Hollywood Along the Hudson: Can Doug Steiner Turn the City’s Largest Film Studios Into an Urban Real Estate Empire?

Building <em>Boardwalk</em>. (Steiner Studios)

Doug Steiner actually wanted to be a writer when he was growing up. “I love to read,” he explained. “But it’s a lot easier to read than to write.” After graduating from Stanford with a degree in English, he moved to France for a year to try and get his novel off the ground. It never took flight, so he flew home instead and returned to the fold. “He once asked his dad what his title was, because he did not officially have one,” Joe O’Malley, a childhood friend, recalled, “and David responded, ‘What’s your title? It’s son!’”

Doug grew up in the shadow of that boisterous, politically active father, and for a time, that is how it was in the business, as well. But he also found ways to stand out and do his own thing, like developing a number of retail outlets in North Jersey, starting with Bridgewater Towne Centre. “He brought a youthful outlook to the firm,” David Steiner said. It was that same outlook that encouraged him to move the business across two rivers, to Brooklyn, to expanding the real estate empire into new territory.

The studio facilities were designed by Mr. Steiner and built by his father, after both had toured facilities out west. What they created, with the help of Dattner Architects, is an innovative, 1,000-foot-long, three-story building, a spine with five lobbies and five giant pods, for the 16,000- to 27,000-square-foot stages, coming off of the core. Offices are on the top floor, dressing rooms are on the second, and props and storage are on the first, across the hall from the stages.

The project is only halfway there, however, with plans for Brooklyn College’s film program in a rebuilt Navy radio building, a Carnegie Mellon satellite on the old naval college site, and a 20-acre backlot. Productions come to New York for the atmosphere, but they still prefer being able to control it, and so a fake Chinatown, financial district, Midtown and brownstone streets will be recreated.

Even so, the studio already has been a huge success, part of a booming Brooklyn. “He is truly a Brooklyn character,” Marty Markowitz, the borough president, told The Observer. “He’s recognized what Brooklyn’s all about—show business.

It is part of a booming industry. “This is the dream, to be able to be in show business in New York,” said Terence Winter, the Sopranos writer and creator of Boardwalk Empire, sitting inside his Steiner Studio office, filled with gangster memorabilia. “L.A. is such an industry town. But in New York, you have everything at your fingertips. There’s just a different energy. You don’t feel so suffocated by the industry.”

It is also part of a booming Brooklyn Navy Yard, which after hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from the Bloomberg and Giuliani administrations has undergone a renaissance in the past decade, adding new artisinal manufacturers and artists alongside its old mainstays—Sweet-n-Low is still made at the yards.

“One might say, well, this isn’t manufacturing, and it’s not, in a way, the manufacturing of old, the smokestack, it’s not that,” said Andrew Kimball, executive director of the yards. “It’s still manufacturing, though, and it’s still the same good paying, local jobs that have benefits. If you go onto any of the stage, you see manufacturing going on, from acting to shooting to editing to building the sets.”

“The days of the smokestack are gone,” he continued, “but you have this new kind of manufacturing going on, and our job is, how do you maximize these opportunities.”

Soon, Doug Steiner will become a part of it all for good. “Growing up in Jersey, living in Jersey, I have some great memories, but really, it was like a frog being boiled alive,” he said.

His sleek, modern home in Short Hills—where he raised his three kids after the divorce—will be on the market as soon as he fixes it up. But Mr. Steiner cannot wait for it to sell, so he is moving to Brooklyn full-time this summer, into a penthouse in South Williamsburg. It is near 80 Metropolitan, one of those giant faux warehouses on the South Side, though quite a bit nicer than all the rest. Completed in 2009, it is Mr. Steiner’s first New York City project beyond the studio walls.

This is the real reason for Steiner Studio: it is but part of a budding franchise. In February, Mr. Steiner announced plans for another apartment building, a 52-story luxury rental tower at the corner of Flatbush and Schermerhorn avenues in Downtown Brooklyn, also designed by Dattner Architects. “We were late to Williamsburg,” he said. “But here, we were right on time. And it’s only the beginning.”

“It’s about good value, cutting edge design. Hip. Not gaudy or glitzy,” Mr. Steiner said. “Trump gets a premium for putting his name on a million different things. That’s what this is about, building a brand and using the studio, the Steiner name to do that. And to do it tastefully, I might add.”

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC

Hollywood Along the Hudson: Can Doug Steiner Turn the City’s Largest Film Studios Into an Urban Real Estate Empire?