One of the most prolific—and controversial—real estate developers in New York, Ratner is the chairman of Forest City Ratner. He's also a minority owner of the New Jersey Nets.
Ratner was born into a prominent Cleveland real estate family: His dad, a Polish Jewish immigrant named Harry, founded Forest City Enterprises in the '20s, took the company public in the '60s, and eventually turned over the company to Bruce's cousins, who now control some $9 billion in property across the country. Bruce didn't jump into the family business immediately. He attended Harvard and then Columbia Law and started off his career as a public servant, working as the city's consumer advocate and as the consumer affairs commissioner for four years under Ed Koch and teaching at NYU Law School on the side.
Ratner decided to abandon public service in the early '80s, founding a New York-based affiliate of the family business in New York, Forest City Ratner. In 1988, the company's first project, One Pierrepont Plaza, opened in a desolate stretch of Brooklyn. (It now houses tenants like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs). But Ratner made a much bigger splash a couple of years later with the MetroTech Center, a project that was considered so risky, many other developers had refused to touch it despite generous city subsidies. Ratner finished work on the 11-building, 6.4-million-square-foot complex in 1990 and has since used the same strategy-constructing office/retail developments in generally undesirable areas-on a number of occasions. In the mid-1990s, he unveiled the controversial 393,000-square-foot Atlantic Center in downtown Brooklyn; in 1999, Forest City Ratner finished work on the complex on 42nd Street that's home to a 25-screen AMC movie theater, Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and Hilton hotel. Ratner's early projects were downmarket, mall-like developments that didn't even attempt any kind of architectural distinction; in the 1980s and '90s, Forest City Ratner was savaged by critics for building some of the least aesthetically-pleasing buildings in the city, with most critics deriding his creations as urban strip malls.
For the Atlantic Center, Ratner turned to brand-name architect Frank Gehry to design a $4 billion, 16-building commercial/residential/stadium complex on the border of Prospect Heights and Park Slope, thus walking into the biggest New York City real estate firestorm in recent memory. Many Brooklyn residents were convinced the city-within-a-city would irreparably change the nature of the borough; Ratner's plan to condemn a number of buildings under the auspices of eminent domain infuriated local residents; and budget wonks were unhappy to hear of his plans to use public funds to finance the project. In 2003, Ratner agreed to pay $300 million to acquire the New Jersey Nets, part of a plan to move the team to Brooklyn to bolster the Atlantic Yards project.The drama generated noisy protests, spawned the vehemently anti-Ratner group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, and made Ratner the enemy of a long list of prominent Brooklynites (Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Lethem, Jennifer Egan, Philip Gourevitch, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss). But while the blowback slowed the pace of the project (and forced him to shave 100 feet off the tower dubbed "Miss Brooklyn"), the real monkey wrench in Ratner's scheme proved to be the slowing economy and the drying credit market. All of Ratner's grand plans aren't looking to come to fruition until 2012.
Ratner and his wife, Julie, divorced in 1999. They have two daughters: Lizzy, a 1997 Harvard grad and reporter; and Rebecca, a 1995 Princeton grad and onetime actress. In 2008, he married his longtime companion, plastic surgeon Pamela Lipkin. He lives in an Upper East Side townhouse and has a 194-acre estate in Ulster County.
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