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Melissa Burch, 37, EVP for Commercial and Residential Development, Forest City Ratner Cos

New York Multifamily

For Melissa, 2014 is off to a bang; by the second week of January, she’d been to China and back. And on quite a mission: In December, Forest City reached a definitive agreement for Chinese developer Greenland Holdings Group to make a 70% investment in the $4.9B Atlantic Yards.

The infusion of new equity has the potential to accelerate the rollout of 15 towers and underscores the fact that Atlantic Yards is in major comeback mode.

A year ago, Forest City got attention for announcing it would erect the world's tallest modular building, the 32-story B2 next to Barclays Center. Comprised of 930 modules, it will feature 363 luxury and affordable apartments.

The first floor of mods (each is approximately 14' x 30' and fitted out with oak wood floors, stainless steel appliances, and stone countertops) went into place at the end of last year. Many more are headed along the two-mile route from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where Forest City set up a factory to manufacture them. (Melissa says she'd like to attach the GoPro camera she got for Xmas to a mod and watch the procession.)


What many don't appreciate is that Forest City has thereby created a whole new business line, she says, with 120 new union construction workers and 25 full-time managers.

While the company didn't invent modular, she adds, it did crack the code for building modular high-rise, and now every architect and developer wants to see it, dreaming of new construction possibilities. These are not small buildings but rather 20 to 50 stories with 6,430 units planned, 2,250 of which will be affordable. She hopes to announce multiple groundbreakings later this year.

Melissa gravitated to real estate as the intersection of two pursuits she loved: public policy and business. A Harvard government major, it was an internship with the Furman Selz investment bank that eventually led her to launch her career on Wall Street. In college she also worked in Washington, DC, at the DNC and in high school went to the Clinton/Gore convention at MSG in '96. After college, she worked at Merrill Lynch doing IPO and M&A work for retail and e-commerce companies and picked up a Harvard MBA, where during the summer she interned at Forest City and came on board full-time afterward.

That was over 10 years ago, with her first assignment being Atlantic Yards, where she built financial models to show how the Nets NBA team could be a catalyst for the project and studied how residential towers could be built on platforms over a rail yard.

Of course there are other projects too, in neighborhoods from Upper Manhattan to Fort Greene to Roosevelt Island, where Forest City is the master developer for the Cornell Tech campus opening in 2017.

But she's not all work: The Columbus, Ohio, native is a big Buckeye football fan who runs five miles at a time exploring NYC. She recently beat the cold for a run around East Harlem then over the East River via the pedestrian bridge to check out Randall's Island.