The family and tenants of slain Williamsburg developer Menachem Stark hosted a press conference today demanding justice for his brutal murder and pledged a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of his killers. But as the search continues, members of the real estate community are speaking out, illuminating a complex image of the late businessman.
The death sent shockwaves through the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic community, whose leaders described Stark as equal parts gregarious and generous. But a look at Stark’s track record over his roughly 1,000-apartment portfolio – the majority of which he owned with partner Israel Perlmutter — certainly suggests mixed results as a landlord and real estate player.
“He has been a person that couldn’t say no — that was his problem,” said Rabbi David Niederman, the executive director of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. “I’m so heartbroken I couldn’t face myself.”
Stark was abducted late Thursday night from outside his office at 333 Rutledge Street by two suspects, according to police reports, and his charred corpse was found in a dumpster in Great Neck the following afternoon. Once the victim was positively identified as Stark, police informed his wife of the murder on Saturday afternoon. Stark is survived by his wife and seven children.
“I was actually at his house when they were notified,” Abraham Buxbaum, Stark’s brother-in-law and his partner on seven of his buildings in the Williamsburg-Bushwick-Greenpoint area, told The Real Deal. “It was a terrible scene. [The family] was hysterical beyond description. You can imagine how a child and wife would react.”
Buxbaum was among the more than 1,000 people who attended the funeral Saturday evening at Lodiner Bais Medrash synagogue in Williamsburg. “I don’t remember ever being at a funeral like that,” Buxbaum said. “It was jam-packed for blocks.”
But the city’s tabloids have had a field day with the dramatic murder, most notably the New York Post, which opted to go with a front-page story with the headline, “Who didn’t want him dead?” The story chronicled a long list of Stark’s alleged enemies – from disgruntled tenants to partners on real estate deals that went sour.
Indeed, some tenants might paint a dark picture of Stark. In 2006, for example, he bought the seedy single-room-occupancy Greenpoint Hotel at 1109 Manhattan Avenue, but despite hiking the rents by up to $200 per unit, failed to improve living conditions, according to a New York Times story published at the time.
But other tenants at 100 South 4th Street, such as three-year resident Jordan Brown, told The Real Deal that his experience with Stark as a landlord was “overwhelmingly positive.” The building was well maintained, he added, and Stark was known as a jovial and kindly character throughout the neighborhood. “He saw me walking on the street and drove me home once — that’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Melissa Manning, a commercial tenant at a Stark-owned building at 467 Troutman Street, said that Stark was a friendly landlord who gave her a good deal on her roughly 6,000-square-foot space. “In Brooklyn, people know the value of their properties, but he was really flexible and not at all money-hungry.”
A broker who foreclosed on four of Stark’s properties said that he was a hardball negotiator, but seemed like a straightforward person.
Perlmutter, whom sources told The Real Deal was helping the detectives with their investigation from shortly after the kidnapping until Sunday, was unavailable for comment.
“I don’t think he is mentally prepared to speak yet,” Buxbaum said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called a press conference on Sunday to take the Post to task for its story and demand an apology from the newspaper. And an op-ed article titled “Death of a ‘Slumlord’ a Teaching Moment” that chronicled Stark’s numerous failings as a landlord was published on the website the Jewish Press this morning, but was removed shortly after publication.
To be sure, Stark had more than his fair share of legal troubles related to his property holdings, the most notable of which was a June 2011 suit filed by CWCapital Asset Management to recover $29 million lent on 100 South 4th Street in 2007, as The Real Deal reported.
Buxbaum conceded that Stark had several business and financial problems over the years, but always stayed within the legal system to resolve his issues.
“Yes, Menachem was a shrewd and tough businessman, and tried do everything legally possible to hold on to whatever he was able to,” Buxbaum said. “If you don’t like what someone did, you take them to court. You don’t kill them.”