The Closing: Andrew Kimball

The head of NYC's Economic Development Corporation talks about Mayor Adams’ embrace of public-private partnerships, how the failed 2012 Olympics bid rejuvenated the city and the perils of raising chickens in Brooklyn

Andrew Kimball (Photos by Axel Dupeux)
Andrew Kimball (Photos by Axel Dupeux)

Andrew Kimball understands what it’s like to be on the other side of the negotiating table. 

The Industry City alum now heads the city’s Economic Development Corporation, where he works with private developers and guides major projects, including Related Companies and Sterling Equities’ megadevelopment at Willets Point, with its 2,500 affordable housing units, stadium for Major League Soccer and 250-key hotel. 

The EDC is a quasi-governmental agency: It is a nonprofit, but its board is controlled by the mayor.

Likewise, as president and CEO, Kimball draws on his experience in both public- and private-sector roles. 

He wanted a job like this for a long time. In the 1990s, he set a goal to run an economic development organization by age 30.

At the time, he was finishing a fellowship at Coro New York Leadership Center, a training program for would-be civic captains. He went to Urban Development Corporation, predecessor to Empire State Development, then became vice president of the New York City Public Library. 

It took him an extra decade to reach his goal, but he got there. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tapped Kimball — age 40 — to head the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, where he oversaw redevelopment of the 300-acre industrial park. In 2013, he joined Jamestown Properties and became CEO of Industry City, revamping the 35-acre campus of former factories into a home for creative, tech and manufacturing companies, though an attempted rezoning fizzled. Mayor Eric Adams picked Kimball to head the city’s EDC in 2022.

His latest project is a redevelopment of 120 acres of Brooklyn waterfront, where officials envision housing, retail and a modernized port after the city reached a deal in May with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take control of the coastline from Brooklyn Bridge Park’s southern edge to Red Hook.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Born: December 28, 1964
Hometown: Upper East Side, Manhattan
Lives: Park Slope, Brooklyn
Family: Married, 2 children

You grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. What were you like as a kid?

Very sporty. Sports all the time, and that remains true today. Do a lot of boot camp, play a lot of tennis, and I would say the other defining thing of my youth was just being so acutely aware from an early stage why some parts of the city were falling apart and others weren’t. I vividly remember driving up and down the FDR [Drive] and looking over at the Brooklyn waterfront and seeing decrepit former industrial buildings, manufacturing buildings, port facilities, wondering what was going on there and why those couldn’t be brought back to life. I was very lucky to grow up on the Upper East Side, but I would play basketball in East Harlem. I’d see the difference in economic strata and opportunity and wonder how I might play a role in building a more inclusive, equitable city,

You knew at a young age that you wanted to do that?

It definitely evolved. The physical environment — I’m not sure I had the words for it then. But [I was] always fascinated by [that] and by the history around it. What was it in its glory days? What happened to make that physical environment the way it was? The subways were covered in graffiti, why was that? 

Did your parents’ careers influence your work?

They did. My mom was very civically involved with a lot of organizations, not-for-profit work. Her uncle was Adlai Stevenson, who ran for president twice. (He was a cousin called uncle, so a second cousin.) But that was a little bit of an inspiration. I had another uncle who was president of the University of Miami for 25 years. Those kinds of jobs involve a lot of politics, fundraising, planning; I was always fascinated with his career. 

I worked for Mike Dukakis for president, he lost. I worked for Mario Cuomo on his last reelection. He lost. Worked on the Olympics bid. We lost.”

You grew up in Manhattan, and you’ve lived in Brooklyn now for 25 years. Can you imagine yourself living anywhere else?

No, my wife dragged me kicking and screaming from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and I said I’d give it a try for a year. I’m never leaving. It’s amazing. I love Manhattan. I love all the boroughs, but Brooklyn is a very special place to live. We’re right near Prospect Park. I exercise all the time in the park. It’s good for my mental health, and to be able for 18 years to have one commute to the Navy Yard, another commute to Industry City was a pretty special stretch. Now I’m all over the five boroughs all the time, but I really love Brooklyn. 

How did you meet your wife?

She was in my Coro [Leadership Center] class. It was an intense 10 months, probably the most valuable educational year in my life. She has a very strong personality. We banged heads often during that 10 months, but then ultimately decided that we had a lot in common.

Before you joined the Brooklyn Navy Yard, you worked on the city’s unsuccessful bid to host the Olympics in 2012, though the bid ended up being a catalyst for development in Hudson Yards, Williamsburg, Hunts Point and other areas. Do you think that those areas would have been developed in that way had it not been for this campaign? 

[There was] the pressure to put forward the best possible product, show that you could get projects done: a new basketball stadium in the Barclays Center, Atlantic Yards, or new parks like the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront parks, or even the Freshkills Park, or projects like the High Line getting completed. 

All of those pressures led to the entire political and business establishment in New York being focused on a plan and executing at a very high level. At a bare minimum, it fast-forwarded projects. Would even more have gotten done if we’d won? It’s hard to know, but it was a tremendous experience, and that led to a breakout job for me running the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 

What was the mayor’s pitch to you to run the EDC in 2022?

When Mayor Adams asked me if I was interested in this, I jumped at it, because I had worked with him very closely at the Navy Yard and at Industry City, and I knew that this was somebody who cared passionately about partnering with the private sector, about innovation sectors, about creating entrepreneurship and workforce opportunity for diverse New Yorkers. 

[He said:] Let’s do more of the same, but let’s do it citywide. That was incredibly appealing to me, and more broadly, just having a mayor who understood that you can’t get big things done in New York without locking arms with the private sector. You may disagree from time to time, but you know what makes one of the many things that makes New York great and the economy really go in New York is the private sector, from big corporate firms to little small businesses. 

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Is EDC involved at Atlantic Yards?

No, that’s entirely Empire State Development Corporation. That’s their baby. I will say there was a period of time when I think I was one of the few people in Park Slope that actually supported that whole redevelopment. It has taken a long time for all the housing to get built, but that’s partly because there were 30 different lawsuits and a major recession. But it is happening. I think that final piece, the state is determined to move forward. 

What are the biggest differences between doing a public project versus a privately driven one?

One of the reasons that the ownership group at Industry City brought me in was because of my experience adaptively reusing massive campuses that had hundreds of millions of dollars of deferred maintenance — meaning things broken down — and understanding how to create an ecosystem of makers and innovators. What is always different is that there’s a higher degree of skepticism when it’s the private sector trying to do some of those things. And so those were hurdles I had to overcome. Industry City is really a model of how the private sector can get heavily into adaptive reuse of old buildings that are for things other than housing.

Do you feel that the city’s in a different place today than it was when the Industry City rezoning application was pulled, just in terms of attitudes toward development?

It’s a sea change in terms of attitude, and that comes from the top. That comes from Mayor Adams understanding that you can’t get big things done without partnering with the private sector and partnering with the community. 

Do you think that the rezoning will ever be revived?

I don’t know. I’m looking forward. 

Much of your career has involved massive, complicated projects. How do you internalize these long timelines and keep a “long-game” mindset?

We’re very lucky at EDC. We have 550 super-competent folks from real estate to planning to transportation, to finance and legal. It is managing and empowering team members to really drive each of these projects so that you can take a lot on at one time. 

It’s huge having a very supportive mayor and deputy mayor. Maria Torres-Springer is a unique public official, having run EDC, the housing agencies, having run Small Business Services, basically almost all of the major entities that report to her. So she really knows what it’s like being in the trenches, how to push and how to support. Look, these appointed positions always are a window, and you hope to get as much done as you can, and then hand the baton to the next leader.  

Do you think it’s a good idea to have a casino in close proximity to the Willets Point megadevelopment?

The city and EDC will do analysis on the impacts of these various proposals. I think there are a lot of interesting proposals that not only bring the casino, but bring other important economic development tools to their projects, from concert halls to convention space to hotels. It’s not really a question of what you think about a casino per se — there are going to be three awarded downstate. I would like to make sure that one of them is in the boroughs, rather than having none. And again, I think those other ancillary uses are a big part of the conversation. 

What is one lesson that you hope your kids have learned from you?

Don’t be afraid to fail, because I’ve had some big losses along the way. I worked for Mike Dukakis for president, he lost. I worked for Mario Cuomo on his last reelection. He lost. Worked on the Olympics bid. We lost. I tried to get a rezoning done in Industry City. We had to pull out. But each one of those experiences has been tremendous in terms of learning, relationship-building and also leading to other great outcomes. 

Do you have any hobbies?

Tennis, that’s my biggest hobby. And now increasingly, having quality time with my wife and our 100-pound mutt that’s part Great Dane and part pit bull.

What’s the dog’s name?


What’s your biggest extravagance?

Wow. My biggest extravagance is trying to get up to Maine every summer and spend as much time there as I can, because in the future, I’m going to want to spend even more time up there. 

At one point you and your wife raised chickens in Brooklyn. Do you think you’ll have any other adventures in keeping livestock?

That was part of the bringing up of two boys, one of whom was really into pets and one into chickens. It lasted, I don’t know, maybe two years until the neighborhood raccoons broke into the cage, and that was a horrific ending, with learnings about the circle of life. 

I read that one of your sons was really into hip-hop dancing. Is that still the case?

Both [sons are] into hitting the dance floor, as am I and my wife.

Do you hip-hop dance?

No. I old-man dance. 

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