Developer Douglas Durst would support a ‘living wage’ bill with an exemption for retail tenants

Douglas Durst downtown. (Douglas Durst via Facebook.)
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Douglas Durst, a prominent landlord whose family firm, the Durst Organization, developed the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park and is in the process of developing 1 World Trade Center, said he would not oppose the much-debated "living wage" legislation now under consideration in the City Council, if it included exemptions for retail tenants.

"We don’t have an issue with landlords paying, but when you make the tenants do something, you’re making the project not feasible," said Durst during a phone interview on Thursday afternoon.

When asked if he would support the legislation if it excluded retail tenants from its wage requirements, he responded, "I wouldn’t oppose it."

He later added, "I suppose by not opposing it, we’re supporting it."

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The legislation in question would require some recipients of city economic development subsidies to pay their employees at least $10 an hour with health benefits, or $11.50 an hour without. The bill would also require the retail tenants in developments subsidized with city money to pay living wage.

The bill appears to have the support of a majority of the City Council, but Council speaker Christine Quinn has declined to allow the legislative body to vote on it.

During a four-hour hearing on the issue in November, Quinn indicated that she would be open to the legislation if it included exceptions like the ones described by Durst.

The legislation is opposed by the Bloomberg administration and by many business leaders, and Quinn, who wants to run for mayor in 2013, has allied herself with both in recent years.

Los Angeles implemented living wage legislation in 2003 that had exemptions for some retail tenants, and it is generally regarded as a success.

Durst, whose family owns an organic farm upstate and who dressed as a tree for Halloween, is somewhat more liberal, as a rule, than the average New York developer.

"The people who we employ do not rely on food stamps," he told me, meaningfully.

In the unlikely event that Quinn decides to move forward with the current version of the legislation, the rest of the business community is likely, in Durst's words, to react "very negatively."