Real estate developers are reticent types. Publicity hounds they are not. That role seems more suited to the reliable community antagonists who reflexively look askance at developers, as if the concrete notion of physical infrastructure assaults their abstract notion of civic purity.
The developer detractors write letters to the editor. They pounce at the podium during town board meetings to lecture elected officials. They accentuate, if not fabricate, the negative. Why? You’d have to ask them why, in their world, a profession that is a cornerstone of civilization is pejoratively treated more like the world’s oldest profession.
Maybe it’s that loyal opposition that Martin Ginsburg, founder and principal of Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC), had in mind when he began his remarks at a recent joint meeting of the Peekskill Rotary and Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, at Cortlandt Colonial Restaurant in Cortlandt Manor.
Since it’s rare, in my experience, for developers to talk freely with reporters—let alone be the featured speaker in a public forum of 100 persons—I jumped at the chance to take copious notes, with the aid of my phone’s recording app.
In tones soft-spoken and genteel, the elegant Mr. Ginsburg led off by making it clear that he and other developers he knows should not be lumped in with a certain someone who might be thought of as the developer-in-chief.
Strictly in business terms, not political, Mr. Ginsburg explained, “We operate in an entirely different way. We have completed every project we ever started, we have never gone through bankruptcies, we pay our bills.”
Mr. Ginsburg further proudly proclaimed that he is first and foremost an architect. He was perfectly content plying his trade in New York City after college, when he was recruited by brother Jerome to join him in starting the company. At that point, not unlike that other developer of note, they, too, were the beneficiaries of a loan from their father—totaling $6,000.
As fledgling developers, the brothers made their bones by taking on what Mr. Ginsburg called “the most difficult, rotten, hilly sites.” In that way, “we were able to acquire properties no other developer would build, for a very reasonable price.”
He is not deterred by the occasional project that is a money-loser, which he accepts as an occupational hazard. “My focus is never on the money,” he says. “It’s always on the vision for what’s the best possible project to create in that area.”
He evangelizes the importance of river towns along the Hudson, where he has built 11 waterfront properties, including Riverbend in Peekskill, Harbor Square in Ossining, Hudson Pointe in Poughkeepsie, and Harbors at Haverstraw. Also in Peekskill, GDC operates Chapel Hill and the new Fort Hill Apartments overlooking the Hudson, which includes a luxury inn with spa and restaurant.
“The Hudson River has to become a major asset” for river towns, he emphasizes, citing that waterway as the singular catalyst that “made New York City the commercial capital of the country” when the Erie Canal opened in the early 19th Century. “It made New York the Empire State. It made all the communities on the river focused on industry, and the river was like their backdoor. For Hudson River town and cities trying to come back, they have to realize the river has to become a front door. Tourism is a very clean, attractive industry.”
He’s not lacking for ideas or enterprise on how to help the river towns capitalize on tourism. About a decade ago, Ginsburg Development started a ferry route across the Hudson connecting Westchester and Rockland counties. “We’d like to expand that circuit from Ossining to Haverstraw to Peekskill, and have events on the weekend,” he said. “I’m doing this as a developer, but it really is government that should have some creativity and promote it.”
He said the Hudson is the “only major river in the world that does not have river cruise ships. The cities and towns haven’t focused on making that important.”
There were plans not long ago, he revealed, for river cruise ships to run a course between New York City and Albany, stopping at 10 ports on the Hudson. It had $11 million behind it through maritime loans. Then 9/11 came. The project was no longer a priority, and it’s never been revitalized in the nearly two decades since.
According to Mr. Ginsburg, that kind of tourism development “should be a state sponsorship. For those things to be done, there have to be advocates pushing for it.” He envisions nature trails dotting each of the Hudson River ports where the ships would stop, while the art lover in him favors installing sculptures within natural settings, as he already has done on his properties, creating gateways for hikers and other visitors to our Hudson Valley shores.
As much as Martin Ginsburg calls on the participation of government to join with the private sector in tapping into the huge potential for Hudson Valley tourism, he doesn’t mince words criticizing government for its obstructionist ways in dealing with developers like him, who are key influencers in a municipality’s quality of life and economic enrichment.
Mr. Ginsburg ended his incisive, forward-looking remarks with withering words for garden-variety bureaucrats who seem bent on impeding progress when they should be expediting it. His parting shots are well worth sharing here…
“When I started in this business, the entire climate was so much more receptive to development. Now, government is always trying to ‘protect’ us. They’re protecting us into oblivion. There’s a whole business of people they call planners, who are really processers. Did you ever see what an environmental impact statement looks like? When you go through it, you find almost nothing of substance. They don’t go to the heart of what’s going to make [the development] a special place. It’s all about finding obstructions about why you can’t do anything. There are so many [obstructions], and once they are in these documents, it becomes ‘the bible.’ And you can’t question them, because it’s in ‘the bible.’ I don ‘t know why government doesn’t go back and say, ‘We passed these laws. Now let’s see what works and what doesn’t?’ They never do that. And you end up stuck with so many things that are so blatantly stupid.”
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.