Let’s Make a Deal! How Mike’s Mild-Mannered Closer Seth Pinsky Got the City Building Again

Dan Doctoroff's protégée picks up the mantle for PlaNYC.

wtc2006 2012 Let’s Make a Deal! How Mikes Mild Mannered Closer Seth Pinsky Got the City Building Again

WTC site in 2006 (inset) and 2012.

“Seth was instrumental in helping break that Rubik’s Cube of what it was Larry really wanted,” Mr. Lieber recalled. The city offered Mr. Silverstein an ultimatum: Take $300 million for his interest in the site or sign an alternative deal that offered financing with Liberty Bonds while allowing the Port Authority to take back the Freedom Tower. The offer involved intense backroom finagling with Governor George Pataki and Port Authority chairman Anthony Coscia.

“Not a lot of people have ever focused on that deal,” said Mr. Doctoroff, but it “essentially unlocked the site and allowed it move forward, and Seth really did a lot of the work.”

Mr. Pinsky described his approach to dealmaking as “empathetic”—trying to get into the other party’s head. “I think most people would probably not agree with that,” he admitted. “But I mean it in a very specific way.”

After the WTC deal, Mr. Doctoroff said he saw to it that Mr. Pinsky was promoted to head the EDC’s Real Estate Transactional Group. He was tapped to lead the EDC in 2008.

When the housing bubble started to collapse, Mr. Pinsky was on vacation in Uzbekistan (hardly an unusual choice for someone who picked Sudan and Egypt as his honeymoon spot), keeping up with the news on his BlackBerry. Layoffs in FIRE were imminent, and the city needed to figure out a way to counter the loss.

Sometime that winter, Mr. Pinsky took a walk around Brooklyn and ended up in East New York. “Again, it’s a little bit embarrassing to admit, but what hit me was that we’re called ‘the Economic Development Corporation,’ but what we really are is the ‘real estate development corporation.’ And we really didn’t do that much with the underlying economy itself.” Spending months luring a company to Lower Manhattan with an incentive package to secure just 300 jobs wouldn’t cut it.

Earlier that year, Mr. Pinsky had brought in more “strategically minded” hires from the private sector. “Nobody really knew what do with them and I’m not sure they knew what to do with themselves,” he recalled. That group became the Center for Economic Transformation, tasked with reaching out to individual industries, like the tech community—an approach that’s garnered copycat interest from London to Austin.

Mr. Doctoroff pointed out that the EDC has been behind big strides toward diversification before. Under interim president Andy Alper, for example, the EDC helped bring about the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences. There was also an effort to incentivize the film and television industries to shoot in New York.

Mr. Doctoroff characterized initiatives toward growing the tech sector as an unprecedented shift. “We really are on the cusp of a paradigm change. We can gain extraordinary leverage at a unique moment.”

Sources close to Mr. Pinsky insist he has no interest in parlaying his newfound visibility into public office, predicting instead a policy-related track in the real estate field. “I don’t like politics,” Mr. Pinsky concurred. “That’s not my thing.”

In the meantime, however, there’s a lot of work to be done before the mayor’s third term ends next year. “He has a countdown clock in the bullpen,” Mr. Pinsky said. “We’re all very conscious of the deadline. I don’t think he likes unfinished business.”

-ntiku@observer.com