In the early 1990s, Mr. Barnett began to make U.S. real estate purchases, says the report, though he didn’t move full-time to the country until around 1995, a year after he and partners purchased the Belnord apartment house.
In 1995, Extell was first incorporated as Diamond Heritage Properties. In 1998, it changed its name to Intell Management and Investment Company. After Intel, the tech company, sued him, Mr. Barnett renamed his firm Extell. The report defined Mr. Barnett as the “sole owner” of a firm that in 1998, “sold properties totaling approximately 3.5 million square feet…”—less than a decade after he began his U.S. real estate spree.
This pace has led many to label Mr. Barnett’s American—and, more specifically, New York—rise as meteoric, but he has an exceedingly methodical approach to the business.
“He does his homework, and he does his homework well,” said Marc Shaw, a former deputy mayor who for the Bloomberg administration who worked for Mr. Barnett for nearly three years. “The fact that some of the best parcels he has are on 57th Street in Manhattan, that allow him to build as-of-right buildings, with views of Central Park… that took a lot of foresight.”
Mr. Barnett puts it another way. “I find that when we make mistakes, it was when we weren’t methodical enough.”
METHOD EXTENDS TO THE developer’s private life.
Before speaking with The Observer, his assistant called to warn that Mr. Barnett would not be answering personal questions. Indeed, he declined to confirm his age (early 50s supposedly); his borough of residence (reportedly Queens); or the size of his family (quite large, it’s understood).
“This is not about me,” Mr. Barnett said later. “Some people have big egos and it’s all about them; and they like that. I don’t care about that. That’s not what I’m about. …Private is private.”
At least one facet of his life is public knowledge, however. Extell seems to virtually shut down during every Jewish holiday, no matter how obscure. “He’s obviously a very serious, observant Jew who takes that part of his life enormously seriously,” Mr. Shaw said. “That’s where he also gets all of his satisfaction.
“His job as a real estate developer is just to make money,” he added. “It’s not to play in the ego world of New York real estate.”
Mr. Barnett later agreed—to an extent.
“It’s not only about making money,” Mr. Barnett said. “Certainly, that’s what real estate people are interested in, but I do get a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction from putting together a project, all the different pieces.” He compared it to a puzzle.
And the solver, at times, has exhibited chutzpah. He once financed a small landowner’s lawsuit against the state over its use of eminent domain to build The New York Times building. And he bid against Bruce Ratner for the rights to Atlantic Yards, even though it was accepted wisdom that Mr. Ratner was going to win.