The Real Deal New York

Day in the life of: David Ehrenberg

The Navy Yard CEO on his mental breaks at lunch, learning to surf and shepherding through a $2.5 billion redevelopment
By Dennis Lynch | December 01, 2018 10:00AM

David Ehrenberg (Credit: Emily Assiran)

David Ehrenberg has been president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation since 2013. He’s overseeing a $1 billion expansion plan that now includes redeveloping the 675,000-square-foot Dock 72 building, anchored by WeWork, in partnership with Boston Properties and Rudin Management. A separate $2.5 billion investment for the Navy Yard announced earlier this year will create 5 million square feet of manufacturing space across there sites and add 10,000 more jobs to bring total employment to roughly 30,000. The 42-year-old grew up in Park Slope and hasn’t strayed far from his roots, besides a year-long research excursion to Zimbabwe and following his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Jessica, out West when she clerked for a federal judge. “I mostly learned how to surf,” Ehrenberg said of his time in San Diego. His time in Zimbabwe was more productive — he studied a community-based economic development model that married development and environmental conservation. Ehrenberg earned a master’s degree in public administration from Princeton University in 2006 and has worked in New York City government roles ever since. Before taking up his post at the Navy Yard — a 300-acre complex home to tenants like Transmitter Brewing and a planned Wegmans supermarket— he was an executive vice president at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. At the EDC, Ehrenberg oversaw Cornell University’s expansion to Roosevelt Island, the redevelopment of Seward Park on the Lower East Side and the administration of programs to support small businesses in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Ehrenberg lives in Windsor Terrace with Jessica and their two children, 7-year-old Elly and 10-year-old Noah.

6:30 a.m. I wake up. I never hit snooze. The first thing I do is make breakfast and lunch for my kids. I’ll check emails and make sure nothing critical is coming in. I make a hot breakfast every single morning. I recently decaffeinated. The first couple days were rough.

8:00 a.m. I’m out the door. I bring the kids to school every morning. I drive myself. They go to school halfway between our house and the Navy Yard. I usually spend 10 minutes in my daughter’s classroom, and then I go to work.

8:45 a.m. I get to work and go through emails, catch up on anything. My office is a mile into the Navy Yard, but we recently moved into [Building 77].

9:30 a.m. One thing we’ve been doing a lot lately is talking with our [architectural] consultants WXY about our master plan, which we released in September. It’s about the next phase of growth here. For example, we’ll go through one of our development sites on the Williamsburg side of the Yard, where we’re looking to build four new buildings.

10:30 a.m. I have a regular routine where I’ll spend two hours meeting four or five tenants in a building with a stated goal of meeting all our tenants. I like to get into their space and see their operations. I recently did a walkthrough of the STEAM Center, a next generation career and technical education high school we are building in our recently completed Building 77.

12:00 p.m. I’ll have an operations meeting with our senior vice president of operations, Carmine Stabile; senior vice president of property management, Naser Gjeloshi; and our COO, Michael Kelly. We’re rehabbing all of the elevators across the Yard in the coming years, so we’ll look at the progress of specific projects.

1:00 p.m. I usually get lunch at Building 92. We have a café that’s run by Brooklyn Roasting Company. I usually grab a decaf coffee and a turkey sandwich. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m trying to be. I try to “unplug” during lunch. I try to find moments in the day when I can be quiet in my own head. 

1:30 p.m. I take our internal shuttle to get around the Yard and go back to the office. Another meeting I have is with the executive director of our employment office. We connect local residents and students to the job opportunities here at the Yard. Last year we placed 350 people into jobs, and this year we’re targeting 400 or more.

2:30 p.m. I have some desk time to catch up on emails and other things. I try to schedule chunks of time where I’m free to think and calm down. That’s usually when solutions to problems or other insights occur to me. Sometimes I’ll take a walk or relax at my desk and close the door and try not to check email.

3:00 p.m. I’ll meet with the team that recently closed on a financing and is now beginning the engineering and bidding construction to redevelop another 120,000 square feet at the Yard. We’re self-developing, so we hold the construction contracts, close with the banks and everything else.

4:00 p.m. I’m often on panels or giving talks, so I’ll review those talking points and catch up with emails and calls that I’ve missed.

5:00 p.m. I’ll do a quick after-work drink with an external stakeholder. It’s often at the Gatehouses at Kings County Distillery. I recently met a former colleague [North Coast Capital’s Jed Howbert] who was a senior economic development official in Detroit. We’re trying to assist other cities that are trying to replicate the Navy Yard model, so I’ll meet with folks like Jed.

6:30 p.m. I try to turn off. My kids are authorized to give me a hard time if I’m on my phone, and I cook dinner with them. I’m a non-recipe cook, so I make it up as I go. We’ll have a sit-down family dinner and I try to get them to bed by 8:30, but they usually finagle more time.

9:00 p.m. I try to work out for a half an hour. I have an exercise bike and other equipment in my basement, and I’ll catch up on emails.

10:00 p.m. I head to bed and read. Right now I’m reading “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. I alternate between quality fiction, management and self-help books.

10:30 p.m. Lights out.