The chairman of Silverstein Properties, a privately held full-service real estate firm that redeveloped the World Trade Center.
Silverstein grew up in a Brooklyn walkup to a father who was a real estate broker leasing manufacturing space in Soho. Silverstein started working with him while he was still a student at New York University.
“It became obvious with time that the best thing to do was to become an owner as opposed to a broker—because the owners were making the money,” Silverstein told Commercial Observer in 2016. “The brokers weren’t.”
Silverstein picked up a derelict building at 220 East 23rd Street for $600,000 in 1957 and fixed it up, according to Crain’s.
When the first project was successful, “We acquired a second one, and a third one, a fourth. As time went on the buildings got bigger—and suddenly we found the banks were calling us. … It was just a matter of time until we gravitated into [constructing] the entire building from the base to the top.”
Silverstein started acquiring land on the Far West Side, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where Silver Towers now stands; he picked up properties along Fifth Avenue; and, in 1987, he finished construction on a 47-story tower named 7 World Trade Center.
Silverstein acquired a 99-year lease on the original Twin Towers in early 2001 for $3.2 billion. Only six weeks after Silverstein Properties took title to the 10 million-square-foot World Trade Center, Al Qaeda terrorists destroyed the towers, killing more than 2,600 people in the worst foreign attack on the U.S. in its history.
“I got lucky—my life was spared,” Silverstein told CO. “The lives of my children, too, who were on their way to the temporary offices we had in the North Tower. Fifteen minutes later, they would have been there.” This stroke of incredibly good fortune has been used against Silverstein ever since in the conspiracy-addled corners of cyberspace as proof that he somehow knew about the plot.
Since the World Trade Center attacks, Silverstein has devoted himself to rebuilding downtown Manhattan, putting up 7 World Trade Center, 4 World Trade Center, 3 World Trade Center, a Robert A.M. Stern-designed Four Seasons hotel and condominium, where Silverstein and his wife Klara currently live, a raised park and a planned performing arts space.
Two of Silverstein’s three children followed him into real estate.