Frederick S. Harris — Fred to those who know him — is as synonymous with real estate as the Empire State Building.
From his early days in the 80’s as an Associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to his time at the MTA, AvalonBay, NYCHA and now Jonathan Rose Companies, Harris has been a staple in one of the tristate area’s most dynamic industries.
Harris, who is the Managing Director of Development at Jonathan Rose Companies, the leading national “green” real estate development and investment management firm, has brought a tremendous knowledge base and vast experience to the thriving company in order to lead the expansion of the firm’s development portfolio.
The role has been enormously satisfying for Harris, who has had a storied career in the real estate industry.
If you ask Harris for a defining moment in his career in the real estate industry, he will tell you the “spark” was ignited in his first job after law school as a Project Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC was seeking to force New York City and State, through litigation, public advocacy and negotiation, to improve public transportation in order to comply with their obligations under the Clean Air Act.
NRDC pursued numerous strategies and Harris became fascinated by Citibank’s attempts to assemble the properties (now 599 Lexington) to the south of its iconic headquarters. He was intrigued by the possibility of involving a public agency to acquire the sites, by eminent domain if necessary, so that what are now the 53rd Street E and M lines to Queens could be connected to the Lexington Avenue “6” line through the basement of the building. Citi ultimately acquired the properties on its own, and the subway connection made as a zoning bonus years later, but in the process of meeting with Citi’s real estate executives and attorneys and representatives of the MTA and other public agencies, the real estate bug was firmly implanted.
Four years later, after a stint as a real estate attorney at Paul Weiss, Harris joined the legal department of the MTA to oversee Real Estate and Financing and then moved on to Director of Real Estate for the agency. The MTA was an active seller, buyer and developer of property during that time, including the sale of the East Side Airlines Terminal, the development of a new Headquarters building for the Transit Authority and the assemblage of the MTA’s block front on Madison Avenue, to name a few.
Twenty-five years ago, Harris returned to the private sector as Vice President of the Trotwood Corporation, a subsidiary of Mellon Bank. The role was an important segue for Harris, as it is where he earned his apartment development stripes through his work on Citylights.
Trotwood was managing partner for the project, a 522-unit apartment complex in Queens that was recognized for excellence by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
After Trotwood, Harris led development for AvalonBay’s New York City office from 1998 until 2012. His responsibilities included high density developments in Westchester and New York City, as well as developments on Long Island. Over 7,400 apartments were completed or commenced construction during his tenure and over 1,000 were in the pipeline at his retirement.
Notable achievements included the mixed-use, mixed income development of four buildings on previously City-owned land at Bowery and Houston, 1,000 apartments in two towers at Queens West, 1,000 apartments in a transit-oriented development adjacent to the New Rochelle train station.
He left his brief retirement to return to the public sector as the EVP for Real Estate Development at the NYC Housing Authority. There he oversaw the development of hundreds of affordable apartments on excess NYCHA land, and sought proposals for income-generating mixed income developments that could address the multi-billion-dollar need for capital investment in the Authority’s existing buildings.
“From the beginning of my career in development, I have always been proudest of those projects that married a compelling private development opportunity with improvements to the public realm, whether by restoring a community garden or park, constructing a new school or community center, adding a transportation improvement or cleaning up a historically contaminated site,” he recalls. “Today, I look forward to continuing this passion at Jonathan Rose Companies, where my belief that housing and development done well is what makes a city great is one of the firm’s core values.”
Harris has already made great strides at Jonathan Rose Companies in his first months by contributing his expertise on projects as varied as Third and Valley, a transit-oriented, mixed-income residential development in South Orange, that opened to the public in August and Ceasura, a mixed use development in Brooklyn combining market rate and affordable housing with spaces for not-for-profit cultural institutions and retail.
As he recently noted, “I enjoy working on development that incorporates affordable housing as it serves one of society’s most pressing needs and they are always challenging, with difficult and complex financing structures, and unconventional sites. I specialize in making the most challenging projects work.”
Harris, a 1973 graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, began his career at the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA). While working at the NYCTA, he realized his penchant for transforming infrastructure and he obtained a Master of Science in Transportation Planning and Engineering from Polytechnic University while maintaining a full-time workload. He followed that degree with a Juris Doctor from New York University School of Law.
In addition to his development and legal work, Harris taught at the Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation as an Adjunct Professor. He thoroughly enjoyed teaching an elective course titled, “Using Deal Structuring to Facilitate Complex Transactions.” He gave the students a specific insider’s look at legal, commercial and financial structures that apportion responsibility, risk and reward.
His past contributions, and continued work with Jonathan Rose Companies on projects throughout New York, New Jersey and around the country, will result in increased affordable housing opportunities for residents who will experience healthier living conditions, more opportunity and a better quality of life.