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Bisnow Exclusive: MaryAnne Gilmartin On Pacific Park And The Future Of Modular Construction

MaryAnne Gilmartin is on the brink of her first signature moment at the helm of one of New York’s biggest development firms. The Forest City Ratner Cos CEO is also keynoting Bisnow's New York Multifamily event Feb. 10 at the InterContinental Times Square.

MaryAnn Gilmartin, speaking at an event for the Pacific Park development in Brooklyn

MaryAnne was pivotal to the development of the Renzo Piano New York Times Building. She helped spearhead the 76-story, 870-foot, Frank Gehry-designed 8 Spruce St in Lower Manhattan.

But both of those projects were finished with Bruce Ratner at the helm of FCRC. Since taking over as CEO in 2013, one project has loomed over her and her company: Atlantic Yards, now known as Pacific Park.


Pacific Park “had one of the longest beginnings ever in the history of our business,” MaryAnne says. “It was a project a lot of people thought we weren’t committed to building. Now that we have a runway, we are completely committed to building as expeditiously as the market will allow.”

In the fall, MaryAnne will cut the ribbon of 461 Dean St, the tallest modular-built high-rise in the world. The 32-story, 363-unit project was supposed to save time and money by being built off-site at a Brooklyn Navy Yard factory that FCRC now owns. But MaryAnne says the innovative idea was done in by its partner: Skanska USA, which co-owned the plant with FCRC. 

“For an industry that doesn’t innovate a terrible amount, we took on something that has all of the complications associated with a startup,” MaryAnne told Bisnow yesterday. “I still believe it’s a good idea and innovative, but we picked the wrong partnership to pursue it.”


FCRC plans to shed the plant it bought Skanska out of. But MaryAnne says that doesn’t mean she has plans to steer her company away from modular construction in the future, she just won’t have Forest City owning the plant and building it. Or Skanska USA.

“We’re not a manufacturing business,” she says. “It was always imagined that that process would be done by somebody else. We now need it to be taken on by others.”

FCRC has put out a warning that it may have to lay off the plant’s 200-plus workers, since the factory doesn’t have another project and doesn’t have a buyer. She’s entrusted Susan Hayes, who has served as the head of FC Modular since June, with lining up buyers for the factory. But the priority is getting 461 Dean ready for delivery.


Opening right on the heels of 461 Dean is 535 Carlton, a 100% affordable, 18-story, 292-unit building. Before 2016 is out, MaryAnne expects occupancy permits in both of those residences. They will be the first two openings in the 22-acre, 15-building, 6,430-unit development. Eight hundred of the 1,800 units under construction are slated to be affordable.

In Q1 2017, 550 Vanderbilt (above), the first of four condo buildings to open at Pacific Park, will be ready for its first buyers. There are already more than 100 units under contract, proof-positive that luxury in Brooklyn still has a big market, MaryAnne says. The rental units, not on the market yet, are also “besieged with interest.”


With all the attention focused on her firm’s mammoth project, anchored by the Barclays Center, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s another massive project to the north that has just as much transformative potential: Cornell Tech. FCRC is managing the entire site, which will include a residential building—developed by The Hudson Cos—The Bloomberg Center for Cornell’s academic operations and The Bridge, a tech office building with about 270k SF of glassy office space.


MaryAnne told the Wall Street Journal her motto is “If it’s easy, we’re not interested.” There’s been nothing easy about her rise, in “a true meritocracy” under Bruce. She didn’t get the memo that she’s supposed to be intimidated by walking into a room full of men.

Her counterpart in Washington, DC, Forest City Washington president Deborah Ratner Salzberg, says the two power women are in frequent contact and have a close relationship.

"I have tremendous respect for her accomplishments in New York and regularly reach out to MaryAnne and her team for advice and to collaborate on issues we are facing in DC," Deborah says. "It’s wonderful to know that MaryAnne is merely a phone call away."


Now, as one of New York City real estate’s most high-profile executives—man or woman—MaryAnne says she won’t speak on a panel about work/life balance or gender equality in the workplace if there aren’t men on that stage with her.

“I will have declared victory in my industry when I’m sitting on a panel with four other women and we’re talking about the business, not work-life balance and how hard it is for women in development,” she says.

In 2016, Pacific Park will be all business. And the woman on top of Forest City Ratner will be the one to thank.

Hear more from MaryAnne at Bisnow NYC's Multifamily Event, Feb. 10, starting at 7am at the InterContinental Times Square. Sign up now!