The Closing: Jed Walentas

The Two Trees CEO on working for Trump, Haiti’s adoption process and buying property without partners

Jed Walentas (Photo by Michael McWeeney)
Jed Walentas (Photo by Michael McWeeney)

Jed Walentas is a principal of Two Trees Management [TRDataCustom], the company founded by his father, David, in 1968. The firm — synonymous with the renaissance of Dumbo, Brooklyn — has developed and managed more than 4 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate in the New York area and has more than $4 billion in holdings. Its current projects include the $3 billion redevelopment of the 11-acre Domino Sugar site on the Brooklyn waterfront, which will house four mixed-use buildings and 600,000 square feet of commercial space. The first building, with 525 apartments, is slated to open in July. The firm is also leasing up 300 Ashland in Fort Greene, a 35-story rental property with 379 units. Walentas joined the family business in 1997 after a one-year stint at the Trump Organization.

DOB: August 8, 1974
Hometown: Soho
Lives in: Soho
Family: Married; Two children

What is your full name? My real name is J. David Walentas. It’s a real hassle traveling post 9/11 because I’ve always been Jed, but my passport says J. David.

Why is it just J? Nine months wasn’t enough for my parents to come up with a name. They just knew they wanted something that started with J.

What’s your date of birth? The day Nixon resigned his presidency. My mom was on TV. Some news cameraman was asking people for reactions at the hospital. She lit up a cigarette and told them what she thought.

You grew up in Manhattan, right? Yes, we lived on Spring and West Broadway. I got the school bus every morning across the street from Etan Patz. The whole thing is still really creepy to me. There were sightings of him in the days after he was killed, but they were all really of me. 

What was it like growing up downtown? I spent a lot of time wandering around the city on my own at ages my wife would find inappropriate for our children now. I went to the playground on Thompson Street and to Ben’s Pizza. I would build shit in my room and go to the Metropolitan Lumber yard after school to get the wood. They’d give me as many scraps as I could carry in my little six-year-old hands.

Didn’t you write for the college paper at UPenn? I was the sports editor at the Daily Pennsylvanian. I’d leave the paper at 4 a.m., go to 7-Eleven and buy a gallon and a half of sugary stuff and a huge Coca-Cola and watch Sports Center for two hours because I’d be wired.

You worked for Donald Trump when you graduated. What was he like? I’m not saying this through any kind of political lens, but he couldn’t have been nicer or more respectful to me. He made time for me, he looked after me and he was generous.

You donated to Hillary Clinton. What do you think of Trump’s rise to the White House? You can ask that, but I don’t want to answer it. 

Are you friendly with Jared Kushner or his father, Charlie? Not friendly. Not not friendly.

Jared bought the Jehovah’s Witnesses properties next door to you. Were you vying for those? Yeah, but we have trouble buying things for a variety of reasons. We’re quite conservative, we still use all our own money and have no partners. It’s a weird business model — using your own money and being conservative makes you weirdly uncompetitive on things like Jehovah.

You recently sold the penthouse at the Clocktower in Dumbo for a record price of $15 million. Why did it take so long? They kind of putzed around. The buyer kept coming and going, I think. David changed his mind a couple of times.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

You call your dad David? Yes, people think it’s weird, but I’ve called him that for as long as I could talk. 

Is he still very involved in the business? He is, as he deserves to be, involved in whatever he chooses to be. He comes to the office every day — I have no idea how he amuses himself. He expresses interest in coming to meetings and then sometimes he’ll show up and sometimes he won’t. He injects himself once in a while and causes me some agita, but pretty rarely. 

Are you close? That’s kind of a trick question. We love each other lots. But my parents have never meddled in my life too much, both out of respect to me and convenience for them.

You’ve been married for nearly a decade. How did you meet your wife, Kate? A friend introduced us at a party. She’s a photographer and it somehow came up that she was supposed to photograph a wedding at a retail space of ours in Dumbo. But the tenant hadn’t paid rent in months and we were in court to get them out of the space. I didn’t know whether to be honest about being the avaricious dick landlord trying to evict these guys or be honest and have her be like, “What the fuck?” when she found out. So, I told her.

Where did you get married? It was at this place called Malmaison, which [was at one time] this semi-abandoned country house of Napoleon’s Josephine.

How many kids do you have? Two. Theo and Filomene, who we call Filo — a boy and a girl.

You adopted Filo from Haiti. Why did you decide to adopt? In the best of ways, it was totally a Kate thing. She was adopted, so it’s a huge part of her story.

Was it a difficult process? It was massively complicated. I deal with bad public policy all day long, and this was the dumbest, most terrible thing. It took us three years to get her home. You have mid-level bureaucrats abusing the system and protecting their own asses. Kate went back and forth a lot, and I was down there maybe three times. At one point, we had to stay at the orphanage for two weeks.

Do you want more kids? No. We also have two dogs and a cat. There’s a lot of madness. 

Do you make as much money as you would like? To me, the money is a tremendous privilege. It lets me do whatever the fuck I want whenever I want, which is an amazing way to go through life.

What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought? I bought a piece of the San Francisco Giants 10 years ago. I’m a Yankees fan, so it’s complicated. My life is like fantasy camp a little bit.

What’s your biggest vice? I drink too much Ketel One and too much Coca-Cola.

How do you deal with antagonists? Hopefully better than I used to. I’ve definitely mellowed. I used to have an instinct for retribution.