The Real Deal New York

Day in the life of: David Picket

Gotham Organization’s president on playing guitar, recovering from a skiing accident in Utah and how he sources deals

January 01, 2017
By Mark Maurer

David Picket (Photo by Larry Ford)

David Picket is the president of Gotham Organization, one of the oldest development firms in New York City. Founded in 1913, Gotham has built about 35,000 apartments and a combined 40 million square feet of commercial and residential space, largely concentrated in Manhattan. The family-run firm, with about 150 employees, develops a mix of rentals and condos and operates two namesake food halls. Its property management arm manages about 4,000 rental apartments. Gotham’s most recently completed project was the Ashland, a 53-story, 586-unit rental tower that opened in Fort Greene in Brooklyn in July. The firm is currently working on a 38-story rental tower in Long Island City with Brause Realty TRData LogoTINY and a 39-story Midtown West rental tower at 515 West 42nd Street with BD Hotels. Picket, 54, is a fourth-generation executive at the company and runs it with his father, Joel, Gotham’s chairman and CEO, who’s in his 70s. David studied English at Cornell University and earned a law degree from Columbia University. He joined Gotham in 1991 and has worked there since.

7 a.m. I wake up in an Upper West Side condo building, which was not developed by Gotham. Since my wife and I moved from Westchester to the city three years ago, I picked up an extra 45 minutes of sleep, which is awesome. I answer emails from the night before over breakfast. I have coffee and flaxseed flakes. The flakes are fairly tasteless, but I put some honey on them. It’s healthy and it keeps me going.

Gotham West

8 a.m. I usually get out the door by then, depending how long I lounge around for. The traffic in the city is so bad — it can take over half an hour to get to our office at 432 Park Avenue South in NoMad. I have a driver, which is nice because I can get some work done and read the paper.

8:30 a.m. A couple times a week I poke my head in on a project on the way to the office. We’re almost done converting a former Hell’s Kitchen school building into 18 condos called the Inkwell. It’s the last piece of the Gotham West assemblage we’ve been working on. We have three contracts of sale out. We’re also doing a lot of work on the Atlas at 38th Street and Sixth Avenue, where we have a couple new commercial tenants. I’m not the guy rolling out the carpet and tacking it down, but I make sure the things I thought were happening are happening. In the case of the Inkwell, I suggested we change the tile in the gym.

10 a.m. I get into the office. I keep very detailed lists of things I want to tackle since my memory isn’t very good. My job is mostly chasing deals that we want to pursue. We’ve never been a company that chased open-market deals, so a good part of my morning is spent talking to potential partners, investors, bankers, lawyers and architects.

12 p.m. Lunch, most days, tends to be at my desk. I also go out a couple times a week with bankers, investors and partners. We go to Marta or Upland in NoMad. I keep it light with a salad and fish. A lot of how we get our deals is by partnering with property owners who are not developers. I tend to do a lot of the courting of those types of people. They stay in the deal and contribute their land in exchange for us putting up some equity and doing the work. Gotham has been around for over 100 years. I don’t want to say the business comes to us, but we’re large and experienced enough to attract those folks. And we’re still willing to do deals in which we take a minority position.

1:30 p.m. I look into tackling deals in new neighborhoods. If someone says Bushwick or East Williamsburg is a hot area, for example, we will check into the numbers on the ground. I factor in the current cost to build, the rents and the expenses. That is how we do our valuations. From my point of view, the Bushwick streetscapes are pretty heinous. But I’m also not 25. There are plenty of warehouses in the city that are attractive. Those aren’t. I sort of don’t get it, but I like eating at Roberta’s.

3 p.m. I’ve long seen a trainer twice a week mid-afternoon, and feel refreshed after. But I’m battling a broken leg from skiing in Utah, and it’s been a slow, 10-month healing process. I now go to physical therapy instead, which is a nightmare. When I was healthy, I did CrossFit stuff, not the sort of psychotic stuff people in their 50s shouldn’t be doing.

Joel Picket

4 p.m. I check in on other projects, including a proposed 39-story rental building at 515 West 42nd Street that’s on hold until 421a is sorted out. Hopefully that gets resolved soon so that our partner, BD Hotels, and I can begin building there. My dad, who still comes into the office a lot, is involved in negotiating the financing and overseeing construction. His counsel is always appreciated and required, but he’s not in the weeds every day. Whenever there’s a major expenditure, we talk that over.

5 p.m. The next two hours are the busiest time of the day for me. I tend to all the paperwork sitting around — agreements I neglected and need to read, and a bunch of checks I need to sign. Everyone’s been running around all day but tends to be in the office at this time.

7 p.m. In a typical week, I spend one night with clients, one with my wife and friends, and one with my wife and at least one of our three kids. My family likes RedFarm a lot. And one night, my wife, a former real estate lawyer, cooks meat and potatoes at home and we hang out. My kids are 25, 22 and 20, and two of them live at different Gotham buildings in the city. I’ve got spies all over the place. My oldest, Matthew, works for Norges Bank, where he does real estate acquisitions. I don’t really socialize with many in the business. Not that I avoid it, but my life outside of work tends to be just that.

9 p.m. I think, “What, in the next two hours, will sufficiently shut my brain off?” I play folk or alt-country on my acoustic guitar. It’s very calming to me. I’ve been figuring out how to play a lot of Jackson Browne’s stuff, like the album “For Everyman.” Playing Neil Young songs is fun aside from the tuning, which is a bit difficult. I also get an hour of mindless TV in, like “Westworld” or “The Crown.”

11:30 p.m. I read for a half hour. I just finished the terminally depressing “Here I Am” by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was incredibly well-written, but not the best book to read before you go to sleep.

12 a.m. Hopefully the wheels have stopped turning, so I can get seven hours of sleep.