November 12, 2019
The New York

‘She Build’: Creating an All-Women Real Estate Development Team

Taya Cook of Urban Capital, left, and Sherry Larjani of Spotlight Development are leading an all-women team to develop a 200-unit condominium building in Toronto.

Taya Cook of Urban Capital, left, and Sherry Larjani of Spotlight Development are leading an all-women team to develop a 200-unit condominium building in Toronto. Credit…Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

As a highly successful woman in New York’s male-dominated development arena, MaryAnne Gilmartin has a “mini-obsession”: She wants to oversee a commercial real estate project in which every part of the process is headed by a woman.

Ms. Gilmartin, the founder of L&L MAG, a real estate development company, knows from experience how to run a real estate project. As the chief executive of Forest City Ratner Companies, she oversaw such prominent projects as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Renzo Piano-designed New York Times building in Manhattan.

Now, she has set her sights on doing the same with an all-women team. Ms. Gilmartin calls it a “she build,” and she knows “exactly where to go to find the right woman for every single part of the deal,” she said.

Her biggest challenge is securing the capital — the idea does not get a lot of traction in a room full of male investors, she said. But she is working at it, believing that if she can make such a project happen in New York, it will serve as a beacon to other aspiring developers who are women.

“We outliers have to keep at it,” Ms. Gilmartin, 55, said.

That’s because, despite progress in many other professional realms, women remain severely underrepresented in real estate development and investment, particularly in senior roles

Women held just 4 percent of senior investment roles at major real estate firms, according to a widely circulated 2011 study, and their numbers have improved only “marginally” since, said the study’s author, Nori Gerardo Lietz, who is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and a longtime real estate investor.

Ms. Lietz reviewed the senior ranks of 82 major real estate investment firms for the study, as well as many more private equity and venture capital firms, and found that women were noticeably absent from the most highly paid, “touch the money” jobs.

Her study attributed the gap to a combination of factors, including institutional sexism and more mentoring attention being paid to men than to women.

Eight years later, “the larger firms are trying to open up the funnel and get women in,” she said. “But they’ve not done a good job at retaining them.”

Firms should try harder to keep female employees on track, Ms. Lietz said, perhaps with policies for new mothers that allow them to balance the 80-hour workweeks required during transactions with time off.

Ms. Larjani and Ms. Cook in a design meeting at Spotlight Development in Toronto.
Ms. Larjani and Ms. Cook in a design meeting at Spotlight Development in Toronto.Credit…Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

One of the firms in Ms. Lietz’s study was Stockbridge, a real estate investment management firm in San Francisco with nearly $15 billion in assets. At the time, women held 17 percent of the firm’s senior finance positions. Today, the percentage is closer to 30 across all of Stockbridge’s senior positions, including finance, according to Kristin Renaudin, the firm’s chief financial officer.

Ms. Renaudin, 42, said she saw a growing number of women involved in real estate investment — all of the main players working with her on a major real estate portfolio purchase earlier this year were women. But the pipeline of candidates for the deal-making jobs is still heavily male, she said.THE MORNING: Make sense of the day’s news and ideas. David Leonhardt and Times journalists guide you through what’s happening — and why it matters.Sign Up

“The transactional, investment side is the last to come around,” Ms. Renaudin said. That was partly because many women did not pursue those jobs, she said, either because they are put off by a difficult-to-shake stigma that deal-making is a male-oriented culture or, if they have families, because they are discouraged by the significant travel and often-unpredictable work schedule.

Family life is definitely a factor, said Melissa Burch, 43, the executive general manager for New York development at Lendlease, a multinational property and infrastructure firm.

“These roles are all consuming when the deal is hot,” she said. “You have to be ready to sprint when the opening is there, and that unpredictability can be unappealing.”

Ms. Renaudin said she had been fortunate to have had “no shortage of opportunities” at Stockbridge, but recognized that she was a rarity in the industry. In fact, throughout her 21-year career, she has not had one female mentor or role model, she said.

That lack of role models could also hinder women’s rise up the ladder, said Taya Cook, the director of development at Urban Capital, a condominium development firm in Toronto.

“There are women I look up to in the industry, but they haven’t acted as mentors or role models,” she said. “I’d like to provide that for the younger generation.”

Ms. Cook hopes to do that with her own version of a “she build.” She and Sherry Larjani, the managing partner at Spotlight Development, also in Toronto, are leading a handpicked, all-women team to develop a 200-unit condominium building called Reina (the Spanish word for queen) in the Etobicoke district of Toronto.

The Reina project has garnered considerable publicity, said Ms. Larjani, who hopes it will draw more young women into development.
The Reina project has garnered considerable publicity, said Ms. Larjani, who hopes it will draw more young women into development.Credit…Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

The idea came last year after Ms. Cook, 38, read a Toronto Life magazine article that highlighted the city’s leading condo developers. All 20 were men.

“Honestly, it’s insane,” she said. “When you step back and have a look, it’s probably one of the last industries that’s really just so unbalanced.”

Ms. Cook noted that the backing of Urban Capital, which is run by two men, had eased the path to financing. Without their successful history behind her, “I would expect the experience to be much more difficult,” she said. “Finance is definitely on par with construction and development as a boys’ club.”

The Reina project has garnered considerable publicity in the Toronto area, said Ms. Larjani, also 38. Like Ms. Cook, she hopes the publicity will draw more young women into development.

“The point is to show that these women are working in all these roles, and they are roles you can take on,” Ms. Larjani said.

Ms. Gilmartin said that she never felt intimidated or thwarted at the table by men, but that young women coming out of top business schools “looking at a landscape of males” could have trouble seeing a way to break through.

“There are just not enough examples for these women,” she said.

Ms. Burch said that women should feel confident that if they can just “get into the room,” even if it is filled with men, they will figure out how to use their talents to rise.

She spent the first 13 years of her career at Forest City Ratner, where, she said, she started out as a “human clicker,” running the digital portion of presentations that the company co-founder Bruce Ratner made to investors. Just sitting in on dozens of those presentations was instructive.

“I soaked in every one of those conversations,” Ms. Burch said. “How do you convince investors? How do you lay forth a vision and bring others along?”

Eventually, she jumped in and made some of those presentations herself, and later worked closely with Ms. Gilmartin. Now, she’s hiring women for her own team at Lendlease, including one who’s in charge of acquisitions.

“She’d been in development for 10 years and never had a female boss,” Ms. Burch said of the woman she hired. “She told me one of the big reasons she came here was to have that. It was important to her.”

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October 14, 2019

Developers Working on Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, A Series of Public Meetings to be Held

A number of developers that plan to build on the Long Island City waterfront–including parcels where the Amazon headquarters was slated to go–are working on a comprehensive waterfront plan.

TF Cornerstone, L&L MAG and Simon Baron Development are looking to guide the development of 28 acres of public and privately-owned land by Anable Basin and north of 44th Drive. They are reaching out to the public to help them shape the plan and have established “Your LIC” for local input.

The developers will be working with the community and the City Council to put together a series of public meetings in coming months with the goal of coming up with a comprehensive framework.

The City Council gathered stakeholders with developable property along the waterfront during the summer and called for them to formulate a unified plan. The city wants to make sure that the community’s needs are met through one comprehensive plan, as opposed to each developer acting separately.

The developers announced today that Dr. Gail Mellow, former president of LaGuardia Community College, has joined “Your LIC” to help produce the plan by soliciting input from the public and industry.

Plaxall, which plans to develop about 12 acres by Anable Basin and owns much of the land where Amazon was slated to go, is not part of the Your LIC coalition. However, the company has conducted extensive community outreach in recent times and has a decades-long history in the area.

The City Owned Parcels TF Cornerstone was looking to develop

The three developers that are part of the coalition all have interests in the 28 acres.

TF Cornerstone was in the process of developing two city-owned sites where 44th Drive meets the East River– before the Amazon deal led to those plans being shelved.

L&L owns a five-acre waterfront plot at 44-02 Vernon Blvd., known as Lake Vernon, which is north of 44th Drive.

Meanwhile, Simon Baron owns the Paragon Paint building at 45-40 Vernon Blvd., which backs onto Anable Basin.

The three developers, in a unified statement, said that they are working on a collaborative process to bring jobs, a resilient waterfront, open space, affordable housing, and arts and community space to the waterfront.

Matthew Baron, President of Simon Baron Development, said that the process will provide residents with a real say in terms of the outcome of the area.

“With three developers coming to the table to work with each other, the community, and the City Council, we believe so much can be achieved for the benefit of Long Island City,” Baron said.

Jeremy Shell, Principal of TF Cornerstone, said that the collaboration between developers and the community was a unique approach to development in New York City.

“This is a completely new approach for Long Island City and an unprecedented process in New York. We look forward to working closely with Dr. Mellow and all of the residents, businesses, and stakeholders in Long Island City for the months and years to come,” Shell said in a statement.

Mellow will lead community engagement and workforce development initiatives to ensure that the waterfront sites are developed with community input.

She will work with a number of local groups, including NYCHA Tenants Associations, to form recommendations.

“This is such an exciting and important project for our neighborhood and the city at large, and I am thrilled to be doing what I love most – working with the community – to help turn their vision into a reality,” Mellow said in a statement.

The workforce development initiatives and community benefits engagement will be supported in consultation with Bishop Mitchell Taylor, founder of Urban Upbound.

“The Long Island City waterfront provides so much hope and opportunity for Queens, and its future must be planned carefully by the people who live and work here,” said Bishop Taylor, Founder of Urban Upbound.

“I look forward to collaborating with Gail and the Your LIC team to create an inclusive process that prioritizes strong community benefits and good jobs for all.”

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October 4, 2019

Guests Partied in the Park at Last Night’s Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy Gala

Last night a throng of Brooklynites and Manhattanites gathered along the East River in black-tie. The occasion? Twenty years of free public activities at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which not too long ago was a neglected plot of waterfront land. The refurbished and transformed green space is now one of the most beloved (and photographed) spots in the city, so there was much to celebrate last night at the Brooklyn Black Tie Ball.

The evening started with a boisterous cocktail party, complete with tasty canapés and beverages ranging from glasses of Gadais Muscadet to cans of (what else) Brooklyn Lager. Guests could hardly stop the chatter as hosts encouraged all to take their seats, which offered primo views of lower Manhattan. From start (a salad of chicories with brie fondue) to finish (sunflower-butter jelly doughnuts), the three-course meal satiated the crowd as the Conservancy reflected on two decades of progress.

Special honorees of the evening were two-megawatt women whose work throughout Brooklyn and the Greater New York City Area has transformed the city into a safer and more prosperous place for all. Mayor Bill de Blasio honored Alicia Glen, former deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development in New York, and MaryAnne Gilmartin, former CEO of Forest City Ratner and famed developer of the Barclays Center.

“It’s so New York to have a place that is open late at night; a place where you can go and play basketball, or do whatever activity you like, right along the Manhattan skyline,” shared Girls star and Red Hook resident Jemima Kirke. “It’s so beautiful. It’s a real part of the city; it’s that idea of having a place that’s our hub.”

Keri Russell shared a similar sentiment: “I have to say, this is the only gala I always come to because it’s the most true to my life. I use this park multiple times a day, my kids use it multiple times a day—it’s an amazing park, it’s an amazing use of space, and it’s a part of everyday life.”

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/Sylvana Durrett in a Caroline Constas dress and Stella McCartney blazer; Keri Russell in Saint Laurent

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/Honoree Alicia Glen, Senator Chuck Schumer, and honoree MaryAnne Gilmartin

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/Henry Hager and Jenna Bush Hager

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/The interior ambiance as guests took their seats

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/Jemima Kirke

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Photo: Alexa Hoyer/Like any great gala, the evening ended with dancing.

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