The Real Deal New York

This month in real estate history

By Adam Pincus | December 01, 2012 07:00AM

1984: City announces $340M MetroTech Center deal

Mayor Ed Koch

Mayor Ed Koch and other city officials unveiled an agreement with Forest City Enterprises and the Polytechnical Institute of New York to build a $340 million office, retail and research complex in Downtown Brooklyn 28 years ago this month.

The City Hall announcement identified Cleveland-based Forest City as the main developer for the MetroTech Center project, which received a 99-year lease and 22 years of tax abatements as part of the deal. In addition, Polytechnical was selected to build a $12.4 million library.

Steven Spinola, now president of the Real Estate Board of New York, helped negotiate the agreement with Forest City. At the time, he was president of the city’s Public Development Corporation (now the Economic Development Corporation).

The project was planned with 1.7 million square feet of commercial space, but more than 6 million was ultimately constructed at a cost of $1 billion.

Forest City Ratner, the company’s local subsidiary, began construction on the first of the office buildings in 1989. The last office tower to be constructed was 12 MetroTech Center, which opened in 2004.


1957: City is first in nation to ban bias in private housing

Robert F. Wagner

The New York City Council passed the nation’s first fair housing legislation targeting bias in private housing 55 years ago this month. The law banned discrimination in privately owned apartment buildings and some homes on the basis of race, religion or national origin.

Mayor Robert Wagner signed the bill into law Dec. 30, 1957.

The Fair Housing Practices bill — which was also known by its sponsors’ names as the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs Law — took effect April 1, 1958. The law expanded on antidiscrimination laws in the city that already barred bias in public housing and in publicly financed housing.

The new law, which covered multiple dwellings with three or more units, was highly controversial at the time. A spokesperson for the city’s leading industry trade group, REBNY, which opposed the law, said, “We believe that it violates the fundamental rights of the owner of private property.”

New York was ahead of much of the country in terms of passing legal measures targeting discriminatory housing practices. The national Fair Housing Act, which banned housing bias nationally, was not signed into law until 1968.


Billboards in Times Square

1912: Mayor appoints billboard ad commission

New York City Mayor William Gaynor appointed a seven-person commission in response to a public outcry against the proliferation of billboards in Manhattan, 100 years ago this month.

Gaynor created the Billboard Advertising Commission to investigate and analyze the unpopular and rapid expansion of outdoor advertising. A city study released a few months before the commission was formed found there were 4,600 billboards with a total of 3.8 million square feet displayed around Manhattan.

Meanwhile, an article published in American City magazine said there were 41 billboards around Central Park alone, with some as tall as 30 feet.

The commission came about as a result of the urban advocacy movement called City Beautiful. Supporters saw public ads as a blight.

A year after the commission was created, it issued a wide-ranging report, generally seeking to ban large signs from parks, squares, public buildings and major thoroughfares. But real estate interests, including REBNY, objected to several of the proposals.

At the time, most of the recommendations were considered too extreme, but a historic 1916 zoning resolution clamped down significantly on billboards, including banning them in residential districts.