|Abele Builders' Dream Project
by Craig Stevens
We purchased the land four years ago, 215 acres. We wanted to develop a planned community [along the lines of] what we have seen in our travels. We knew the project was too big for us on our own. We wanted another builder who was innovative and market-wise to partner with us. We were acquainted with Dave and John Michaels [The Michaels Group], and obviously we knew their company’s reputation. It was a good decision. The relationship has been a good one.
Chris Abele, president of Abele Builders, talking about the new venture his company initiated, Sheldon Hills, and the builder with whom they are partnering to carry it out.
The Michaels Group is very proud to join forces with the Abele team to design and build one of the area’s premier planned communities. Our mutual respect goes back to when our dads, founders of our respective companies, joined forces in business ventures on many occasions. We have taken a team approach to the design of Sheldon Hills with a goal of incorporating the very best in open-space land planning and trend-setting architectural design. We and Abele Builders are committed to achieving the highest level of customer satisfaction and creating a community that will be a solid investment for all who reside there.
David and John Michaels, principals of The Michaels Group
Sheldon Hills is an impressive concept. Chris Abele knew the scope of this project required the joint effort of two building companies. This stems from the fact that over the next four to five years 323 homes will be built, thus making it one of the biggest active developments in the Capital Region. Fundamentally, the developers’ goal is to create a resort-style experience, the first component of which is the setting.
Sheldon Hills is off Route 146 east of the intersection of that road and Route 236 in Halfmoon, New York. The sloping, round-topped knolls offer an impressive view of the Green Mountains of Vermont, a view that isn’t available from the main roads. Moreover, more than 100 acres will be devoted to community green space interlaced with miles of paved trails for biking and walking.
Furthering the resort notion are the amenities the developers are adding to the benefit of all the residents. Most significant is a 5,200 square foot clubhouse that will contain a gathering room, a billiard room, an activity room, a stone fireplace, full kitchen, and a complete fitness center. The common grounds will hold still more recreational opportunities: a swimming pool with a sun deck, a putting green, golf driving nets and two tennis courts.
Then there is the implementation of maintenance-free living. This means homes that require little care, and lawns that are attended to and driveways that are cleared via a homeowners association. Vacuum, dust and wash the windows beyond those common tasks there will be little labor involved. No need for snowblowers or shovels, rakes or lawnmowers. No pulling weeds. No need for ladders and paint cans.
Finally there are the homes themselves. Their design and their accouterments have been carefully worked through. The Abeles (and the Michaels) believe there is a strong interest in smaller homes with an emphasis on first floor living, plenty of modern amenities and architectural/aesthetic interest. Within the community there will be a collection of twin homes and single-family residences. During the first phase, Abele Builders will construct the former, The Michaels Group the latter. The Michaels Group will handle marketing and sales for both builders.
While the Abele homes are called twin homes, they are carriage style “fraternal” twins, not identical. The first pair to be completed, for instance, both offer first floor master suites and open-flow main floors but they differ in many other aspects. One home, the 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom Hampton, contains 1730 square feet of living space that includes a home office. (The model also shows off the optional garden view finished basement.) The Whitney model adjoins it. Its first floor plan of 1,590 square feet is very different yet it too contains a home office. The major difference is a 444-square foot second floor containing a bedroom, bathroom and loft; plus there are options to add one or two bedrooms.
All the five models (the Brookshire and Mayfield I and Mayfield II are the others) have considered flexibility. They range from 1,383 square feet to just over 2,000 square feet. All provide for optional “bump-outs” and cathedral ceilings in the master bedroom and some offer optional master bathroom layouts already designed and ready to be built. The initial product quality standards are high. Brand names like Andersen Windows, Therma-Tru, Kohler, Merrillat Cabinetry and GE are well represented. There arecentral air conditioning and high-tech wiring for telephone, cable and security. Numerous energy-saving features are included. All will have cultured stone exterior accents and many will have 16’ rear privacy fences. The professionally designed landscape package is outstanding.
For many families, the homes, starting at around $300,000, are so complete that customizing features may not be needed. But for those who want them, each model is accompanied by an extensive list. In addition to the aforementioned structural alternatives there are options, depending on the base model, for decks and porches, added windows (including transoms), built-in cabinets, gas fireplaces, designer and gourmet kitchen layouts and much more. For customers who want to see and touch some of the options, Abele Builders maintains a comprehensive design center adjoining their offices in Capital Region Business Park.
Sheldon Hills requires a contemporary form of building company. And that is what Abele Builders typifies. Both Chris and Ed know the physical, hands-on side of building. Both are well educated. Chris, four and half years the older, founded the building company in 1984, a few years following graduating Siena College with a degree in business. Since he would draw upon land developed by his father, Jack Abele, Abele Builders is an extension of the family business. For several years he built a handful or two of homes each year, mostly in Clifton Park, NY.
In 1993 Ed Abele left employment with the area’s largest commercial contractor to become Chris’ partner. He brought with him undergraduate degrees from both Clarkson University and Siena College and an MBA from Babson College.
Early on Ed noted that “We each have our own strengths and they are complementary. … We just naturally gravitated into our areas of responsibility. Chris doesn’t try to duplicate what I do, nor do I try to duplicate what he does.” Consequently, the brothers have blended their interests, skills and talent to establish a company marked by its diversity. Over the last decade they have completed developments in Jonesville (Heritage Green), Clifton Park (Crescent Estates South and Windsor Pointe) and Stillwater (Cambridge Court).
At the same time they have been building hundreds of homes, Abele Builders has developed several hundred thousand square feet of first class commercial space. The company was among the first to implement the notion of “shovel ready.” Chris says: “It was our thinking that if all the approvals and the infrastructure were in place, it would be like building a spec home; someone could move in within a 60- or 90-day time period as, in fact, Frito-Lay did.” In some cases the company builds to sell, in other cases they build to lease and in still others they partner with their clients. The hallmark of the buildings is that they look good both inside and out: brick, stone, lots of glass and excellent landscaping make a clear statement.
The collection of well-conceived structures of Capital Region Business Park on Sitterly Road is the flagship location, but 646 and 648 Plank Road are equally impressive sites. Among the 50-60 occupants of their buildings are Frito-Lay, Vermont Pure Springs, Diagnostic Imaging, Ebeling Associates, The Sportsplex of Halfmoon and Anaconda Sports. At this time of writing approvals are being sought for the final lot of the Business Park.
With considerable property “in the bank,” so to speak, the Abeles are thinking five to six years in the future. Both similar and different commercial projects and cutting edge residential communities are under consideration.
Both brothers say their management structure has changed. One of them joked, more or less, “Our wives now run the company.” (Ed. note: In the interest of family harmony we won’t divulge which Abele made the quip.) However one interprets that statement, their spouses do play important roles in the business. Chris’s wife Phyllis is the marketing director for the residential division. Ed’s wife Susan is design coordinator for both divisions. The Abele team is completed by several specialists both in the office and in the field and by alliances with some of the areas top suppliers and subcontractors.
This writer’s personal experience with the Abele brothers is worth noting. I first interviewed them in 1994 shortly after their partnership had formed. They were just beginning their 100-lot Jonesville residential community. At the time, I quoted Chris: “Our goal is to build comfortable, sound houses that are trouble-free. …” I speculated that it appeared that they were doing so. In 1999 I interviewed them again. The Capital Region Business Park was doing well. This time I quoted Ed: “The work we do is interesting and the people we meet through [it] are interesting, too. It is very interactive. It gives you a sense of how complicated and integrated the world is. And it is nice to create nice looking buildings.”
This third time around I found most things hadn’t changed. The Abeles remain family-oriented, community-oriented, hardworking, honest, forthright and personable. Any conversation with either one of them is pleasant and a good investment of one’s time. They are “bigger players” on the scene, but that hasn’t resulted in “bigger egos.” They are good at forging relationships. Ed says: “The people we collaborate with elevates our game. The Michaels Group is a good example.” One thing is different. They were building “sound houses” a decade ago, but they are building better ones today. In their efforts to build a strong and, yes, a profitable company, they have not forgotten the importance of striving to deliver a better final product.