George Constantin lives life to the fullest
Photograph by Sinéad Deane
George T. Constantin is not your typical businessman.
Cultured, multilingual and athletic, the president and CEO of Heritage Realty Services L.L.C. combines Old World sophistication with New World industry.
As he is fond of saying, “Time is the only commodity. Use it well.”
You’d have to say Constantin (pronounced “CON stan teen”) seems to use his time exceptionally well and not merely in tending the elite properties he co-owns or manages in Westchester County and New York City, totaling more than $400 million in assets. Spend some time with the man – say over a leisurely lunch in his office at 4 Gannett Drive in White Plains – and you discover a person with a deep love of family, church, community, his Greek heritage and hobbies that range from running and biking to fly fishing.
They’re all part of time well spent, a life that is well lived.
Constantin’s well-roundedness is apparent the moment you walk into his office. The polished, carved wood desk and the sculpture of a seated horse that rests on the windowsill suggest an aesthetic eye. The matching carved wood and glass cabinets are filled with books, running shoes and banners that say “Dad.” The walls are graced with delicate images of brownstones.
“We love art, being creative,” he says. Indeed, art will play a role in the capital improvements already under way at 2, 3 and 4 Gannett Drive. The new entry to 4 Gannett has just been completed. A new conference center and café at 2 Gannett are slated to open Jan. 2. Total cost of the entry, conference center and café is $1.2 million. Shuttle service from the buildings to the White Plains train station will go into effect sometime next year.
Meanwhile, the grounds – which make splendid use of the sculptural qualities of the rocks that were deposited here by glaciers some 10,000 years ago – are being re-landscaped. There’s new lighting, climate controls and hands-free bathrooms in all three of the buildings as well as an energy-efficient roof on 3 Gannett, WAG’s home.
All of this is the result of listening to tenants, Constantin says.
“It’s a people business and I really enjoy being around people. (Real estate) also requires a lot of common sense.”
“These last few years have been difficult. I’ve had to sit down with people in their 60s and 70s who have never had the experiences they’re having now. I had one lady who was crying. I told her, ‘You don’t have to cry. I’m going to help you.’ You have to be respectful and sensitive and always, there are new ideas.”
When times get tough, Constantin suggests, the tough need to get creative. This shouldn’t be hard for Westchester County, he says, ticking off its abundant resources – an educated workforce, excellent public schools and numerous institutions of higher learning, premier retail centers like The Westchester and a suburban transportation network second to none in the metro area.
“The quality of life is very good here,” says the longtime Scarsdale resident, whose sons Alexander and Andreas have attended local public schools. His wife, Jennifer, is active in the Junior League of Central Westchester and Constantin himself enjoys running and biking on the Bronx River Parkway on Bicycle Sundays.
And yet, he sees a disconnect.
“The fact that there are vacancies along the (Interstate) 287 corridor baffles me,” he says, shaking his head. “There has to be a new public-private partnership,” one that reinvests in existing buildings, seeks new technology and biotech companies to go along with powerhouses like IBM and Regeneron, champions local union workers and provides startups with free rental space.
Constantin is following his own lead by giving temporary shelter at 4 Gannett to Kid’s Kloset – which provides clothing to children in need – while the nonprofit’s White Plains home recovers from fire and water damage.
But his vision goes beyond stopgap measures. Constantin says he’s happy to work with Avalon Properties, which will turn two buildings behind 3 Gannett into residential housing, and Life Time Fitness Inc., which is transforming 1 Gannett into a 209,000-square-foot health and fitness destination, to create pathways and a track around the office park.
“We’ll be the only office park with a lifestyle component.”
GREEK TO HIM
Constantin’s is an immigrant’s story. He comes from the port city of Piraeus, Greece and grew up in a West German farming community. He speaks French and Spanish, along with Greek, German and English. At the local hall, he’d spend some time weekends watching “Bonanza” on TV. His sense of America was the Cartwright family’s Ponderosa spread.
So imagine the astonishment of an 11-year-old arriving in New York City with his divorced mother and staring up at the looming architecture.
That instilled in him a fascination with property and buildings. He paid for his education at Syracuse University by working summers at the Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale where he had “an affinity” for the gregarious real-estate execs who were members. He was already on his career path.
Constantin became vice president of Hospitality Consultants Inc., where he coordinated acquiring, developing and evaluating hotels, restaurants and mixed-use real estate in Florida and Texas. Then he spent 20 years with Helmsley-Spear Inc., working under Earle S. Altman, one of Harry Helmsley’s key people, ultimately becoming managing director of the company’s Institutional Realty Advisory Group.
He calls Helmsley-Spear perhaps “the last entrepreneurial real estate company.”
Entrepreneurship has surely been a topic of the yearly forums he organizes as chairman of the Real Estate Committee for the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce, the first and foremost Greek-American business organization in the United States. Constantin is proud of his Greek roots, attending the Greek Orthodox Church of Our Saviour in Rye, where his wife is president of the Ladies Philoptochos (Friends of the Poor) Society.
Along with his church, his family and Greek culture, he’s also passionate about fly-fishing at the Kensico Dam.
“The day is here,” he says, echoing his philosophy. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Use it. To me, fly fishing at the Kensico Dam is a good day.