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Chapter 13 – Comeback: A West Side Story


“Nor was I eager to load myself down with huge carrying costs while my personal resources were still very limited.  By devoting myself to other deals instead, I generated a cash flow large enough to support the carrying costs on virtually any project.  I also built a record of success that made banks happy to lend me money for nearly any deal.”

The truth is that unless you design a project to be self-supporting as you build it, you risk getting eaten alive before you’ve turned the corner into profit.

“An average 150-unit luxury high-rise building in New York takes two years to sell out – and that assumes a strong market and good promotion.  To sell literally thousands of units in a new development requires that you have both something unique to sell and a very aggressive approach to selling it.”

“One of the first things that anyone should learn about real estate – and New York real estate in particular – is never to sign a letter of intent.  Years can be spent in court trying to get out of a seemingly simple and ‘nonbinding’ agreement.”

“When I told [my lawyer] what I’d done, he wasn’t happy, but to this day I’m convinced that my ripping up that [letter of intent] – which may or may not have been binding – is the reason that Macri did come back to me, instead of going to any of a dozen other potential bidders, when it finally became clear that he couldn’t get his financing after all.”

The more awareness and excitement I could create early on, the easier it was going to be to attract buyers down the line.  A lot of developers build first and promote later, if at all.

“What I liked must about Helmut was that he believed, as I did, that big can be beautiful.  He liked spectacle.”

Most reporters, I find, have very little interest in exploring the substance of a detailed proposal for a development.  They look instead for the sensational angle.

“I’ve always liked [George] Will, in part because he’s not afraid to challenge fashion.  ‘Donald Trump is not being reasonable,’ Will wrote, ‘But, then, man does not live by reason alone, fortunately.‘”

“The worse thing I could do, I was convinced, was to build something that blended into the surroundings.”

“It irritates me that critics, who’ve neither designed nor built anything themselves, are given carte blanche to express their views in the pages of major publications, whereas the targets of their criticism are almost never offered space to respond.”

“Koch has achieved something quite miraculous.  He’s presided over an administration that is both pervasively corrupt and totally incompetent.”

As for the Koch appointees who managed to avoid criminal indictment, the scandal is their sheer incompetence.  Many just lack talent.  Others seem to have concluded that the safest approach to protecting their jobs is to stop making decisions of any kind; at least then they can’t be accused of breaking the law.  The problem is that when officials in a huge city government stop making decisions, you get the bureaucratic equivalent of gridlock.  Dishonesty is intolerable, but inaction and incompetence can be every bit as bad.

“I disagreed with their suggestions, but I also recognize that zoning is always a matter of negotiation.  As hard as I push, in the end I’m practical.  If it took making some compromises to get the project moving forward, and the result didn’t undermine the project’s economic viability, I was prepared to make the changes.”

Providing jobs, in my view, is a far more constructive solution to unemployment than creating welfare programs.

“… after more than three weeks of intense negotiations, Ed Koch turned the deal down cold.  I’m convinced that he made the determination not on the merits, but rather because he didn’t want to make any deal with me – no matter how good it was for the city.”

“Free advice, of course, tends to be worth what you pay for it.”

Chapter 14 – The Week That Was: How the Deals Came Out

“Kiddingly, I said that Davis, who happens to be terribly overweight, should focus on losing 200 pounds instead of wasting time trying to break my deal with Resorts.  I heard later that Davis was incensed by my remark, but I can’t say I felt bad.  I don’t go out of my way to be cordial to enemies.

“As little as I’m interested in relaxing, I enjoy Mar-a-Lago almost in spite of myself.  It may be as close to paradise as I’m going to get.”

“We toured a half dozen potential sites for a hotel, including several near Red Square.  We stayed in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel, and I was impressed with the ambition of the Soviet officials to make a deal.”

“I don’t mind taking risks myself, but the idea of being responsible for the money of a lot of other people – particularly when they’re bound to include some friends – just wasn’t appealing in the end.  For the same reason, I’ve never been tempted to take any of my companies public.  Making choices is a lot easier when you have to answer only to yourself.”

“What’s Next: Fortunately, I don’t know the answer, because if I did, that would take half the fun out of it.  This much I do know: it won’t be the same.”

“It’s easy to be generous when you’ve got a lot, and anyone who does, should be.  But what I admire most are people who put themselves directly on the line.  I’ve never been terribly interested in why people give, because their motivation is rarely what it seems to be, and it’s almost never pure altruism.  To me, what matters is the doing, and giving time is far more valuable than just giving money.