Easy Does It for Pat Foye

THE SON OF A WAITRESS AND a doorman, Mr. Foye attended Fordham University for college and law school, and then became a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, which is where he met Eliot Spitzer and his wife, Silda. Mr. Foye set up a number of offices for the firm in Europe and then returned to Long Island, where he took a high-level position at Apartment Investment and Management Co., a real estate investment trust.

In 2004, he left to become president and chief executive of United Way of Long Island—in part, he said, because he would have to move to Denver, the REIT’s headquarters, to get promoted, and in part because the illness of a family member made him reconsider his priorities.

It was in the 1990’s when he was active in the Conservative Party and became president of the Nassau County Taxpayers Committee. He ended up, thanks to Governor Pataki, as deputy chairman of the Long Island Power Authority. Five or six years ago, Mr. Foye said, he dropped his affiliation to the Conservative Party. “No political party represented my views.”

Last year, he won a seat on the Port Washington school board running on something called the “Nine Daughters Slate,” so named because its three members had that many daughters among them.

“My political views, I don’t think much matter,” Mr. Foye said. The bearded 50-year-old speaks in a curt, matter-of-fact way, as if to signal that he is going to whip the place into shape, but that no one should take it too personally. “I think the focus on accountability to the taxpayer is frankly a natural thing for someone who is part of the Spitzer administration.”

And yet his defense of the public fisc is one of his most defining characteristics. Last month, Empire State Development issued a report that called for an overhaul of the Empire Zone business tax credit program that, in the words of consultants A.T. Kearney, “demonstrate[s] a single-minded fixation on job creation and retention at any cost, defining success with metrics more appropriate to the Industrial Age.”

“I think from the standpoint of the business community, everything I hear is that he’s a breath of fresh air,” said Kathryn Wylde, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a business group that advised on the Empire Zone report. “He is bringing a kind of rigor to economic analyses of projects that are not just aimed at getting a ribbon-cutting, and business appreciates that approach. For the real estate community, it’s going to mean a harder test to meet the standards he has imposed.”

For example, over the course of the past seven months, Mr. Foye has been in negotiations with Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies, which are together proposing a massive redevelopment that would uproot Pennsylvania Station, move Madison Square Garden and insert several new office towers in that area. Mr. Foye said he wants to push the developers to make a “significant contribution” toward building a new Penn Station. He expects to issue a scoping document outlining the train station project in September or October.

The expansion of the Javits Center, on the other hand, is to be a publicly funded and owned operation that is both too small and too costly in its current design, which was approved a year ago by the Pataki administration. It is the true Gordian Knot of New York real estate: If the architects add floors, it will become less attractive to convention-goers. If they enlarge the footprint, Empire State Development won’t be able to raise money from the sale of neighboring land. And as it is, the project is already over a budget that itself was over budget. And it hasn’t even gotten under way.

Mr. Foye’s staff has made detailed cost estimates of the current design and found that the cost of the Javits expansion will reach $2.9 billion, he said. That’s $1.5 billion more than conceived when the Legislature approved it in December 2004, and $1.2 billion above anticipated revenues.

Mr. Foye said he would try to lower the cost and make the design more appealing to conventioneers at the same time. But he said he would also need to ask for more money from the state, city and hotel owners—a $1.50-per-room tax was imposed to help finance the expansion.

“Certainly the cost of Javits has increased from what it had been represented last year. Construction costs generally in the city and the region have increased,” Mr. Foye said. “What we are focused on now is coming up with the right balance of program, land and cost and also making sure that it works for users and customers.”