Every morning, Stephen M. Ross takes an elevator from his apartment near the top of the Time Warner Center, which he built, about 35 floors down to the 19th floor, to the offices of the real estate company that he founded. He eats lunch in the restaurants that he brought there, on the third and fourth floors, and sometimes he eats dinner there too. If he does not use the gym in his own penthouse, he works out at a branch of the Equinox health club, which his company recently purchased, on the lower concourse. And sometimes, when he goes out at night, he doesn’t have to go out at all, because he just goes to the fifth floor, to take in a performance at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
This is Steve Ross’s city, which is so convenient that sometimes the man who built it never leaves.
“This building has so many amenities that sometimes I don’t go outside all day,” Mr. Ross said. “It’s wonderful, but I have to force myself to get out and really experience New York. You make sure you are going places downtown, the Upper West Side, Lincoln Center.”
Mr. Ross was sitting earlier this month in his large wood-paneled office at the Related Companies, his 35-year-old development company. He is a tall, trim 67-year-old with graying hair and large ears, dressed in dark slacks and an open-collared purple-checked shirt. Despite his reputation for reticence, he dispenses with questions in easy three-sentence answers, so that, in the space of 50 minutes, he gets through as much material as would take another businessman twice as much time. Occasionally, he will throw in a self-deprecating comment or two.
One bookshelf is devoted to paraphernalia—football helmets, footballs and the like—from his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to which he has become one of the largest donors. There’s a sculpture in the corner, of a globe with a small man walking across the top while trying to keep his balance; Mr. Ross calls it “The Slippery Slope.”
“You can be at the top of the world one day and you can fall down the next,” he explained.
Lately, Mr. Ross and Related have been sitting on top of it. In 2004, the 750-foot-tall, 53-story, $1.7 billion twin-towered Time Warner Center opened, its condominiums sold out, its retail rents broke records, and its design, by and large, received critical accolades. The experience turned Related from merely a large, successful development company into a huge, successful development company, to the point where it can partner with the publicly traded Vornado Realty Trust on the Moynihan Station project, a series of several buildings in the West 30’s that would involve moving Madison Square Garden and constructing two new train stations.
Related is now one of a handful of developers large enough to put together a proposal for the West Side Railyards, a 26-acre site where the Jets football stadium was once envisioned and for which bids are due in October. In many ways, the West Side Railyards are much like the old New York Coliseum site that became Time Warner Center: a fallow piece of land in a promising location, and the winning bid for which will be chosen as much for its civic utility as for the price it brings to its owner—which, in this case, like the New York Coliseum site, is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Related’s strategy for winning the Time Warner site might well become a template for winning the Railyards.
Columbus Circle was so unexceptional when the M.T.A. was soliciting bids in the late 1990’s that another company, Forest City Ratner, had proposed bringing a Sears store to the site. The strategy by Related, and its partner Apollo Real Estate Advisors, was to go upscale and make it appealing politically in order to win the bid. It drafted Time Warner as a co-developer. It installed a Whole Foods in the basement, which opened the building up to neighborhood residents in need of a grocery store. And it placed Jazz at Lincoln Center front and center in the building.
“We were really the only ones to engage the jazz hall,” Related’s president Jeff Blau said. “Everybody else came in with Jazz in the basement at the back, and we said, ‘You know what? Let’s take a totally different approach. Let’s make Jazz the center of this whole development front and center.’ Not only is that great for Jazz and making a statement about New York, but it’s also great for our retail, because all these people who are going to Jazz now have to travel up through the retail.
“It’s great for everybody, and I think our embrace of that went over very well and helped us win it.”
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