By Al Barbarino
For a long time, Orin Wilf, founder of Skyline Developers, had his mind set on changing his family business by clearing his own path and doing things his way.
He didn’t always take the advice his father, Leonard, gave him seriously. But Wilf, 37, has been feeling a bit nostalgic lately. He has turned his lifestyle around in the last two years, losing 80 pounds, taking up boxing and Tai Chi. A yoga mat is tucked away secretly in his office.
“I try to go to the gym every morning and try to come in with a good mindset,” he said.
Today, he feels more energized than ever, things are more clear — especially the advice his dad has been giving him for years.
“Slow down,” Wilf recalled his father saying over and over. “Don’t go for the home run. It’s a lot better to hit singles and doubles than it is to hit a home run.”
The metaphor strikes a special chord, given the Wilf family connection to America’s favorite pastime. In 2000, Wilf and his father became minority owners of the New York Yankees. He coaches his sons’ baseball teams every other Spring. Wilf was a Yankee fan and played baseball about as far back as he can remember.
During his junior year in high school, his coaches were bent on typecasting him as a catcher — giving him little chance to hit, he said. So he made it his mission over the summer to become a better hitter. By his senior year, he was taking pleasure in showing the naysayers that he could smash a few balls out of the park here and there, becoming an all-state player. He went on to become a first baseman at Rider University in New Jersey and Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.
“If you put your mind and your heart and your soul into something and you’re determined to accomplish something in the right fashion, you will succeed,” Wilf said.
It’s the same persistence that he brings to his career, but it’s no longer home runs he’s looking to hit. He doesn’t buy properties one day, flipping them the next. Rather, he takes a goal-oriented, focused, day-to-day approach, often handpicking prospective acquisitions himself.
“God forbid you try to hit a home run and that home run turns into an out, you’re going to have a problem,” he said.
Every week or two, he saddles up in a pair of jeans, throws on a pair of sneakers and a hoody and ventures into the city streets, looking for hidden gems he knows would never stick out on paper.
Among the gems that Wilf has transformed into Skyline successes is 170 East End Avenue, a striking residential condo that sits opposite Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side. Skyline also brought Tiffany & Company to 37 Wall Street as the exclusive retail tenant when the company developed that building into a modern luxury rental building. Other projects include the Post Towers at 75 West Street and 194 East 2nd Street, both luxury rental buildings; and a commercial portfolio that includes 13-15 West 54th Street, 20 West 55th Street and 1040 Avenue of the Americas.
Wilf’s current baby is a 19-story classic condominium at 200 East 79th Street, where units are slated to hit the market in the fall. It took about five years to put together, with about seven or eight twists and turns along the way, as Wilf and his team figured out the ultimate blueprint.
“Not many developers have the ability to switch it around and hold on to land for very long in New York City,” he said. “Whether we build it now or we build it in ten years, we’re able to get it done.”
Wilf feels that he can rely on his staff and his cousin Jonathan Wilf — his right-hand man — more than ever. He no longer agonizes over the day-to-day particulars he once spent hours and hours fretting over because he felt he needed to do everything himself. He encourages his New York staff of five to interject their opinions when they feel something isn’t right. It’s perhaps a sign of maturity as a businessman — and by all accounts it has become a recipe for success.
“I always promise myself not to get too big for my own shoes,” Wilf said.
His shoes actually walk the same hallways as those of his residents, because he lives at 170 East End Ave. He recalled a time last week when he bumped into a resident who was testing out a new camera. Wilf was more than happy to help the young man tweak the camera settings by posing for him in different lights.
“It’s amazing how many friends I’ve made as a developer in that building,” he said with a chuckle. “I might be the only developer that actually stands (there) for the people who bought condo apartments from me and take pictures like this. I have a very good relationship with the people I do business with and sell apartments to.
“I measure success when I see residents in my buildings happy and I feel lucky every day to be in this business.”