Founder and Chairman at Extell Development Company
Last year's rank: 43
Gary Barnett is a self-described “crazy developer,” but it’s the kind of crazy most developers can only hope to be.
Years ago Barnett made what turned out to be one of the shrewdest bets in the history of New York real estate with One57, deciding to move full steam ahead midway through the Great Recession with a tremendously pricey project. It seemed the height of folly to think that a brand-new luxury condominium would command top-dollar prices. But Barnett held firm, essentially anointing the 57th Street strip as Billionaires’ Row, and minted hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Ever since he seemed to be reproducing the formula — that is, until the luxury market peaked in the mid-teens. Then COVID threw a wrench into everything.
But Barnett had one heck of a comeback this year. After the vaccines, the residential market turned a corner, freeing Extell to pay down its debt and turn to new projects, because why slow down?
“Almost to the day when Pfizer announced the vaccine, we started getting calls,” Barnett said. “People felt that was the bottom.”
Inventory began to move in Extell’s many condominium projects, including Brooklyn Point, One Manhattan Square and its trophy, the 90-story Central Park Tower. The Billionaires’ Row tower was supposed to be the most expensive residential building in New York with a projected $4 billion sellout when it was approved in 2016. “There’s no chance in the world that we’re hitting $4 billion in sales,” Barnett said, none too perturbed.
Pricing isn’t returning to the 2016 heyday anytime soon, but it’s definitely picking up. That said, the tower will cost about $3 billion in total after financing, construction and marketing costs. “Hopefully there will be something at the end,” Barnett joked (we think). “Hopefully it will turn out to be not only the most beautiful and prestigious building, but also a financial success.”
That question mark doesn’t seem to be slowing Barnett down. In addition to progress in its condo empire, Extell opened the Hard Rock Hotel in Times Square, and got final approval for an Upper West Side tower after a contentious and protracted battle.
On top of all that, Extell has moved on to new projects. Most notably, it acquired Disney’s Upper West Side headquarters for $930 million, nabbing $900 million in financing to close the deal. Since Disney will be moving to Hudson Square within the next several years, Barnett essentially snagged a development site in a prime Manhattan neighborhood.
Finally, Extell has completed its assemblage on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th street, which spans almost an entire block, and where Barnett plans to build an office tower.
“The motto of the developer is, survive the bad times and make money in the good times,” Barnett said.