Douglas Durst: Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership Recipient

It’s not often a developer can affect the lexicon, but this year Douglas Durst and the Durst Organization have helped do just that.

For the past 10 years, the giant hole next to West Street has been referred to as Ground Zero, a bitter reminder of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

douglas 0011 Douglas Durst: Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership Recipient

Douglas Durst. (Illustration by Joao Maio Pinto)

But soon after the Durst Organization partnered with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the glass-and-steel structure designed by Daniel Libeskind began to grow, that started to change. In a speech made just days prior to the 10-year anniversary of the tragic day, Mayor Bloomberg called on New Yorkers to stop using the moniker.

“The time has come for us to call those 16 acres what they are: The World Trade Center and the National September 11th Memorial and Museum,” the mayor admonished.

The building has now risen 90 floors, with 14 left to build.

“Last year we had a very successful year with the World Trade Center and we hope to continue that in the new year. This year we hope to top off the building and get it closed,” Mr. Bloomberg continued. He said the building is more than 50 percent leased.

With that project headed for completion and many others under his belt, Mr. Durst, a 40-year member of the Real Estate Board of New York, is the obvious pick to be this year’s honoree for the coveted “Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership in Real Estate” award.

Mr. Mendik, who died in 2001, was a strong and successful advocate during his tenure as the head of REBNY. Through his lobbying, he was able to successfully repeal taxes and city regulations on landlords.

“It’s a great honor,” Mr. Durst said of the award. “Bernard Mendik was a close friend of mine and a mentor in business.”

A third-generation developer in the city, Mr. Durst is a fixture in Manhattan real estate.

“When I am in Florida during shark season I can swim in the ocean because, as a New York City real estate developer, I get a professional courtesy,” he joked.

The Dursts, of course, are one of the pre-eminent real estate families in the city. His great grandfather

Joseph Durst bought his first property in 1915 on 34th Street. The Durst Organization continued to grow as it acquired more buildings in Midtown. Seymour Durst, Mr. Durst’s father, took over the company in 1974 and continued to expand, buying properties in Times Square and developing office buildings on Third and Sixth avenues.

In 1966, fresh out of the University of California, Berkeley, Douglas Durst joined the company. He teased that if he hadn’t gone into real estate he would have ended up in a radically different field. “I minored in civil disobedience at Berkeley so I would be a Wall Street Occupier,” he said.

But joking aside, that Berkeley sensibility has helped change the way New York builds. Mr. Durst has been a leader in creating more environmentally friendly buildings. In 2004, the Durst Organization replaced all the windows in its 30-story building at 655 Third Avenue with double-glazed windows that deflect glare and heat, reducing energy consumption.

The Bank of America building at 1 Bryant Park, completed in 2009, is widely regarded as one of the most environmentally friendly skyscrapers in the world. The building has advanced air-filtration systems for air coming in and out of the building. Rainwater is collected and filtered for use. The elevator system is designed to reduce riderless trips. There is a co-generation plant in the building that provides most of its electricity, and the urinals are waterless.

All of the advances, pushed by Mr. Durst, earned a LEED platinum rating for the building by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Mr. Durst said that the company is committed to continuing to build greener buildings. “In 2012, we’re going to be starting two new residential buildings, which for environmental standards surpass anything that has been done before,” Mr. Durst said. He said that new greener materials and mechanical systems will put the structures far ahead of any government requirements.

Mr. Durst’s commitment to the environment extends outside the city as well. In 1987, he purchased the McEnroe Farm in Millerton, N.Y., one of the largest state-certified all-organic produce and beef farms in the country. “The farm continues to grow,” Mr. Durst said. “We expanded it an additional 500 acres [for grazing] and expanded our meat department.”

In the coming year, the New York construction scion said he hopes to expand ridership on the New York Water Taxi.

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