09 Oct 2015
Balancing Progress and Preservation
Lloyd Zuckerberg brings business savvy and a keen eye to his dual roles as an investor and steward of New York’s architectural heritageRe: Danny Biederman (MBA 1977)by Deborah BlaggTopics:
Photo by Chris Taggart
Lloyd Zuckerberg (MBA 1990) attributes his love of architecture to weekend outings with his father.
“I grew up in Nassau County, Long Island, where there was a master craftsman named José Allegue who built distinctive single-family houses,” he explains. “On Sundays, my dad and I always went to the local bakery. On our way home, he’d point out the copper gutters, slate roofs, and other architectural details that identified ‘an Allegue house.’ That’s really what trained my eye and triggered my enthusiasm for the built environment.”
Just one week after graduating from HBS, Zuckerberg was thrilled to find himself working on the revitalization of some very high-profile pieces of Manhattan’s built environment with Dan Biederman (MBA 1977), a pioneer in creating public-private urban redevelopment projects.
“Working with Dan at Grand Central Partnership, Bryant Park, and helping to create 34th Street Partnership was an amazing way to start a career,” says Zuckerberg, whose job included facilitating interactions with city agencies. “Dan is a dynamo. Nothing’s impossible to him. His leadership made us feel as if there was nothing wrong with New York City that we couldn’t fix.”
Zuckerberg went on to serve as deputy project manager for the $200 million renovation of Grand Central Terminal as a vice president with LaSalle Partners from 1994 to 1996. In 2012, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art recognized his work on that project and his overall support of the Classical tradition in architecture when it gave him its Stanford White Award.
In his current role of directing real estate investments for his family’s Samson Investment Partners, Zuckerberg works to stay grounded in the sky’s-the-limit world of New York real estate.
“I try to invest in projects that satisfy more than just financial gain,” he stresses.
Some of his most successful deals have involved conservation easements that minimize investment risk while creating economic value from parcels that merit conservation. He has worked extensively on land preservation issues on Long Island and elsewhere in New York, and is founder and past chairman of the Nassau Land Trust and a former board member of the Peconic Land Trust.
Zuckerberg says he thinks of his career as taking place within a triangle defined by social, business, and philanthropic activities. “The most successful New Yorkers navigate within that triangle several times a day,” he observes. That frequency might be even higher for Zuckerberg, whose philanthropic interests include the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
Founded in 1973, the Conservancy is one of the country’s largest preservation organizations, administering grants and providing technical assistance to preservation efforts across the state, and dedicating more than $40 million to hundreds of restoration projects. Among other initiatives, its public campaigns have helped stabilize the south side of Ellis Island, gain landmark status for the great public rooms of The Plaza hotel, and push back a plan that threatened historic buildings around Grand Central Terminal.
“In terms of size and scope, we’re the premier preservation organization in New York,” says Zuckerberg, who has been chair of the nonprofit’s board since 2013.
He is particularly proud of the group’s Sacred Sites Program, which helps New York’s churches and synagogues renovate interiors, replace roofs, and restore stained glass windows. “It’s the only nonprofit in the nation that tries to meet the needs of historic religious properties on a statewide basis,” he explains.
When asked about conflicts that would seem inevitable for someone who divides much of his time between real estate investment and landmark preservation, Zuckerberg counters, “The Conservancy sees itself as the voice of reason. We’re not anti-development; we’re pro-preservation.”
Elaborating, he says, “We don’t believe that development should stop, but we also don’t believe that the city is a vast template where the real estate community should exercise its greatest fantasies at the expense of our architectural heritage.”
To illustrate, Zuckerberg notes his refusal to side with the backers of a recently approved proposal to build an “abstract, modern glass tower” on a block adjacent to Grand Central Terminal. “The existing buildings in that area were designed to complement Grand Central,” he says. “The new development doesn’t. It’s all about ‘look at me.’ It may be a great project for the developers, but it’s not right for the neighborhood.”
Adds Zuckerberg, “I don’t think you should put your values aside when you decide how you’re going to make money.”
On the other hand, Zuckerberg disagreed with a community group that opposed the design for a former Christian Science church that was being repurposed for housing.
“The plan added a significant number of windows on the façade that faced Central Park West,” he relates. “In my view, it was a respectful attempt to give a beautiful historic structure a useful second life, but the community board made them modify it considerably. I’m all for preserving landmarks, but when a developer is clearly trying to do the right thing, you need to be willing to say ‘yes, okay.’”
While acknowledging that change is inevitable, and even appropriate, in a dynamic international city such as New York, Zuckerberg qualifies that statement when he talks about the Empire State Building, which tops his list of favorite Manhattan landmarks. “It was built at the beginning of the Depression,” he notes. “For some time after it opened, it was pretty much empty. But it made people believe there was hope for the future.
“We still need that inspiration today,” he continues. “You drive in over the hump of the Long Island Expressway approaching the Midtown Tunnel, and it’s just like, man, there it is! I’ve seen it thousands of times, but day or night, it’s always fantastic. I wish I could freeze that view for all time.”
Class of MBA 1990, Section H