, a short-duration fund for properties in the metropolitan New York region.

Procida has had a successful career as a builder, entrepreneur and lender over more than 30 years, including a well-chronicled stint in 1990 as an apprentice for Donald Trump. But at age 49, fixing distressed real estate tops his agenda because of what he says is "a bad vex" created by a lengthy, unforgiving foreclosure process by banks.

"(Banks) are starting to realize that the process of foreclosing is just not a worthwhile endeavor," Procida said. "At the same time, the borrower is banged up financially and emotionally."

Beyond that, he said, he knows the difficulty of being a developer and financing a project, especially in the throes of an economic downturn. By the time he was 30, Procida had borrowed around $128 million — that's more than doubled in today's dollars when adjusted for inflation, he said.

For each loan Procida got as a builder, "I got turned down by 10 banks," he said. But for his first new development in 1983 — a mixed-use waterfront project in the Bronx, N.Y. — that number, he said, was more like 100 banks. Procida, then 21, finally got the money he needed from a bank in Palisades Park.

"I became a lender to be the guy who I wanted to meet," he said. "If you're a builder or an entrepreneur looking for a lender, you want somebody who's approachable, you want somebody who gets it, you want somebody who wants to say yes."

Through his company's work on a host of residential and mixed-use projects, Procida became a top New York-area builder by his early 30s. But after nearly 15 years, he said, he had grown tired of going into New York City six days a week, and he sold his half of the company to his partner, older brother Mario Procida.

That's when he shifted into lending and investment, founding the company that ultimately became Palisades Financial. The firm grew to about 40 people and had originated around $2 billion in investments by the time Procida, seeking yet another change of scenery, sold it in 2007.

As he's always done, he spent the next few years dabbling in different projects, including a startup with Jeff Chimenti, a keyboardist who plays with former Grateful Dead members. The company developed a padded mask for sleep apnea patients, which they patented and marketed before selling the firm in 2010 for more than $1 million.

When Procida rebooted Procida Funding & Advisors in 2009, he sought a smaller shop and a greater focus on distressed assets, he said. In 2010, he launched a program that offers capital to builders and investors who buy or fix one- to four-family homes and small mixed-use properties.

The other attention-getter has been the 100 Mile Fund; since its October launch, it has led to about $22 million in loans, Procida said. The fund, which focuses on loans of between $2 million and $10 million, has helped turn around all types of properties, from a condominium complex in Jersey City to an office building in Freehold.

With his construction background and ability to negotiate, Procida is well suited to work with lenders to restructure or take over debt for a struggling asset, said Leo Leyva, a bankruptcy attorney with Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard P.A. Procida has, "time and time again, been the white knight in distressed situations," he said.

Beyond rescue financing, Procida's firm offers consulting to a host of distressed businesses and situations. The job doesn't always involve real estate, but that's no deterrent to Procida.

"I've never read a book in my life," Procida said. "But I was blessed with the ability to walk into a situation and assess it quickly — the people and the issues — and then quickly devise plans to attack it."

E-mail to: jburd@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @JoshBurdNJ

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