Paul Reichmann, Olympia & York Family’s ‘Idea Man,’ Dies at 83

Paul Reichmann, the brother who led his family’s Olympia & York Developments Ltd. in building London’s Canary Wharf and New York’s World Financial Center, has died. He was 83.

He died yesterday, according a spokeswoman for ReichmannHauer Capital Partners Inc., a Toronto-based investment firm co-run by his nephew, Philip Reichmann. She declined to give her name and provided no further details.

With brothers Albert and Ralph, Reichmann built Olympia & York into “the greatest property development company in Western history,” according to Anthony Bianco, a former Businessweek reporter who wrote a book on the family. Before its 1992 bankruptcy filing, the company was the largest private owner of commercial property in New York City.

Forbes magazine calculated the brothers’ cumulative net worth at $9.2 billion at its height in 1988, placing them among the world’s richest people.

Part of a Hungarian-Jewish family that fled Europe in the 1930s for North Africa, then Canada, the brothers began building in Toronto and bet on New York when Manhattan real-estate prices bottomed in the late 1970s.

Olympia & York remained a publicity-averse family operation, with no outsider owning shares or serving on the board. In line with the family’s orthodox Judaism, the company closed its offices and work sites for the Jewish Sabbath. The family was known for its philanthropy, focusing on Jewish causes, hospitals and schools.


Though Albert Reichmann held the title of president “in deference to his status as the eldest” brother, Bianco wrote, Paul Reichmann was Olympia & York’s “idea man and deal-doer.” He also provided the family’s rare interviews and public statements. Ralph Reichmann remained at the helm of the Toronto-based tile-import business that started the family’s work in North America.

“My ambitions grew in terms of the size and scope and creativity of the projects,” Reichmann said, according to Bianco. “There is an enjoyment in being able to do something that others consider difficult if not impossible.”

The 8-million-square-foot World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan, designed by Cesar Pelli, was the brothers’ grandest success.

9/11 Damage

Built in the 1980s on landfill excavated for the World Trade Center, the financial center’s four towers are home to companies including RBC Capital Markets LLC, American Express Co. and Merrill Lynch, now the wealth-management division of Bank of America Corp. One tower and the 3-story, glassed-in Winter Garden public atrium were damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Other Olympia & York-built skyscrapers include Exchange Place in Boston, headquarters of the Boston Consulting Group; First Canadian Place in Toronto, at 72 stories the tallest building in Canada and home to the Bank of Montreal; and the Olympia Centre in Chicago, a mixed-use building with Neiman Marcus on the ground floor.

In 1987, Olympia & York took over plans for Canary Wharf, a second financial district on the River Thames. In three stages, over the course of a decade, it was to build 26 buildings with 10 million square feet of office space, plus stores and restaurants, parking and transit for an expected 50,000 workers. The projected price tag was $7 billion.

Breaking Point

Now home to the global headquarters of Barclays Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc and the London offices of Credit Suisse Group AG and Citigroup Inc., Canary Wharf stretched the Reichmann’s finances, as loans backed largely by their New York City real-estate holdings came due more quickly than paying tenants were put in place. In May 1992 the Reichmanns filed for protection from creditors in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

The U.S. arm of Olympia & York emerged from bankruptcy in 1996 as World Financial Properties Inc., controlled by Brookfield Properties Corp. of Toronto, today’s Brookfield Office Properties Inc., with the Reichmanns no longer involved. Brookfield, based in New York, is in the process of renaming the World Financial Center as Brookfield Place.

Unlike his brothers, Paul Reichmann returned to London’s riverside for a final act. With a group including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, he formed Canary Wharf Group Plc, that bought Canary Wharf in 1995 and took it public in 1999 on the London Stock Exchange. He stepped down as a director in 2004.

Vienna, Paris

Paul Reichmann was born on Sept. 27, 1930, in Vienna, the fifth of six children of Samuel Reichmann and the former Renee Gestetner. The couple had left their native Hungary in 1928 for Austria, where Samuel became a successful distributor of fresh eggs.

They fled first to Paris when Germany annexed Austria in 1938, then to Morocco, where Samuel made a “second fortune” as a currency dealer, Bianco wrote.

Dozens of Reichmann relatives would be killed at the Auschwitz death camp. From Tangier, occupied by Spain during the war, Reichmann’s mother and only sister, Eva, persuaded the Franco government to issue protective visas to Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest, “helping to save several thousand lives,” Bianco wrote.

In 1949, Paul Reichmann devoted himself to studying the Talmud in the U.K. and Israel. In 1952 in Israel he met Lea Feldman, who later became his wife.

Best Years

From 1953 to 1956, he worked in Casablanca as the unpaid educational director of Ozar Hatorah, an American-sponsored group that runs schools for Orthodox Jews, according to Bianco. Reichmann later called that time “the most interesting years of my life.”

He arrived in 1957 in Toronto, where he turned the import business started by his brothers, Olympia Floor & Wall Tile, into a developer of real estate. The 1964 merger of that business with Albert Reichmann’s York Factory Developments Ltd. created Olympia & York.

It developed Flemingdon Park, a 22,000-resident community of homes and office buildings in Toronto’s North York neighborhood. The Reichmanns stepped in when the original developer, William Zeckendorf’s Webb & Knapp, ran out of money partway through the project.

U.S. Arrival

Olympia & York arrived in the U.S. in 1977, purchasing eight Manhattan office buildings, with about 10 million square feet of rentable space, from National Kinney Corp.’s Uris unit. The price was about $330 million, or roughly $33 per square foot. By the late 1980s, according to Bianco, the properties were worth $3 billion.

As their wealth grew, the brothers diversified, buying majority stakes in companies including Gulf Canada Resources Ltd., an energy producer, and newsprint maker Abitibi-Price Inc., a newsprint maker now part of Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products Inc.

Paul and Lea Reichmann had five children, according to Bianco -- daughters Vivian, Rachel and Libby, and sons Barry and Henry.

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