Ed Koch’s ties to real estate

The late mayor created new housing, worked at Grubb & Ellis and befriended industry bigwigs

From left: Mayor Koch in an undated photo and the mayor in April 2011 (Source: Mayor's Office Flickr)
From left: Mayor Koch in an undated photo and the mayor in April 2011 (Source: Mayor's Office Flickr)

Ed Koch, who served as Mayor from 1978 to 1989, died early this morning of congestive heart failure at the age of 88. Though Koch is most closely associated with saving New York City from financial ruin, he was also a powerful force in the real estate industry.

Indeed, “Koch,” the documentary of his life released today, makes the argument that his impact on housing was one of the most lasting of his career, according to a review of the film in the New York Times.

Under his watch, large-scale city projects found their footing. For example, Koch paved the way for the renaissance of Times Square by beating back nearly 50 lawsuits filed to halt development there.

In 1989, he left office having created 3,000 apartments out of 10,000 abandoned or city-seized buildings, leaving another 33,000 units in the pipeline, as Curbed noted. Over the next 15 years, a total of 200,000 apartments inside these properties were completed, and only 800 buildings remained vacant.

After he left Gracie Mansion, Koch kept himself active in the real estate realm. In 1990, he took a job as a director and consultant for the commercial real estate firm William A. White/Grubb and Ellis, as Newsday reported at the time. His role included persuading companies to stay put in New York, as well as motivating others to move here.

“This is the best job,” Koch told Newsday at the time. “I will tell them all the good things about the city, all the benefits that the city provides … This job, if I do it well, may make the city more money by bringing in and keeping firms here.”

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Not surprisingly, Koch also forged ties with notable real estate players. Steven Spinola, currently the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, served as chief of the Public Development Corp., now known as the New York City Economic Development Corp., under Koch.

“We had a choice to save the city or allow it to continue on a path that would have destroyed it,” Spinola said in a statement today. “That we are still the greatest city on Earth is a tribute to Ed Koch’s vision, tenacity and wisdom. None of what has been accomplished since would be possible if he hadn’t been mayor.”

On a similar note, Faith Hope Consolo, chair of Douglas Elliman’s retail group, reminisced to Real Estate Weekly about the tumultuous time in New York’s history when Koch was at the helm.

“It’s hard to reconcile the New York city of the ‘Mean Streets’ era with the glory we see today, but Ed Koch was a huge part of making that happen,” she said. “Before him we were literally bankrupt, told in essence to ‘Drop Dead’ by the U.S. government. Mayor Koch got us out of the fiscal hole, which gave us credibility with retailers who needed to be here — and made New York fun and cool again.”

And Koch had also gotten to know The Real Deal, not only as a subscriber who appeared in one of our television commercials, but also as the subject of our “At the Desk of” feature in the April 2011 issue.

“I remember him calling our office and introducing himself as ‘Former Mayor Ed Koch’ and asking why his subscription to The Real Deal was not automatically renewed,” publisher Amir Korangy recalled today on Facebook. “Of course we renewed it for him and he agreed to be in our TV ad.”