New York, Straight Up and Neat

abelson matthewbronfman1v New York, Straight Up and NeatLocation: As an heir to the Bronfman family’s Seagram liquor fortune, you could kick back on an island somewhere for the rest of your life. Why go into real estate?

Bronfman: Real estate is very creative, it’s very exciting, it’s challenging—it defines skylines. It’s very interesting; there’s a lot of stuff that goes into building buildings.

You’re developing the Ikon and Aurora luxury condos on McCarren Park in Williamsburg. Do you hang out in the neighborhood, go to the bars?

Not yet. It’s very cool over there—I’ve certainly driven around and walked down some of the streets.

Hipsters—kids with mohawks!—would say that Williamsburg is so over, and peaked maybe four years ago. What about the neighborhood appeals to you now?

It’s definitely not over. That’s like saying the West Village is over because it isn’t what it was five or 10 years ago. It’s changing—there’s no question that it’s changed. That doesn’t mean it’s over; it’s just different.

The mohawk, that crowd—it’s probably too expensive for them today. But … you’re one or two subway stops from midtown, where all the jobs are, and prices per square foot are considerably less than Manhattan. It’s a great place to live.

In what ways will the neighborhood change when midtown folk move into your condos? What do you hope doesn’t change?

Well, we hope it brings more families. A lot of these buildings were basically abandoned: What we bought was a piece of land and an abandoned warehouse. Because of this [development], you’ll see new restaurants, you’ll see all sorts of community-type projects; there will be more vibrancy.

Would developing another new condo right now appeal to you?

It really depends on where. There are certain places where there’s so much product coming onto the market that I’d be nervous … [such as] Long Island City.

Do you think some neighborhoods are best served by staying old and rustic? Can new be bad?

There’s good architecture and there’s bad architecture; it doesn’t matter if it’s classic or modern. If things are done well, if things are done beautifully, it doesn’t really matter. The Norman Foster Hearst building on Eighth Avenue, I think, is truly spectacular—this amazing modern structure coming out of a very classical [area].

The Seagram Building—I have to mention that—is still … probably the most modern building in New York, built almost 50 years ago.

Your grandfather Samuel brought in Mies van der Rohe for that building. Would it appeal to you to work with a starchitect on a condo?

No, no, it wouldn’t really. At the end of the day, I want the building to stand for the building; I want the people to react to it. It’s not about the starchitect.

You helped develop the new Jade “pod” condo on West 19th Street in Manhattan. What was it like working with its namesake, Jade Jagger?

We only had a few meetings together, and she was always very professional and thoughtful. The marketing people we obtained, Michael Shvo and the Shvo Group, they actually picked her, and I thought it was a very good idea.