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 yesterday, so today it’s 21-30. 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 21-30 below.
21. United American Land president Al Laboz lorded over the old Fulton Mall, and as a primary property owner there he will lord over the new one (though there hasn’t been much action at the site in recent weeks). Most notably, he plans new tenants for the Conway building and owns nearly the entire block bounded by Willoughby, Duffield, Fulton and Bridge Streets with plans for a glass-encased shopping center anchored by H&M at one end and an enormous tower at the other. Laboz is also chair of the Fulton Mall Improvement Association and sits on the boards of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and MetroTech BID, entities existing small businesses have said are giving them the cold shoulder.
22. Michael Lappin, president of CPC Resources, is the lead developer of the Domino Sugar Refinery on the Williamsburg waterfront, the cause of an epic preservation battle. Domino will now be mixed-income and open space, and “could become the de facto standard for developments in other industrial Brooklyn neighborhoods … where hundreds of 19th century manufacturing buildings dominate the landscape,” predicted The Real Deal. CPC Resources has developed some 7,500 apartments citywide, such as this 48-unit rental in East New York, while parent company CPC has financed more than 141,000 units of housing since its founding in 1974. The company helped finance 17 Brooklyn projects in the fourth quarter of last year, for example.
23. Whether it be Atlantic Yards, Admirals Row or the proposed homeless intake center in Crown Heights, City Councilwoman Letitia James comes out with a position early and often, and fights for it while other local elected officials sit on the sidelines measuring the political climate. She’s managed to come out as a leader for multiple factions of her diverse constituency, has been known to offer free legal assistance to causes she believes in, and is a tough interrogator at City Council hearings. Her office recently launched a blog called “Team Tish.”
24. Robert Levine, founder of RAL Companies and Affiliates, caused controversy when he agreed to sell and lease back his One Brooklyn Bridge Park luxury condo development to the state in exchange for earmarking its tax revenues to fund the park’s maintenance. The deal allowed him to circumvent a time-consuming rezoning application (which most likely would have been granted), and gave the 85-acre waterfront park some guaranteed funding years before a shovel hit ground. Among other feats, he was able to get the DOT to extend its bus line down to his development and determined the paint color of any subsequent structures that get built in the park. Besides One Brooklyn, which claims 8 of the top 10 most expensive condo contracts signed in the borough, he just bought the Hotel Bossert and plans to temporarily lease it to a dorm room operator, increasing the student demographic in the Heights.
25. Based on an informal survey we conducted of insiders, Kenneth Fisher, a former City Council member, and Ray Levin, who formerly worked for Borough President Marty Golden, ended up tied as the most influential land use attorneys in Brooklyn, the guys developers turn to when they need the government to grant valuable things like zoning variances. Levin represents Toll Brothers, Boymelgreen, Muss Development, Two Trees Management and SDS/Procida to name a few (although it should be noted that Thor Equities attorney Jesse Masyr is listed as the primary lobbyist). Fisher represents big-time developers Two Trees Management and United Homes (of Oro fame).
26. Before IKEA landed in Red Hook, there was Greg O’Connell, the retired cop who bought 28 acres of prime waterfront property from the Port Authority for $500,000, then renovated it (much to the delight of preservationists) to include the Beard Street warehouses and Fairway Market. He often forwent expensive condos for light industrial and artisan space, bringing in 1,200 jobs. O’Connell still owns massive parcels near IKEA, and his son plans to move Manhattan’s Cheyenne Diner to the neighborhood. O’Connell also negotiated with L&M Equity to make changes to its Columbia Street project. His strenuous (and ultimately unsuccessful) opposition to the residential conversion at 160 Imlay Street cost its owners beaucoup time and money.
27. Joy Chatel tirelessly fought to save her home, which a national network of historians believe was involved in the Underground Railroad, from eminent domain … and actually won. Now the city must build its underground parking garage and public plaza around her home. Without Chatel, hundreds of pages of history on Brooklyn’s role in the abolitionism movement would not have been written. As a concession, the city has already agreed to commemorate Brooklyn’s abolitionist movement in the planned plaza. And if Chatel succeeds in her dream, the home will be turned into a museum, an unplanned addition to the glitzy Downtown Brooklyn overhaul.
28. City Councilman Domenic Recchia, Coney Island landowner Thor Equities’ main ally in the city, threatened to block the rezoning proposal if concessions weren’t made to allow for more privately-owned hotel rooms and entertainment retail while reducing the city-owned amusement area. He also had a hand in killing the perimeter redesign for the New York Aquarium in favor of a flashy shark exhibit. The New York Observer observed that Recchia “holds a seat of more power than perhaps any other figure involved with the historic amusement center’s future right now.”
29. At 891 units, the sheer size of The Edge, one of the first projects on the Williamsburg waterfront, made Jeffrey Levine, head of Douglaston Development, the No. 2 biggest builder in Brooklyn. Back in July, we received word that the sales have been humming along with 100 first phase units in contract after roughly the same number of days on the market, although that’s still a long way to go before it’s sold out.
30. Lynn Kelly, president of the Coney Island Development Corporation since April 2007, didn’t come up with the city’s sweeping plan to revitalize the aged amusement district (first released waaaay back in 2004), but she’s had to defend it in against landowner Joe Sitt’s markedly different vision. Only recently has she began using stronger language on the record in describing negotiations with Sitt, causing his lawyer to accuse her of smear tactics.