From his window on the sixth floor of 7 Penn Plaza, Benjamin Levine has a direct view of Madison Square Garden, home to his favorite basketball team, the New York Knicks. Next to the window is a picture of the Knicks’ 1973 championship squad, a reminder to the long-suffering fan that the franchise can, in fact, win.
The location of the office, which is filled with sports memorabilia, plus various toys and a papier-mâché cactus, reminds Levine of childhood trips to Knicks games. His father would park near the Garden and detour the family to one of his nearby construction sites. “He was so proud of the projects that he was working on,” Levine recalled.
Levine, 33, joined Douglaston Development in 2008 as a project manager focused on affordable housing. Although the younger Levine worked briefly for Credit Suisse after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and a minor in urban real estate and development, he grew up knowing he would eventually work at Douglaston, a firm founded by his father. As the company’s executive vice president of finance and acquisitions, Levine underwrites new deals, negotiates terms of acquisitions and raises equity and debt. In the past seven years, Douglaston has developed more than $2 billion worth of residential projects in the city, including 75 Greene Avenue, a 22-unit condo project in Brooklyn, and 2605 Grand Concourse, a 93-unit affordable apartment building in the Bronx. In November, Douglaston moved forward with plans for a 931-unit Hudson Yards apartment tower.
Douglaston, which also has construction and management arms, is a family affair. Levine works alongside his father, Jeffrey,the company’s chairman, and one of his sisters, Jessica, who is a project manager. The oldest of three kids who grew up in Jericho on Long Island, Levine now lives in West Chelsea within a 20-block radius of his two younger sisters and parents.
Just before Douglaston moved into its office last year, Odell Beckham Jr. gifted Levine with his custom gold, game-worn cleats. Levine said he and the New York Giants’ star wide receiver met through mutual friends. The cleats were a perfect gift: Levine collects sneakers, a hobby he now shares with his three-month-old niece, Orly. He recently gave her a pair of baby Sean Wotherspoons, named for the collector of vintage shoes and apparel.
Walk on Air
When the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game was held at the Barclays Center in 2015, Levine received a piece of the Chicago Stadium court that NBA great Michael Jordan played on from 1987 to 1994. Friends at an ad agency, Game Seven Marketing, ran a Jordan pop-up store across from the arena and gave away pieces of the court to 100 people. Levine said the hunk of hardwood is a reminder that you can achieve anything you push yourself to do. “[But] I don’t think I’ll ever win six NBA championships,” he joked.
Levine collects figurines made by Brian Donnelly, a Brooklyn artist known as Kaws, as playful additions for his office. One of the characters is similar to Mickey Mouse, but it has a skeleton head and is partially dissected, revealing neon innards.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s an action figure with Jeff Levine’s face! Ben Levine and his mother had the dolls made last year as a birthday gag for the elder Levine, who is a big Superman fan. “We had a lot of fun with it,” Levine said. “Almost too much fun.”
Miles Plumlee, a center with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, is one Levine’s closest friends. When Plumlee was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, a bobblehead giveaway night in his name was scheduled for an upcoming game, but Plumlee was traded just before the game. Levine, ever the collector, urged Plumlee to snap up the now-useless bobbleheads. Plumlee complied, shipping hundreds of them to Levine’s house, where some now serve as toothbrush holders.
Grandpa’s Blue Label
Levine’s grandfather was a cab driver and milkman. Although Grandpa wasn’t into fancy things, as he got older, Levine said one thing he always wanted was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. “His rule was as long as my dad paid for it, he would drink it,” Levine said. After his grandfather died earlier this year, Levine ordered customized bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue for the family. “Here’s to you and here’s to me,” a favorite toast of the departed, is inscribed on the label.