Two Trees

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Age: 39
Completed projects: Mercedes House, Wythe Hotel
Upcoming projects: Domino Sugar plant
Lesson: New development doesn’t have to feel like Miami.

Dumbo, where the Walentas clan’s Two Trees Management company HQ is located, is practically a family archipelago—Jed’s father, David, bought a cluster of former warehouses there in 1981 for $12 million and slowly turned it into the apartment-and-tech-office zone it is today (in the meantime charging artists, gallerists, and performance spaces discounted, or no, rent). David raised his son in Soho and understood the added value of having a cool-looking population. Now Jed is deploying these family urban-engineering lessons in Williamsburg—starting with the Wythe Hotel, which opened last year, and continuing with a revised plan for the Domino site, which had been primed for redevelopment in other hands before the recession hit.

For years, I read things in the newspaper about the Domino development plans, and what I read didn’t make sense to me. We were looking for something big to do next, and Domino checked all our boxes: There was an opportunity to add value; the existing plan was flawed in a lot of ways. There was the opportunity of doing more than one thing in one place: to build a community. And it was in Brooklyn, on the waterfront. And we thought the price was reasonable. We use our own money; we don’t have partners. There are only a couple of us who make decisions, so we’re very nimble. A huge part of the real-estate business has become the finance business, and that creates a lot of what economists call moral hazard. They have that on Wall Street, you know?

When you build a whole bunch of brand-new buildings financed by banks and have, you know, a fuckload of debt service, you end up with a lot of Duane Reades. But if you go to Domino and put Starbucks in the bottom, it’ll be an uninteresting place. The great urban neighborhoods of this city don’t have design guidelines; they are a whole hodgepodge and intersection of competing forces and different visions and different tastes. If you’re interested in the loan officer at the bank being happy, Duane Reade can be great. And if you are interested in a great neighborhood, then Duane Reade is … less interesting.”

Two Trees