The Real Deal New York

The Closing: Hal Fetner

December 01, 2011
By Lauren Elkies

Hal Fetner
Hal Fetner (photo by Marc Scrivo)
Hal Fetner is president and CEO of Durst Fetner Residential, which formed in 2008 out of a partnership between Sidney Fetner Associates and the Durst Organization. Durst Fetner is a residential owner and developer with nearly 2,000 residential units, mostly rental, and 1,200 more in the development pipeline. Currently the firm is working on a 550,000-square-foot mixed-use tower at 855 Sixth Avenue, which is slated to include an Ian Schrager hotel and nightclub. The company is also developing an 830-unit, pyramid-like rental building on 57th Street between 11th and 12th avenues, designed by Bjarke Ingels. Meanwhile, this past summer, sales commenced at 1212 Fifth Avenue, a prewar condominium building gut-renovated by the firm. Fetner is also still president and CEO of Sidney Fetner Associates, which develops and manages apartments and commercial warehouses nationally.

What is your full name?
Harold Aaron Fetner.

What is your date of birth?
12/7/60.

Where did you grow up?
Port Chester, N.Y.

Where do you live now?
Mount Kisco, and we keep a [rental] apartment here in the city on 94th Street and First Avenue in one of our properties, the Chesapeake.

Do you have any other homes?
We have a boat. Right now it’s in Key Largo, Fla. In the summer, she’s up here in Norwalk, Conn. It’s a hand-me-down from my father. My sisters, mom and I share it. The boat was named Southern Star when my father bought it, and he joked that he was too cheap to change the name because all the towels were monogrammed.

Was he actually cheap?
My grandfather was a builder/developer in the Bronx and lost everything in the Depression. My father grew up very, very poor as a result. My father got into business building Mobil gas stations. From there, he grew the company. He was very tough on his kids. My sisters and I were raised to learn the value of a hard day’s work and the value of a dollar.

Were you a good kid?
I would get into trouble — like at 15, being arrested for swimming in the [Rye Patch] Reservoir. I didn’t serve time. My father thought it was funny until he found out it was a misdemeanor. They expunge it if you keep clean for six months.

Did you get into trouble again?
Not arrested, but I was taken to the police station for driving after hours with a junior [driver's] permit.

So you got into real estate because of your family?
Third generation. I always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, [but] I had always wanted to go into public office. And so, even though I got into trouble as a younger kid, I then started modeling myself to be a better kid. I invited [then-President Richard] Nixon to my bar mitzvah because I started getting interested in politics.

I’m guessing Nixon declined your invitation?
Yes. I got the form letter that he was busy. But I then went to law school with the goal of never practicing — I wanted to run for public office. I ended up clerking for Joe Hynes, who at the time was a [New York State] special prosecutor.

What happened to the political dream?
My father became ill, literally, as I was finishing up law school. I knew I’d be taking over the family business.

How long have you been married to your wife, Nina?
Twenty-four years.

How did you two meet?
A blind date.

Do you have children?
Yes. My oldest, Samantha, is a junior at Syracuse University. My son, Alex, is a senior in high school. And Emma is in eighth grade.

What kinds of activities do you do with your kids?
I take each of my kids away alone. I try to do it every year, and when they all turn 16, I take them anywhere in the world they want that requires less than a seven-hour flight. My daughter picked London and my son picked Berlin.

Is there anything new you can tell us about the 855 Sixth Avenue project?
Only that Ian [Schrager] said to me two days ago that he is going to build the nicest hotel he has ever done.

How did you and Douglas [Durst, the company's chairman] meet?Actually, my father and Seymour [Douglas's father] knew each other. I knew Jody [president of Durst Fetner and Douglas's cousin] better than I knew Douglas. Years ago, when they built 4 Times Square, I was fascinated with the green technology. Jody and I started a dialogue about how I can take some of what they’re doing and incorporate it into some of my older apartment buildings. The Durst Organization never really did residential, but from there the whole conversation evolved into doing residential projects together.

How are sales going at 1212 Fifth Avenue?
Sales started last summer, and it’s been unbelievable. Right this second, close to 20 percent is under contract [at the time of the interview last month].

Would you buy there?
My mom is actually thinking of buying there.

You like marathon running and triathlons.
I haven’t done any in a while. I tore out my Achilles tendon three years ago, a few months after running in the New York City Marathon. I waited a year to do the surgery. I thought about running this year, but I just couldn’t get motivated. I think I’m going to commit myself to next year.

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