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Real Estate Giants Pay Tribute To Industry Legend John Zuccotti

New York

Knowledgeable, confident and willing to put the best interests of New York City’s public sector first—that’s how friends and colleagues describe real estate giant John E. Zuccotti.

Known for his efforts to revive lower Manhattan after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Zuccotti passed away last year on Nov. 19 at the age of 78. The industry will pay tribute to John at REBNY’s annual banquet—the biggest commercial real estate event of the year—on Jan. 21.

“In the various capacities that John Zuccotti tirelessly served this city, he always left an indelible, positive imprint,” REBNY president John Banks told us.

Born in Manhattan on June 23, 1937, John Zuccotti was a graduate of Princeton University and Yale University Law School. He also served as an officer in the US Army.

In the early ‘70s, he did a stint as chair of the New York City Planning Commission. As first deputy mayor under Abe Beame, he played a key role in saving the city from collapse during the fiscal crisis. Before jumping into commercial real estate, he was a partner at two law firms—Tufo & Zuccotti and Brown & Wood.

Daniel Brodsky, managing partner at the Brodsky Organization, met John in 1981. “I was involved with the rezoning of Columbus Avenue and 67th Street, and John was doing legal work for us,” says Daniel, an honoree at the REBNY banquet.

He always made eye contact when he spoke to you and conveyed great confidence in what he was doing. We immediately got along and we continued to use his firm as long as he was there.”

In the early to mid-‘90s, John was president and CEO of Olympia & York Cos, which developed what’s now Brookfield Place. At the time of his death, he was chair of global operations at Brookfield Asset Management and of counsel at the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

John spent decades on REBNY’s Executive Committee, including time as its chairman.

“Many people on the committee would go off on self-serving tangents,” Daniel says. “John would always guide everyone back on track. He had solid knowledge of how the city worked and the role that real estate and development played.”

In the wake of 9/11, John fought to revitalize lower Manhattan, serving as a board member of the National September 11th Memorial and Museum and director of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

Alan Wiener, group head of Wells Fargo Multifamily Capital, says John exercised “great judgment and insight” during the city’s fiscal crisis and throughout his career, leading people to continuously seek his advice.

“After 9/11 he was extremely instrumental in rallying the troops,” says Alan. “He worked with the state, city, federal government and our senior elected officials to put together a huge relief package to get the area cleaned up and rebuilt.”

Ira Millstein, senior partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, says John was his “best friend.”

He’s known John since he worked for the city. “John was the glue that held the city together,” he says. “Everyone trusted John. He took a low-key role and was totally loyal to the mayor. Without John, things would have been very different.”

After 9/11, he says the mayor and other officials turned to John to help rebuild the area because “he knew everything about the city.”

In 2003, John received REBNY’s Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker award. Three years later, a private park damaged during the terrorist attacks was restored and renamed in John’s honor.

During his eulogy to John, Ira called his career, “legendary,” adding, “not many people have had a public park named after them.” We’ll miss the legend that was John Zuccotti, and we’ll be happy to honor him later this month.