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The Flying Walentases

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1978: Silk Building, 14 East 4th Street, Noho. 1998: Clocktower Building 1 Main Street, Dumbo.   

Jed pushed back on the administration’s demands that Domino include 550,000 square feet of below-market units. “That’s a nonstarter,” he said, contending that his firm had made painful ­affordable-housing concessions already. And it was committing to build parks and office space for internet start-ups, which would vastly improve the surrounding neighborhood, he argued. Jed felt de Blasio’s team had not even brushed up on his design. “Carl had never been briefed on the plan,” he says. “They didn’t have their staff organized, and that made it worse.”

Weisbrod and Glen held firm. The talks got so heated that Glen suggested everyone cool off in the hallway. Within 15 minutes, both sides decided to break off the talks entirely.

It was the biggest crisis of Walentas’s career. If the Planning Commission voted down Two Trees’ proposal, he would be forced to either sell the 11-acre property or build the plan designed by the previous owner. Dumbo was his father’s legacy. Domino was supposed to be his. “These things are not really about money. They’re very personal,” Jed tells me.

Back at Two Trees’ headquarters at 45 Main Street in Dumbo, Jed worked the phones, trying to exert pressure on the city. “I called a bunch of people, horrified, who I knew had a relationship with Carl. I was like, ‘These people are going to ruin this project. What are they doing?’ ”

The night after the talks, Jed cornered de Blasio at a universal-pre-K event at Gracie Mansion, complaining about de Blasio’s emissaries. “They’re overplaying their hand and are going to fuck this up,” he told the mayor. “He just listened,” Walentas recalls.

After 12 years of close relations with City Hall, the shift in tone was dislocating. “We really thought we were on a glide path,” Jed says. It was difficult to gauge de Blasio’s intentions. “There was a question: Are they calculating some political benefit by sacrificing this thing? What we were worried about was whether there could be scenarios where normally rational people behave in ways that are rational to them but where everybody else thinks is irrational,” he adds. “Like North Korea.”

David Walentas has harsher words. “I think de Blasio’s a disaster for the city,” he says. “His whole administration are amateurs and left wing. He’s never run anything and he has no ideas. All he wants to do is get his name in the paper.”

So Jed decided to get his name in the paper, first by leaking details of the stalled Domino talks to Charles Bagli, the New York Times’ veteran commercial-real-­estate reporter. But Bagli had gotten wind of the brewing conflict before Walentas made the call. On Thursday, February 27, the Times splashed Bagli’s story on the front page. Headlined “Plan to Redevelop Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn Hits Snag: De Blasio,” it portrayed the mayor as putting ideology ahead of a development that had broad community support.

The public posturing brought the administration back to the bargaining table. Over the weekend, the two sides hammered out an accord. Walentas agreed to add 40 additional units of affordable housing, totaling 110,000 square feet, less than the city wanted but enough to put the negotiations back on track. But by Sunday afternoon, things were stalling again. Jed felt Weisbrod was backing away from a verbal deal. “I am worn out,” Jed emailed David Karnovsky, City Planning’s then–general counsel. “I know this is a sport for carl—it is really easy to play with other folks’ livelihoods when you have no idea about the facts and there are no real consequences to you … but i am losing my interest in this—i really am. life is too short for this bullshit. at least mine is.” (Weisbrod declined to comment. A de Blasio spokesperson said: "It’s only natural a developer pressed to provide more for the public than he otherwise intended is going to push back—that’s a sign we did our jobs well and drove a hard bargain on behalf of the city.”)

Finally, on March 3, Two Trees and de Blasio announced an accord. Two days later, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve Domino. That left the fate of the project in the hands of the City Council, which gave its approval last month.

“I don’t think we were terribly well treated,” Jed tells me. “That period of time could have been handled better.” He adds, “It doesn’t matter, we’re big boys and girls.”

Domino is the emblem of a borough in the midst of a real-estate gold rush. “There’s so much money coming in,” says Chris Havens, a former Two Trees executive turned commercial broker. Developers are grabbing for their piece of the prize. Last year, Toll Brothers, the national home-building giant, teamed with Starwood Capital to build a $280 million luxury-condo development and hotel in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Jared Kushner and developer Aby Rosen joined forces to pay $375 million for the Jehovah’s Witnesses buildings adjacent to Dumbo, with plans to turn the complex into an office campus. Last month, Etsy signed a deal for 200,000 square feet in the Watchtower.


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