One of Robert K. Futterman’s favorite photographs shows his kids standing in front of what is now the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue.
Hanging in the empty window behind them is, of course, a sign sporting Papa Futterman’s own blue “RKF” logo, inspired by his “real-estate hero,” Edward S. Gordon, and his longtime client, the GAP.
This week, The Observer checks in on 10 modern-day “real-estate heroes” (or villains, depending on your perspective) and what they’re up to.
Take Mr. Futterman, whose GAP-inspired signs have come to dominate Manhattan storefronts over the past 10 years (and are now also cropping up across Los Angeles and Las Vegas) from Time Warner Center to Grand Central Station to the Plaza Hotel—even the abandoned and notoriously rat-infested KFC-Taco Bell space in Greenwich Village.
Hey, they can’t all be Victoria’s Secret.
As Mr. Futterman explained, “At the end of the day, if economics are driving a situation, you may not end up with Anthropologie, J. Crew and Steve Madden shoes. You may end up with AT&T Wireless and Starbucks.”
Paula Del Nunzio treats every multimillion-dollar mansion “as if it were a consumer-packaged good product.” Like Tide or Crest.
That makes perfect sense. The former Ogilvy & Mather ad exec once handled the Proctor & Gamble account.
“Each one has a name,” Ms. Del Nunzio, now senior vice president and managing director at Brown Harris Stevens, said of the many high-end properties she markets.
Consider the Duke-Semans Mansion on Fifth Avenue, which sold for $40 million. Or better yet, the Harkness Mansion, which went for $53 million—the highest price ever paid for a house in Manhattan.
Now, Ms. Del Nunzio is shooting for an even bigger record: $59 million. But it will require a little rebranding. The East 67th Street address is best known as Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione’s former digs.
She prefers to call it the Milbank Mansion, after a much earlier inhabitant. “Because,” she said, “everyone came in sort of snickering and poking fun.” (So much for porno chic.)
Lockhart Steele is putting a lot of stock in his “outsider perspective” on New York real estate. Literally.
Armed with a reported $1.5 million in new financing, the 33-year-old founder and president of the popular Curbed network of blogs—which aim to “democratize” the dialogue on neighborhood development, local restaurants and retail—is beefing up his staff and expanding into new markets. (Next up: Curbed Chicago.)
“Insiders initially were probably baffled,” he said of the gossip-heavy Web sites, which thrive on readers’ tips. “I’d say now we’re somewhere in the range of mild acceptance.”
Still, the sites’ skeptical tone sometimes stirs hostile reactions.
Just last year, an angry Tungsten Properties employee virtually stalked Mr. Steele over a Curbed item describing a section of Howard Street as “a blight to SoHo.”
“We occasionally get a crazy letter from someone who’s like, ‘I’m gonna sue you. I can’t believe you wrote that about my building,’” said Mr. Steele, who downplayed the standoff as an isolated incident. “But it’s almost always a bunch of hot air.”
André Balazs fancies himself as “a classic, old-fashioned hotelier.”
He takes pride in the fact that the Mercer, his first effort at upscale lodging, which opened in SoHo nearly two decades ago, was “the smallest hotel that had been built in New York since 1929.”
These days, though, Mr. Balazs seems to be supersizing, what with his hotly anticipated, High Line-straddling Standard New York slated to open in 2008.
“It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever done before,” said Mr. Balazs, who is “moving back into hotels with a vengeance,” after years of post-Sept. 11 condo projects, including One Kenmare Square, 40 Mercer and William Beaver House.
Mr. Balazs confirmed for The Observer that he is also involved in another High Line-area hotel project in the vicinity of 14th Street and Tenth Avenue. “It’s a smaller boutique,” he said, “on the scale of the Mercer.” Construction could begin as soon as next summer.
As for his also-rumored involvement in plans by the new management for the embattled Chelsea Hotel, the handsome hotelier would only say, “The owners there are still pointing fingers at each other and sorting things out. It’s way too early for us to get involved.”
Sheldon Solow is one of the richest real estate moguls in the city (estimated net worth: about $2 billion, according to Forbes)—and is reputedly the most litigious of them all.
According to a recent New York Times tally, Mr. Solow has initiated more than 200 lawsuits, making his tenacious courtroom reputation every bit as imposing as the 50-story office tower at 9 West 57th Street that he’s known for.
Maybe more so.
Just listen to opposing lawyers sound off on their run-ins with the old man: “He was trying to obtain legal fees for $800,000 for a trial that had lasted less than two days and had two witnesses!” And: “He’s sued this case over nine years—eight different courts—and he’s never won anything!”
Mr. Solow is at present planning a reported $4 billion development consisting of seven luxury towers on the site of Con Edison’s old Waterside power plants along First Avenue—the scope and scale of which makes some city officials nervous.
Think they’ll sue?
Lee Bollinger is a noted legal scholar and reputed expert on the First Amendment.
Where the current Columbia University president stands on the Fourth Amendment, though, is what has many Harlem residents worried.
Columbia is planning a massive 17-acre expansion of its Harlem campus, which the New York Planning Commission approved last week. The plan reportedly contained provisions that could allow the government to employ eminent domain in snatching up land for the school’s expansion—this, despite earlier promises that the university would, in most cases, look to buy properties from willing sellers.
Mr. Bollinger has long trumpeted the supposed benefits of the vast expansion. In August, he appeared at a public hearing to give a short speech about all the good-paying jobs it would create in the neighborhood. Not that you could really hear it over all the loud booing and shouts of “Liar!” from the audi
ence. (A video of the raucous exchange can be viewed via YouTube.)
Despite all the taunting, Mr. Bollinger has remained steadfast in his respect for even his cranky critics’ right to free speech. As he told the loud crowd back in August, “It will be a pity if this were not to be debated in a serious way.”
Everybody seemed to want a piece of Giuseppe Cipriani this year: landlords, the tabloids, the Manhattan district attorney. But the sharp-dressed restaurateur and financier barely flinched.
Despite agreeing to plead guilty to tax violations and fork over a $10 million fine, Mr. Cipriani still kept his liquor license, his Rolls Royce, his private jet, his yacht—and, according to the Daily News, was even thinking about building a new boat.
Think all the bad press might have hindered his sprawling banquet-hall empire’s ability to land prestigious bookings? Hell no. It’s holiday party season.
This week, Mr. Cipriani welcomes scores of deep-pocketed lawyers from the big firm Fried Frank to gather under his chandelier-adorned 65-foot ceiling on 42nd Street.
Michael Shvo is no doubt a shameless self-promoter, disliked by many of his peers. Consider his high-end condo-marketing company’s slogan: Let’s SHVO.
“‘Let’s SHVO’? Now that’s an ego,” his former colleague, Dolly Lenz, recently told The Observer.
But the man can sell. And perhaps no one is faster to boast about it than the limo-riding, onetime Douglas Elliman top-grossing broker himself.
“[It] defies everything that’s being declared about the state of the market right now,” Mr. Shvo, 36, gleefully announced after unloading nearly half of the condos at the W New York-Downtown Hotel & Residences in a single day last month, with prices starting at $2,000 per square foot.
Shvo much for sour grapes.
“I am so pro-Brooklyn, you can hear it in my voice,” said Joanne Minieri, the newly promoted president of Forest City Ratner Companies.
Born in Bensonhurst, the 47-year-old former accountant is now one of the highest-profile women in the vastly male-dominated field of real estate development.
Her rise followed the departure of Jim Stuckey, who once served as the face of Forest City’s controversial development at Atlantic Yards—a plan she vehemently supports for the new jobs, the new affordable housing and, yes, the N.B.A.’s New Jersey Nets coming to town.
“For little ol’ me, growing up in Canarsie, to be involved in bringing professional sports back to Brooklyn, I mean, even when I talk with my family and friends, we still can’t believe it.”
To critics, her boss, developer Bruce Ratner, seemed long obsessed with building the tallest tower in Brooklyn. How does installing a female president impact the penis-envy question?
Not an issue, Ms. Minieri said, laughing. “It was quickly remedied by taking the height down off the building.”
Steven Roth is one hard-headed developer. Just ask the rival CEO whom, according to a source, the bald Vornado Realty Trust chairman literally head-butted during a dispute at a recent industry conference.
You can imagine just how standoffish the tough-talking, highly competitive office-space mogul (ranked No. 39 on Golf Digest’s 2006 list of the nation’s top CEO golfers) seemed when surrounded by four rivals, all jockeying for sole development rights of the West Side rail yards.
At a press conference, The Observer cautiously approached the typically secretive CEO, who rarely grants interviews, and gingerly asked a few questions, including: When must Merrill Lynch decide whether to relocate to the Vornado-owned Hotel Pennsylvania?
To which Mr. Roth, who somewhat resembles a bulldog, snapped, “How should I know?”
His own entourage seemed startled. One woman even scolded him: “Steven! He’s a nice young man!”