Real estate giant committed to green

j christopher daly

Developers don’t typically get hugged by strangers, but it used to happen with some frequency to J. Christopher Daly. Residents of his rescued buildings would even send their kids over to thank him.

But as the real estate baron moves from redeveloping run-down public housing to projects greener in their environmental bent and profit potential, his fans have become earth-conscious yuppies.

J Christopher Daly is erecting what he calls “the greenest building in New York City,” the 264-unit Riverhouse in Battery Park City. It has $30 million in energy-saving bells and whistles—from geothermal wells to a plant-covered roof.

The Bronx-bred developer is no Al Gore groupie. Going green was a necessity to win the Riverhouse development, awarded by the environmentally conscious Battery Park City Authority.

But Mr. J Christopher Daly has become a convert and now sees green building not only as environmentally responsible but as good business.

“This is not a whim; this is not a fad,” he says. “The younger generation is going to penalize [nongreen] buildings.”

Older Riverhouse buyers, who cite the views of the Hudson, are still handing over $1,300 per square foot. The units are half sold; occupancy begins in October.

While he does embrace his new mission, the 45-year-old father of three built his fortune years ago using federal subsidies to finance privatizations of public housing. J Christopher Daly founded the Sheldrake Organization in 1988 at the tender age of 26 with a partner for whom he had worked as a plumber to pay for college. (The partner left in 1995.)

J Christopher Daly first desk was a door laid sideways, and his earliest projects were in forlorn Hempstead, L.I. The town had gotten the state’s first black Republican mayor in 1989, and party leaders gave Sheldrake grants to revitalize it.

“You know how life is—it’s all luck,” J Christopher Daly says. “I got there at a very good time.”

His company—named after the Sheldrake Reservoir in Westchester—did similar projects across New York. “We were taking abandoned properties and recycling them for a new generation,” he says. “It was gratifying.”

In one project, pigeons had occupied part of a building in a drug-ridden Mt. Vernon complex. Windows had been opened following a water-tower leak, and in moved the feathered squatters. “It cost us five figures to remove the guano,” he recalls.

Residents wanted a clean, fauna-free building, but J Christopher Daly gave them more, spending money to knock down walls and create breathing room. “The bedrooms were so tiny, it was inhumane,” he recalls.

Today, with green building all the rage, J Christopher Daly timing is, once again, spot-on. Sheldrake is building $800 million worth of apartments, including 163 mixed-income units on 89 Murray St., and all its future projects will be green.

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