At the desk of: Martin Piazzola

AvalonBay’s top NYC development exec on flying to Tokyo for a single meeting, witnessing Mets history in 1969 and his latest megaproject on the UWS

Oct.October 01, 2019 11:00 AM

Martin Piazzola (Photos by Emily Assiran)

Martin Piazzola started his career as an accountant, but he quickly realized it wasn’t a good fit. “It was too predictable,” said the AvalonBay Communities executive, whose 22nd-floor Midtown Manhattan office overlooks the city.

After earning an MBA from New York University in 1987, he worked briefly for the now-defunct Xerox Realty Corp. before being recruited by Park Tower Realty, where he analyzed potential ground-up office development projects in New York and Washington D.C. (He later moved to D.C. for the company to help execute a joint venture office-development project with IBM.)

In 2011, when Piazzola jumped to AvalonBay — a major residential REIT whose portfolio includes more than 82,000 apartments on the East and West coasts — he took over a team in Manhattan as the senior vice president of development, overseeing all of the firm’s New York City projects.

Since then, Piazzola has been involved with the design and development of nearly 2,000 apartments, totaling more than $1.5 billion. He’s currently overseeing the planning and design of another 2,000 apartments in the pipeline for New York.

His projects have included the 58-story, 500-unit rental AVA DoBro in Downtown Brooklyn and the 32-floor, 172-unit Park Loggia condo on the Upper West Side, the latter of which is nearing completion. Piazzola said that project— where occupancy is scheduled for early next year — reinforced his appreciation for the work that goes into a major development.

“[The] millions and millions of things they have to get right to build a building like that in a fairly tight circumstance is remarkable,” he said.

Born in Queens, Piazzola now lives near Columbus Circle — just blocks from his office at 1633 Broadway — during the week. On the weekends, he and his wife head to their house in Melville, Long Island.

Building number
These sturdy numbers are one of the few remaining remnants from a 1960s-era building — previously owned by the American Bible Society — that once stood at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street. AvalonBay bought it in 2015 for $300 million and demolished it the following year. Units at the Park Loggia, which replaced the older building, have sold for between $1.5 and $6.6 million.

Japanese dish
On a trip to Tokyo, where Piazzola had gone to convince a Japanese-owned company to sell its air rights on a NYC property, he and his wife had dinner with a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur who owned a sushi restaurant in the Ginza district. Piazzola’s wife admired the dishware, and their host arranged a tour that included a stop in the area where many local restaurants buy their serving pieces. The couple stocked up. This bowl, which Piazzola keeps in his office, has since been filled with a uniquely American offering: Hershey’s Kisses.

Baseball from 1969 Mets game
Piazzola’s father caught this baseball when they were at a Mets game together in 1969 at Shea Stadium. “The Mets, at that time, were underdogs and no one ever thought they’d win the World Series — and they did that year,” said Piazzola, who was 10 years old and in Little League at the time. Piazzola’s father passed away years ago, but his mother, a former bookkeeper, is 86 and lives on Long Island.

Geometric puzzle
Piazzola was widowed 24 years ago and became a single dad to his three children. When he married his second wife, LeeAnn, 20 years ago, she had two children of her own. Piazzola said this geometric puzzle relates to real estate, but it also represents the seven members of his blended family. “It’s sort of a symbol of our family, where the puzzle pieces have to fit together,” he said. The kids range in age from 24 (his twin son and daughter) to 31 (his stepson).

Chinese meditation balls
This set of meditation balls was given to Piazzola by a brokerage during a particularly tough deal. They are meant to alleviate stress, but Piazzola said he actually finds that they create stress because they are easy to drop. Piazzola said it used to be common for people to exchange gifts in the industry, but it’s become increasingly frowned upon. “In the old days, you’d get single-malt scotch or a case of wine or something, but that’s really been pared back over the years,” he said.

Photograph of Winston Churchill
After the financial crisis hit, Piazzola’s then-boss gave him this photo of Winston Churchill and his iconic quote, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Piazzola said: “Whenever things get tough, I look at that saying and I realize it’s not as bad as it was back in 2009.”