Two years ago, in the months before the fall of Lehman Brothers, when New York’s economic lily was still contentedly gilded, crafting a list of real estate’s biggest machers was pretty easy: Moguls X, Y and Z had done deals A, B and C, and the business of real estate ticked along.
Then came the bust, and the list was notable more for who had fallen off than for who had stayed on. Last year’s tally was demarcated by government—President Obama was No. 1—and by those adapting to survive. The phrase “money on the sidelines” made numerous appearances.
This year, the list, like the industry it chronicles, is very much in motion. Pinning down who is up, if anybody, and who is down the most changes by the day. This represents our take on the most powerful people in New York real estate right now.
And yet about three-fourths of the people here are returnees, which says something about the closed club that is New York real estate. Old money is heavily represented, able as it has been to weather the recession—even when it has botched deals epically, such as Jerry and Rob Speyer (No. 11) with Stuy Town. The Speyers join old money like Douglas and Jody Durst (No. 8); Richard LeFrak (No. 10); Peter and Anthony Malkin (No. 18); Howard and Edward Milstein (No. 38); and Bill Rudin (No. 24).
There are new people. Carlos Slim—according to some, the world’s richest person—clocks an appearance (No. 13), having just made a sudden splash in the biz. Another foreigner with billions to immolate: Mihkail Prokhorov (No. 43), erstwhile Nets owner and would-be Nets arena developer. And, speaking of Stuy Town and the Speyers, Charles Spetka (No. 32) chairs the distress-hungry firm overseeing that most historic of foreclosures. Also, welcome media enthusiast Sam Zell (No. 19), reluctant heir Stefan Solow (No. 56), M.T.A. chairman Jay Walder (No. 64) and Israeli magnate Nochi Dankner (No. 88).
While Mr. Obama did not make the list this year, government is represented fairly strongly, with perennial flower Michael Bloomberg hitting the top 10 again. Looming six spots behind him is probably the soon-to-be most influential public figure in New York State: Andrew Cuomo (No. 15). Other apparatchiks and pols include Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber and Economic Development Corp. president Seth Pinsky (together at No. 73); and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (No. 95).
As usual, the list remains arctic white and terminally male. (How does this keep happening in the world’s most diverse city? Even the suites of Wall Street—and of the White House—claim more diversity.) There are 12 women—the most ever—with CBRE tristate chief and REBNY chair Mary Ann Tighe the highest ranked at No. 7, and the chair of City Planning, Amanda Burden, in a distant second at No. 34. Nonwhites? Governor Paterson (No. 55), who, dear reader, will likely not make it next year, and Korean-American developer Young Woo (No. 94)—and that’s just about it.
Brokers, the middlemen (and, on occasion, middlewomen) of the city’s deals, are less represented than landlords and investors—there has just been less work to go around. Brokerages themselves are amply represented, in the form of their chief executives or chairs. These include residential ones like Pam Liebman (No. 66) of the Corcoran Group; Howard Lorber and Dottie Herman (No. 63) of Prudential Douglas Elliman; and an engorging number on the commercial side, including the boys from Newmark Knight Frank (No. 26), Peter Riguardi from Jones Lang LaSalle (No. 27) and Mitchell Steir and Michael Colacino from Studley (No. 28).
Institutionally, the same names showed up as in previous years, such as Lee Bollinger (No. 90) of Columbia; John Sexton (No. 78) of N.Y.U.; Timothy Dolan (No. 76) of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese; and James Cooper (No. 79), the Episcopalian rector of Hudson Square–controlling Trinity Church.
The No. 1 spot, supplanting the president, belongs to Stephen Ross, chairman of Related Companies. His firm seems to be everywhere about New York, particularly on the far West Side. There are train tracks there now, slightly below ground level, in an area to be avoided after dark—or in broadest daylight. But Mr. Ross envisions 13 towers on two platforms producing 5,000 apartments and 6 million square feet of office and retail space—a city within a city, 50 percent bigger than Rockefeller Center.
That’s some change right there. Vision, too.
A final few notes on the list. There are 138 names amid the 100 slots. Of those, more than 25 percent are new; the rest are returnees. If someone made the list last year, that ranking is next to their entry in parentheses. The list was chosen by The Observer, and is subjective. Feedback can be given in the comments section below.