Renowned and Long Island real estate developer Jerry Wolkoff died Friday of a brief neurological illness, according to a family statement. He was 83.
Born into a low-income Brooklyn family in 1937, Gerald “Jerry” Wolkoff was an exemplar of the American Dream. To help his mother, he began working at age 10 and started his first business by 16. Despite not having the opportunity to attend college, he would go on to become one of the most prominent real estate developers on LI, known for 5Pointz Towers in Long Island City and the proposed Heartland Town Square in Brentwood, as well as major business parks in Edgewood and Hauppauge.
Despite his age, Wolkoff vowed never to retire and maintained a highly active role in his company, G&M Realty, as recently as a few weeks ago, working alongside sons David and Alan at the family business that bears both Wolkoff and his wife Michele’s initials.
Today, G&M Realty owns upwards of 12 million square feet in industrial acreage across New York City and the Island, with each space 99 plus percent full at all times. Those he worked with said his stellar track record was a result of prioritizing tenants’ satisfaction at all costs.
“He was in his 80s and he would come up from Manhattan to Edgewood every day to work long hours. He was just relentless,” said Philip Schwom, president of Schacker Realty and the broker who represented Wolkoff in many of his major deals, including Heartland Business Center in Edgewood and the proposed Heartland Town Square.
Wolkoff did not live to see his two most headline-grabbing projects to fruition. 5Pointz, a Long Island City building he leased to artists starting in the 1990s, became a “graffiti mecca” and was covered in murals — until he had the property whitewashed in 2013 without warning, triggering a February 2020 court order of $6.7 million in damages to be paid to artists. The two new 5 Pointz Towers at the site, which house upwards of 1,100 apartment units, as well as interior replicas of the original 5Pointz murals, are nearly completed.
Arguably Wolkoff’s white whale was the 452-acre Heartland Town Square in Brentwood, a passion project which he pursued for over 18 years. If approved, the smart growth development would be the largest planned community on Long Island since Levittown, with 9,000 housing units, millions of square footage in office and retail space, and plans for an aquarium among other public spaces. Wolkoff dreamed of using the development to revive local community and prosperity.
“He had a very strong connection particularly with Brentwood. Whenever he did a lease, one of the biggest questions he had was what jobs are you bringing to Brentwood?” Schwom added, emphasizing Wolkoff’s connection to his community. “That was always one of his major concerns when he was considering who to lease industrial space to, was who was going to bring in good high-paying jobs for the people of Brentwood.”
The development’s plans stalled for years due to disputes with Suffolk County and Town of Islip officials over zoning issues. The plans were approved by the Islip Town Board in 2017 but face additional litigation from the Brentwood School District and complications with sewage lines.
David Wolkoff vowed to complete his father’s legacy and see the project to its end.
“Where despair lingered, Gerry found opportunity, constructing homes, industrial parks, and a better community for all,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “His heart was as big as his proposed mixed use development.”
Wolkoff “will go down as one of the greatest builders in New York state history,” Bellone added.
Along with his wife Michele and sons David and Adam, Wolkoff is survived by daughter-in-law Stephanie and grandchildren Zachary, Tyler, and Alexi.