Q & A with Hirschfeld Properties CEO Elie Hirschfeld
March 04, 2010 03:15PM By Sarabeth Sanders
Elie Hirschfeld is the president and CEO of Hirschfeld Properties, where he worked with his late father, parking garage titan Abraham Hirschfeld, for more than 20 years. A triathlete and an avid theatergoer (he’s been a voter in the Tony Awards every year since 1996), Elie Hirschfeld and his company were behind such projects as New York’s first open-air garage, the Hotel Pennsylvania and the Manhattan Mall. This week, The Real Deal talked to the developer, who is reportedly worth more than half a billion dollars (he wouldn’t comment on his wealth), about his portfolio, the Hamptons home he’s selling, the shocking scandal that rocked his family, and the Hirschfeld legacy.
What’s your birth date?
Christmas, 1949. It’s the best. I feel like the whole world is celebrating with me.
Where do you live?
I have a home in Kings Point, on Long Island. I just did a significant renovation, now complete, of an old Tudor-style home on an acre and a half. It was about a three-year effort. It’s nine bedrooms, and regrettably, 11 bathrooms and an outdoor shower. I know — it’s too many [bathrooms].
Do you personally own other properties in the city?
I had a home in Manhattan at 1067 Fifth Avenue — I still own that home. It’s a co-op. I’m separated from my wife, [Susan Hirschfeld], and she still lives there.
How many children do you have?
I have five: Daniella is 29 and lives in Boston; David is 26 and lives in Las Vegas; Benjamin is 12; Jonathan is 11 and Matthew is 10.
Do you have a comment on the ongoing lawsuit with your wife over child support?
How has your East Hampton home on Lily Pond Lane been doing on the market since it came online in November?
I’m halfhearted about the sale. I love the home. Sometimes I am hoping it reaches my price and sometimes I hope it doesn’t. It’s still listed for $25 million. I’ve received offers close, but not close enough.
Has you business strategy changed since the downturn?
We’re looking at assets in the [New York City] metro area and at various locations in the city. There’s nothing to announce, exactly, right now, but we are seeking to make acquisitions… and we’ve made some purchases, in fact.
Are you working on any new projects right now?
I’m doing a small renovation of 218 East 79th Street. It’ll be a luxury rental in a two-family townhouse — one duplex, one triplex. We’re working with Linda Gottlieb at Prudential Douglas Elliman on pricing right now. We acquired it three years ago and had in mind to develop a high-rise there but we put that on hold. The market is difficult for that right now. I can preserve the property this way and hold it for a 10- to 12-year term. Maybe we’ll end up acquiring more property around it.
What do you think will happen with building prices this year?
My sense is that there’s a slow-but-steady, moderate improvement happening. I don’t know that [we've hit bottom] for sure. There could be some tendency to slip along the way.
Tiger Woods’ alleged fourth mistress, Jamie Jungers, checked out an apartment at your Zeckendorf Towers late last year. Did she end up signing a lease?
We typically don’t comment on tenant activities.
What do you think of Vornado Realty Trust’s plans to demolish the Hotel Pennsylvania, which you sold to the company in 2000, and build a new skyscraper on the site?
I have mixed emotions about that. The old hotel is a fantastically important landmark to New York City. It’s hard for us to appreciate today that it was once one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, but it was when it was built in 1919. It has a great deal of history. On the other hand, the new plan is also quite remarkable.
You’re quite the athlete. What’s your training schedule like?
In the winter, I bike indoors or swim. Running — I just go out on the roads. Last month, I did an Ironman, which is a very long triathlon, in Israel, so I was training 15 to 20 hours a week. Now, I’m relaxing a bit, so I’m training, let’s say, half. But I’ll build up soon because I’m going to be doing a half-Ironman in June with my daughter [Daniella], and I signed up to do the Paris Triathlon in July. I’ve done 75-plus triathlons in my lifetime, and of course many marathons.
Have you ever won?
On June 10, 2006 at the Montauk Triathlon, I came in first in my age group — over 55.
How did you get to be a Tony Awards voter?
You can get nominated from a certain amount of involvement with the theater community. I’ve made some investments in the theater. I probably see 25 shows a year.
“A View from the Bridge” was excellent. “Memphis” — I thought it was just wonderful.
What did you learn about the real estate business from your father, Abe Hirschfeld?
I think a made a very smart decision in my life to find a very smart partner. Dad worked on sort of, all-instinct. He couldn’t sometimes even explain why he made decisions to me, he just made them. I value that sense of instinctively knowing what to do, but I’m different. I take more time, which is not always better at all. I work sometimes at being more instinctive in my decision-making. And then I try to overcome some of the weaknesses. Sometimes he might’ve been brusque with people.
In 2000, your father was sent to prison for 22 months for plotting to kill his business partner, Stanley Stahl. What was that episode like for you?
It was a very hard period for me. I suffered while I saw him suffering. I felt very hurt, embarrassed, lonely through that period. I wasn’t investigated but I feared that I might be. I’ve struggled to try to rebuild relationships with people who didn’t know whether I misbehaved, and fortunately, I’ve been found not to have misbehaved in any respect.
Tags: 1067 fifth avenue 218 east 79th street Hotel Pennsylvania a view from the bridge abraham hirschfeld broadway elie hirschfeld hirschfeld properties ironman jamie jungers linda gottlieb manhattan mall memphis montauk triathlon paris triathlon prudential douglas elliman stanley stahl susan hirschfeld tiger woods tony awards vornado realty trust