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Every day this week, we’re going to count down Brooklyn’s Top 50* most influential people who have shaped Brooklyn neighborhoods by building new structures, preserving older ones, influencing property values and quality of life, speaking for thousands, or changing the course of developments, for example. We did 41-50 on Monday, 31-40 on Tuesday and , 21-30 yesterday, so today it’s time for 11-20. Instead of listing everyone from Bloomberg to Bernanke, we mostly stuck with locals. Surprisingly still, by broadening our definition of influence beyond quantitative factors like real estate holdings and constituency, the toughest task was keeping the list down to only 50 (*So we cheated, there’s actually more like 65 people on the list, and it was still hard). Ranking them in order was also tough. In some cases we considered the type of entity the person represents, the potential impact of the project he or she is working on, and the extent of influence over time, distance and the number of Brooklynites affected. By all means, feel free to give us your two cents in the comments section. By the end of this week, we could have 200 people on the list!
Check out 11-20 below.
11. The Atlantic Yards arena and high-rise mega-project has two daddies: Developer Bruce Ratner and Borough President Marty Markowitz. The exact circumstances surrounding the project’s conception are murky, and for a while the comedic Beep seemed to favor an NBA arena in Coney Island, but most reports agree that Markowitz did press Ratner to carry out his dream of bringing professional sports to Brooklyn. Besides Atlantic Yards, endlessly espousing every virtue of our fair borough, and throwing his weight behind most major development projects (one exception is Thor Equities’ competing vision for Coney Island), Markowitz has been influential in promoting tourism here, and likes to take credit for landing Brooklyn in Lonely Planet’s list of must-see world destinations. He is also responsible for all those catchy signs with Brooklyn slogans at every bridge leading into the borough. While he gets much attention for his on-camera antics, the Beep knows how to make things happen behind the scenes and can influence all sorts of neighborhood issues with a single phone call.
12. Janette Sadik-Kahn‘s appointment as commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation last year was a game-changer. Bucking a legacy of inertia the department, Sadik-Kahn has embraced out-of-the-box thinking about how to move the city’s streets into the 21st Century. Her vigorous promotion of bicyclists and pedestrians, clean air and sustainability are already impacting Brooklyn, with an explosion of bike lanes, strong support for the Greenway initiative (which has been under way for years under the highly capable stewardship of Milton Puryear) and the creation of new pedestrian plazas like the recently opened arch under the Manhattan Bridge. Oh, and don’t forget the elimination of the left turns to the Brooklyn Bridge from Tillary. We’ve got 6,000 miles of streets and over 12,000 miles of sidewalks, and we’re trying to look at making them livable spaces, and not just these utilitarian corridors, Ms. Sadik-Khan told the Observer this summer. So when you take a look at the streets of New York, that’s 80 percent of our public space. In some ways, I think of myself as the largest real estate developer in New York.
13. Brooklyn’s booming hotel industry was born when Muss Development president Joshua Muss decided to build, then expand, his hugely successful New York Marriott on an otherwise barren, government-occupied strip of Downtown Brooklyn. Marriott is also the only major convention space attached to a hotel in Brooklyn, providing a boon for the economy. Muss, at the helm of his family’s 100-year-old company, has since brought further life to Adams Street with the addition of the (soon-to-open) Morton’s Steakhouse and his purchase of the first few floors of 345 Adams Street, to be converted into airy retail space. Another game-changer on the hotel scene has been Sam Chang, president of McSam Hotels, who built Park Slope’s first hotel, Holiday Inn Express, and has forty other NYC hotels in some stage of planning, many in Brooklyn. Some may be in jeopardy due to the financial crisis.
14. Doug Steiner, chairman and CEO of Steiner Studios, brought a burst of glamour to the borough when he opened the 15-acre production studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, aimed at helping the city steal away some of California’s share of the multi-billion dollar television and film industry. So far, it’s worked, bringing a myriad of supporting small businesses to the neighborhood. So it’s no surprise the city is friendly to Steiner’s ambitions for expanding into at least five other Navy Yard sites, including the historic Naval Hospital Campus. Steiner is also the developer of 80 Metropolitan in Williamsburg.
15. Robert Scarano could easily hold the title of Brooklyn’s most popular and most hated architect at the same time, though the fact that his signature on projects is like a clarion call for neighborhood activists seems to have hurt that former distinction. His projects in Sunset Park, Fort Greene and Carroll Gardens have united activists in their demand for rezonings to protect the character of the neighborhood. The city has hired Scarano to bring the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses up to code, fueling rumors that they could be eyed for a more lucrative condo conversion. Also, his crazy office rooftop is one of the first things seen from the train heading into Brooklyn via the Manhattan Bridge.
16. The Hudson Companies’ David Kramer made his first big splash in Brooklyn with the 33-story residential project in Dumbo known as the J Condo, but that was just the drumroll for what Kramer and his Hudson pals have planned for the borough. Currently, the developer is over a year into its townhouse project at Third & Bond in Gowanus, and has recently completed demolition on Emerson Place in Clinton Hill to make way for a 16-story residential tower. Last spring, Kramer engineered an unusual deal that puts his firm in control of the legendary Cobble Hill Towers. And, of course, at some point when we’re all a few years older, Hudson will build the highly-anticipated Public Place project. When he’s not putting up buildings, Kramer also finds time to chair the board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy and attend board meetings at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.
17. While the rest of Gowanus Canal property owners anxiously await the outcome of the city’s rezoning, David Von Spreckelsen, senior veep of suburban home builders Toll Brothers’ City Living division, convinced City Planning to consider a special variance that, if approved, would allow him to build 460 apartments along the toxic canal ahead of everyone else. Originally proposed four years ago, the project was vetoed by company head Robert Toll, but Von Spreckelsen kept pushing, arguing its proximity to exclusive nabes Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, plus a unique canal-side setting, was a no-brainer, and now it’s one of Toll’s faves. Meanwhile, Von Spreckelsen launched two Williamsburg projects totaling 480 units, Northside Piers and North8 Condos. And unlike many other developers, publicly-traded Toll Brothers is able to self-finance, somewhat insulating Von Spreckelsen’s ambitions from the financial crisis.
18.The Men of Myrtle. The hopes of Downtown Brooklyn as a residential hub hinge on the critical mass of buildings rising at or near the intersection of Flatbush and Myrtle Avenues. The Oro, the 309-unit tower brought to you by United Homes, was the first to be completed, but a second Oro tower next door has been hanging in the balance. Next online has been The Toren, a 38-story, SOM-designed tower developed by BFC that’s managed to stand out from the crown by emphasizing its design and green-ness. Avalon Bay is hard at work on its 650-unit rental project across the street. Pulling up the rear at 202 Myrtle Avenue is the first phase of John Catsimatidis‘ planned four-part complex which will hopefully provide some much needed supermarket and drugstore retail. A block away on Flatbush, work at the Isaac Hager‘s Flatbush Flatiron has been mightly slow lately. (Hager’s also busy over on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg.)
19. This entry is to give a general shout-out to neighborhood associations, the guardian of local quality of life and aesthetic issues, and by short extension, property values. Judy Stanton, head of the Brooklyn Heights Association, has been particularly effective in her role guarding the tony neighborhood. As one insider put it, Stanton “does change things when she gets involved in a particular building (like reducing the height of the 20 Henry Street addition); a particular project … I don’t want her against anything I do.” Stanton lobbied the Department of Education hard to build an annex for P.S. 8, and her backing of Brooklyn Bridge Park in the face of opposition from another local neighborhood association is said to have helped shepherd the plan through the lawsuit years. Meanwhile, over in the South Slope and Greenwood Heights, Aaron Brashear of the Concerned Citizens of Greenwood Heights and Community Board 7, has set a new standard in neighborhood activism, serving as both a watchdog for abusive buildings practices and a proponent of responsible change.
20. The city wanted to give container port operator American Stevedoring the boot and turn the Red Hook piers into a hodge-podge of maritime-themed uses anchored by the cruise ship terminal. Sal Catucci, president of American Stevedoring, with the fierce backing of City Councilman David Yassky and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, put a stop to that and managed to hold on to his lease, keeping Red Hook a haven for longshoreman.