JULY 2018 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 25
FATHER & SON ACT
By WARREN STRUGATCH
A Harvard University graduate
with a Columbia University MBA,
David Wolkoff brings financial skills,
management acuity and more than
25 years of construction activity to
his role as a principal in the Wolkoff
Group, Long Island’s largest development
firm as measured by current
construction activity. Last year, after
waiting 15 years, the firm received approvals
from both the Suffolk County
Planning Commission and the Town
of Islip to break ground on their $4
billion, 432-acre Heartland Town
Square mixed-use redevelopment
project on the grounds of what had
been Pilgrim State Hospital. Ultimately
the project will construct more
than 9,000 apartments and more
than 3 million square feet of retail
and office space, making it the largest
mixed-used project in LI history.
Our parents are usually our first
influencers. Is that true for you?
My father Gerry was — and is — a
tremendous influence on me. I work
with him every day. He is ferocious
at getting his dreams accomplished.
He doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s
worked all his life and he’s still at it.
How did he get his start? My father
was 15 when he convinced Abe Stark
to get him a driver’s license.
Abe Stark, the Brooklyn borough
president? That Abe Stark,
yes. Dad had started a floor -waxing
company and worked at night.
Stark said, “You’re a great kid, but
you can’t drive at night.” Dad did
anyway. He got a ton of business
then started a trade association so
the other floor waxers wouldn’t step
on each others’ turf.
How’d he get started in construction?
He saw his brother building
houses and said, “I can do this better.”
He liked building houses, but he
didn’t want to sell them. He felt if he
built a building and rented it out he’d
have regular income.
He’s a tough act to follow. How
do you differentiate yourself from
him? I can’t be him. He deals from
the gut. I’m more academic. I cross
my Ts and dot my Is. Gerry went
without meals. He’s tough as nails.
I can’t replicate that. It would be
obnoxious if I tried. But there are
things you learn by listening and
watching and doing.
As developers, you and your
father are active across the metropolitan
area. What issues set Long
Island apart? Density is the key issue
and it’s related to ownership vs. rental
ratios. In Nassau and Suffolk about 17
percent of the housing stock is rental.
That’s too small. It holds us back. We
also have to offer more amenities like
retail and commercial space near
residential units. In other words, we
have to offer the kind of live-workplay
mixed-use environment in vogue
across the country.
Are we talking smart growth?
Exactly. What we have on Long
Island is a dearth of smart- growth
Why is that? Short answer: Back
when the Levitt Brothers were
building in Nassau County, they
created a suburban area and at the
same time created suburban sprawl.
What worked in the ’50s isn’t working
now. It’s especially not working for
Millennials are leaving Long
Island in droves. Unfortunately,
yes. They want to be able to use their
bikes. They want to use public transit.
These are the educated people
of the next generation and we can’t
afford to lose them. What we’re
building in Islip reflects the results
of our studying what people in other
communities have done to meet the
next generation’s expectations. We
went to smart-growth communities
like Reston, Virginia and focused on
what they did right and what they
did wrong. We’re absolutely intent
on doing it right. We will do it right,
if we are allowed to.
By “allowed to,” you mean … If
we get permission to build what the
market needs. We’ve been saying
Long Island needs this for years.
Warren Strugatch is a partner
with Inflection Point Associates in
Stony Brook, a marketing and management
consulting firm. Visit him
online at InflectionPointAssoc.com
About 17% of LI’s housing stock is rental.
That holds us back.
David Wolkoff is planning to turn the old Pilgrim State Hospital into the mixeduse
Heartland development. (Photo by Bob Giglione)