A VISION OF GREATNESS

An intimate profile of the real estate developer whose vision has finally become a reality.

Aired on March 14, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO THIS SPECIAL EDITION OF 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

IT'S BILLED AS THE LARGEST PRIVATE REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT IN OUR NATION'S HISTORY.

THE CITY'S NEXT ROCKEFELLER CENTER.

TONIGHT WE'RE TAKING YOU TO HUDSON YARDS FOR A CLOSER LOOK AT THE FIRST PHASE OF THIS SPRAWLING DEVELOPMENT ON THE CITY'S FAR WEST SIDE.

AS THE FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN OF RELATED COMPANIES, STEVEN ROSS IS THE MAN BEHIND IT ALL.

THE BILLIONAIRE MANY TIMES OVER IS AMONG THE RICHEST AND MOST POWERFUL DEVELOPERS IN THE CITY WITH A PORTFOLIO THAT INCLUDES THE TIME WARNER CENTER IN COLUMBUS CIRCLE, AND NOW HUDSON YARDS, A PROJECT ALREADY CRITICIZED AS A PLAYGROUND FOR THE RICH.

IN AN ARTICLE TITLED 'THE ONLY MAN WHO COULD BUILD OZ,' 'NEW YORK' MAGAZINE CHRONICLED ROSS' FASCINATING RISE AS A SUPER-DEVELOPER AS WELL AS HIS RELENTLESS CAMPAIGN TO TRANSFORM HUDSON YARDS FROM RAIL YARD TO SPECTACULAR REALITY.

JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT ALL THAT IS THE AUTHOR OF THE PIECE 'NEW YORK' MAGAZINE EDITOR AT LARGE CARL SWANSON.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

FIRST OF ALL, YOU SPOKE TO STEVEN ROSS IN THE COURSE OF WRITING THE ARTICLE, OF COURSE.

YOU ALSO TOOK A TOUR OF HUDSON YARD BEFORE ITS OFFICIAL OPENING.

WHAT STRUCK YOU DURING THIS BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK THAT YOU FOUND PARTICULARLY SURPRISING OR PARTICULARLY INTERESTING?

THE FIRST TIME I MET HIM WAS A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED THEY WERE GOING TO BUILD WHAT THEY CALL THE VESSEL RIGHT NOW.

THIS ENORMOUS STRUCTURE OF STAIRCASES THAT THEY PUT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT.

HE WOULD SAY -- AND I WAS CURIOUS ABOUT IT, IT SEEMED LIKE AN ODD THING TO DO.

IN SOME WAYS IT TELLS YOU THE STORY OF THE ENTIRE DEVELOPMENT WHICH IS, YOU ARE GOING TO BUILD AN ENORMOUS, EXPENSIVE OFFICE, RETAIL, RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN A PLACE WHERE NO ONE REALLY LIVES.

A PLACE NO ONE WOULD THINK OF GOING TO.

NOT ONLY BECAUSE THERE WERE TRAINS THERE BUT ALSO BECAUSE IT WAS UNPLEASANT.

FOR MOST NEW YORKERS, THE WEST SIDE ENDS LIKE AT NINTH AVENUE.

ABSOLUTELY, MAYBE EIGHTH.

SO HE CAME IN THERE, AND HE SAID, OKAY, WHAT'S GOING TO BRING PEOPLE TO THIS, WHAT'S GOING TO MAKE PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THIS?

WE'RE GOING TO SPEND $200 MILLION.

WITHIN THE BUDGET OF THIS THING TO BUILD BUILD WHAT HE CALLED A ROCKEFELLER CENTER CHRISTMAS TREE 365 DAYS A YEAR.

THE REASON I WAS EXCITED ABOUT DOING THIS FOLLOW-UP STORY CLOSE TO THE OPENING OF IT WAS HE'S A GUY WHO FIGURES OUT, HE'S NOT JUST BUILDING A BUILDING, HE'S BUILDING AN IDEA.

THE REASON THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT IT NOW, IT'S NOT JUST THAT IT'S ONE OF THE BIGGEST REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE WORLD.

CERTAINLY THE BIGGEST IN THE COUNTRY RIGHT NOW.

BUT BECAUSE IT JUST DOES SOMETHING THAT IS SO BEYOND WHAT MOST PEOPLE WOULD EVEN THINK WAS POSSIBLE.

BUT IT'S AN IDEA, IT'S SOMETHING THAT MANY CRITICS, INCLUDING ONE OF YOUR COLLEAGUES AT 'NEW YORK' MAGAZINE KIND OF CHARACTERIZE AS A FORT RECESS CITY-STATE WITHIN THE CITY FOR RICH PEOPLE, WILLFULLY SEPARATING ITSELF FROM NEW YORK'S HOI POLLOI, FROM THE COMMONERS.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THAT?

WELL, I THINK THAT -- I MEAN, TO SOME EXTENT THEY DO COMPLETELY COP TO THAT, THEY CALL IT A CITY WITHIN A CITY.

WHEN I TALK TO STEVE ROSS, HE LIVES RIGHT NOW IN KIND OF A SMALLER -- HE CALLS ATE TEST RUN FOR THIS, WHICH IS COLUMBUS CIRCLE.

THAT'S THE TIME WARNER CENTER WHICH IS ONE OF THE FIRST LARGE-SCALE, MULTI-USE BUILDINGS IN THE COUNTRY.

APPARENTLY IT'S PRETTY COMMON TO DO THIS IN AIR SIA AND OTHER PA OF THE WORLD.

BUT HERE THAT'S THE FIRST TIME ANYONE'S REALLY DONE IT.

HE LIVES THERE AND HE EATS THERE AND HIS OFFICES ARE THERE AND HE WORKS OUT THERE AT THE EQUINOX.

THEY ALSO OWN OAEQUINOX.

IF HE WANTS TO SHOP AT WHOLE FOODS HE COULD.

THE IDEA IS YOU WOULD HAVE, AS HE PUT IT, EVERYTHING AT YOUR FINGERTIPS.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO LEAVE IF YOU DON'T WANT TO.

THAT'S KIND WHAT WAS HE'S BUILDING THERE BUT A BIGGER VERSION OF THAT.

AND ONE COULD ARGUE, AND I THINK -- I LIVE IN EAST VILLAGE, A WALK-UP BUILDING.

I HAVE TO GO DOWNSTAIRS TO GET ANYTHING.

I LIKE THAT.

I LIKE THAT SORT OF IDEA OF -- I GUESS THAT JAMES JACOBS IDEA OF THE MIX OF PEOPLE AND -- BUT THAT'S NOT EVERYONE'S IDEA OF WHAT NEW YORK CITY IS.

AND I DON'T THINK THAT'S NECESSARILY WHAT THE IDEA -- IT'S CERTAINLY NOT WHAT STEVE ROSS' IDEA OF NEW YORK CITY IS AND I DON'T THINK YOU COULD ARGUE THAT IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT THE BLOOMBERG ADMINISTRATION WAS TRYING TO DO.

NO, I DON'T THINK SO, RIGHT?

SO YOU DESCRIBE ROSS AS POSSIBLY THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN NEW YORK TODAY.

AND YOU CALL HIM QUOTE A ROBERT MOSES FOR OUR AGE OF CONCIERGE MEGA-URBANNISM.

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS CONCIERGE MEGA-URBANNISM AND WHY IS HE SO POWERFUL?

VERY POWERFUL I THINK BECAUSE HE ACTUALLY -- FOR ONE THING BECAUSE HE CAN GET THINGS DONE.

AND HE'S WILLING TO DO THINGS A LOT OF OTHER DEVELOPERS AREN'T WILLING TO DO.

ONE OF THE SORT OF SUBTEXTS THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVEN'T REALLY PAID ATTENTION TO WITH HUDSON YARDS IS THAT HE'S BEEN -- HAD A VERY AGGRESSIVE STANCE TOWARD THE UNIONS.

THE UNIONS ARE VERY POWERFUL BUT THEY'RE WILLING TO GO UP AGAINST THE UNIONS.

A LOT OF DEVELOPERS WON'T DEAL WITH THAT.

A LOT OF DEVELOPERS WON'T DEAL WITH SORT OF LIKE THE VARIOUS THINGS -- THE VARIOUS AGENDAS OF THE CITY.

HE'S VERY CLOSE TO DAN DOCTOROFF, THE DEPUTY MAYOR OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

UNDER BLOOMBERG.

AND REALLY, HE'S KNOWN HIM SINCE THEY WERE BOTH PART OWNERS OF THE ISLANDERS IN THE 1990s.

THEY'RE BOTH FROM MICHIGAN.

HE'S A MICHIGAN GUY.

HE LOVES MICHIGAN GUYS.

AND SO THIS IDEA, THIS IDEA THAT THIS TRAIN YARD AND THIS AREA COULD BE THIS SERIES OF BIG GLASS TOWERS FOR FIRST CLASS CORPORATIONS AND WEALTHY PEOPLE AND, YOU KNOW, SOME AFFORDABLE HOUSING TUCKED IN THERE TOO, IS VERY MUCH A BLOOMBERG IDEA, VERY MUCH A DAN DOCTOROFF IDEA.

DAN WILL TELL YOU, HE'S SAID THIS TO MANY PEOPLE, ONLY STEVE ROSS COULD GET THIS DONE.

AS YOU'RE WRITING YOUR ARTICLE, HUDSON YARDS IS GETTING $5.6 BILLION OF TAXPAYER MONEY.

YES.

AS YOU JUST SAID, YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES STEVEN ROSS MIXES IT UP WITH THE UNIONS.

EXACTLY.

HE'S NOT THAT FRIENDLY TO THE UNIONS.

HOW COME THERE WASN'T A HUE AND CRY ABOUT THE HUDSON YARDS AS THERE WAS ABOUT AMAZON?

I THINK TWO REASONS.

ONE IS THE KIND OF SUBSIDIES THEY GOT.

AND THAT'S BECAUSE A LOT OF THE MONEY WENT TO THE EXTENSION OF THE 7 TRAIN.

IT'S HARD FOR ANYONE REALLY TO OBJECT TO THE IDEA OF MORE SUBWAYS.

THE SECOND THING IS I THINK IT'S A DIFFERENT ERA.

IT REALLY WAS -- IT WAS THE HEIGHT OF THE BLOOMBERG ERA WHEN THIS HAPPENED.

PEOPLE WERE NOT AS CRITICAL OF THESE THINGS.

THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN CRITICISM OF SUBSIDIES, ESPECIALLY THINGS LIKE STADIUMS AND THINGS LIKE THAT, IN DID THIS CITY.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SUBSIDIES?

PEOPLE HAVE NOT BEEN AS CRITICAL.

I GET IT.

SO WE ONLY HAVE ABOUT 30 SECONDS LEFT.

15 YEARS FROM NOW, 20 YEARS FROM NOW, ARE NEW YORKERS GOING TO SEE HUDSON YARDS AS THIS FORTRESS FOR RICH PEOPLE THAT'S TURNING ITS BACK ON US?

OR ARE NEW YORKERS GOING TO SEE IT WITH INDIFFERENCE?

OR MAYBE A LITTLE BIT OF PRIDE?

WHAT'S YOUR BEST GUESS?

IT'S FUNNY.

I WAS DOING RESEARCH ABOUT ROCKEFELLER CENTER, EVERYONE LOVES ROCKEFELLER CENTER NOW.

WHEN IT WAS FIRST BUILT, IT WAS CRITICIZED BY A LOT OF PEOPLE FOR BEING TOO OPULENT, SORT OF THIS MONUMENT TO WEALTH, TO THE ROCKEFELLERS.

YES.

NOW I'M NOT SAYING THIS IS AS GOOD A PIECE OF URBANNISM OF THATRESS IF YOU WALK AROUND ROCKEFELLER CENTER, YOU CAN'T BELIEVE THE SCALE OF IT, HOW BEAUTIFULLY IT'S PUT TOGETHER.

IT IS TRUE THAT PEOPLE DO GET USED TO THINGS.

EIFFEL TOWER.

I MEAN, YOU THINK OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, NOT EXACTLY THE MOST BELOVED THING WHEN IT OPENED.

IT'S INTERESTING.

YOU DO SORT OF GET USED TO IT AND IT BECOMES PART OF --

YOU THINK WE'LL GET TO LOVE IT?

I THINK -- YES.

I THINK YOU'LL JUST SEE IT AS BEING A PART OF THE CITY.

AND EVEN IF IT DOES EMBODY SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T REALLY -- ISN'T FOR YOU, IT ALSO -- YOU'LL JUST SORT OF, I THINK, ACCEPT IT.

YEAH, OKAY.

ALL RIGHT, CARL, THANKS SO MUCH.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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