General Brooklyn: Baghdad Big Tucker Reed Tackles Downtown, Giving Businesses Their Marching Orders

The day after his big announcement, a clear, muggy Friday morning, Tucker Reed was giving a tour of his downtown domain, strolling through the leafy confines of the MetroTech Plaza, having just walked over from the noisy scene on the Fulton Mall. The two are closer than even locals realize, and in many ways they remain worlds apart, though upscale developments on both sides—a French bistro recently opened in MetroTech—draw them ever closer. Mr. Reed considers this his top priority.

“For me, one of the big things is the Downtown Brooklyn experience,” he said. “We want to create a destination, with everything so close together, but it can be very confusing since there’s not a grid, there’s no easy path.” Everything from smartphone apps to digital kiosks is in the works.

After returning from Iraq, Mr. Reed spent a few wayward months figuring out exactly what to do with himself. He moved into his girlfriend’s Midtown studio—she had departed their Carroll Gardens apartment when he headed overseas—and mostly spent his time decompressing, visiting with family and friends and traveling around the country. He passed the foreign service exam and considered moving to Washington, but eventually took his old friend Jed Walentas up on an offer to join Two Trees.

He spent two years as a project manager working on everything from the new Mercedes House project on the Far West Side to liaising with City Hall and managing philanthropic efforts on behalf of the Walentases. Much as he enjoyed his work in the private sector, he jumped at the opportunity to take over the partnership when Joe Chan, its founding director, stepped down last fall.

“I had met him during a tour with Jed once, and I remember being impressed, but when he came in for an interview for the job, we knew immediately he was our guy,” Forest City Ratner executive vice president MaryAnne Gilmartin said. “His resume just blew us away.

It was a tumultuous time at the BID, where competing interests among the areas long-time developers often ran up against each other. On top of that, a scathing report from City Comptroller John Liu charged the partnership with mismanagement of funds, spending lavishly on executives while local needs were ignored.

Much as he did in Iraq, Mr. Reed focused on finding common ground among the competing parties, stressing their shared interests: let’s capitalize on the 56,000 college students, more than in Cambridge; better wayfinding, connectivity and open space are key; tech, tech, tech. He made of point of meeting with all 120 partnership members, not just the big shots on the board, though he has also conscripted them into monthly one-on-ones.

If there are any skeptics, they are among the groups that have long been critical of the partnership, most notably Families United for Racial and Economic Equality. Mr. Reed met the group within the first few months of taking over and even agreed to go on a walking tour of the neighborhood, which impressed the member of FUREE. But when he released the strategic plan, they were disappointed. “We worry it’s largely lip service,” Patrick Gomez, a FUREE board member said. “So far these policies have mostly benefited the luxury developers, and the elite business interests that dominate the boards of the Partnership. We look forward to working with the Partnership to promote development that uplifts the long-time residents, local small business owners and workers who have contributed to the area’s success.”

While Mr. Reed is willing to work with local groups, he was clear that it is not his first priority. “We are not a city agency, a housing advocate, a workforce development provider or an enforcement organization,” he responded

Despite such objections, Mr. Reed is upbeat. At the end of the tour, standing in front of Shake Shack—regarded by some as the clearest sign of the changes to Downtown Brooklyn—Mr. Reed surveyed his domain. “Within 10 or 15 blocks, it’s really all here, from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the BAM to the Barclays Center,” Mr. Reed said. “We have to think about how to knit it together. It’s not about going to the office or going to the Fulton Mall anymore. You’re coming here to see a show, to shop, to work, to live. You really don’t have to leave the area—you can do it all.