S1 | E5 | Regina Myer

Regina Myer:                    

When I took the Brooklyn job, I really knew that I could do something there because I loved Brooklyn. I moved to Brooklyn in 1991 and started to get sort of obsessed with the fact that there was so much potential here. We just knew that Brooklyn couldn't be the second city anymore.

Narrator:                   

Hey BK with Ofer Cohen

Ofer Cohen:                      

So, welcome to Hey BK, Regina Myer, one of the most important people in the Brooklyn transformation in the last 25 years. A couple of days ago I sent Regina an email or text and I forwarded her a picture on Instagram that had the opening of Brooklyn Bridge Park. What did you say? You said Best Day in Brooklyn, no, "best day for Brooklyn". Tell me about that moment a little bit.

Regina Myer:                          

Opening up Brooklyn Bridge Park was really, I think one of Brooklyn's best moments in the past 10 years. Um, it was really a transformational idea to build Brooklyn Bridge Park. And for 20 years the community fought to build the park on those piers. But nobody really got it. Nobody really believed it at first. And honestly, when it was first proposed, it was the wrong thing to do, there was so much more to do in Brooklyn in terms of rebuilding Prospect Park and rebuilding our neighborhoods. But when it got going and when Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki decided to hit the go button, I was in the right place at the right time. I got to the state offices and I was overwhelmed with how much had to get done and we worked so hard the first three years to prove to everybody that there could be a great park on the Brooklyn Waterfront. So that moment was really a coming out party.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Was it the biggest moment of your career?

Regina Myer:                    

Yeah, it was the biggest day in my career. I would say, honestly I just had this flashback that I think the approvals, the city council approvals for Greenpoint, Williamsburg were huge, huge day for me too. That was just such a Gargantuan effort. But yes, I mean building Brooklyn Bridge Park was clearly, I think once in a lifetime opportunity for anybody. And that moment really encapsulated it all.

Ofer Cohen:                      

As I was going through your biography and I saw that, you know, you worked as a city planner for many years and then you became the head of the Brooklyn office for city planning. And so the first thing that I was wondering about was who wakes up in the morning and decides that that's what they want to do.

Regina Myer:                    

I always loved New York City. I grew up on Long Island, um, but my parents owned a liquor store in midtown Manhattan. And I fell in love with coming into the city with my parents really, really early on. So coming to the city planning department, I felt really privileged, that this was that I had the opportunity to work in, in a place that was dedicated to the future of New York City was a pretty special gig for me.

Ofer Cohen:                      

So that's basically what you want it to do. I mean, you kinda took that path strategically?

Regina Myer:                    

Not really. I was in college. I went to the University of Michigan. I really, I got off, I got out of the East Coast and I was messing around playing in the music business. I was the music director of a college radio station, WCBN, which was an incredible time for me. Had nothing to do with loving New York City.

Ofer Cohen:                      

What kind of music did you guys play?

Regina Myer:                    

It was, it was the, you know, the hay day of punk and new wave era. But we really got into a lot of music. I mean, we were in Detroit, so, you know, I had a lot of special times playing music and then it sort of ended for me. I realized that I didn't really want to do that. And um, then I realized I had to find something to do and I remember I had a temp job in the Upper East Side and one day I just said, you know, I love the city, let me just check this out. And I started taking planning classes at Michigan and decided to stay on and was really lucky enough to come home. And, I had a neighbor who was one of the city planning commissioners, Marty Galland and he got me my first job.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That's amazing. So when you took the head of the city planning in Brooklyn job, did you know what you got yourself into?

Regina Myer:                    

When I took the Brooklyn job, I really knew that I could do something there because I loved Brooklyn. I moved to Brooklyn in 1991 and started to really get sort of obsessed with the fact that there was so much potential here and I had a lot of colleagues who felt the same way and that was an amazing time. I was promoted to director during Mayor Giuliani's And we just knew that Brooklyn couldn't be the second city anymore, that there was a place here that was as special Manhattan and I had worked in the Manhattan office. So I had become obsessed with turning the Brooklyn Office into a place that was as dynamic as the Manhattan office.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Fast Forward to that period 2004 or five when all the big rezoning processes took place. Walk us through this year.

Regina Myer:                    

What was incredible was when Mayor Bloomberg came into office, he hired an incredible team, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, he chair of the city planning commission was Amanda Burton and when we started talking to them about what the future could be in Brooklyn, all they said to us was go, no one said that was a bad idea or think about it a different way. They were like, that's a great idea. Let's do it. So the three things that we pitched to Amanda and Dan, right off the bat, were rezoning for Downtown Brooklyn, rezoning Park Slope, and rezoning Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

Ofer Cohen:                      

These are the three districts with the most amount of density in Brooklyn.

Regina Myer:                    

We just really knew that they were great places for the borough to grow that could really be a spin off what was already happening in Brooklyn. I mean we knew that people were investing in our brownstone neighborhoods. I lived in North Park Slope and really love that neighborhood. But we also just knew that more people, more things could happen and that there was room for growth in the right ways. And we also loved these neighborhoods. These neighborhoods really deserved recognition and we spend a lot of time in the years before studying them and getting ready. But when Dan and Amanda said, go, we were ready and we had really basic concepts, planning concepts, it made perfect sense for Park Slope. It was preserved that old, the wonderful mid-blocks. But, let growth happen on Fourth Avenue, which sits right above the subways and was really sort of an obvious place to connect Gowanus to Park Slope. But Downtown Brooklyn, it was a zone really spinning off the success of Metrotech along Flatbush and Willoughby. And that's where the idea started was that Metrotech had stabilized Downtown Brooklyn. Now, what's the next phase? And I really pushed during that era to really look at both sides of Flatbush Avenue. And, that's what really spawned, I think, the growth into a great vibrant mixed-use downtown and for Greenpoint and Williamsburg there were a few different things happening that were really, really an incredible story for New York City. And the neighborhoods were really, although they'd been disinvested in, they started to be rediscovered by not just the artist community, but young people taking the L train to NYU and the community really started to fight against the manufacturing land on the East River waterfront and we started to really think hard that residential and park uses with the right thing to do when we did a lot of analysis, a bit how much illegal use within, in the neighborhood already, which was basically loft conversion and really started to understand how important the L train was. That Bedford Avenue was going to be the place

Ofer Cohen:                      

You guys probably had no idea the residential development is gonna take off. Nobody had an idea that rents are going to go up and support The residential development that eventually happened in such a massive scale.

Regina Myer:                    

No one in the early two thousands understood how strong the residential market would be in any place in Brooklyn. When did you move to Brooklyn?

Ofer Cohen:                      

I moved to Brooklyn and 2004.

Regina Myer:                    

So when you got here, what was it like?

Ofer Cohen:                      

It was a bargain, Brooklyn in 2004 and when I started the company subsequently in 2008, I thought it's going to take 20 years for, for this to be a sort of like in Manhattan market and it took five years.

Regina Myer:                    

Since then, you've made Brooklyn your career?

Ofer Cohen:                      

Yes!

Regina Myer:                    

So we can really relate to each other. We talked earlier in this conversation about opening Brooklyn Bridge Park as one of the most exciting parts of my career. I'd say the other one now that I'm thinking about it is the day that David Walentas came into my office and said we want to rezone Dumbo, and that was the first time in the Brooklyn Office that somebody was ready to make a commitment on the private side of that scale in Brooklyn and I remember sitting in my office and saying, this is going to change Brooklyn, that we have to do this.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That must have been sort of a great opportunity for city planning.

Regina Myer:                    

It was an incredible opportunity because David Walentas thought big, still thinks big and had a vision to take these loft buildings that he assembled almost a decade and a half earlier into a great neighborhood. And what we realized on the government side was, is that it was that kind of investment that could really change the borough. And everybody was exactly right because before there was Dumbo, there wasn't this idea that Brooklyn was really moving ahead and by all of the sudden releasing all of this great energy in an area that had been mostly disinvested in. Really had this moment to lead the borough at a time when really nothing else was happening in Dumbo. And all of a sudden Dumbo was a place and that showed that the energy in the neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, would move to other places than that more people were interested in the borough. And this is also at a time when government, for the past previous say 20 or 30 years had been spending all their energy in Brooklyn, literally stabilizing the borough, making sure it was safe. Making sure that schools functioned and making sure that they were using public sector money for housing appropriately. So you know, it's a really interesting mash-up of public sector and private sector involvement.

Ofer Cohen:                      

You know, one of the things that I've noticed and I enjoy working with you, is that you make people that you work with, on different sides of the table, like their partners like we all working towards some kind of a common goal, but how did you harness those skills during those battles?

Regina Myer:                    

I love to listen to people and I love to hear what people have to say. I think all of these efforts are, as you mentioned, big efforts and not one person can make all the decisions. I think one person needs to be really, really decisive and wake up every morning and say we have to schedule another 90 meetings to get this done and we have to put together another schedule and I'm going to. By the way, I'm going to keep you to it, but I really think that it's a lot of listening and then it's a lot of process in a good way.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Just walking on Schermerhorn, or walking on Livingston or walking on Flatbush Avenue. When you go to work in the morning and seeing this radical transformation from when you started working on these rezonings 2004, 2005, what does it make you feel?

Regina Myer:                    

I still love Downtown Brooklyn. I know that there's been a lot of change, but when I started thinking about it, Livingston and Schermerhorn Street were all vacant lots from the 19 forties for when the city and the state started to assemble property for the IND at Hoyt-Schermerhorn and Flatbush avenue had three triple x bars. So to me, there was no question in my mind that Downtown Brooklyn should be a better place and now the downtown is an exciting place and in a different way.

Ofer Cohen:                      

And you must feel very, very proud being at the, in the middle of this entire transformation and then sort of coming back and taking the Downtown Brooklyn and or at least having the opportunity to take Downtown Brooklyn to the next level.

Regina Myer:                    

I'm proud and I'm also amazed and also still constantly surprised and delighted at how the private sector responds, right? We rezoned Downtown Brooklyn, but we didn't know a Brooklyn Fare would open up on, on Schermerhorn Street. Right, and that's to me what the magic is, is that we can work really hard on the government side, but we can't predict how the private sector is going to respond. And so to me, a restaurant like Brooklyn Fare all of a sudden put Downtown Brooklyn on a map that in a way that I could never have done. And the same thing in Williamsburg. We could work really hard to think about what the future would be, but a company like VICE grows from, from the ground up or in Dumbo. A company like Etsy or West Elm decides to make Dumbo it's brand really to this day. Even the West Elm is California owned company. Those are the things that government can't do it all. And that's the magic for me is that we work really hard to think about the future and then the private sector does the same thing.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Now as the head of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, how do you feel about the ability to continue to transform Brooklyn to continue to transform Downtown Brooklyn?

Regina Myer:                    

What's really exciting about what's going to happen next in Downtown Brooklyn is that major sites that really are in I think perhaps the best locations, can transform Downtown Brooklyn to be an office center. And let's be honest, we're competing on the world stage here. Ten years ago there was no flatiron district, so we have to continually be competitive and I think sites like the alloy site at 625 Fulton have the opportunity to be the places where there is the next big move for office growth and mixed-use growth in Downtown Brooklyn. And the great news is that locations are perfect also the idea of the Strand, I think it's really finally people listening to, again because I'm realizing that the rebuilding of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway can have a profound effect on Downtown Brooklyn,

Ofer Cohen:                      

Brooklyn in the next census is scheduled to surpass Chicago and to become the third largest city in America. And so, in a way, it sounds to me like the work that you're doing with the Downtown Brooklyn area has the responsibility in a way for the entire borough of Brooklyn in our city of Brooklyn to kinda position itself in the US, position itself in the world as competitive, right?

Regina Myer:                    

Totally. I think that Downtown Brooklyn is the image for the entire borough and the growth of Downtown Brooklyn really is what's leading the borough. Obviously, there's so many different neighborhoods where there's so much different investment in different strengths. But if it wasn't for this location in Downtown Brooklyn with every single subway line in New York City, except the seven line coming to Downtown Brooklyn Without Long Island Railroad, without Barclays Center without Fulton Street, which is a major shopping street to this day without the kind of new investment of City Point to those, each one of those projects is what makes Downtown Brooklyn Great. And that is what's leading Brooklyn right now.

Ofer Cohen:                      

When you close your eyes and you say, how will this place look in 15 years?

Regina Myer:                    

I think in 15 years, it will be more built out. I think that they'll be better connections to the waterfront. I think that the navy yard will feel like it's around the corner. And I think, the area from Downtown Brooklyn through to Dumbo heights to Dumbo was honestly be one continuum, right? It's all coming together and those are a lot of things that I think will take another decade to really feel all of the impact, especially if the Brooklyn Queens Expressway is going to be rebuilt for the next decade. But that will happen.

Ofer Cohen:                      

What about the BQX?

Regina Myer:                    

The BQX has this huge potential to connect all of our neighborhoods. I love the idea of adding another technology for transit in Brooklyn and I think Brooklyn is the place for the city to get that started and I'm really hopeful that Mayor de Blasio takes a lead on, on bringing new transportation to Downtown Brooklyn.

Ofer Cohen:                      

It feels like almost like Downtown Brooklyn is, the best-kept secret in America. So do you have any thoughts about how we can brand it?

Regina Myer:                    

I think we have to do a better job of making sure people understand how great it is living in Downtown Brooklyn is such a great experience. It has great views, great transportation, and great services and that's something that I think working altogether that of the nightlife culture and the housing is really the brand for Downtown Brooklyn. But the other thing is making new companies come in settle in Downtown Brooklyn and those are the things that I think are key to rebranding Downtown.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Thank you so much for Regina. I really appreciate you being here with me today.

Regina Myer:                    

Thank you Ofer, this has been great.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Thanks for listening to Hey BK the podcast dedicated to the people behind Brooklyn's transformation. You can find us at heybk.nyc or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

S2 | E4 | Karen Auster

Narrator:                           Hey BK with Ofer Cohen

Karen Auster:                

Can I put my feet up?

Ofer Cohen:                      

We just walked into the studio and she immediately asked if she could put her feet up.

Karen Auster :                   

That's what I'm doing, is that okay?

Ofer Cohen:                      

No, it's perfect. It's perfect.

Karen Auster :                   

Deep breath.

Ofer Cohen:                      

So where do we start with Karen, we got into the studio and I kind of felt like Karen is going to actually interview me.

Karen Auster :                   

Well since we to talk about Brooklyn...

Ofer Cohen:                      

We're here to talk about you.

Karen Auster :                   

Oh really?

Ofer Cohen:                      

I'm Ofer Cohen. Today I'm sitting down with a key force behind the Brooklyn experience, Karen Auster. During the past two decades, her DUMBO-based marketing firm, Auster Agency, has been involved with projects that have shaped the current Brooklyn identity.

Karen Auster :                   

I often say I would do this job for free. I just love creating experiences There's nothing like creating something and watching people love it. I only do projects that I love and that's super important to me. I will only accept projects that I really feel that can be either launched with meaning or you're transforming something that means something and making a difference.

Ofer Cohen:                      

It all started 30 years ago when Karen got the Brooklyn Buzz.

Karen Auster :                   

I had been living in Italy and I came to have an ice cream on Montague street. And I walked to the promenade and I said, I want to live here. And that was the beginning and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the people. I mean, of course, Brooklyn Heights and that view, but everywhere I went it just, I loved Brooklyn and that's where I knew I was going to stay and I've meandered around. I remember being a pioneer in Boerum Hill. I remember when in-law said, "wow, you're going to move here?"

Ofer Cohen:                      

Karen was born in Brooklyn, but she grew up on Long Island. It was her role as a mom that sparked her first big launch.

Karen Auster :                   

I wasn't fully immersed in Brooklyn. I was fully immersed in being a mom and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I knew I had a vision of starting a company, I just didn't know with what, I can do anything, you know, life is large. And a friend of mine said, you know, you're really bossy, you should be a producer. I'm just like, yeah, what do you mean? Literally, that's how it started. You know, Dan Zanes, he's a musician. He was just launching his kid's music and I knew because I was in ad sales, how to get advertisers behind concepts. So I took the two, and Dan was launching this music and I got some local sponsors and I produced my first concert in Pierrepont park in Brooklyn Heights and it was a huge success. The more I created these family concerts, the more people came and I started. I was on a roll. That's how from the family concerts, that's how I was hired to then do the park.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Karen was hired by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy to tell a story about a new park to be developed along the East River.

Karen Auster :                   

Here's an idea folks, and we would have these little parlor meetings and tell people about this idea. They were dilapidated peers at that time and how lucky that I fell into. I love telling a good story. I love telling people about an idea and really get to get them on board. That's what I love. That's what I'd love to do is, you know, you don't know about this. Let me tell you.

Ofer Cohen:                      

First, the niche was Brooklyn, right?

Karen Auster :                   

Right.

Ofer Cohen:                      

And Brooklyn related brands?

Karen Auster :                   

Like the Atlantic Antic. It was a very typical street festival and I was asked to make it more Brooklyn authentic selling sponsorship as well and kind of creating a more equal Brooklyn Festival, not just any festival that was, you know, that you could find it anywhere in New York City. This had, you know, we really invited the local nonprofits as well as the local artisans and the food vendors and just really Brooklyn-centric. And that's why the antic is so much fun with Brooklyn bands. I mean, you know, I often would say when I would produce the antic gets really great showcase of Brooklyn because it's a myriad of cultures. Everyone's happy. It's like the perfect world.

Ofer Cohen:                      

For every new project., the timing is everything.

Karen Auster :                   

But you know, you don't want to just come in as an outsider into Brooklyn. You need to come in with the right mix. You need to hire people that are Brooklyn based, that you know, use Brooklyn designers and you know, hire Brooklyn Musicians and Brooklyn bartenders. You can't just jump into Brooklyn and think you're going to take over. I won't mention people who have tried to do that and had to leave.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Right

Karen Auster :                   

Or they're not accepted gracefully.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Wait, why is that? Why is Brooklyn is such a unique place to enter and you need to be so sensible.

Karen Auster :                   

Because it's still a community and we're very sensitive about the mix of our community and I hope and I am hopeful that we continue to be sensitive about the different cultures that live here and the different talents that are found here. That's what makes Brooklyn different than the rest of the cities. I just feel strongly that the beauty of Brooklyn is not only the architecture or the park, it's the people. I've always said that from the minute I landed and all the little neighborhoods that I've lived in ever since there's authenticity, that authenticity, that word is what people are craving. You know, there's a lot of, you know, I am on social media, I do social media, but a lot of that is not real.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Right.

Karen Auster :                   

It's curated for perfection and a lot about Brooklyn is that we love its imperfections too and we embrace that.

Ofer Cohen:                      

From the antic to Brooklyn designs, she had found her niche and it was time to expand.

Karen Auster :                   

Well, it came and my daughter asked me to leave the house. I was running the company from my house. She was around 12 and she's like, mom, I've had enough people in my house. I need my house, you know? Um, so I moved out to Flatbush Avenue, 33 Flatbush Avenue, which is, I don't know if you know that building all these amazing startups and entrepreneurs.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Yeah, its kind of a cool building.

Karen Auster :                   

It was awesome. It was like this breeding ground for entrepreneurs. I mean, so many people have come out of that building and I was just..

Ofer Cohen:                      

There's a lot of creative energy in that building.

Karen Auster :                   

Ah, it unbelievable. And so that was my launch, he actually gave me, Al gave me free rent for a year. He said I believe in what you're doing. I believe in your passion. I was like, I don't know. I don't want to leave my kids. He's like, no, come, come.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That's amazing

Karen Auster :                   

It is amazing, it was beautiful. He was so kind, so that was an easy segway because bottom line, I love free rent and it just grew from there. And more recently I guess my niche is real estate. I forgot about another really exciting launch that I did. I'm sorry because I'm sure you know about Domino Park. I mean that park is unbelievable also.

Ofer Cohen:                      

I was there, I was waiting for you to bring it up.

Karen Auster :                   

Oh Sorry. Um, well it's funny because I'm actually thinking about moving over there. It's something I've actually considered because it's really cool and really fun and Domino Park was beautiful launch. I mean they did it right. Two Trees gets it. They really got it right. I mean architecturally, it's interesting. It's really, for the kids, it's unbelievable and Tacocina in there is delicious. And with that launch, which was even more exciting, I was heading out to Barcelona and I was in a park, Park Guell, the top of a Park Guell , and I saw all these musicians playing throughout the park, so I called my staff and I said, we need to find a company in Brooklyn that will provide us with all unique kind of musicians and that was kind of fabulous. That was great, you know, we did that for the opening was have all these different kinds of musicians all over the park and just, that was a really amazing day.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Yeah, it was a really nice. It was a really nice evening. And it just also, to see that you know, private, private developer is actually building a park and does it so well. It's kind of a rare.

Karen Auster :                   

Yes, they really do it really well. I mean, they really do it beautifully and the Walentas, I mean, Jane's Carousel is beautiful and, what they touch is well done.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Now that her kids are grown. Karen's taking on jobs outside of Brooklyn, but there's a common thread in all her events.

Karen Auster :                   

We know millennials love experiences, right? Everyone's craving authentic experiences.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Well, I mean that's basically it because, with technology and social media, we're lacking experiences.

Karen Auster :                   

Brands not only need proper creative but indeed to tell their story and that's what we're doing, creating their stories. So if it's a developer that's launching a new building, well there's a lot of buildings out there. So what makes your story different? What makes your property different? If you have a shopping center, you know, we all know retail is not at its height right now. So the properties that we activate our, we create experiences whether they're wellness experiences or our art exhibitions, you know, we drive traffic to look at a new space, a new brand. Any great launch takes a good plan. And that's usually, and depending on how large the project is, takes time because you can't just tell a story because it will not seem authentic if you're not, if you're just telling it in one month, two months needs to really be told and you really need to do what you say. If you're going to hire local, you need to actually hire local. I get it. I get called in early. I mean, how lucky am I to get called in and projects and these people that are creating amazing things, they call me and say, what do you think? Do you think you could help us launch this? I mean, and again, I will not take on every job because I don't need to. My kids. I'm paying my last college bill, I'm very proud. I ran the marathon two years ago and I say paying for college for kids as much harder than the marathon because you know, it just is. And I'm paying my last college bill next week.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That's amazing.

Karen Auster :                   

It is amazing.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Congratulations

Karen Auster :                   

Thank you!

Ofer Cohen:                      

So, what do you think is next for you, more projects, bigger projects is it, you know, doing things in different cities.

Karen Auster :                   

Yes. Now that my kids are launched. I'm traveling all the time and I'm visiting cities and seeing how they do it differently. Let's see what they do well and what they don't do well. And I'm so lucky now. You know, I've been part of this revival of Brooklyn and now I see, I notice what else is going on. So you know, projects come like the BQX friends of the BQX and the idea of selling of creating this new transportation here, through Brooklyn and Queens. I mean, I think I would love it personally. Yeah, you know, I do a lot of work in queens as well, so I wouldn't mind hopping on something like that to get to the next borough. So it's exciting to see and listen to visionaries and be part of what visionaries want to bring. So I'm listening. I just got my first electric scooter, paying attention. You know, how we'll make cities better? I've lived here, I've raised my children here, I loved raising my kids as a career woman, It was so spectacular to be satisfied with my career, have my children close, so I want to make a living in the city better. So how do we improve the quality of life here and whether it's bringing new modes of transportation, quality of life is really important and my head was down for some of it because I was working hard on raising my kids. I was really in the weeds. I now see clearly because I don't have to be in the weeds anymore and so I want to make it a better city for others. I want to help other women and families, but in particular I do have, you know, I like to help other women because it's complicated to raise kids, be very present for your kids who need you and have a successful thriving career. What can we add to this city or change within the city? And that's where I see myself kind of pioneering, kind of moving in that direction. Okay. What am I most proud of? I live in Brooklyn Bridge Park. My office is in Dumbo. I walk to work and I do feel a sense of pride in being part of it. And Brooklyn Bridge Park is so beautiful and when I walk in the park, I do look up the sky and just saying, this is amazing how far I've come after 30 years, you know, moving to Brooklyn.

Ofer Cohen:                      

There's one thing that we always ask, but tell us something nobody knows about you.

Karen Auster :                   

No one knows? Well, you probably. Okay. Here we go. Did you know that Louis Auster invented the egg cream and that in my family it's folklore that he's my great uncle?

Ofer Cohen:                      

Wow.

Karen Auster :                   

I was born Flatbush and being Sicilian and Jewish and very, you know, part of the fabric of Brooklyn and Louis Auster invented the egg cream and that's my uncle.

Ofer Cohen:                      

See, there you go that's a good story. Thank you, Karen.

Karen Auster :                   

Thank you.

Ofer Cohen:                      

You're listening to Hey BK, the podcast about the people behind Brooklyn's transformation. You can find us at heybk.nyc Or wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Ofer Cohen. Thanks for listening.

 

S1 | E4 | David Belt

David Belt:         

And I realized that I could sell every one of my hours for the rest of my life and that would mean success and I just thought it was a horrible thought to me and I had this idea that if I just had time I could think of really cool projects that I'd be interested in, maybe other people would like.

Ofer Cohen:      

Today I have the pleasure of having a true renaissance man in the studio, David Belt, who takes a very different approach to real estate and the world. So David, welcome to Hey BK. We just met on a train in Tokyo and we just chit chatting and I'm asking you what do you do? What do you say?

David Belt:         

These days I would probably tell you since we were in Tokyo that I'm the CEO and Co-founder of New Lab.

Ofer Cohen:      

New Lab opened its doors in 2016. It's a community of entrepreneurs working advanced technology in a former shipbuilding warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Is New lab just the sexiest thing to put high on your resume or it's just really taking, you know, 99 percent of your attention right now?

David Belt:         

It's taking a lot of my attention. It's the most challenging thing and it's also the thing where I potentially have the most to offer that as a project has the ability to really kind of transcend normal kind of place-based real estate project.

Ofer Cohen:      

I thought I knew a lot about David Belt, but I didn't know that a real estate developer known for his creativity started out in punk bands back in the eighties.

David Belt:         

I will tell you that, that most of my aesthetic and attitude and things that are interesting to me are of direct lineage from the eighties punk rock scene. It changed my life because I had never left the east coast. We circled the country in a van. There were like four of us. You know, I was in San Francisco. We played a show in San Francisco and I was like, I can't believe you're allowed to live here. Like it was so beautiful in San Francisco. Like it was so different, you know? And so I moved to San Francisco as a result of that and I wouldn't have. And then I got a job as a laborer or doing construction and then that kind of set me on a different course. And, you know, one of the things is I grew up kind of broke and I never romanticized being broke in the punk scene that wasn't the appealing part to me or like being dirty.

Ofer Cohen:      

I'm interested in having this show about being about the people, about their path and their journey and I'd want to have the people that are the most interesting sort of people behind the Brooklyn transformation, but I don't want to necessarily make this be a real estate show and your sort of like the perfect guest on the show because it's hard to talk to you about real estate and it's easier to talk to you about everything else. Tell me a little bit about how do you even become a real estate developer in that sense?

David Belt:         

Well so, some people advance in their careers because they're good at things. Some people advanced because they're bad things and they just can't do that thing anymore. I'm in the latter camp, so like, I got a job as a laborer and I didn't like that because it felt like slavery and then I got a job as an assistant carpenter and I didn't like that. And then I was a carpenter but I wasn't a very good carpenter. So then it became like an estimator and then a lot of numbers. And so I became a project manager and so everything in my career was like, I just didn't want to be bossed around anymore, so I want to do the next thing and I wasn't good or comfortable in wherever I was. And so that's sort of been the theme. So it was more on and in my younger days I was doing things almost out of anger, you know, I didn't have a college degree and I wanted to prove that I was as smart as that guy because he's not smarter than me or whatever. And it wasn't until like 2008-2009 that I started doing things more out of love or projects that I was interested in.

Ofer Cohen:      

Because you didn't need the anger anymore, you didn't need to be rebellious?

David Belt:         

I guess you hit a certain age maybe or what happened was, I tasted success, but it was the kind of success that felt unsustainable. I also own a project management company. We're doing about a billion dollars in projects right now and we're building schools and we're building a theater at the World Trade Center. A bunch of stuffs in predevelopment and in 2008-2009, we were doing well and I realized that I could sell every one of my hours for the rest of my life and that would mean success. And that was a horrible thought to me. And I had this idea that if I had time I could think of really cool projects that I'd be interested in maybe other people would like. But I had no time.

David Belt:         

So that moment was around 2008-2009?

Ofer Cohen:      

The economy had collapsed, we had built a bunch of condos. We got out of those okay. We made money, right? But we were lucky we sold a bunch just before and the point is, I did this project in Rome and I was really proud of it and I couldn't believe like every day I was Rome, I was like, Holy Shit, I can't believe I'm in Rome.

Ofer Cohen:      

Right? I'm actually doing this.

David Belt:         

I'm getting paid. And I'm like, it was very glamorous sort of. And, and then I came home and I was at my parents for Thanksgiving outside of Philly and I was driving on route one and the real estate market had tanked and all these shopping centers were closing. And so I had this like weird moment where I'm like, you know, it's one thing to take a beautiful building in Rome and renovate it, but all these strip malls are actually my legacy, like these junk spaces are where I'm from, what can we do with those? So I came up with this like, I don't know what happened. It might've been actually in retrospect, like some kind of a manic episode, I'm not quite sure. So I've made this project, I worked with all these friends of mine who are architects and everyone was out of work so they have plenty of time and we collaborated and we thought about like what to do to repurpose these old things and as part of that, they have big parking lots. So I wanted to take over shopping centers and make them into like community centers and I wanted to do the thing that everyone was thinking about those times for like urban community farms and farmers markets and flea markets and like, you know, all kinds of crazy ideas and we did all these renderings about that.

Ofer Cohen:      

Sounds like it was kinda like a coincidence, maybe like the fact that it was in the middle of the great recession and the fact that you said, you know what, I'm not going to just sell my hourly for the rest of my life. I just want to do something more impactful.

David Belt:         

Well there were some really key signs. Like one sign was like, when you're a consultant you hope to get clients.

Ofer Cohen:      

Right.

David Belt:         

And what was happening to me is like, you've heard of a paperless office? I wanted a clientless office. Like I couldn't take it, like people were calling me up and I was like, I don't want to think about their problems. I want to think about my problems, so I was getting cranky and my leadership was suffering as a result.

Ofer Cohen:      

While David was figuring out what to do with shopping malls. He heard about a plan to turn the dumpsters into swimming pools and that's what he did right here in Brooklyn.

David Belt:         

So I rented a lot in Gowanus. I built these swimming pools and I made a country club in this junkyard and I didn't pull any permits and I didn't ask for permission. We just lined these dumpsters and we put the pumps and filters in and you know, it was not dirty, it was nice. But we had a party of some of our friends who owned a magazine. We ended up on the front page of the art section of the New York Times. And I had no plausible deniability about it. Like I couldn't say, oh, I didn't know you needed a permit. We're building all kinds of stuff. And so we got in trouble. They called us into the health department or not we, me. And then the health commissioner at the time said, we sent you the letter at the end of the summer because we thought it was a cool project and the Bloomberg administration wants to sponsor your pools and make them street legal. So the next year, we built street legal dumpster pools, and we had them on Park Avenue. And so that was like a weird little project, but it changed everything because it weirdly gave me access to a whole other set of people in the creative community. And also weirdly in city government. Like weirdly, it changed the trajectory of my career.

Ofer Cohen:      

But it also unleashed you creatively, right? Because project management...

David Belt:         

I don't know if it unleashed me creatively, but it gave me the confidence to keep trying and keep saying like, well New York City is a wonderful place where money follows vision and it is the kind of place where you can do this kind of bootleg punk rock illegal project in a dump, in a junk yard, and then the mayor's office would sponsor you to be on Park Avenue. And that people with money and people with like civic intention will support you if you have a vision and you prove that.

Ofer Cohen:      

That's empowering. How did you conceive of New Lab? Full disclosure, I'm on the board of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but tell us about the very beginning of New Lab and how did that come about?

David Belt:         

So 2009, I did the pools. 2010, I did them legally on Park Avenue. I had this idea. My wife was a costume designer and we went a lot to St Ann's warehouse. Susan was going to lose her theater and I love St Ann's and I want to do something that my wife would be proud of, and then I ended up building St Ann's warehouse,

Ofer Cohen:      

That's when he met Andrew Kimball back then president of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The task was to reimagine the abandoned machine shop that housed tens of thousands of workers and it's hay-day. Building the most advanced ships for both world wars.

David Belt:         

When Andrew took me into that building and it was this beautiful rusted out Shell and he said, what should this be? I was like, this should be the new state of manufacturing, right? This should be a nondenominational MIT media lab. This should be like the place in New York where if you're working on a hard problem that has social relevance, but you're an entrepreneur that you want to be. This should be the aspirational place where tech kids and flyover states want to get to. You know what the Castro or fire island was to the Gay community in the seventies and eighties, I wanted New Lab to be the Geeky tech kids and fly over states. Like if I could just go there, that's where my people would be. And so that was the aspiration and that's what we tried to build and that's how we ended up with a project and it took us a long time to raise the money, long time for the Navy Yard to give us the building, a long time for them to believe we could do it a long time for us to kind of cement the vision and figure out the financing. But in the end we did it and now it's great and it's hard and it's not a tremendously obvious business model, but it's, it's something that a lot of people feel passionate about and that I really want to be a good shepherd.

Ofer Cohen:      

New Labs, 84,000 square feet of space featuring over 100 companies working in the most advanced technology, robotics and hardware coexist and collaborate.

David Belt:         

We're not an incubator, just taking kids out of college who might have an idea. These people are real, you know, and what I love about them is that they're at the top of their game intellectually and they're at the top of their game, you know, technologically, but they're very vulnerable because they're entrepreneurs. They could fail at any moment and so that vulnerability is like super attractive and I feel the same way. Like I could fail at any moment. And so I think that needs to be the more of those people in New York.

Ofer Cohen:      

Well, does it make sense to have a second New Lab in Brooklyn, then?

David Belt:         

I've been talking about, again, I'm all about narrative and so I want to understand the why and I understand like the emotional reason to do it as well as the financial and business reason. And so one might imagine that there could be a New Lab geared towards food technology in Brooklyn. One might imagine there could be a New Lab geared to data for social good, right? Or companies, you know, I'm the guy who loved the light bulbs store that only sold light bulbs, you know, so like the more that you can create a community around a specific intention that always feels much more poignant to me. And so maybe there would be another New Lab in Brooklyn. I mean I've been talking to other developers about it, you know, interestingly people like it as content for their buildings and it becomes an attractor, which hopefully it will be for the Navy Yard. But like, and I guess it has been to some extent, but people will give me almost free buildings or free rent, but again, it's, there has to be a bigger why than just, than just that because it's not a real estate model actually.

Ofer Cohen:      

Right.

David Belt:         

It's not. I mean we make about less than half our money from the real estate.

Ofer Cohen:      

What are some of the most amazing technologies or entrepreneurs that you have encountered in New Lab?

David Belt:         

So there's a company called modern meadow that grows leather, not from animals. But it's real leather. It's like they grow it in the lab and Collagen and there are real scale, they've raised a lot of money there. They're a very, very interesting company. They're working with fashion brands and it's a whole different model.

Ofer Cohen:      

What stage is the company in?

David Belt:         

They have the product, they have a huge lab and their design group and their senior managements in New Lab. They also hold a bio-fabricate conference every year. Last years was in New Lab. It was super interesting and some of the most brilliant minds in biofabrication were there. I love people who have an amazingly ambitious idea and are also able to raise a lot of money.

Ofer Cohen:      

The fear is that in order to grow, they're going to move to another town.

David Belt:         

I'm taking another 40,000 square foot of space to create some like flexible situations.

Ofer Cohen:      

You're basically a catalyst for them, a catalyst for Brooklyn, catalysts for the city.

David Belt:         

Yeah and so the multiplier effect of having those companies in close proximity is that they can hire better engineers because they get to collaborate with a bunch of cross-disciplinary companies, right? The place looks cool. That helps. They can raise money better because all the venture capitalists come through. Right?

Ofer Cohen:      

So what's next for David Belt?

David Belt:         

I like people with patient money and who want to do something significant and it follows a vision and that also are good thinkers and want to collaborate, on a high level. So a utopian idea would be to create a living-learning community around something like New Lab where people could come from different areas of the world and stay for a period of time and collaborate. So who knows, something like that could happen on like governors island per se or somewhere like that. But like we have a problem with housing being so expensive and hotels being so expensive in New York and the more expensive it gets, the less interesting things could happen. So, someone who saw both the economic and the social value in doing something where you know, there could be these new platforms for collaboration and didn't need to make an eight percent immediate yield with a 20 percent IRR and an exit in five years, which is basically everybody, which pisses me off, you know, I mean, you're just flipping to another fund. No one wants to build long-term value. No one actually cares. It really bothers me.

Ofer Cohen:      

Can I ask you a question? Why not do something like this as a nonprofit?

David Belt:         

Because I want to make money and I'm on the board of a bunch of non for profits and I don't believe that that's the right model for this. I believe it has to be self-sustaining. I don't want to be at the mercy of rich philanthropists, right? I don't want to be at the mercy of grants. I want to eat what I kill and I want whatever project I do to eat what it kills the other passion of mine, which is going to sound completely crazy to you. Maybe or maybe not, is like. So I guess we don't have all of these panels about like cities of the future. I think actually refugee camps are the cities of the future. I really do like, like an average refugee stays in a refugee camp for 17 years. It was horrible like and with what's happening with weather events and what's happening with like global warming and what's happening with like political unrest and people closing borders. So we're working with a very prestigious Ivy League school who I won't mention and I'm working with the D.O.D and I'm working with all these technologists. I would love to build an off the grid deployable emergency structure for refugees or people surviving storms and stuff and I think that could influence the housing market and other places in the country. We're almost there with batteries and solar. Right. So like when I like think about like what's next for me, that's probably what's next. And I have a lot of experience building small spaces for student housing. I own an insurance consulting business which I mentioned. So I've been in a lot of places, have disasters, like I understand a lot of characteristics of it. And that feels just like a pretty good way to spend some time. So who knows, maybe five years from now when you have me on here, I'll be a refugee housing guy.

Ofer Cohen:      

And as David Belt tackles world problems, as he's doing it from here in his home base in Brooklyn.

David Belt:         

It's an amazing, amazing time to be in Brooklyn. I mean, I can't even believe it, you know, like I mean between like New Lab and what's going on in downtown Brooklyn and St Ann's and pioneer works. It's just incredible, you know? And, and I guess I'm really cognizant of the fact that it's temporal and that it's a time when, you know when interesting things can happen on a bunch of different levels and people are really trying from a civic point of view as well as a financial point of view. I think it's kind of a special time.

Ofer Cohen:      

Thank you so much, David. I really appreciate it. I'm Ofer Cohen. Thanks for listening to Hey BK.

 

S2 | E3 | Eran Chen

Hey Bk with Ofer Cohen

Ofer Cohen:      

Here's a guy that does not live in Brooklyn but yet reinvented what living in Brooklyn means and built so many apartments.

Eran Chen:         

Right.

Ofer Cohen:      

Tell me about that

Eran Chen:         

Actually, I should feel bad that I don't live in Brooklyn right no.w

Ofer Cohen:      

No, no, I'm not trying to make you feel..

Eran Chen:         

I know, I know.

Ofer Cohen:      

I'm Ofer Cohen on this episode of Hey Bk, I talked to Eran Chen, an Israeli born architect and founder of ODA Architecture. Based in Manhattan, Eran is currently working on developments around the city and abroad, but it's in Brooklyn where his career really took off from several projects on the fourth avenue corridor through the innovative urban design of the old wrangled brewery site and all the way to Eliot Spitzer project on the Williamsburg waterfront.

Eran Chen:         

You know, it's been quite fascinating because Brooklyn in so many ways is different than Manhattan and I know that people compare all the time in a way, uh, even try to kind of copy the successes from Manhattan into Brooklyn. But that's something that we shouldn't do. Because Brooklyn has this kind of character of its of it's own and it has so many more opportunities that Manhattan doesn't have anymore, so the urban texture is already kind of done.

Ofer Cohen:      

Right.

Eran Chen:         

And if you take exceptions, the Hudson Yard is different or the Highline that really was surprising in their scale and the way that they changed the city. Otherwise, we're just building buildings within an existing context. Where in Brooklyn, there's areas of really new invention and great developments and you can, you have the ability to really try to adopt architecture to people's life and to what people want to and how people want to live today

Ofer Cohen:      

Develop more of a neighborhood than working within a confined lot.

Eran Chen:         

Right. I mean, one of the things that always bothered me living in New York City is the lack of intimacy and neighborhood-like feeling. It used to be in many neighborhoods. I think that where I am on the Upper West Side, there's still a sense of it and places like Tribeca and other places, but as you know, density grows, you lose that sense of a community ownership and, how do you create it when you have a building in a street and the relationship is either you're inside the building or outside of the street. It's very tough. You have to make sure that either the streets themselves become a place of community, like we grew up, and that the buildings, the way that they're built, create a sense of belonging in an area that kind of belongs to everyone and it's not just having sort of a series of amenities, if you will, but having a territory outside of the building and inside of the building that is communal and that's a tough challenge. But I think it's exciting.

Ofer Cohen:      

Eran moved to New York in 1999. He studied architecture at the elite art school Bezalel in Jerusalem where he was exposed to new ideas and culture for the first time.

Eran Chen:         

I grew up in a small town in Israel in Ber Sheva, you know, when you grow in smaller towns, regardless of your talent or capabilities, your dreams are smaller than people that live in bigger towns. It's funny, partially because you don't know. You don't know what are the possibilities that are out there. My dreams were modest. Even when I came to New York, I just dreamed of landing a job in a big office and being able to go down and have lunch and eat a hot dog at the park. That was really the extent of my dream. I didn't think that it's going to grow beyond that, to be honest. You know, it was hard to land a job I would say and I'm ashamed to say is ignorance as an Israeli coming into town, I was not prepared. I didn't write my resume the right way. I sent my work experience from Israel with a resume that people didn't know how to read.

New Speaker:   

This is such a typical, very typical Israeli typically

New Speaker:   

Typical Israelis

Ofer Cohen:      

Sounds very familiar.

Eran Chen:         

And I remember. It's funny, I remember that after being denied from so many offices, I was so depressed and I went to one of my friends who was an investment banker who's been at the city for quite some time and I said, look, you gotta help me here. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I thought of myself as a decent architect. Nobody wants to take me. And he said, okay, let's see what you're sending out. And he looks at my resume and he says, no, no, no this is America, my friend. You can't have a typo in a resume. So that was my first kind of lesson. So he tied up my resume and, I applied for a few more jobs and it's the funniest story because I was so desperate. At some point somebody called me back from New Jersey and, he said, okay, can you come for an interview? I said, sure, fine. But I didn't realize at that time how big New Jersey is. And I just said, I'm going to take a cab because I took, I took a cab from the Upper West Side to a place that he's an hour and a half into Jersey. I can't even remember the name of the town. Got me broke. I couldn't even pay the taxi bill. Anyways, I get off the couch when I go into the small office, maybe 10 people. And the guy looks at my work and says, wow, I mean I think you're really good. Uh, how much money do you want to make? And I said, I don't know, maybe, maybe $50,000 a year. And he looked at me and he says, well, we're not paying that kind money. But he said I have a very good friend that I went to school with. His name is Brad Perkins. He has a very, very big company in New York City. Let me call him.

Ofer Cohen:      

That's how Eran landed his big break at Perkins Eastman. But by 2007 he felt antsy.

Eran Chen:         

We had our second child and I lived in a rental, a one bedroom apartment walk up on the upper west side. You know, having to carry the stroller up and down every day, et cetera. And we, we thought that was fine. Everything was fantastic. And I remember this weekend I sat with my wife and I said, look, I'm contemplating this idea of opening my own office. What do you think? And she's like, that's fantastic if you want, go for it. But my wife is a scientist. You worked at Mount Sinai making $40,000 a year. We had two kids and we said, how the hell we're going to do that? There's no way that I can take that risk. And we very quickly decided that it's not going to happen. And then a week after I'm reading the New York Times and New York Times magazine had a cover story about David Adjaye, he's quite famous now, but the story kind of tells, how he opened his firm in London and there's something about this story that totally kind of triggered my hidden desire. And I told my wife that's it. I'm doing it. And that was it.

Ofer Cohen:      

Eran founded ODA just before the economy collapsed. Developer, Yitzhak Tesler gave the firm a chance converting the toy building on Madison Square Park.

Eran Chen:         

He said, well, would you do it for half the fee and I said, of course.

Ofer Cohen:      

Earmuffs, all the developers, earmuffs.

Eran Chen:         

It's all about money. Right? And he said, so when can you start? And I said, Yitzhak, I don't even have a name for the company and frankly I don't have money, yet set aside. I know that I'm going to buy a few computers and stuff. And he said, well look, we need to start in two weeks. And I said, how are we going to do it? And I don't know if you know Yitzhak, he used to smoke a cigar in his office. It was like he's a big guy and I'm sitting there and he says, look, we got to do it. How much money do you need? And I said I think, you know, maybe $150,000 to start. So like in the movies he kind of opened the drawer, he took out a checkbook like this big one and he said $150,000. Who do I write the check to because the company didn't exist in? I said just write Eran!

Ofer Cohen:      

That's a good story.

Eran Chen:         

I'm grateful for this for forever and I love Yitzhak for that. Then he really trusted me and in two weeks we, we bought the equipment. We started working, you know, at the office and that was our biggest project.

Ofer Cohen:      

What was your experience of being a small new office in the middle of a very big recession?

Eran Chen:         

It was terrible. It was really bad. I mean, honestly, when I look back, I tap myself on the shoulder that I sustained it because it was so bad. So we lost the one big project that we had. We had to come up with ideas. So we thought of everything from giving interior design courses for housewives to, open a Bagel shop at the street. I mean, it was so desperate. We had no source of income whatsoever. We had commitment on a lease, that we couldn't pay and I had to pay salaries to people. And thank God I've made some money in whatever year and a half before and I spent it all by paying back my employees, but then a miracle happened and a friend of a friend connected us, to this, guy who was an executive in Blackstone and a billionaire who just bought his penthouse in Trump tower and he thought it's the perfect time to do a renovation of a penthouse because the market was crashed and he conducted, he knew everybody's desperate. So he conducted a competition between international architects around the world, including Richard Meyer to design his penthouse. And, you know, I did my research. He's also an American success story. Originally from Vietnam. He was a refugee of war and my entire design philosophy on this apartment was based on that and he totally fell off. He was just love at first sight, right? And, and we got the project now that was a lifesaver because just in broad terms, we knew he knew that he's going to spend about 20 to $30,000,000 on this apartment. So I spent the years of the recession, a flying around the world and a private jet looking for marble, and artwork. And the stories are so insane, excessive that it was just mine bottling. We ended up spending, you know, two and a half million dollars on a staircase. So it was so extreme from where I was that only in America that could happen, you know, we flew his private jet to yachts around the world and spent, you know, weeks in the Bahamas. It was just..

Ofer Cohen:      

That's a really good recession story. So as I'm listening to you, what strikes me is like, you know, architects usually have a big plan and a path and a vision. And it sounds to me, and I don't, I don't know how much of it is real, is that, you know, you're very innocently kind of fall into things and you had a few instances, you just described a lot of good luck or maybe people are just attracted to your humility.

Eran Chen:         

I don't know that it's true that things just come to me. But that I seize the opportunities in a very nimble way. The impact of architecture today on our wellbeing is absolutely, I believe, critical. And so acting within that complexity you can either be the sort of the macho architect that says, it's my way or the highway and I've got a vision of how we're going to change your life or you say it's very important to me in kind of in baby steps to improve what we do and that sense. I think I always see the opportunity in, every possibility because I think there's always a better way to do things. I was willing to do anything that has to do with design if I can make a small difference. People have mocked me, we didn't talk about this, but my first job as an architect I was a student in Israel was to design McDonald's restaurants in Tel Aviv. You didn't know that, right?

Ofer Cohen:      

That's amazing.

Eran Chen:         

My friend said, are you nuts? I mean, we as architects do not go and design McDonald's restaurants. And I said, why not? What's wrong with that? You can make a better restaurant. Maybe the experience of the people could be better. Maybe the way that it opens up to the street is better and I know, and that's sort of my set of mine and part of how I feel about my profession, which might seem humble, but I think it's not coming out of being humble, it's coming out of looking passionately at architecture and opportunity to improve people's life.

Ofer Cohen:      

Eran's path mirrors that of some of the developers he's worked with in Brooklyn.

Eran Chen:         

If you are a midsize developer or small developer, you need to find a different edge. You have to be more creative. And so by starting projects in Brooklyn, because the midsize and lower or smaller developers, you know, were active here. We've been able to bring creativity that brought success stories to those developers. And then some of the bigger guys looked back and said, hey, you know, that's interesting. Why can't we try to do it here? It's funny when I speak to Europeans because now we've, we spent a lot of time in Europe, they speak about Brooklyn more than they speak about Manhattan, right? It's something about the young, perculating exploding culture that Brooklyn projects outside to the world and I think it's an overlap of art and you know, sort of the free spirit of the young entrepreneurial, the idea that there's more offices and mixed-use projects in Brooklyn and people kind of see their lives today, you know, their mix of personal and professional life in a different way that we saw it 15- 20 years ago. And around the world, everybody's looking at similar problems, similar challenges. And it seems like Brooklyn has been developing these ideas because it can.

Ofer Cohen:      

The rental development of the 10 block mega project that their former Rheingold brewery in Bushwick has tested Eran's creativity.

Eran Chen:         

So there was literally a war where the neighborhood felt this is terrible. And I said, there's no way I can be successful doing what I do as an architect, bringing a huge building into this neighborhood. Everybody is going to just hate and resent and I said there's something wrong with that picture. So I felt the urge to be more involved and that's where I came up with the idea of OPEN, which is ODA public engagement in neighborhood. It's a non for profit organization that aims to basically connect better existing communities where we operate as architects to the act of change to the new buildings that are being developed and find a way to tie, because there's so many benefits in those new projects to them, find a way to tie those existing community to what we do. And the best way to do it I find is through art. So we've raised that about $400,000 and we used that money to collaborate with local artists in Bushwick and kids and other non for profits to do eight mega murals in and around the buildings and then eight sculptures in the public park. So at the end of it, you had the, I don't know, 150 kids that were part of the creation of the art within the project. Would make them attached personally to it and now they can walk in the neighborhood and point out and says, I did this. I thought about it. So that, that's extremely exciting. Beyond the fact that it's just incredible from a vision standpoint of it's like a museum, a mega-museum of street art, in the neighborhood that kind of invented in Brooklyn street art. It just feels like I'm a contributor. Although I don't live in Brooklyn for example, I feel like I belong to these neighborhoods. I feel so connected now to Bushwick. We need to push for in Brooklyn more and more is to put pressure on city planning to change the zoning and their attitude towards mixed-use projects. I mean people say that, but in practicality, I don't see enough of that coming from our administration. What I mean by that is we need to be able in many more neighborhoods to be able to build both office, residential and light industries, including cultural projects and school projects altogether. That would relieve the pressure of being reliant on Manhattan for work and that would bring more communities together because they can live and work at the same location.

Ofer Cohen:      

I mean you talked about some proud moments, some sort of monumental moments in your career, but what are kind of like some of the achievements that you're most proud of when you look at everything you've done in Brooklyn in such, I mean, relatively short period of time.

Eran Chen:         

You know, I think that the corridor of Fourth Avenue, for example, not too far from here, when we've started our first project there, it was a very iffy, you know, neighborhood and I think having a designed two buildings on Fourth Avenue and designing two more, we can bring a critical mass of developments, that are attractive enough that would establish that corridor as almost like the, you know, the Park Avenue of Brooklyn. I'm very proud also on our new building on Kent Avenue because there's something else that always kind of felt a bit shortcoming of the developments that are happening along the East River. There's a lot of them and I feel that there's a lot of sort of generic developments there are seen everywhere from Manhattan and from Brooklyn. And yet they didn't seize the opportunity to celebrate that. The location that they're at so being so prominent. With Elliot, we've been able to, create a building that not only caters, I think in a totally different way to people who wants to live in a high rise building on a waterfront, but also makes a sort of an architectural statement that says, Hey, we need to think differently like it or not, it's different. Design sells. Why? Because even in not only at the high-end, in the mid-end and even in the lower end, it's a generation that is thinking design, this is not the time in New York where you build it and they'll come just because people have no choice. You have to touch their heart, not only their pockets and demonstrate in your building that is something that you've done that would improve their lives and once you do that, you're going to get a return for your money.

Ofer Cohen:      

Right. That's a great sales pitch, Eran Chen, thanks so much for coming to our studio.

Eran Chen:         

Thanks for having me.

Ofer Cohen:      

Only in Brooklyn, two Israeli guys speaking to each other for an hour in English.

Eran Chen:         

How Fun is that?

Ofer Cohen:      

It's really cool.

Eran Chen:         

Very cool. Thank you for having me. It's been such a journey, I think, for both of us in so many ways that it's parallel and it's great to spend time with somebody like that. Thank you.

Ofer Cohen:      

You're listening to Hey BK the podcast about the people behind Brooklyn's transformation. You can find us at heybk.nyc or wherever you get your podcasts. Please download and subscribe to our episodes. I'm Ofer Cohen. Thanks for listening.

 

S2 | E2 | Dave Maundrell

Dave Maundrell:              
Hey BK with Ofer Cohen: The crazy part about it was it didn't stop. It just kept on going and getting bigger and better. It's very similar to like today in Brooklyn, people are like is Brooklyn tapped out? And I'm like nope. I get a little upset when people kind of knock what's happened over the past 20 something years because folks, I don't think you really understand what it was like.

Ofer Cohen:                      
On today's episode, I spoke to a good friend, a hipster before there were even hipsters in Williamsburg and a true visionary, Dave Maundrell.

Dave Maundrell:              
How are you?

Ofer Cohen:                      
Doing amazing.

Dave Maundrell:              
Thanks for having me.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Absolutely. Dave and I talked in our TerraCRG studio in prospect heights on what happened to be the third anniversary of the sale of his real estate firm apartments and lofts. That's kind of a big deal. We didn't really plan it.

Dave Maundrell:              
No.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Happy Anniversary.

Dave Maundrell:              
Thank you.

Ofer Cohen:                      
I remember how emotional that moment was for you.

Dave Maundrell:              
When you have a vision and you really truly have a dream and you're able to make it happen, you know, to see over those 13 years the company growing. And I really didn't, you know, when you're so immersed in this, in your business or with anything you do, sometimes you really don't know how well you're doing in terms of like, you know, touching people and your impact on, on an industry or in our case, our marketplace. And then, I would say maybe like 2012 ish, some really big players started saying, wow, you're killing it. I was like, where have you been, man, I've been killing it for a long time. But um, and that was just like kind of like mind blowing a little bit for me.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Right.

Dave Maundrell:              
And some of the people who have been on your, on the podcast, I've said this to me

Ofer Cohen:                      
After the sale, Dave took a new role at Citi Habitats as executive vice president of Brooklyn and Queens, Dave launched Apartments and Lofts back in 2002. It was the early days of Williamsburg transformation. Apartments and Lofts quickly grew, becoming one of the most successful privately owned brokerage firms throughout New York City. Dave was early in using the web and social media to compliment what is really a face to face business. Eventually he made his mark designing and building new developments.

Dave Maundrell:              
My mission was to buck the trend of the shady real estate broker and people really, really kind of started to attract to the brand I was building.

Ofer Cohen:                      
When Dave started the company, he was working for his uncle selling insurance in Queens. He became a real estate broker on the side in his home turf in Williamsburg.

Dave Maundrell:              
I would cold call people from the Village Voice and for apartments that had apartments for rent by owner, and then I would meet them after work, like at 6:00 - 7:00, get the listing and just persistence kept going, going, going.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Before the Williamsburg rezoning, this was a mostly loft conversion and somewhat illegal.

Dave Maundrell:              
I don't think Apple, I don't think iPhone was out yet. I don't think there was any podcasts at that time, you know, but yeah, it was a different world. I mean, Williamsburg at that time the waterfront was still undeveloped. And there was still the devil worshipers and the graffiti artists and the prostitutes and all that trash down in the waterfront that's now the edge where Smorgasburg is and 184 Kent is and all those projects are. So it was a different time. We had to, you know, watch your back going to your car at night, you know, at times, and you know, it was a different world, but I was used to it. I was accustomed to it because that's where I grew up so it really didn't phase me much.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Dave first noticed a change in the late nineties, artists and hipsters ventured across the river to Bedford Avenue on the L train from Manhattan. They started moving in, renting lofts and old factory buildings.

Dave Maundrell:              
Yeah I'd come home from work, go to school, come home, head to the city and go to work, get there 2:00 or 3:00, work till 9:00 at night and then take the L train back home and you know, back then, you know, everyone stayed at the back of the L train. I lived on the second stop on the L at the Lorimer stop. And the reason why everyone congregated in the last car was because that's where the 24-hour entrances were in the last car. One and two, everyone stayed together because it was dangerous. But so what would happen is I'd be on the train at 9:00, 9:30, 10:00 at night coming back home from work and I started seeing people from the East village out in Williamsburg. Started seeing people with purple hair and pink hair and leather jackets coming out of the city into Brooklyn at that time. And I'm like, what the heck is going on? So eventually what started happening was, places started opening up in Williamsburg. There was Planet Thailand, those, the original Galapagos that was veracruise. Which is a Mexican place. You know, Planet Thai used to be this small little storefront on Bedford and north seventh. I think it's Uniqlo now. That's crazy. And they made the best spicy basil chicken. Oh, it was like fire, you know, and it was like my introduction to Thai food at that time. And I started just hanging out in Williamsburg and seeing change, then what would happen is many times we'd go out and hang out in the East Village. And then we'd finish the night in Williamsburg because I still lived there at the time. And then we'd be, you know, at a punk band dive bar. It was called a sweet water on North Sixth Street, you know, at three in the morning, drinking shots of Jameson with have a bunch of people who look like the Ramones from the seventies, and I was like, this is really happening here man. And the crazy part about it was it didn't stop. It just kept on going and getting bigger and better, it's very, it's very similar to like today in Brooklyn, like people like is, you know, is Brooklyn tapped out? And I'm like, nope, just keeps growing and pushing deeper in and you know, it's, you know, there's all different opinions on happened to Brooklyn, but you know, I get a little upset when when people kind of knock what's happened over the past 20 something years because folks, I don't think you really understand what it was like in Brooklyn, in the eighties. And, and you know, even in the nineties, but like, you know, when I was growing up here at 85, 86, I mean no one, first of all, no one knew where Williamsburg was and the only time people in high school knew where Williamsburg was when I told them, You ever hear of Peter Luger? And they be like yes, and I'd go, you ever hear of the Williamsburg Bridge and they'd go, yeah and I'd go, right there. Everyone figured, everyone thought that Brooklyn was Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst. And that went through its own transformation, you know, turning the demographics as well. I feel like, you know, I'm glad I was able to see the neighborhood I grew up in, which I promise you no one knew what the Heck Williamsburg was in, you know, if you knew Williamsburg you thought about burning cars on the streets and gangs and heavy drugs and I'm serious about the burning cars on the street on Bedford Avenue and south side and such, and I was able to kind of live through that and as a kid and then participate in the transformation of the neighborhood while finding a career somehow. So kind of like, you know, I look back at all right now and I'm like, how did I get to where I am today as a person and as a businessman? It's like everything. Everything has made me who I am today so I'm, proud of, you know, being able to kind of make it through all that. Finding my niche in an industry that I love that I just stumbled across it just because of living.

Ofer Cohen:                      
What are the things that you miss the most in Williamsburg of the old days?

Dave Maundrell:              
Oh man...I just love seeing my grandfather on the corner with his quote-unquote boys hanging out, you know, in front of the pizzeria and these guys are 90, they're not getting pizza, these old guys, they were getting coffee, espresso and then little do you know, these pizzerias, they have a little secret sauce lets say, you know, for the people in the know that they put into those coffees. But you know, when your kid, you have no idea. And then when you get little older and it gets offered to you go woah!

Ofer Cohen:                      
Just give us the geographic.

Dave Maundrell:              
So I grew up on Conselyea or you know, in today's world to Con-sileyea, but we all called it Conselyea and Lorimer street. So Lorimer and Metro was a hub because the L train was there. Second stop Lorimer, you know, remember. No one ever got off at Bedford. Bedford was a ghost town. I miss a really good, authentic Brooklyn Slice of pizza. None of this thin crust.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Right there's no more slice, I was just talking about it with someone.

Dave Maundrell:              
Come on know, like, you know, I, I miss it all.

Ofer Cohen:                      
It's all thin crust with arugula on it, at best.

Dave Maundrell:              
Listen it's good. But it's, you know, if you told me if you put that fancy $46 pizza with truffle on the right side and you put a plain, regular slice, from San Marco pizzeria in Williamsburg. I'll take the San Marcos slice all day every day. I miss that. I miss graffiti on the trains.

Ofer Cohen:                      
While he's proud of his work converting lofts. Dave describes the emotions in the early days. It was the end of an era. Mom and pop factories were becoming obsolete.

Dave Maundrell:              
Can't tell you how many of those folks I met with and you saw the tears they were holding back talking to me because what a lot of them were doing was keeping, whatever's left of their business on the ground floor. And then slowly moving people in above. It was quote-unquote work live, you know, in, AIR was that you know, with some buildings, but not a lot. And it was just really kind of like, I remember those, remember one folks, that guy was on themes and having seen his eyes welling up because it's businesses, his family business, all he knew is as a person is dying and he has to make this move. And it's also extremely risky because one, the financial investment. They were using whatever they had to do it. That's how it started. I mean these people were doing it for survival at the end it became a real business.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Dave Maundrell soon took his knack for marketing and began developing and designing new buildings in Brooklyn. He was introduced to Louis Sillerman who bought the waterfront for his family's truck leasing company.

Dave Maundrell:              
Not just a piece of the waterfront, all of the waterfront.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Before the rezoning.

Dave Maundrell:              

Before the rezoning than selling a piece back to the state. I mean a masterful deal. And Louis eventually became, you know, he, he's one of my mentors, personally and professionally and I love that guy. And he called me up one day. He goes, listen, I'm thinking about developing one of my properties on Broadway. It was 20 Broadway, he saw I was a hustler and worker, I had no experience doing this. He goes okay, send me a proposal. Then I was like, oh man. I don't have a proposal. So I actually took weeks and looked at other firms proposals and I came up with my own spin to it at the time, my wife was a graphic designer and I said, I'm going to go now I'm going a wow this guy. So I go into the ultimate pitch after he's meeting with other companies and I go to me a favor, can you type into your computer Broadwayriverview.com and he looks at me and he does it and his jaw drops, he turns around and goes, what is this? I go, that's what I'm going to do for you. So basically I went, bought the domain, created a website with a logo and everything for him, which eventually that logo actually was the one that was chosen.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Right. So, but this was the first time you did it and then you developed some kind of, kind of a model around it.

Dave Maundrell:              
Yeah, kind of, you know, people were because we were so entrenched in that marketplace, we really learned what people wanted. I was still very young in my career. I had to learn a lot. I learned from all different sources, from architects, from listening at meetings and not pretending to know something, learning and I was lucky to be around some really, really smart people and I absorbed it all and then you know, and you just keep building and building upon it and, but at the end of the day I always knew who the demographic was and then I became hell bent on not being known as just a Williamsburg broker after that. And, and branching out to other marketplaces which, we've been able to do.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Dave has since worked in new development projects from Mott Haven to Staten Island as the so-called Brooklyn brand expands, Dave says he's tried to respect the history and the people in the neighborhoods.

Dave Maundrell:              
I think one thing that I'm very proud of is being able to respect the folks who are there, who were there and conveyed at messaging when we're in the design process regarding facades and, and some of these buildings are very loud and kind of really like, you know, people's, you know, trophies to themselves, developers or architects and such like that. And I've learned that you need to be a little more contextual and kind of respectful. In a lot of places, not everywhere, like across the street here in this neighborhood. It was an open, it was a blank canvas and you have a lot of marketplaces that, a white canvas and as much conflict. But what happens is, it starts out as a blank canvas and a bunch of developers are doing their own thing and then when you go back and look at it 20 years later, this is ugly, a building is green, this building's orange. Like, what the heck is going on here? You know, so it's not as cool anymore. I think the Brooklyn, you know, it's everywhere, like, you know, it's done and so to speak, it's like what's, but we've been and it's been done for a long time and we've been trying to do different spins to that and kind of use that as a base, but it comes down to style. People will pay for style, people will pay for amenities that are practical, but style sells and we've taken that philosophy, I've applied it to Long Island City and where we've done it we've done off the charts, what do people want? And then there's that balancing act between what the people want and what we can afford because we have to make it has to make money or we're not going anywhere. I want, what we can build. Let's put something there that makes sense. And I also tell clients, I'm going to guide you not to make decisions where you tell me I have to raise the rents higher than I think I can achieve.

Ofer Cohen:                      
One last question is, tell me something nobody knows about a Dave Maundrell?

Dave Maundrell:              
Personally or professionally or either?

Ofer Cohen:                      
Personally.

Dave Maundrell:              
I'm super loyal, super loyal, loyal to a fault.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Really?

Dave Maundrell:              
You know, there's been too many times that I've said to myself over the past five years, oh man, I'm in the wrong business. This business you know, real estate, it's not just brokerage. Brokerage is another beast. Real estate businesses really cutthroat and tough and people are really out for themselves and when you have a good heart and a good soul, you have to protect yourself from this. Because I've been, I guess I'm going through my fifth market swing, six market swing potentially since being in this business. I've seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the downright wrong that people do.

Ofer Cohen:                      
You know, I can completely relate to that notion. I mean, I've been struggling myself with this idea of you know, how to continue to be kind with so much hostility around me because the real estate business can bring a lot of raw behaviors from people because there's a lot of money.

Dave Maundrell:              
You know you just gotta keep true to your own ideals and family helps. Us having kids changes your perspective on things. You have a great girlfriend who was also in the business, understands kind of how works and who's very supportive and surrounding yourself with people who are supportive of you know, who you are and your core values is the only way to really do anything.

Ofer Cohen:                      
Dave Maundrell, thank you so much.

Dave Maundrell:              
Thank you. You've gotten good at this dude.

Ofer Cohen:                      
You're listening to Hey BK a podcast about the people behind Brooklyn's transformation. You can find us at heybk.nyc or wherever you get your podcasts. Please download and subscribe to all our episodes. I'm Ofer Cohen. Thanks for listening.

 

S1 | E3 | Toby Moskovits

Toby Moskovits:              

I've thought a lot about the Jewish experience in America, and certainly in New York a lot of very successful entrepreneurs' are Holocaust survivors and I think that there's sort of an old survival of the fittest, call it the personal evolution. I'm the daughter of an immigrant, my grandfather was born in Poland. My father was born in a German displaced persons camp. My grandfather came to America. Grandma used to always say he never made any money because by the time he was successful they were in their sixties. He started one business after another and I think that as an immigrant and being in an immigrant city, you're an outsider. You know, there's a great study I saw recently from the Wall Street Journal just about this. How many businesses started in this city are, are done by immigrants. I think that when you're part of the old boys network, which women are never. You don't have that luxury and that's why I call it surviving as a man in a woman's world. You know, the things that I did. I don't think I would have been in the place to get them done had I been going into an office every day with people that were just sort of spitting back to me what the general consensus was, you know, everybody was running into residential and I shifted to commercial, everybody was running to commercial so I shifted to residential. You can't make money when you're following the herd. You have to have a vision, but then you also have to have the fortitude to be able to execute on it.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That's Toby Moskovits. Toby got into development business only a few years ago when we met at the conference, one of our first Brooklyn Real Estate Summits in 2011. Toby is a firm believer that an outsider status is giving her an edge. You haven't done a real estate deal in your life before. You never raised money, you never built a building. Where did you get the drive, tenacity, conviction that you actually going to do this?

Toby Moskovits:              

So yeah, I was lucky. My first boss in business was a guy by the name of Michael Eisenberg, who people in real estate might know today. Um, at the time he was a young venture capitalist and I was a younger venture capitalist analyst. Today, of course, Michael was the original investor in WeWork, and I spent the form of my formative years after business school working for Michael and another gentleman named Jonathan Medved. And I think that when you come into the world of business in that environment, you think about transformation and the entirety of the Israeli tech industry. And that's where I was sitting in Bocca in this little office. Now they have these fancy digs and we were meeting these companies and it was pretty early in the Israeli tech industry there. They had an idea and our job as investors was to help them crack the US market. So as a venture capitalist coming in where I was forced to take bets on companies where it was binary, it was something or nothing, there was nothing material, there was nothing substantive. I'm looking in real estate. The risks were of very measured, with regard to the things I had done as a venture capitalist. So for example, in the first deal that I did where I came in with a little bit of my money in a residential building on the corner of Grand and Driggs, the numbers were just, you didn't need a financial calculator to do the math, you know, sub $200 a square foot purchase price. All you needed was cash. And I went ahead and mind my network, found myself a couple of very wealthy real estate owners who were stepping into that hole in lending. It was obvious that the value was there coming in as an outsider, and I give a lot of talks now. Ofer now that you opened up by public speaking career to young professionals how to break in. You know, you see that even in the model of WeWork, which people have said is not sustainable and that certainly they're going out now and they're starting to buy their real estate. But there's a moment in time the employee base, and there was this great conference I was at about a week ago on the future of work. The retail's changing. The office uses changing the expectation of a consumer and the expectation of an employee is different. As a consumer, we want to be able to get everything immediately. Amazon prime, send it to my house. There's an impact on real estate and I think on the, on the office side, you're seeing the same. So I had that luxury of being an outsider.

Ofer Cohen:                      

I understand the idea of, you felt in their bones that there was a structive moment in the history of Brooklyn and you want it to take advantage of it, but let's be honest, right? So being a woman in our business is being a minority to begin with. How do you get people to take you seriously? Unfortunately, that's true. Coming from a religious orthodox background and a woman going into the driving sort of shoes of this sort of business is completely unusual. Tell me about this. Like how again, where did you get that, that the ability to power through, but how hard was that journey?

Toby Moskovits:              

I remember one of the first deals I bought, one in the ownership group, there was this nasty guy who couldn't deal with the fact that I was a buyer and every time we would come, Michael and I would go meet with him. He would say like, where's the, where's the buyer, where's the buyer? And even to the end, like two years later, I moderated a panel he was on. He was like still looking at me like he couldn't wrap his head around. So I think that you know, it's difficult in the beginning, people underestimate you as a novice, certainly as a woman having really no experience in real estate. I remember early on sitting next to a professional at a large brokerage firm who asked me about my hotel and I'm explaining to him how I'm doing the non branded hotel. That point the Wythe hadn't opened. He asked me how I was going to finance. I said, well, you know, I'm getting a land loan. And then eventually I'll figure out how to finance the rest. He looked at me, he goes, are you, are you serious? Like, you're going to go ahead now, you know, in 2009, 10, 11 if I waited till I had all my money. So a lot of people with a lot more experience than I express things that questioned the approaches that I took and as a venture capitalist thinking, thinking and really having learned to trust my gut, I just went with it. But I think ultimately I proved myself and everything from vision I came to city planning with for rezoning they were beyond skeptical, you know, the council and the said to me, they've never seen something move that quickly from certification to funding to approval. So I think that women have to work a little harder.

Ofer Cohen:                      

I remember there's another moment that I want to take you back to, I believe it was 2012. I texted you, are you the crazy person that's paying a 30 to $32,000,000? 25 Kent. Okay. Here's what 25 Kent is and why i thought she was crazy. 25 Kent is now known as the first spec office, new construction spec office building in Brooklyn since probably over 50 years. It's located in Williamsburg and the value that she was willing to pay the price that she was willing to pay for the property back then looked ridiculous. She went through a rezoning process that made the property much more valuable. And now the project is under construction.

Toby Moskovits:              

So far I've repeated this story to many people. I even remember where I was standing. I was, I had just moved into a new house and I was standing in the bathroom and I remember this, you texted me and I laughed. And I think that that's sort of a great moment because part of what I was able to do as an outsider was. I basically looked at what was happening outside of the construct that had been created. So yes, there were no comps. You couldn't get bank financing. A lot of people after the fact came and said, wow, it was obvious, you know, Kent Avenue, people were living right nearby, but I was in a position through sheer force of energy, you know, willpower. And then having come into it as a Newbie to say, wow, the people paying $55 or $60 a square foot at this building we owned were the former American Apparel.

Ofer Cohen:                      

But again, this was a moment where you saw, you know, the best moments in the entrepreneur's life is when you see something that nobody else sees. And everybody else laughing at you. And thinking you're crazy.

Toby Moskovits:              

I get that pretty often.

Ofer Cohen:                      

You get that pretty often. But I mean, okay, so now how, so you have those moments. So obviously in the third or fourth time that that happens, you're already kind of like, okay, you watch and see. Right? But the first time that happened, which I think the biggest one was that moment you sign a contract for 25 Kent, I believe there was a story behind how you put together the money to actually sign that contract. And it wasn't like, you know, Toby is a billionaire. And like, okay, I need to sign this contract.

Toby Moskovits:              

I actually went to my dad who believed enough in me that he didn't put the time into, you know, to analyze. And I told him, I said, dad, you know, I have this opportunity. And like, you know, it may, it sound crazy now. It happens to have been that my family had a business literally across the street or two blocks away, during the 80s. So my father knew the area. I came and I said, dad, this other investor who I knew who had lent me money on deposits in the past, he's given me half a million. Could you give me another? Could you lend me another half? Which I ultimately paid them back. So I borrowed that first billion dollars and having no idea where the balance would come from. Ultimately we managed to finagle myself, Michael and Joel another million for the deposit. But people thought we were crazy. They thought the price was not justified. Nothing had traded there for quite some time.

Ofer Cohen:                      

So that must have been very, very stressful?

Toby Moskovits:              

It was very stressful. There was a moment where I might've lost $2,000,000, which is money I didn't have to lose or the three of us. But I had a plan that made sense. I managed to juggle three lenders because we had an issue with our inability in a timely fashion to terminate the lease on the site. I put a lot of time and I went in myself through third parties to try to buy that lease to be certain that I wouldn't get screwed, that someone else would buy it. Um, and ultimately closed with a private family who even till today I'm sort of still flabbergasted that I managed to convince them to come into the deal, right? It made sense, but a lot of our, friends and investors and lenders in this industry look backwards because that's where the money flows and they don't have the ability to have an insight really commit to it and then pursue it. So I think it was four to two and then a lot of luck sprinkled in.

Ofer Cohen:                      

You know, you part through it, you establish yourself, people take you very seriously right now and people know who you are and what you can accomplish. What do you do with that ability to kinda make sure that, that the next generation of women entrepreneurs and women in the real estate industry actually have, I want to say an easier time just because for the sake of easy, just like, a level playing field with men, you know, I know personally that it's so hard to hire women in our industry because it's being perceived as a very male-centric, you know, filled.

Toby Moskovits:              

So I've given a great talk which I wrote first for a commercial real estate accrue event and titled how to survive as a man in a woman's world. And then I was invited to give it to a group of Sullivan, Cromwell lawyers. Basically, the idea is I think that we're in the moment of female entrepreneurs, you know, they talk about the side hustle and the need to keep reinventing yourself and women have that talent more naturally. Um, and I think so, you know, I got it was asked this question by the real deal. They're doing a big event feature on women. You know how to get more women in real estate. I think that there are a lot of hostile environments. You know, somebody texted me last night, there was an unnamed holiday party with strippers. She's like, I can't believe it in 2017 with this environment. But it, it is what it is. You know, you got to create an environment where women feel comfortable. I think I've been in your office Ofer, I know you have a lot of women working for you. Women need flexibility. I became an entrepreneur because when I used to walk into an office sometimes at 10:00 because my kid had a holiday party or a birthday, they'd give me the steer and you know, in the environment that I've created, I have, my CFO comes in from long island. He rolls in at 10:00, he works till nine, 10:00 at night. So I think that there's a shift happening in the work environment that helps women, that helps women break in and we have to work together to create a healthy environment.

Ofer Cohen:                      

What do you tell a 22-year-old woman straight out of college and wanting to get into the real estate industry?

Toby Moskovits:              

So after I tell them to go come work for me or Ofer. First find a female-friendly environment is my first piece of advice. The second is find a mentor. I think it's critical to learn the industry from somebody. I cobbled, you know, I have a mentor, a woman in business by the name of Amy Millman. She runs a very successful nonprofit that has helped female businesses raise over 5 billion in capital in the real estate business. I sort of cobbled together, you know, a network and I think the third thing is find something where no one else's is chasing it.

Toby Moskovits:              

So what's next for Toby Moskovits?

Toby Moskovits:              

I'm a huge fan of New York City, and the growth that comes next, I think that we're really only in the first or second inning of commercial opportunity in commercial development and I do believe that there will continue to be amazing opportunities in New York. I'm a single mom. I like to stay close to home. My kids hate it when I travel, so we're going to continue focusing on the greatest city in New York.

Ofer Cohen:                      

So we're not gonna lose your focus to another market?

Toby Moskovits:              

Maybe not even to Queens, I'm looking a little bit in Queens, you know, I think Brooklyn is, is still only 50 percent of the way there and coming as the city that it can be.

Ofer Cohen:                      

How do you see the next sort of decade in terms of growing your operation with everything you've learned in the last five, seven years?

Toby Moskovits:              

Sure. So, you know, there are other players in the market with the size of business that I have, it fluctuates between 40 and 50 employees that have triple the number of projects that I do. Um, I've always been focused on using my own money, so putting, you know, doubling down and trying to keep as much of the projects as I can. So we're going to continue to grow. I don't know necessarily if I grow my operation but pursue very specific projects. They're not that many developers in my position who can take down a half a million to a million square foot project. Thankfully with the credibility I built, I can, so it's going to continue to be about one to two projects a year in large projects that really help move forward the path of evolution of neighborhood and very, very central. So as you, you know, we've gone in neighborhood specific, you know, almost too focused in single neighborhoods, really helping move the pace of how a neighborhood evolves. Transformation took place for the people who live there in the past and then while continuing to be respectful to the past and helping new entrance come in to move in, whether it be into the residential buildings or the commercial spaces that we're bringing on board. And Bushwick is a great example of it. It's a great history of economic transformation, and working with other owners, the community board and the counseling and to really bring the neighborhood forward.

Ofer Cohen:                      

You think now that Toby is established, may start playing by different playbook or looking at our locations, but there's the big opportunity for Toby still in that 50 percent of Brooklyn because she keeps holding onto her outside her standing and plans to keep disrupting

Toby Moskovits:              

My competitors in the market still look for one plus one equals two when they do deals. You know, looking at situations where maybe there's a rezoning play looking at situations where there's some sort of a less than clear path to move forward. I had a lot of success working with the city, going into areas and using approaches that others haven't tried before and I think I have a lot of credibility with owners in the marketplace. You know, I don't think I've ever held a contract that I haven't closed on and this is still a relationship based business. So I think that money's going to. The flow of money is going to be affected by changes coming out of Washington. It's still a challenging market to finance ground-up construction and that what separates between the boys and the men or the women and the girls will continue to keep building those great buildings all over Brooklyn and into Queens. I'm going to stay away from Staten Island for now.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Great. So tell us, just to finish up, tell something nobody knows about you or at least nobody in our industry and knows about.

Toby Moskovits:              

Okay. So, I'm a poet. I actually write a lot of, not every day, but I write a lot of poetry. I love reading poetry and I wanted to be a journalist, but I might've shared that in the past and I actually think that to be a great developer, you're constantly telling stories. That's, you know, to answer your earlier question, I think that the residential commercial and the retail experience is changing and that's part of where I'm focusing to conceptualize what does it mean to rent the rental unit? What does it mean to live in a building? There's been a lot of focus on the physical space and not enough focus on the experience of whether it be hotel or office or such, and I think that as a, as a writer and as a poet, that's a big part of my how I communicate with my clientele, how I communicate with the marketplace that wants to be in my building.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Toby Moskovitz to be continued. Thank you so much.

Toby Moskovits:              

Thank you.

Ofer Cohen:                      

This concludes another episode of Hey BK. Thanks so much for listening. For more information, you can visit heybk.nyc. You can also email me at ocohen@terracrg.com

 

S1 | E2 | MaryAnne Gilmartin

Announcer:                       

Hey BK, with Ofer Cohen.

MAG:                                   

I've always said that I couldn't feel accomplished as a parent, I'd be useless in the boardroom and so it starts there and it ends there just like it starts in the morning at my house and it ends up at the house with my children, so they're my life source and they're everything, so I have a lot of energy. Sleep is basically overrated in my book and I wake up in the morning and it's all about my kids and when I come home at night, that's where I sort of find my peace and my sanctuary and you know, I'm powerless at home. I can't even get the remote control. I think children are very grounding.

Ofer Cohen:                      

The woman's struggling with the remote is Maryanne Gilmartin, one of the most powerful woman in the real estate business in New York City. Maryanne Gilmartin was until very recently, the president and chief executive officer for City New York. Earlier this month, she announced that she will be leaving her post and start a new venture, L&L mag. This interview was recorded a few weeks before her announcement. Today we're mostly going to focus on how she became such a Rockstar, developing the New York Times building Gehry's tower and leading the effort on the development of the Barclays Center, but first I want you to get a sense of what her job really means to her.

MAG:                                   

I begin by saying that I make places and I have the best job in the world because I can create places in the greatest city in the world. People are pushing paper and pushing buttons for a living. Think about how we get to point to concrete, literally concrete representations of our toiling and you can throw your children on a hoist and take them to the top of New York by Gehry. This is a great blessing,

Ofer Cohen:                      

But when she started her career, people did not have the same romantic view of the industry as we all have today.

MAG:                                   

When I started in the business in the eighties, being a real estate developer was one step above a car salesman. This was not real estate development as we know it today, where people are clamoring to get into the industry. In my generation, people flock to the Internet and so it was by pure serendipity that I became a real estate developer. I was given an urban fellowship when I graduated from university. It was an opportunity for me to pick the agency of my choosing inside of city government. Mayor Koch use this as his only recruitment tool for young individuals to try public service before going out into the private sector. I landed two fellowships. The first was for summer, the second was for an academic year. That summer was hot. New York was a dump and I was touring and meeting with every commissioner in every aspect of city government.

Ofer Cohen:                      

This is in the nineties?

MAG:                                   

It's in the eighties, 86. And I remember interviewing with the police commissioner with the head of the city's department of juvenile justice. This is where I thought my passion, would take me and I stopped in economic development and they had air conditioning, carpet, they had a president and they had a board of directors and I thought, wow, this is so grown up. I'm going to hang out here for the summer. And then after that, I'll get serious about my career now I was an urban fellow and it was just after the fiscal crisis, the agency didn't have to fund the position so everybody wanted an urban fellow. So I was welcomed with open arms and it was there in that agency in the course of the first three months of the business that I realized I had real estate in my veins and I would not have known it had I not had an open mind. And I tell young people that it's great to have a plan. And as project managers we plan for a living, one must always be open to the possibility that what's looking for you and what you're looking for may just come along the way and in a sort of accidental fashion

Ofer Cohen:                      

And being open for this accident led to this amazing opportunity.

MAG:                                   

I quickly realized that at that agency they would literally sit down with a map of the city and they'd say, so what do you think we should do with the west side? And I'm thinking, I'm 20 years old. I don't know anything. And they're asking for our views and it was this unbelievable collaborative spirit, but at the same time, every major developer in New York City would come through the corridors of the Public Development Corporation. So I met a lot of powerful individuals including Bruce Ratner. I negotiated the relocation of Bear Stearns to Brooklyn. And I negotiated the tax incentives as well as the job retention program that Bear Stearns was required to adhere to. And Bruce was part of that negotiation. That's where I met Bruce.

Ofer Cohen:                          

Bruce is Bruce Ratner, the founder of Forest City Ratner New York, and one of the most established real estate developers Of New York City. When they met he was the CEO of the company that was already involved in developing millions of square feet of retail.

MAG:                                   

And yes, I found myself sitting across from Bruce Ratner, which was intimidating, but I never got that memo that said, you should feel intimidated when sitting across from very powerful, New York City developers. And I just did my job, but I also realized this is amazing. I could do public development on a large scale in the greatest city in the world and I could turn that into a private job and just be on the other side of the equation. Do everything I love in government and make some money, and so Bruce called me in to interview for a position about 10 years after I first met him and that was 22 years ago.

Ofer Cohen:                      

And that was a development job?

MAG:                                   

Yes, I've been a hopeless developer since I realized that real estate was in my veins.

Ofer Cohen:                      

And this rise to being a major developer with Bruce, of course, came with additional challenge. We all know the real estate development world is highly dominated by men, so it's no secret that being the only woman in the room is an extra hurdle.

MAG:                                   

I have a lot of stories. I would say that those are for another podcast, but suffice it to say that I was the beneficiary of a meritocracy. Bruce Ratner believed it was the best man or woman for the job, and I clearly benefited from that premise. Bruce has two daughters himself, neither of whom wanted to be in the business. Clearly, I benefited from that reality as well, but I didn't ever have to really worry about the fact that I was a woman inside of the organization and I never got that message in my inbox. That said, you are a woman and you should feel intimidated. You should worry about taking your place at the table. I felt I had a rightful place at the table.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Does it have to do anything with the way you grew up though?

MAG:                                   

It might, so I came from a home that was chaotic. We functioned through dysfunction. My real father left when I was two. I was abandoned. My mother raised three girls and I think she taught us one super important principle, which is you make your own way. You find your own happiness and nobody else does that for you. I'll also say when you talk about the business and you talk about being a woman, women by their very nature collaborate and you talk about being a mom. If you can't rely on others as a working mom, you're finished and women can take a lot of disparate parts, manage those parts just like they might manage a household and do it effectively. This is not to say that men can't, but women are by their nature, very good developers. It's a Rubik's cube. It's problem-solving and it's bringing others into the fold and doing it in a collaborative way.

Ofer Cohen:                      

And Maryanne has certainly proved that her sensibility and temperament are a great asset, she's proven it in a consistent trajectory of the high profile project she has been spearheading.

MAG:                                   

So as a developer, you build one great building in your career and you feel fortunate. For me, I have a Trifecta of three of the most astonishingly beautiful buildings that the city seen, that I had a small part in creating. I just consider myself to be blessed.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Of course, she's being humble here. Take a listen through the roles she played.

MAG:                                   

So like children, there are no favorites. However, the New York Times building was my breakout project. It was a project I wanted to chase when we were in Brooklyn. We had just finished a big project in Time Square. We got invited to participate in a bid to be their partner and their developer, Bruce Ratner said to me, Maryanne, we're never going to win, my portraits, not in the Metropolitan Museum next to Arthur Sulzberger. We do not build buildings on Park Avenue. It's hopeless, and I said, Bruce, if it's hopeless, I'd ask that you indulge me and I'm sure I'll learn a lot along the way. Can I please chase it? He said that I would waste a lot of his time and his money, but that that's what I needed to do. Then so be it, and Lo and behold, a February 14th year, 2000, we were selected to be the partner and developer for the New York Times and invariably within the course of one single day, Bruce Ratner would say, you're going to take this company to the next level and then by evening he'd say, you're going to take this company down the risk profile is just too intense. We can't do it. When you finish a building like that, as a developer, you say, what could I possibly do that could compare, and I was given the opportunity to go downtown and build Gehry's Tower, which is the tallest building Frank Gehry has ever built and I did it down in lower Manhattan and really contributed to a new postcard image of lower Manhattan.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Let's not understate that these were huge accomplishments filled with hurdles and huge amounts of risk. Probably the biggest professional challenge, and Marianne was the heat around the Barclays Center development.

MAG:                                   

It was no doubt overwhelming when I took over the project because in 2007 the project had been already ongoing for four years because it really started in 2003 when we bought the basketball team to control the move to Brooklyn. There was a community divided, there were politics Galore and it was the advent of the great recession, so many factors contributing to what made that project difficult and we also were running down the clock because the arena and needed to get into the ground. By the end of 2009, the bonds were using to build that arena, which are the same, structural bonds that were used to build Citi Field, Yankee stadium and Jets and Giants. The IRS was closing the loophole on that, that form of financing and the opposition knew that, so they literally were running down the clock and we had 99 point nine, nine, nine percent of the possession under our control. It didn't much matter because the final hold outlived on central court. So when I came into the project, we were just about in control of the site, but the part we didn't have control of was the most problematic because it meant that we couldn't begin construction on the arena, which was always the cornerstone of the project.

Ofer Cohen:                      

Just to clarify, here's what was going on with politics around the Barclays center development. There was a strong community opposition for the entire project for over a decade. And Maryanne walked into the middle of a huge controversial project while also having her own private life with small children at home.

MAG:                                   

Yes. I had a very, very young daughter and a four years old and two older boys, but young children, very hard to reckon with what was being said, personalized, and otherwise, someone gave me the advice I should never read the blogs. It's not healthy and so you have to be purposeful. You have to believe in what you're doing. You need to listen and you need to solve problems. And that's where I kept my focus. We had $500,000,000 of investment of our equity in the dirt when the recession hit and not a single vertical building to show for it. I had a lot to keep me busy, so I decided to stay super focused on what was important,

Ofer Cohen:                      

MaryAnne, tributes here chaotic childhood on her success. She was comfortable making decisions and staying focused without all of the pieces being in place because that's what she did while growing up they were able to get things done but solving one issue meant facing another issue, and this was true right up until the end.

MAG:                                   

The drama leading up to it. The fact that the subway, for example, wasn't complete, the arena was, and we started them in exactly the same time, but we had this provision in our transaction that said if the subway entrance was not open, we couldn't open the arena and I had nightmares. I would wake up in a cold sweat thinking I'd have to walk into Bruce's office and say

Ofer Cohen:                      

And this is a subway entrance that the project paid for?

MAG:                                   

It was a subway entrance that we were required to Redo or bring back into play. It was a dormant entrance that closed in the sixties, in the original pro forma we had it in for something like $6 million dollars. It ended up costing $72 million dollars. So this subway entrance, we didn't rebuild the subway system. We just fixed the entrance, was a complicated matter. Involved a lot of public coordination. And it took a long time. And so we just finished in time. It was the week that Jay-z's concert opened that we got substantial completion sign off of that entrance. And there was a period where we were worried because the government, given the high profile nature of the project, was not going to let us open that arena if we did not have a subway verse and I would say that waking up in addition to this amazing evening where we opened the building for me, the far more glorious moment was the next day when Brooklyn was not swallowed whole by a traffic jam, when the quality of life and traffic enforcement agents that were placed around the arena that we obsessed over for a year and a half, did the work that we wanted them to do. And it was an all-around positive experience. And rather than, you know, getting chest bumps for the, for the job, I would say that it's the deafening silence that tells you that you nailed it because people stopped rallying against the arena. So opening the arena and having it be a beautiful building, a friendly neighbor.

Ofer Cohen:                      

And the year after that a year after the Barclays Center opened while she was moving to Brooklyn, settling in a new home and getting kids in school. She became the CEO. Right? So when, when was it that you actually took over as the president/CEO?

MAG:                                   

So we had a two-year lead up, but in April of 2013, I was at once selling my home, buying home in Brooklyn, finding three seats for my children in a Brooklyn school and ascending to the role of president and CEO of Forest City Ratner companies.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That's amazing. That was a year after Barclays Center opened approximately?

MAG:                                   

We opened in September of 2012 and I became the CEO in 2013.

Ofer Cohen:                      

You might think that building the Barclays Center and becoming CEO on top of the move and all that encompasses for a family. The high might of peak. But becoming CEO, building the arena were not even the main goal. The goal was building one of the largest housing projects in the city with a very large affordable housing component.

MAG:                                   

There were 6,430 units of housing that we really were interested in. The arena was the way to get to the housing. So building 2,250 units of affordable housing, which is amongst really the most abundant affordable housing mandate in a project that's being led by a developer that really the city has seen. It had lots of dimensions to it and I think that I set my sights on how are we going to build this housing, and really finish what we started because there were many questions as you know, around our ability and our intention to build out the full project and I just turned all my focus and my team is focused on getting that job done. And today, as you know, there's over a thousand units of housing being built, of those thousand close to 900 are affordable.

Ofer Cohen:                      

So we all know now that she just started her own new development venture. Here's what she told us just a few weeks before announcement about her vision for the future.

MAG:                                   

My next focus is how do we create great buildings that embraced technology, push the bounds of what we do in New York, which is pretty typical, pretty forgettable, pretty uninspired. Real estate's not been disrupted yet. So I want to be part of, or at least witness the disruption, it's the last frontier, real estates, the last great frontier where the disruption's coming and I want to be part of it. I want to push for it and I want to build around it,

Ofer Cohen:                      

And so you feel like, because you were able to bring a basketball team to Brooklyn, you could probably bring a tenant like Amazon to Brooklyn at some point.

MAG:                                   

It's time. It's time for us to provide some of the great companies in this economy, a place in Brooklyn to call home. That's a super sophisticated office building. That's the best of the best because let's be frank, the talent is the best of the best, the cities, the best of the best. We need now a place for the companies to call home and that's what I want to be part of.

Ofer Cohen:                      

That's amazing. I'm Ofer Cohen. Thanks for listening. For more information, you can visit heybk.nyc and also email me at ocohen@terracrg.com

 

S1 | E1 | David Kramer

Announcer: 00:02

Hey BK, with Ofer Cohen .

Ofer Cohen: 00:07

So David, how'd you get here this morning? Because, you know, it was kind of interesting. I invited David at 9:30 AM, and at 9:27, I got an email that, you know, one of David's biggest weakness, is that he's always late and so I figured, let's get it out of the way and kind of clear the air on that one and this so we can Kinda...

David Kramer: 00:30

Let's just deal with my weaknesses just for first off, let's just deal with all my stuff and then we can only go up from here. Exactly, you know, I, I tend to be a little distracted, and I tend to run a little late and I scream at my kids time management and it's become enough of a thing that they have now shortened it to TM.

Ofer Cohen: 00:30

TM.

David Kramer: 00:52

But it could easily be out right back at me. I'm certainly when there's a commute in the morning, I need a 10 minute, I did it need a 10 minute grace period.

Ofer Cohen: 01:01

That makes sense. So I think we're going to start the shows and I'm going to say, Hey David,

David Kramer: 01:06

And we say, β€œhey Ofer?”

Ofer Cohen: 01:09

Yes, and I'm going to say, welcome to Hey BK. Welcome to Hey BK, the show that lets you get to know the people behind the Brooklyn transformation. So for our first episode, I talked to David Kramer, David is the president of Hudson companies, which he joined in 1995. Hudson, in my opinion, is one of the most community-minded developers in New York City they've developed over 10,000 apartments in New York. In my conversation with David, we explored what made David Wright for Hudson, what made Hudson right for David and throughout you'll hear his love for the city. I'm so happy to be hosting this show and bringing voices like David's to you. Each episode, Hopefully, we'll teach you a little bit about how this great city functions and how the type of personalities behind these projects is really what makes a difference. And with everyone I talked to, it starts for love for what they do. Even though what a developer does isn't always easy to explain.

David Kramer: 02:09

You know, I have different levels of what I do. So the first is, I build apartment buildings in New York City that's sort of like the one-liner. And then if you want to peel back the onion a little bit, I'll say that we build five different types of housing in New York City, primarily ground up, primarily the four boroughs. And within those constraints we build affordable housing, that's one, workforce housing that's two, housing for institutions is three, market-rate rentals and market-rate condos.

Ofer Cohen: 02:42

Right, but that's sort of like a very dry sort of very basic technical answer.

David Kramer: 02:48

Wait, but then what I was going to say is that, so then people want to know what is a developer do, right? There's nobody knows what a developer does. And I say it's kind of like the film producer and then people don't know what a film producer does either. And what I like to say is that we buy a parking lot and then four years later, this is an apartment building standing there. And in that four-year journey, maybe a thousand decisions were made. And somebody guided the journey from deciding everything from whether the brick is yellow or red to how wide the hallways are, to basic decisions about is it a rental or a condo? Is it studios or three bedroom apartments.

Ofer Cohen: 03:25

So what do you like about that work?

David Kramer: 03:28

I think I liked the variety. Every day is different and every hour is different because at any one time, let's say we have seven or eight projects going on at different phases. So we are strategizing and negotiating how to find the site. And then 20 minutes later we're talking about a subcontractor that filed for bankruptcy. And then 45 minutes later we're dealing with a closing with HPD on an affordable job and two hours later we're looking at funds to pick for the new marketing campaign of a project.

Ofer Cohen: 04:03

Sounds very horrible to me. Why wouldn't you like that variety? I mean there's a lot of other variety that can have in your life.

David Kramer: 04:10

Can you? I mean to deal with architects and contractors and lenders and lawyers.

Ofer Cohen: 04:15

Yeah. But, so what is the work really that you like out of the entire Enchilada here?

David Kramer: 04:21

What's the melted cheese in development?

Ofer Cohen: 04:23

Yes.

David Kramer: 04:24

You know, we have a bell at Hudson, and we ring it on occasion when there's a victory and I encourage as much bell ringing as possible because the development process over a four year period is at the most exciting, a very tiny victory, you know, in one day, like you finally gotten the Department of Buildings to issue a C of O, a certificate of occupancy. You finally have a closing with your construction lender. You finally leased up the last apartment. And so there are benchmark moments that are very exciting and it is a thousand steps to that moment where it's very exciting when you've leased up your last apartment, but it was a seven-month journey to lease up every apartment.

Ofer Cohen: 05:09

So is it like celebrating small victories? The real satisfaction is at the end or throughout the process or?

David Kramer: 05:17

I think you have to really enjoy the journey. Because, it's a little bit of an anticlimax when the job is finally done, that's not when it was exciting. It was exciting when you finally signed the deal and got control of the site, it's exciting when you see the building coming out of the ground. It's exciting when you see the brick and the window is that you've picked or the limestone from Portugal on the facade of the building

Ofer Cohen: 05:42

And David's enjoyment of the small victories. It's within the whole company and they and he love what they do and to do what he does and be so great at it. You need it. So I have this theory that no kid growing up thinking I want to be a real estate developer. Uh, you know, you know, when I grow up.

David Kramer: 06:01

I think that's pretty accurate of everybody at the Hudson companies. I once sorta gave a little pep talk where I said none of us came from affluent families. None of us came from real estate families, but we are hardworking and scrappy and, I don't think anybody says, certainly from my generation, the seventies, "I want to grow up to be in real estates." And most of the people at Hudson started from the civic side of real estate working for nonprofits in affordable housing, working for city governments. Me, personally, I wasn't thinking real estate. I was thinking homelessness. I got into housing in the eighties as a save the world, Do Gooder.

Ofer Cohen: 06:43

I'm sure there's a whole generation of you guys, but don't you think you stand out this way in our industry?

David Kramer: 06:50

No, I don't. Every industry has a wide variety of people coming to what I think real estate is really the big tent and that you have parts of the real estate industry that never meet each other. An office broker who is the king of midtown office leasing may never in 50 years bump into the king of affordable housing who is hanging at 100 gold street at HPD. And so there are a lot of different nooks and crannies and real estate. And I think there is always going to be the group that's interested in the life of the city who maybe wasn't an urban studies major. In the eighties, people were much more focused on homeless issues. And then 20 years later people were much more focused on sustainable issues, and so now you have a whole generation of people in this business who care a lot about sustainability, energy efficiency that didn't exist 20 years ago.

Ofer Cohen: 07:45

Right and it's also affordability, right? I mean in every step in every sort of a segment of our industry, there's the idea of affordability, especially in our city. So how do you, you know, how do you come from, you know, being an affordable mission-driven developer which you still do affordable housing into developing probably one of the most luxurious buildings in Brooklyn Heights or in Brooklyn.

David Kramer: 08:10

Or New York City

Ofer Cohen: 08:10

Or New York City

David Kramer: 08:11

or the United States, you know, it's nice to have a mix. I mean, a lot of it is the same skill set working with architects and lenders and understanding a site and figuring it out and putting the pieces of the puzzle together. You know, one of the things the people at Hudson like is the fact that we do both types of projects and they're both exciting in their own way. I mean, we're closing on a huge affordable job in the Bronx in the next two weeks called "La central", which is going to be seeing a 700 affordable housing units and a new space for Bronx Net TV and a lot of other nonprofit uses. And that's a fun thing to work on as well.

Ofer Cohen: 08:52

And this mix of interest makes Hudson, such a unique place and that means team that reflect their values.

David Kramer: 08:59

What makes the right culture, what makes a fun work environment? I've sort of been running the show at Hudson now, let's say the last probably six or seven years after what had been very much been a partnership and been at a minimum three people running the company. And then it somehow became just me. And so it occurred to me that like, oh, I can suggest all sorts of things. And so we have a bring your dog to work day and we have a Sushi and massage day. And it's nice to be able to say like, Hey, let's try and experiment. And you know, I try and emphasize that I really don't care when people come in or when they leave, it's sort of results-oriented and that we can have fun at the same time that we are developing the projects and we have high standards for ourselves. But that doesn't mean we can have fun with bring our dogs to work.

Ofer Cohen: 09:51

The Flexibility David brings into being a boss. It was with him through his career, a willingness to embrace new kinds of challenges and curiosity worth beyond know. He began his career in LA, wanting to fight the homelessness and then he moved back to New York and was ready for a new challenge.

David Kramer: 10:10

And then I wanted to tweak it a little bit. I wanted to make more money. I moved back to New York and I enjoyed being a housing developer, but I didn't feel like I had to devote myself exclusively to affordable housing. And it's interesting at the same time I interviewed at the Hudson companies in 1995. So did Shaun Donovan who eventually came on to be, went on to be HPD commissioner and Hud Secretary. And as I understand it, Sean wasn't interested in considering a job at Hudson because they were hiring a project manager to work on an 80/20 in the east village.

Ofer Cohen: 10:45

Pardon my interruption. 80/20 is a government incentive to make 20 percent of the units affordable.

David Kramer: 10:51

And I understand Sean's feedback was that he just wanted to focus on exclusively on affordability. So I think my one sort of pivot moment was realizing I didn't want to just do affordable housing. I enjoyed housing development, but I also wanted to make money and I had seen the world of the nonprofit salaries in LA. So when I moved back to New York, I had made certain promises to my wife, that I would make money because we had been in la where she was more the breadwinner working in the film industry. And then coming back to New York, I said I would step up.

Ofer Cohen: 11:24

It's unusual because usually, a real estate developer would be the breadwinner. And the film producer would be the one supported by the real estate developer.

David Kramer: 11:33

Well, for our courtship, she made, I think at least double what I do,

Ofer Cohen: 11:36

And of course along the way there were challenges, what we call the "holy shit moment".

David Kramer: 11:42

My Holy Shit moment? I think it was pretty scary when I moved back to New York and I was concerned about whether I was hireable and marketable because I had a non-profit background and I took some part time work, but there was a lot of stress about whether this was going to make any sense. So I would say that was one good moment. You know, I think the hardest part of Hudson was that the partnership that had primarily been around since 1986 when Hudson started, began to fray right around the time that the great recession was hitting. And that ended with sort of my, sort of taking over Hudson. So that was..

Ofer Cohen: 12:28

That was a trial.

David Kramer: 12:30

I was going to say it was a dicey moment in time in terms of, you know, real estate, condo projects that didn't do particularly well

Ofer Cohen: 12:36

During this period, did you have the ability to see, to feel like this is temporary, I'm going to get through it or with some moments like where are we going with this?

David Kramer: 12:47

No, I think that is a big challenge. I think in life, in real estate, I once a reality TV show about poker and poker player was saying that the problem and poker is that when you. win you just think that you're always going to win and you get overconfident. When you lose, you get down on yourself and you make reckless decisions because you were afraid you're always going to lose. And hearing that, I thought that had a lot to do with real estate that when times are good, you just sort of expect that rents are always going to go up three, four percent. That it's always going to be good. And then on the flip side, when times are bad, you can't really see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Ofer Cohen: 13:22

Now seasoned and knowing that time changed, this made David and Hudson know that they really care about the property to win out and want it bad enough to take the risk, for instance, the way they won the public library in Brooklyn Heights process. So the Brooklyn Public Library in Brooklyn Heights was one of those. They decided that this one is monumental iconic worth the brain damage and potential risk.

David Kramer: 13:49

Yeah. You know, I mean if I knew then what I know now, not sure I would've been so bullish because it's been a fun, exciting, complicated journey. At the time I thought, yeah if you're going to be aggressive on any site, it might as well be the best site in Brooklyn. And I was, you know, I asked for feedback because you always want to sort of filter as many opinions as possible. I asked the guy who runs the corporate office in Brooklyn, what do you think of this site at the end of Clinton next to one Pierpont Plaza. And he said, without hesitation, best site in Brooklyn,

Ofer Cohen: 14:20

That's great. And so when did you decide that you're going to run five marathons?

David Kramer: 14:26

Well, that's a whole story. So I ran a marathon in 1996 because that's, you know, if you're in New York, have to have you run a marathon?

Ofer Cohen: 14:34

I'm dying to but my ankle is screwed up.

David Kramer: 14:36

But yeah, I mean it's not healthy to run a marathon, but it's a, especially as an urbanist to spend the day in all five boroughs seeing all the different neighborhoods. It really is dramatic going from neighborhood to neighborhood. So I did that and I walked about a 15-minute pace and I finished about six and a half hours. And my last marathon I decided I wanted to be one of those people who had a gimmick because you see people who are walking in the marathon in a clown outfit or they're juggling and the crowd goes crazy. So I like, I want to do that. I want to gimmick. So I decided that one of the great joys in life is the pure joy of throwing and catching and Nerf football. So I encouraged my brother and we did the marathon together. And over six and a half hours we threw a Nerf football back and forth to each other while we walk the marathon.

Ofer Cohen: 15:23

Wow. So I sent you the list of questions last night. And so you know, what's coming. Tell me something that nobody knows about you.

David Kramer: 15:36

I did see that. My father's background is, is pretty interesting. I don't know if you even know this, but my father would get from a seriously orthodox Jewish family in Bensonhurst. In fact, his family was the one most responsible for setting the Lubavitch up on Eastern Parkway. I'm his father and uncles bought, oh, seven, seven Eastern Parkway and, but he was a bit of a rebel and did not want to continue going onto yeshiva and continuing to Orthodox Judaism. And so we went to Brooklyn College knowing he'd be drafted and he went off to World War II was an 18 year old. And got seriously injured and lost his arms in world war two. So the father I grew up with is somebody who was a bilateral arm amputee, which was completely normal for me because that's the father I knew and I'm actually putting together a bunch of archival work about him now, so he's on my mind more now.

Ofer Cohen: 16:32

Thank you so much, David.

David Kramer: 16:35

Hey BK, good to be here.

Ofer Cohen: 16:38

Thanks for listening. For more information, visit heybk.nyc or you can email me at ocohen@terracrg.com.