Eliot Spitzer’s real-estate career in exile

The Crown Building, as reflected in the Apple cube. (Nicole Marti via Flickr)
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A few weeks ago, Peter Hauspurg, the chairman of a prominent New York real estate investment firm, visited Eliot Spitzer at his utilitarian offices atop the Crown Building on Fifth Avenue.

Spitzer, as we now know, was soon going to surprise New York's political and real-estate establishments by announcing a bid for city comptroller. But during Hauspurg's visit, he wanted to talk about development sites. 

“It had to be prime, no off areas, no Brooklyn, none of that,” said Hauspurg.

Spitzer's been doing a lot of this since resigning as governor after a prostitution scandal in 2008, at which point he sought refuge from his political misfortunes in his father’s real estate company. Spitzer had remained in the public eye since then, somewhat, hosting and appearing on talk shows on NY1, CNN and, for a bit, Current TV.

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But behind the scenes, despite his admitted displeasure at life in the private sector, he was spending significant amounts of his time and (famously boundless) energy on real estate, immersing himself in the industry he'd previously worked so hard, as a prosecutor and then as an elected official, to make a name for himself away from. 

While his former political colleagues judged him harshly for his personal dalliances and political shortcomings, and his erstwhile targets on Wall Street laughed at his public downfall, the ranks of real-estate executives were relatively accepting of Spitzer.

Referring to the Client 9 affair, Hauspurg said, "What our colleagues do makes that stuff look like choir-boy stuff."

In recent years, as Spitzer's father's health worsened, the former governor has taken on more responsibility than ever, pushing to grow the business.

“Eliot has been very, very active,” said Robert Knakal, the chairman of Massey Knakal real estate services. “He’s acquired some tremendous assets in Washington and he’s aggressively looking for opportunities in New York. He’s looking at development sites.”

He “clearly has taken over the portfolio,” said Hauspurg.

Jeffrey Moerdler, who has represented the family’s real estate interests for 25 years, put a more delicate spin on it: “Eliot has been extremely active in the family’s real estate business during the past several years and has taken a leadership role in several real estate transactions over the last few years, working closely with his father and the team in his father’s office.”

NEW YORK CITY IS HOME TO A LOT OF VERY SUCCESSFUL, very quiet real estate families and were it not for his son Eliot’s political ambitions, Bernard Spitzer would head one of them.

He’s not self-aggrandizing, like Aby Rosen or Donald Trump. He hasn’t built a name for himself in the halls of civic power, like Bill Rudin or Douglas Durst.

Rather, the onetime engineer made a series of very smart real estate moves that made him a magnate of indeterminate, but surely quite formidable, wealth.

“Everything he built was in prime areas,” said Moerdler. “Central Park South, Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue, 72nd Street. And he had the vision to look at and help create the area around the Queens Midtown Tunnel. He bought the old east side airline terminal site and built the Corinthian on it.”

The Spitzer family’s portfolio is located exclusively in metropolitan Washington and Manhattan and includes 985 Fifth Avenue, where Eliot Spitzer once lived; 800 Fifth Avenue, where his parents and he now live; 200 and 210 Central Park South; the Crown Building; and 220 East 72nd street; the Corinthian, and three buildings in D.C., including two purchased during Eliot’s tenure.

Among Bernard’s three children, Eliot is said to have shown the most interest in his father’s business and he’s been involved, at least tangentially, in its operations since about 1990.

According to Moerdler, that involvement has included “having regular meetings and telephone conversations and dialogue and his having input on transactions.”

Since leaving office in 2008, he has played a key role in several major real estate transactions, most recently in February, when Spitzer Enterprises bought the retail condo at 350 West Broadway in February for nearly $30 million.

He also played a pivotal role in the family’s purchase of One Bethesda Center in late 2011 for and 1615 L Street in 2009. And he negotiated the sale of the family’s garage and medical office condos at the Corinthian.

Since Eliot is Bernard's only child to have shown a real interest in the family business, it’s not unlikely that he will take control of the company more formally when his father is no longer around to run things.

It's not clear how he plans to reconcile his real estate activities with his comptroller responsibilities, should he win office.

Spitzer had no comment for this article.

“He comes with a great real estate pedigree and he’s paid attention to the business, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him emerge among the top tier of real estate names at some point,” said Hauspurg. “Of course, now he’s looking to go in another direction.”