NYC real estate is becoming a “meritocracy”: Michael Stern

JDS boss and MaryAnne Gilmartin talk glass ceilings, DoBro revival

Michael Stern and MaryAnne Gilmartin
Michael Stern and MaryAnne Gilmartin

New York’s real estate industry still has an aristocracy of born-rich developers, but its dominance over the business is receding – and to Michael Stern, that’s a good thing.

“You’re seeing a shift towards a meritocracy,” Stern said Thursday at a panel hosted by the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. One reason: the internet has made information more widely available, putting outsiders on a more level playing field.

Stern, who rose from obscurity  to become one of the city’s most prominent developers as head of JDS Development Group [TRDataCustom], shared the stage with Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin. In 2013, Gilmartin smashed one of this city’s thicker glass ceilings by becoming the rarest of creatures: a female outsider who rose to become the top executive of a major commercial real estate firm.

“It’s a dynasty business, it had been very much a place where if you’re in the family, you’re in the family business,”Gilmartin said. “Me, in the 80s, it didn’t occur to me that I could break into that.” Gilmartin credited the city’s Economic Development Corporation, where she began her career, and former FCR CEO Bruce Ratner for enabling her rise.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“Inherently, development is a place where women can excel, because it’s all about collaboration,” she said. Speaking of glass ceilings, Gilmartin also happens to be the landlord of the country’s first Democratic female presidential nominee’s campaign headquarters at 1 Pierrepont Plaza.

Stern and Gilmartin also spoke about the construction boom in Downtown Brooklyn – where Stern is developing the supertall apartment tower 9 Dekalb Avenue and Gilmartin is building an office tower at 420 Albee Square.

Stern argued that a residential construction wave preceding a commercial one is better than the other way around, because the added population makes the neighborhood vibrant. Pointing to the Financial District, where the streets were quiet after dark for decades, he said, “you’re not going to have this situation here.”

Speaking of 420 Albee, Gilmartin said the project will only rise off the ground once an anchor tenant is found. “The days of building spec office are over,” she said.