It was nearly a decade ago when Debra Tantleff, then a young executive with Roseland Property Co., took a lead role in a project that would define the future of downtown Morristown.
You might say it also did the same for her career.
Tantleff recalls that the project, The Metropolitan at 40 Park, involved just about every nuance and complexity that one could encounter in mixed-use, urban redevelopment: from structuring a deal and working with local officials to filling ground-floor retail spaces and picking out countertops for the residential units.
“To create that downtown destination that has all of the elements of what good mixed-use redevelopment is about — I learned a tremendous amount from that project,” she said. “That project was really a model for me.”
Tantleff, 36, now hopes to leverage that experience in a whole new way. Last April, she launched her own development firm after 12 years with Roseland, aiming to build on her success with one of the state’s most acclaimed mixed-use and luxury residential builders.
Known as Tantum Real Estate, her firm is as much about downtown revitalization as it is about high-end multifamily projects, Tantleff said. She’s seeking to accomplish both in the Garden State — initially as a fee-based developer and adviser to other owners.
“I’m fortunate that there are handful of commercial developers who are dabbling in multifamily or expanding into multifamily that I deal with,” she said. And fee-based development “is a great opportunity, where I can circumvent the acquisition process and help people who want to stay in the deal but they need somebody to run it for them.”
Case in point: Tantleff is developing a 35-unit project in Red Bank for a third-party land owner. It’s the type of project she feels can capture renters who want a boutique building — one with no interior amenities but with all the access to everything the rail-served, culture-rich downtown has to offer.
She hopes to develop the niche at her Jersey City-based firm in part by drawing on her years with Roseland, where she rose to become vice president for development before resigning early last year. And it was an impressive trajectory: While she never envisioned a career in construction when she entered Rutgers University as an English major, Tantleff began to think about such a path in the early 2000s while working part-time for a contractor.
By her senior year, she was looking for jobs with some of the state’s top development firms. She ended up as “an assistant in the trailer” with Short Hills-based Roseland, which happened to be building a residential project with more than 400 units in New Brunswick.
“That’s really how I developed such an intimate relationship with my contractors to really understand the nuances of what the subcontractors need on the job, in addition to what the owner is looking to achieve,” she said.