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Marc Rousso, left, and Jay Mezistrano, right, are president and vice president, respectively, of JayMarc Development, based in Renton.

Friends form JayMarc; play role in future of Renton
By DEAN A. RADFORD
Editor, Renton Reporter

 

Best friends for more than 16 years, Jay Mezistrano and Marc Rousso perhaps had no other choice but to name their company JayMarc Development.

These two friends, who became business partners at age 20 while students at the University of Washington, are helping to change the face of Renton.

Their development company just recently concluded the sale of 8.8 acres of land in the Renton Highlands to a high-end home builder based in Bellevue.

The company, Lozier at Laurel Crest LLC, will build 49 homes, with a starting price in the upper $500,000s. Significantly, the Lozier plans are another sign that Renton is attracting the type of developer who once searched out such deals only on the Eastside.

The proposed new community was presented to several regional builders in early 2007, with Lozier submitting the successful bid for the project. The homes will go on the market next year.

The vision for the new Laurel Crest neighborhood just south of Northeast Fourth Street off Duvall Avenue Northeast, started with Rousso and Mezistrano.

For Lozier, that also means that JayMarc has shepherded the project through the city of Renton’s permitting process and, in this case, worked with three local property owners on an annexation to Renton.

“We create a vibrant neighborhood,” said Rousso. They also have several other projects.

Vision is an important word for Rousso, 37, and Mezistrano, 36. Rousso is company president, Mezistrano is the vice president.

“I have the vision for the company; he makes it happen,” Rousso said. “That’s why, after 17 years as business partners, no matter what business, it works.”

That business partnership goes back to their college years. It was a lucrative one.

Roommates at the University of Washington in the early 1990s, they started a mobile DJ business that catered to college events. They were 20. They invested $3,000. In 1995, they sold the business to a competitor for $25,000.

In 1993, Rousso graduated with a degree in economics and speech communications and Mezistrano graduated with an economics degree. Rousso became an agent for John L. Scott and Mezistrano managed the family business.

And, they bought rental property; a development company based in Renton was born.

Rousso and Mezistrano are no strangers to Renton. Rousso grew up in Renton and is a 1988 graduate of Renton High School. Mezistrano lived in Skyway and is a 1988 graduate of Newport High School in Bellevue.

Rousso and Mezistrano also are making investments in the community through a scholarship program for high school students. Not surprisingly, it deals with finance.

Students read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” a book about personal finance by Robert Kiyosaki. They then write a 1,000 word essay. Sixteen students from Renton, Hazen, Lindbergh and Kentridge high schools received a $1,250 scholarship.

The idea for the scholarship program came from the fact that the two business partners didn’t learn much about personal finance in high school. Applications for the scholarships are available each spring from the high school career office.

Their first real-estate deal as developers was a short plat on Aberdeen Avenue in the Highlands.

As developers, they buy what they call “underutilized raw land” and take it through a local government’s permitting process. In doing so, they say they develop a relationship with the properties’ owner.

In many cases they’re working with property owners in their 60s or 70s who have owned the land for decades. “It can be a major piece of their retirement,” said Mezistrano. “We realize the stakes involved.”

The Laurel Crest neighborhood took several years to get to the point of seeking a builder in part because of the process to annex to Renton, known as the Lindbergh Annexation. It’s in an area of the East Renton Plateau that is rapidly developing. A larger annexation there recently failed.

The nature of development in Renton could change, especially as land becomes scarce and the land that is available becomes more difficult to develop because of environmental issues, such as wetlands and steep slopes.

Those factors could lead to higher densities closer in to Renton’s downtown core. Mezistrano looks outside the company’s offices in one of the Triton towers on Grady Way and says someday that the downtown area could go “vertical.” Many looking at downtown redevelopments envision retail shops on the first floor, with housing above. More office space is needed, too, Rousso said.

Rousso and Mezistrano say that housing could include affordable housing and market-rate housing, and both condominiums and apartments. All this would lead, Rousso said, to a more vibrant downtown. “We need to resurrect that,” he said.

Rousso points to Bellevue’s Main Street south of Bellevue Square as an older part of that Eastside city that has seen a renaissance.

More and more, Renton is drawing some comparisons to the Eastside, where property values, homes and incomes have tended to surpass those in South King County.

Michael Levy, manager of the Lozier at Laurel Crest LLC, said during the past 15 years or so, Renton has evolved into a “great Eastside community.” Renton, he says, has become another bedroom community for Seattle, much like Bellevue and other Eastside cities. Improvements to Interstate 405 in the years ahead will make the commute to Seattle easier, he said.

Renton’s demographics are a good fit for the type of more “upscale homes” that Lozier builds. Lozier last built in the Renton area about 25 years ago, and that was in Fairwood.

He sees a “nice” downtown developing and Renton’s slogan, “Ahead of the Curve,” has helped put “Renton on the map.”

“We are really high on Renton,” he said.