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One on 1 Profile: Real Estate Developer and Chairman of Steiner Studios Doug Steiner Anchors Growing TV and Film Industries in New York

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TWC News: One on 1 Profile: Real Estate Developer and Chairman of Steiner Studios Doug Steiner Anchors Growing TV and Film Industries in New York
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Some New York real estate developers are well known to the public, with their names in the news frequently, but Doug Steiner is more of a behind-the-scenes guy, an especially appropriate description considering the area in which he's made his biggest impact on New York. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.

Doug Steiner oversees 26 acres at Steiner Studios and the employment of thousands of New Yorkers.

"So right now, we have about seven productions, and on a day that three or four are shooting, there would be 1,200 people here," Steiner says. "Our peak is probably about 15-, 1,600 any given day."


Steiner is primarily a real estate developer. The company Steiner Equities Group, started by his father, develops commercial buildings nationwide and residential buildings in New York.

However, he is best known as the chairman of Steiner Studios, the largest U.S. film and television production studio complex outside of Los Angeles.

Many films have been shot at Steiner Studios, including "The Producers" and "Spider-Man 3." The list of television shows includes "Boardwalk Empire" and "Damages."

The Steiners bought the acreage at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1999. Doug Steiner then developed what would become his professional calling card at a time of personal sorrow.

"The only reason this thing got built is because just after I started this project, I started a divorce. My divorce took about five-and-a-half years, and my mind wasn't really on this project for the first few years," he says.

"In order to get the project from the city, I had to commit to doing it, so once I shook hands with a bunch of people who stuck their neck out for me, I felt obligated. But had I been more focused on work at the time, I wouldn't have strayed so far from a business. I'm a real estate developer. This is my mid-life crisis."

Since 1999, there have been renovations and new sound stages. There are plans for more expansion, and both Brooklyn College and Carnegie Mellon University will house programs here.

"The convergence of media and technology is real and its epicenter belongs in New York," Steiner said at a news conference in 2013.

This midlife crisis has been important for Steiner in more ways than one.

"I think part of the reason I was interested in doing the studio project was I could escape from being underneath my dad's shadow in the real estate business," he says. "Because going into the family business, I had a hard time feeling like I earned my position, and you're always fighting to show that you deserve whatever you do."

Steiner says what separates a studio lot from managing a shopping center, office building or residential property is what he calls the "constancy of service."

"This is really like a boutique hotel for a particular industry, the content creation industry, whether it's film, television or commercials," he says. "And if something has to be done for a star or somebody, a producer, we have a very short window. It could be like a half-hour window, it could be a five-minute window to do it."

When Steiner climbs high above the studio lot - and I do mean high - he gets a great view of New York.

"When I get to the top, the view's spectacular," he says. "You can see the Verrazano. You can see the Whitestone."

He can also gaze upon the navy yard's rich past.

"The navy yard's incredible. It's 300 acres started by Thomas Jefferson," Steiner says. "There are three major periods of architecture in here. There's Civil War, there's World War I and World War II."

Just a short golf cart ride from the sound stages, Steiner takes us back in time.

"This hospital was built for the Civil War, and they say that Confederate soldiers were chained to their beds in the basement," he says. "There are operating rooms upstairs. That's part of the reason the windows are so big, so they had light."

After restoration, the plan is for these jewels of the past to be an active part of the Steiner Studios future.

"This should really be HBO's east coast headquarters or somebody of that ilk. Google, Apple, somebody should have a presence on the lot and make this their place," he says.

"Because of the historic nature and not a lot of square footage, the brain damage for a small building is as much as the brain damage for a large project. So it's really a labor of love at this point."

Doug Steiner's own history starts in South Orange, New Jersey, where he grew up.
He was a shy kid. As an outlet at Stanford, he edited the college humor magazine, "The Stanford Chaparral." He is known among friends and colleagues for his killer deadpan.

After college, Steiner set off for Paris to write his novel, but there was one problem.

"I really have a hard time writing. It's torture to me, and I finally concluded that I love to read and I don't like to write, and I came back and started work the next day," he says.

"I think my dad felt like if I didn't do something that I really wanted to do, I'd live a life of regret. Some of my friends think that he intentionally let me do it so I would get it out of my system."

He returned after six months and has worked in the family business ever since.

"I love architecture, so I'm always looking at buildings and thinking of them in real estate terms, and kicking myself for not buying them," he says.

Steiner is involved in multi-million-dollar deals. Regardless, he is known for his casual sartorial style.

"If I wore a suit and walked on the stage, everyone would think their show is canceled. So I can't wear a suit," he says.

"I went to a really big meeting once to a large firm in Manhattan, and they thought I was a bike messenger. I'm OK with that."

Steiner is no stranger to the perennial New York battle between developers and preservationists.

"People are pretty anti-developer in New York, and my philosophy is, you don't blame the farmers for not enough food, you try to encourage them to grow more. Same thing with housing," he says.

Steiner says he doesn't feel guilty about trying to build nice buildings. He cites his history in Williamsburg with the award-winning choreographer Elizabeth Streb as an example that he is not a "develop-at-all-costs" landlord.

"Elizabeth Streb had a small building she was renting as part of our assemblage where she has a dance troupe, or action mavericks, in her terms," Steiner says. "We ended up selling her building at cost so she could stay in the neighborhood, and so we didn't take away what was attracting us there to that location in the first place."

With plans to expand and New Yorkers coming through the gate every day to work, the studios are truly Steiner's prized possession.

"I look out of my parking lot and there's 1,000 cars parked there, and I feel good about the, notwithstanding the margins not as high as I had hoped, I feel really good about helping the industry of New York," Steiner says.

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