The Greatest Story Ever Built: Times’ Bagli to Chronicle Stuy Town Debacle

Charles Bagli has been covering the epic real estate battles of New York City for nearly a quarter of a

Charles Bagli has been covering the epic real estate battles of New York City for nearly a quarter of a century. From his perch at The Times, and before that The Observer, Bagli has written about everything from the demise of the Helmsley Empire to the rise of Riverside South, from the trials of Robert Durst to the tribulations of Times Square.

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One story has carried dozens of his bylines over the past few years, that of the sale and subsequent collapse of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. Now, his name will grace the cover of a book about the massive middle-class housing complex on the East River.

According to Publishers Marketplace, the book was picked up yesterday by Dutton, a Penguin imprint, for an undisclosed sum.

“You’ve got this wonderful tale of the people who lived there, and then you’ve got ‘greatest real estate deal of all time,'” Bagli told The Observer over lunch in the Times‘ airy cafeteria last week.  That deal would be Tishman Speyer’s $6.3 billion purchase of the 11,000-unit, 80-acre spread that MetLife built in the 1940s and then sold at the height of the real estate boom. Orchestrated by Rob Speyer, with the help of BlackRock, the Church of England, the government of Singapore and a handful of public pension funds, the takeover soured along with the real estate bubble. “It’s just a phenomental story, it has everything,” Bagli said.

Bagli said he would focus primarily on the most recent goings-on at Stuyvesant Town: MetLife’s decision to sell, Tishman Speyer’s winning bid and its aggressive deregulation of the complex, the court case challenging the new rents, the developer’s forfeiture of the property, Bill Ackman’s dramatic grab this summer and whatever else might happen before Bagli turns in his manuscript next summer.

The book will also be leavened with the complex’s dramatic history, beginning with the seizure of the Gas House District and the relocation of the 3,100 families who lived there. There is also what Bagli called “Stuy Town’s original sin,” the early refusal by MetLife to allow minorities into the complex. Bagli said were it not for an eventual settlement, the MetLife case, and not Brown v. Board of Education, would likely be the famous de-segregation case discussed to this day.

The mix of tumultuous takeover and complex history has the makings of another Barbarians at the Gate. “If it could be anything like that, even a little bit like that, I’d be proud,” Bagli said. “I don’t know if it was the first business book I read, but it was the first one I enjoyed.”

Bagli will continue to work his regular beat for the paper as he reports and writes the book. It has even turned up a few stories, such as a piece on Lee Lorch, a doctor who fought to integrate the complex and was eventually driven out of the country for it.

“At one time or another, everyone I know lived in or knows someone who lived in Stuy Town, including my agent and the publisher, even my wife’s uncle,” Bagli said. The book found him as much as he found it, he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated the number of apartments as 23,000. That is roughly the number of people living in the complex.

mchaban [at] | @mc_nyo

The Greatest Story Ever Built: Times’ Bagli to Chronicle Stuy Town Debacle