The Busiest Man in New York Real Estate

Gary Barnett wrote a letter. It was nine paragraphs and it circulated earlier this year to people like Michael Bloomberg, David Axelrod and Larry Summers.

“Even someone with a good job today is afraid to spend, because he is afraid he will not have a job a few months down the road.”

Mr. Barnett, the prolific president of development concern Extell, then offered a policy prescription for encouraging business amid what was just starting to be called the Great Recession. It was a business philosophy that sought to encourage activity rather than mere survival: a three-year extension on all current mortgages; federal subsidies for 30-year mortgages; a law forbidding firms with more than 500 employees from lay-offs they could show an urgent need. “This is just not the time to do it. A) Have a heart, b) be a patriot,” he later said. “The wave of firings breeds more firings, and more firings, and we could spiral into an extremely serious depression.”

“It really was just one man’s opinion, so to speak,” Mr. Barnett told The Observer on Monday evening, by cell phone. “We’re seeing it from the real estate side, the banking side, from the housing side. So we had a decent perspective from which to form an opinion.

“I’ve gotten calls on it, but I don’t see anyone doing it,” continued Mr. Barnett, before launching into a critique of the current federal stimulus plan.  

The man is himself something of a stimulus plan for New York City’s catatonic development market.

“He’s probably the biggest developer right now in New York,” said Eric Michael Anton, an investment sales broker at Eastern Consolidated, who has worked with Mr. Barnett in the past.

Or, as Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber put it, “You can see Gary’s fingerprints all over the city in what has been done and will be done.”

Much has been done: The 37-story Ariel East and 31-story Ariel West condos at 100th Street and Broadway, which prompted the creation of groups like Stop Extell and Westsiders for Responsible Development, and spurred the city to downzone a chunk of the Upper West Side; the Ariels are nearly all sold and carry no debt, Mr. Barnett said. There are also the Lucida condos on East 85th Street; the sold-out Orion at 350 West 42nd Street; and the Avery at 100 Riverside Boulevard, among others.

The Busiest Man in New York Real Estate