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Muss company built on trust, experience

With more than a century of construction and development under their belt, the Muss family knows a thing or two about real estate.

Muss Development, a Forest Hills-based firm, has grown from humble beginnings as a construction company at the turn of the 20th century to a development giant in New York City, one that has completed 15 million square feet of commercial, residential, industrial and retail space throughout the five boroughs.

Joshua Muss, CEO of Muss Development, is just the third family member to head the company since it was founded by his grandfather Issac in 1906.

"I must say I was preordained to be in development," Muss said in a recent interview with TimesLedger. "I graduated from school, first at Yeshiva College and then from Harvard Law School, and went straight to the family business."

Muss said he got his start in the family business in 1965, working on several developments in Staten Island. As the company continued to grow over the next several decades, so did his role and he soon took over the company from his father.

Since then Muss Development has evolved into one of the city's largest firms in the field and is constructing billions of dollars worth of projects across the five boroughs, including Sky View Parc, a 3.3 million-square-foot, $1 billion, mixed-use retail and residential complex underway in Flushing.

Muss said the experience and trust his family has built up over the last 102 years is they key to their success.

"It's hard to imagine starting from scratch," Muss said. "Sometimes if you only have a single generation line, you tend to be careless and make mistakes. It's also a business where it is important how people perceive what you have done."

He added: "Having that trust there is very important."

Given how unpredictable the New York real estate market can be, Muss said it is important to be able to move with the trends of the market, but he also stressed that taking calculated risks is integral to success. He said understanding the challenges that face developers in the outer boroughs is particularly crucial.

"The difference between developing in the boroughs and Manhattan, I think, is dramatic," he said. "In order to build something in the boroughs, it's a lot more involved than digging a hole in the ground."

He said rising construction costs and the evaporation of tax incentives have forced Muss to rethink its approach to building housing in places like Queens and Brooklyn in recent years.

"Rentals are almost impossible to build in the boroughs because of financing and because of construction," he said.

"Affordable housing has become a euphemism for low-income housing, but we like to consider much of our housing middle-income housing. We are pricing it at a price which is by every measure what the market is asking for 'affordable.' It's a matter of semantics."

Muss will speak at the monthly Queens College Business forum on Friday, May 2, at 8 a.m., where he will be introduced by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), an alumnus.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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