Douglas Durst Discusses Current Projects and Sustainable Development in the City

Douglas Durst

Douglas Durst, Chairman of The Durst Organization, originally planned to join the U.S. Foreign Service as a career path. Today, Durst is charged with leading one of New York City’s most respected real estate development companies. He represents the third generation of the Durst family to chair the company that was founded by his grandfather in 1915.

Born in New York City, Durst graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1966 with a degree in economics. He returned to the City to study at New York University’s Graduate School of Public Administration. Durst eventually joined the family business in 1970, and he became president in 1990. Durst’s first major project as president was the Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square, a major component of the redevelopment of Times Square and the nation’s first large-scale office building to incorporate green building principles.

In July 2010, Durst stepped down as co-president, a position he shared with his cousin, Jonathan “Jody” Durst, to assume the role of company chairman. Although not as active in the day-to-day operations of the company, Durst explains that he has been more involved with their One World Trade Center project than he anticipated.

One World Trade Center. Since completing the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in Midtown, The Durst Organization has been busy working on the One World Trade Center project. The skyscraper will reach a symbolic 1,776 feet making it the country’s tallest building. The Durst Organization entered into a joint venture with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after winning a bidding contest against Related Companies. The company paid $100 million for an expected 10 percent equity position in the building and will have exclusive responsibility for leasing and management of the building.

Although the company has worked in partnership with the City’s Economic Development Corporation, Durst believes that government agencies are not wellequipped to develop commercial buildings. He explains that successful developments require the ability to change direction and make decisions quickly, “two things government is not nimble at.” Durst, however, states that private-public partnerships work well when a developer’s expertise is brought to bear, as with One World Trade Center.

Sustainability as a mark of quality. According to Durst, “if you’re not building a green building, you’re building an obsolete building.” As an early proponent of the green building movement, Durst says that the company’s focus on sustainability began in the early 1990s when he and his cousin assumed greater responsibility and sought to increase the energy efficiency of the company’s building portfolio. Durst says it was the “right thing to do” from an economic, social, and moral standpoint.

Durst explains that when the company built 4 Times Square he hoped it would create a model for future development. “Of course, nobody paid us any attention at the time,” says Durst. But he notes that around 2000, a change in development patterns marked a tipping point for the industry’s awareness of green building. Durst says energy efficient buildings now are sought after by major commercial tenants, demonstrating that sustainability has become a desirable mark of quality.

Durst does not believe that incentives are necessary to promote green building. Energy efficient buildings generally require higher initial outlays, but Durst says that investing additional funds should be expected when developing a first-class green building. According to Durst, the benefits of building green — including lower energy costs and more productive employees — have an enormous impact on the bottom line and should justify the higher cost without the use of incentives. Durst believes, however, that the government can play an important role by providing training and technical information related to green building in order to make the process more accessible.

Discussing sustainability on a broader scale, Durst believes that a comprehensive transportation plan is necessary to support continued development in the City. Durst commends the City’s promotion of bicycling, but says a larger approach is necessary and the City should consider other transportation solutions. In particular, Durst believes waterborne transportation should be an important part of any comprehensive plan. As owner of the New York Water Taxi, Durst also notes the need for transportation to link the waterfront to the City’s interior. One idea proffered by Durst was to have the pedicabs concentrated in Midtown provide transportation from the ferry terminals to the City’s central districts.

A lasting legacy. The impact of the Durst Organization on the City is apparent with 4 Times Square and One Bryant Park piercing the skyline. But the company’s crowning achievement may be less tangible. Durst concedes that large-scale green development was inevitable, but he points out that his company was the first to demonstrate its feasibility, serving as a catalyst for the new industry standard. — Eugene Travers

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