Profile: Jonathan Rose

Yoko Inoue

Jonathan Rose
president and Founder
Jonathan Rose Companies

When designs for Via Verde, a 202-unit, mixed-income green housing development in the Bronx were unveiled, they made headlines. The dramatically stepped design by Grimshaw, Dattner Architect and landscape architect Lee Weintraub, which varies from towers to townhouses with green-roofs and terraced gardens, demonstrated that affordable housing, sustainability, and innovative design were possible in even the most hardscrabble corner of the city. What was less apparent, however, was that the developer behind the project, Jonathan Rose Companies, has a long record of civic-minded thinking that has paid significant social, environmental, and economic dividends.

In 1989, Jonathan Rose, founder of Jonathan Rose Companies, left his family’s real estate business to found his own “mission-based” development company. “My family has been in real estate for three generations,” Rose said. “I learned the trade starting with my summers working for the family business,” referring to Rose Associates, the New York-based real estate giant that controls over 30 million square feet of property. The much smaller Jonathan Rose Companies focuses on urban infill, transit-oriented sustainable development, reflecting the interests of its founder.

Unlike many developers trained in business or law, Jonathan Rose, 56, earned a master’s in regional planning at Penn under the landscape architect Ian McHarg, a pioneer of the regional planning and sustainability govements. There, Rose learned the principles that would guide his company: “a commitment to socially and environmentally responsible development that integrates good planning into the business,” he said.

One of Rose’s first forays into green, mixed-income development, a plan for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Center, came while he was still at Rose Associates. Working with Berkeley, California-based architect Peter Calthorpe, the plan called for a mix of office, residential, and retail space at a walkable scale with passive solar design. “I talked to a number of environmental groups, and in the early 80s, anything dense or urban wasn’t considered green,” he said. “It’s amazing how much the thinking has changed.” After community opposition, the site was sold to Forest City Ratner, and the bland, down-market mall that presently occupies the site was built in its place. (Rose, with practiced decorum, declined to comment on the Atlantic Center or on the Atlantic Yards development, also by Forest City Ratner, planned across the street.)

Current projects in the company’s portfolio reflect his philosophy at work. In Brooklyn, Jonathan Rose Companies is one of the partners in Gowanus Green, the Rogers Marvel/West 8 housing development along the Gowanus Canal. Another green housing project, the Joyce and David Dinkins Gardens in Harlem, was recently completed and includes a community center and 80 units of affordable housing.

With the arrival of high density and mixed use as hallmarks of environmentalism, Rose is happy to see his philosophy moving into the mainstream. He believes that because of rising energy costs, dense, transit-oriented, energy-efficient design will become the standard. “It only makes sense. People are looking to reduce their VMTs,” he said, referring to vehicle miles traveled. He also believes the New York region is better prepared to weather the ups and downs of a volatile real estate market. “We see two ends of the demographic spectrum, seniors and younger people, who are increasingly attracted to urban areas,” he said.

In addition to the company’s standard development practice, Jonathan Rose Companies has three other divisions: the owner’s representative studio, the planning studio, and the investment studio. The owner’s representative studio works on a fee basis for non-profits, institutional clients, and private developers to select architects and other consultants, arrange financing, manage construction, and direct marketing and sales. Current projects include the classroom building for Cooper Union designed by Morphosis, the Theatre for a New Audience in the BAM Cultural District by the H3 Collaborative, and a renovation and expansion of the UN International School by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy. The planning studio has been hired by the town of East Hampton to refine its 20-year development plan, and the investment studio manages the Smart Growth Development Fund, a $100 million fund that invests in socially, environmentally, and economically progressive real estate acquisition and development. This diversity of engagement with the field, in addition to the company’s social commitments, differentiates Jonathan Rose Companies from its peers, including Rose Associates. “They do very high-quality work, but we have a different approach,” Rose explained.

The company’s successes show that measured idealism in no way interferes with good business. And judging by the founder’s relaxed disposition and the company’s cheerful, light-filled office space (renovated to green standards, or course, by Weisz + Yoes), the company’s approach is a welcome alternative to the cut-throat world of New York real estate and development.

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