The Busiest Man in New York Real Estate

What will be done: Quite a lot, something all the more striking given the anemic real estate financing market; the skittishness of Mr. Barnett’s peers; and the nature of some of Extell’s developments in the pipeline – office towers, hotels – which clearly fall outside Mr. Barnett’s residential comfort zone.

These include industry-specific giants like the $750 million, 750,000-square-foot Gem Tower at 50 West 47th Street; and the 1.5 million-square-foot World Product Centre at 555 West 33rd Street, the site of the old Copacabana.

Also, in the four months leading up to the city’s new building code, instituted on July 1, Mr. Barnett filed plans for no fewer than six projects totaling 1.45 million square feet, including an 830,000-square-foot, Costas Kondylis-designed tower for 157 West 57th Street; a 13-story, 54-unit residential building at 147 West 21st Street; an 18-story, 58-unit building at 225 West 85th Street; a 29-story hotel at 112 West 25th Street, the site of the Antiques Garage flea market; a 24-story, 175-unit hotel at 30 West 46th Street; and a 35-story hotel at 68 Charlton Street, between Hudson and Varick.

“We’re not going ahead with every single project yet,” Mr. Barnett said Monday. “But we think hotels are going to come back first when the cycle starts again, because New York is still New York.”


UNLIKE MANY OF HIS big real estate peers, Mr. Barnett does not come from a real estate background. Born in New York City, he began his career in Antwerp trading diamonds, according to a report filed by New York’s Office of the Inspector General in 2007, related to Mr. Barnett’s bid to operate the racetracks at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.

Given the diamond industry’s reputation for all manner of savagery in Africa, one has to wonder how Mr. Barnett, an apparently civic-minded guy, overcame his moral qualms.

“If you look back at that time, Africa wasn’t going through the same turmoil; it was much more stable, much less bloodshed,” Mr. Barnett said. “Some of the diamonds in some of these countries, like Zaire and Congo and Liberia and Sierra Leone, probably could be called blood diamonds. But anything we had to do with it then was not involved at all in that kind of stuff. … If you were giving a diamond to someone you love, you would want to make sure it was not the cause of bloodshed or someone’s harm.”

The Busiest Man in New York Real Estate