The Son Also High-Rises
William Macklowe rubbed the bridge of his nose and said he was suffering from a sinus headache. It was the first sign of human frailty he’d allowed during the interview, and the interview was almost over.
The nose where he pressed his fingers was aquiline, like the beak of a barn owl. Below, his thin line of a mouth seemed hard-pressed to exhibit anything but irritation. For a man as fastidious as Mr. Macklowe, the ordeal of the past few years–an ordeal that laid low his and his father’s business, an ordeal that made his family the poster child of the New York real estate bubble, an ordeal that still elicits invasive questions from intrusive reporters–must seem like medieval torture. Every negative blog post a turn of the rack.
You’re just really seeking to move past all of that?
But all of that is over.
That’s true. But it still informs our activities. …
And that will show itself as I move forward.
William (Billy) Macklowe, 42, was born to a father whose immersion in New York real estate would come to dominate his life.
“My dad was less the throw-the-football-around kind of guy and more the let’s-walk-building-sites-together,” he told Men’s Vogue in 2008.
An N.Y.U. grad with a degree in humanities, Mr. Macklowe joined the family firm in 1992. By then, his father, Harry, was an outsize figure in New York City, known as a mercurial, bare-knuckled genius. He started his career as a broker in the ’60s, ultimately turning to development and amassing a fortune. He gained notoriety in 1985 when, under cover of night, his development team illegally tore down two Times Square SROs to make way for a new hotel. He was later fined $2 million. Then, like so many others, Harry Macklowe was felled by the real estate recession of the late ’80s-early ’90s.
With Billy at his side, Harry quickly rebuilt his fortune. By 2003, he had won the industry’s most prized trophy–the General Motors Building at the southeast corner of Central Park.
He solidified his reputation as a real estate virtuoso, the man who built Riverbank West and remade 340 Madison Avenue; the man who would go on to reopen the GM Building plaza to the street and help Apple build the now famous glass cube at the tower’s base.
“It’s not like Billy can easily replace his development savvy,” said Michael Fascitelli, the president and CEO of Vornado, a real estate investment trust, and a longtime business associate of both men. “Harry was really one of a kind.”
Yet if Harry was the creative genius, Billy seemed to pride himself on serving as his more practical foil.
“I’ve spent a considerable amount of time institutionalizing our business,” he told Men’s Vogue.
“I always thought he brought some stability to Harry’s wildness,” said a real estate executive who asked to remain anonymous so as not to endanger his relationship with the father and son.
Billy Macklowe also focused his energies on leasing and became a respected negotiator and dealmaker. Thomas Fuerth, an attorney who represented a Christian Scientist church in negotiations with Mr. Macklowe over the redevelopment of 340 Madison Avenue, remembers him as “very knowledgeable.”
“He’s a good negotiator,” Mr. Fuerth said. “Sophisticated, understood the issues. I found it very enjoyable dealing with Billy.”
Mitchell Konsker, a broker at Cushman & Wakefield who has helped Mr. Macklowe lease 140 East 45th Street and 340 Madison Avenue, among others, has been similarly impressed. “He is a dealmaker,” Mr. Konsker said. “He makes the tenant feel at home. He gives the level of service you would expect from a first-class property. He treats the brokerage community fairly, but he is a very tough negotiator.”
Nevertheless, there is an impressive amount of grousing about Mr. Macklowe in the clubby world of Big Real Estate, all of it off the record, lest brokers damage their standing with a family still regarded as powerful. If they’re to be believed, Mr. Macklowe has the unfortunate habit of talking down to those he considers beneath him.
“Billy Macklowe is a guy who woke up on third base and thinks he hit a triple,” said one broker.
“He started on third base and he thinks he hit a home run,” said another broker separately.
Said a third, “He was always a very arrogant young guy.”
“He was really mean to people when they were on the top of the world, and unfortunately that’s what people are remembering right now,” said yet another leasing broker. “But at the end of the day, he’s a really talented guy with a high aesthetic. He’s got great taste.”
When asked about his reputation for meanness, Mr. Macklowe said, “I’ve never heard that.”
So tell me about cooking.
I don’t know. I’m just trying to get you to open up a little bit. You’re so tightly coiled.
No, I’m not tightly coiled at all. So much has been written about the past and all that, it’s just not an area that I really wish to comment on.