Muss Grows Along With The Borough
By Theresa Juva
In 2006, Muss Development celebrated its 100 year anniversary, having come a far distance since the company was founded by Issac Muss, a Russian immigrant who first lived in Cape Town South Africa.
When Muss arrived in New York, he settled in Brooklyn with his wife and 11 children to open his business that specialized in tract housing. One son, Hyman, followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to spearhead numerous development projects in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
What began as a small business has grown into the one the largest development companies in New York City by producing 15 million square feet of commercial, residential and industrial space. Today, Issac Muss’ grandson, Joshua, leads the company that continues to flourish.
“In any business, 100 years is a challenge,” said Joshua Muss. “In the real estate business, noted for its cycles and its tremendously competitive environment, it is particularly gratifying that we have reached this point.”
Current projects involve 5 million square feet, including a 3.3 million-square-foot project in downtown Flushing that will consist of retail and residential space.
The planned Flushing Town Center will be along the Flushing River.
“I think what distinguishes Muss Development from its competition is the fact that we build all of our projects ourselves,” Muss said. “This enables us to pay attention to every detail of every project. It also means we are able to manage costs, and develop value in projects in markets that other developers might shy away from.”
“Our tenants, our home purchasers, our business partners and our neighbors in the community have come to appreciate the quality and value of the projects which we develop,” he added. “We’re looking forward to the next generation of work and to our next 100 years in this great city.”
From Bath To Boom
In the last 100 years, Muss has an extensive resume of work. In 1911, Muss completed the Bath Beach Houses, 350 homes in an upscale resort area in the Gravesend and Bensonhurst sections of Brooklyn that attracted New York social elite. The first project completed in Queens was finished in 1924 and put up a 3,000-home community in Bayside.
Jackson Heights was the next neighborhood on the map, and in 1949, an 11-building, 1,200-unit housing complex called Northridge Co-ops was constructed by Muss and his sons David, Charles, Alex, Hyman and Louis. This was followed by a 370-home tract housing development in Stamford, Conn. and The New York Telephone headquarters built in Jamaica in 1970.
Forest Hills Tower, a 375,000-square-foot office building for Con Ed, was created in 1980 and not long after, a 1,200-unit planned residential community sprouted in the Rossville section of Staten Island. In 1997, Muss unveiled the first full-service hotel in Brooklyn in 75 years.
Outer Borough Home
Jason Muss, son of Joshua, has been with the company since 1996 and said he has seen big changes in development projects.
“The biggest change is the amount of capital and interest in all areas of the City,” he said. “It used to be hard to get someone interested in a project unless it was in Manhattan. [Now] all of New York City is considered a good neighborhood.”
He said the rise in population combined with a drop in crime and the City’s strong economy makes most neighborhoods attractive for potential projects. Queens in particular is becoming popular, he said, because of its cultural diversity.
But Muss said the company is aware of community concerns about overdevelopment, which is why it chooses its projects carefully.
“We try not to build if there is going to be opposition,” he said. “We try to stay away from controversy.”
He explained that the recent re-zoning of neighborhoods worked to ensure that the character of residential areas is preserved while still allowing room for commercial growth.
He pointed out that places like Flushing and Long Island City have been upzoned because their mass transit and infrastructure systems can support such growth. Those in low density areas can feel secure that their neighorhoods will stay that way, he added.
Eyeing The Future
As for the talk of more affordable housing in a City that is rapidly becoming more expensive, Muss cautioned that pulling back luxury housing construction is not the answer.
“If you penalize condo housing and force them to include affordable housing, you’ll dry up both wells and maybe not have anything being built,” he said of the recent measures to ensure future development projects include a certain percentage of affordable houses.
Forest Hills Towers still stands tall in the center of the borough.
High labor and building material costs and real estate prices makes including affordable housing a challenge for developers.
As the borough’s population continues to soar, Muss said it has its sight set on the future.
“The goal,” he said, “is to create value and at the same time build projects we can be proud of.”