The Real Deal New York

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David Walentas

By Lauren Elkies

What is your name?
David Walentas.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Rochester, N.Y.

Which college did you attend?
I went to the University of Virginia on a Navy ROTC scholarship and graduated in 19-something, in mechanical engineering. I also went to Darden business school, also at the University of Virginia, and graduated in 1964.

As a poor kid from Upstate, engineering is what you did in the ’50s. I would have gone to architecture school, but that was a five-year program and I only had a four-year scholarship.

What has been your biggest contribution to society?
My kid, Jed, who is terrific. But, in a larger sense, probably Dumbo. As a large urban development, it is one of the few things that will matter in 100 years.

You make it sound like you are solely responsible for Dumbo.
I am solely responsible. My wife Jane, who has been my partner, certainly she was responsible, but we didn’t get a lot of help from the government and nobody wanted to work with us for a long time. Nobody really got it. The planning people didn’t get it. The community board voted against every rezoning we proposed down there. The banks all
quit. My partners all quit, so we ended up with all the marbles.

What is your greatest achievement professionally?
Clearly Dumbo has defined my life for the last 25 years, my whole adult life. And it has been entirely successful on every level. When I first got there, it was vacant industrial buildings. We bought 2 million square feet from Harry Helmsley for $12 million. We are going to sell one apartment in the Clock Tower [Building] probably for twice that.

If you were mayor of New York, what is the first thing you would change about the city, and what would you fight to keep the same?
I would bring Mike Bloomberg as my first deputy mayor. He really is the best. He runs the city like a business.

What is your philosophy on love? Money?
I love them both. Money is interesting. I grew up a very poor boy. I didn’t know anybody who had gone to college. I was happy when I was poor and hitchhiking, drinking beer and chasing girls. And I am happy now. Money loses its value. It’s like eating. Once you are full, food doesn’t seem as appealing. Right now, I am only thinking about giving money away.

Who is your hero?
I don’t have heroes, but Mike Bloomberg is someone I respect.

Who is your mentor?
I never had a mentor. My mother was terrific. My father was paralyzed when I was 5, so my mother would have to work and take care of everything.

What’s your idea of the perfect Sunday afternoon?
Sunday is just another day. But we do like to spend weekends on our farm in Southampton.

How big is your farm?
It’s a 115-acre farm. It’s a nice piece of land.

Do you feel the world needs more people like you? Why?
I am an entrepreneur, and I think entrepreneurs are the people that make this country great.

Give advice to someone 20 years younger and in the same field.
I don’t know. I can only say what I would do if I was young today. I would find an Asian woman, get married, and move to China or India or somewhere like that.

What do you read every day?
I read the New York Times, unfortunately. Other than that, I don’t read the papers every day; maybe the [New York] Post for entertainment.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Obnoxious people.

What time do you get in on Mondays and what time do you leave on Fridays?
I live across the street so the commute is short, but I am in the office everyday by 8 a.m. I like to work. I am better when I work.

What do you consider to be the greatest vice?
I don’t have any bad habits.

Do you have a Donald Trump story?
My son, Jed, worked for Donald. When he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, I told him that he couldn’t work for me. So, Trump gave him an offer and Donald loved him.

After two years with him, we converted the Clock Tower, and I called Donald and told him that I needed Jed and Donald says, “No, you can’t take him. I taught him everything he knows.” I said, “But I am converting the Clock Tower and I need him here.” He didn’t skip a beat; he said, “OK, give me 10 percent of that project and put my name on it.” Of course, we didn’t do that, because it has my son’s name on it.

How much money do you have in your wallet right now?
I don’t have a wallet.

Where did the name of your firm, Two Trees, come from?
I used to have a business partner, but he died 30 years ago. His grandmother had a farm in South Carolina called that, and we were two people; hence, the Two Trees.

How do you deal with antagonists? Confront or ignore them?
I definitely am confrontational, but I’ve mellowed.

What should be the first sentence of your eulogy, and who should give it?
I am not thinking about that. I am not there yet.

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