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Lunch at the Tribeca Grill with: Scott Resnick

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-06-30

Scott Resnick has enjoyed many successes since he joined the real-estate business 20 years ago, but the opening of a sales office next week at his company's newest property at 200 Chambers Street in Manhattan has special significance for him.

"It's been a soap opera," he said. "I remember the frustration, the long and brutal negotiations, and the horror of September 11, 2001. That's why this project gives me special pleasure. It almost didn't happen, and now it's going to be bigger than what we set out to do, we've paid the city more money that it had expected, and we're giving more space to the local community and a local school that originally planned."

Mr. Resnick paused, and then said: "A good deal is one where everybody almost gets everything they wanted. This is such a deal. I feel very proud to be building a beautiful building."

The building, which is scheduled to open in fall 2006, will contain 257 condominiums which will be organized into studios and one, two, and three-bedroom apartments. Ranging in size from 573 square feet to 2,300 square feet, they apartments will be priced from $500,000 to $3 million. Some 30,000 square feet will be used to create a new community center, a donation from Mr. Resnick and his family's company, Jack Resnick & Sons, where he's president and chief operating officer.

The original design by Lord Norman Foster - the famed British architect - and Costas Kondylis - the New Yorker who specializes in high-rise architecture - called for a 35-story building. But Lord Foster left the project, apparently tired by objections from local residents who'd argued for two decades that big buildings would be alien to a neighborhood that consists primarily of low-rise structures.

Now 200 Chambers Street will house a 30-story edifice, and an accompanying 7-story structure that will primarily house the community center, a school annex and residential-amenity space. Space will be given to a local school, P.S. 234, to create a dozen classrooms.

The project will cost $220 million, with $40.5 million already paid to the city for the land, which was a city urban-renewal site known technically as Site 5C. Four blocks north of Ground Zero, it will be the first completely new building in the Tribeca area after the tragedy of Sept. 11. And the fact that it's being built at all is a tribute to Mr. Resnick's persistence and seemingly endless patience during the four or five years of complex negotiations with the city and Community Board One.

He said he inherited those qualities from his father, Burton, who's chairman and CEO of the family-owned company that his father, Jack, founded in 1928. As a child, Scott would go with his father to various construction sites. As a teenager, he worked on some sites as a laborer. He received no preferential treatment because he was the boss's son. "I was at the low end of the totem pole," Mr. Resnick said. "Twice a day I went to fetch sandwiches and coffee for my fellow workers." They were real tough guys, but at the same time it was so inspiring to be in their company."

He still recalls a "rite of passage" where hardened steel workers dared him to walk on a 6-inch-wide beam 20 stories from the ground, at 52 Broadway. He was terrified, of course, but he did not flinch. A Polaroid picture was taken of him on that beam, but when Mr. Resnick showed it to his mother that evening, she wasn't amused.

"I learned a lot about construction in those years," Mr. Resnick said. "Those summer jobs helped de-mystify the process of building a building. I realized that while building-construction was a complicated business because so many components and trades were involved, it was still a fairly linear process."

One of the sites on which he worked as a teenager triggered an unusual linear process for Mr. Resnick. He'd helped out on the construction of a downtown building, working in its basement. Some 20 years later, not long after Sept. 11, he successfully negotiated a deal with the United Federation of Teachers to lease that building to the union. By this time, he was already president of the company.

Mr. Resnick had paid his dues by then. In fact, as an undergraduate at Northwestern University he'd studied art history, and majored in communications and political science. (He's continued his interest in art and films: Mr. Resnick is a trustee of the Whitney Museum, and is also on the board of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.) Then he went to Cardozo Law School for a year before deciding that his real calling was in real estate.

"But the greatest lesson I learned in law school was the ability, when presented with an endless pile of data, to plow through that data and glean the essence," Mr. Resnick said.

In 1985, he joined Sonnenblick-Goldman Co., real estate mortgage bankers, where he gained extensive knowledge of the real-estate market in New York City. He also gained invaluable insight into the business from mentors such as Bill Stern of Sonnenblick-Goldman, who often let him sit in on negotiations or listen when he was talking to clients. It was priceless education for Mr. Resnick.

Later, when he moved to his family's company in 1989, another key mentor - besides his own father, Burton - was Rickey Rackow. "Rickey was a tough taskmaster," Mr. Resnick said. "He taught me that you'd better be thinking two questions ahead."

Mr. Rackow, in fact, had been with Jack Resnick when he formed the company in the Bronx in 1928; the entire staff at the time consisted of Mr. Resnick, Mr. Rackow, and a secretary.

Today, Scott Resnick is president of a real-estate empire that includes 5 million square feet of office space, and thousands of apartments in Manhattan. Among the company's properties are luxury apartment buildings such as The Gershwin (250 W. 50th Street), Gracie Mews (401 E. 80th Street) and Symphony House (235 W. 56th Street). Office properties such as One Seaport Plaza (199 Water Street), 110 East 59th Street, 485 Madison Avenue and 75 Park Place, are also part of the Resnick stable.

His two brothers, Jonathan and Peter, are executive managing directors at the company, having joined it a decade ago; Jonathan runs the construction department, and Peter, the commercial leasing and management department. Their involvement ensures that the company will stay in family hands, and that its engagement with real estate will continue.

Mr. Resnick emphasizes the importance of ethical behavior and good faith. His own successes show that even in a tough, often bare-knuckle business such as real estate, an executive who adheres to such values can flourish.

"I was taught by my father to get the best price you can - but not hold out for the last dollar," Mr. Resnick said. "My father also taught me that the only way to learn a business is to go out and do it. You can go to any school you want, but you've still got to have practical experience."

"Real estate is an amalgam of many different businesses," Mr. Resnick said. "I've been fortunate to have been exposed to many disciplines, and to be mentored by my father and other greats of the industry. I consider real estate to be more than a business. It's actually a privilege to be doing what I'm doing."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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