Sure, Build It in My Backyard

Nikolai Fedak, 23, at work in his TriBeCa office on the website New York Yimby, which stands for Yes in My Back Yard. His satellite office is the street.

In a city that is knee-deep in preservationists willing to do almost anything to keep new construction from erasing the past, it might seem surprising to find a young man who has made a career out of promoting the new. But Nikolai Fedak, the creator and mastermind of New York Yimby, a pro-development blog turned website, does not find this strange at all.

“A lot of people my age support development,” said Mr. Fedak, 23, who is alarmingly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of development in the city and speaks with such enthusiasm and energy, words tumble out of his mouth at breakneck speed. “That’s why a lot of people come to the city. They’re here for a reason.”

New York Yimby — the acronym stands for Yes in My Back Yard, a wordplay on the more familiar Nimby (Not in My Back Yard) — is a lively, chatty site that is catnip to fans of the city’s ever expanding forest of high-rises.

The site bristles with renderings, floor plans and Mr. Fedak’s own photographs charting the progress of new buildings. Data is gleaned from filings with the city’s Department of Buildings and interviews with developers and architects. Tips come from developers, architects, skyscraper buffs and even construction workers, who contribute pictures via Instagram.

Postings are organized in catchy categories like “revealed,” “supertall city” and “upsized” along with the more prosaic “permits filed,” “demolition imminent” and “excavating begins.” Mr. Fedak updates the site so frequently, snapping and posting pictures so relentlessly, it seems he’s never far from his Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone.

According to Google Analytics, the site attracts 75,000 visitors monthly, most of them from the real estate industry. By contrast, the real-estate blog Curbed New York — “my best friend on the Internet,” Mr. Fedak said — reports 1.2 million unique visits a month. “That’s my target,” he added.

Mr. Fedak, who has intense blue eyes and short gelled hair and is typically outfitted in the downtown uniform of head-to-toe black, was discussing his professional baby in the aerie that serves as Yimby’s home base, the live/work loft belonging to his business partner, Dan George.

Mr. George is the creator of Drive Digital, a real estate marketing site, and his loft, which is also home to his puggle (beagle and pug mix), Jaws, overlooks Franklin Street through vast arched windows.

Thanks to a mother who worked for the foreign service, Mr. Fedak spent his childhood bouncing around the globe — living in Germany and then Australia before his family settled in McLean, Va. Mr. Fedak traces his obsession with the cityscape to his early infatuation with SimCity, the addictive video game through which even youngsters can create and run their own virtual metropolis.

“I started playing SimCity when I was 6 and by 9, I was a master,” said Mr. Fedak, a 2011 Fordham graduate and a former intern at the Clinton Global Initiative. “It definitely helped jump-start my fascination with architecture, since I’ve literally been building cities on computers since I was a child.”

He believes that good development helps the city. “Yes, my site is pro-real estate,” he said. “But I see it as a positive site. At the end of the day, it says yes.”

His response to those who oppose development? “There’s a lot of hatred of development out there,” Mr. Fedak acknowledged. “But generally it comes from selfish people who don’t want to lose their views.” In his eyes, anyone who has a problem with tall buildings should high-tail it out of Dodge.

The breadth of its postings is one factor that is attracting advertisers to the site, among them Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

“It’s a great place for us,” said Clifford Finn, an executive vice president for development marketing at Elliman. “What I like is that the site gives me snapshots and updates pertaining to new development. And by advertising on the site, we reach the people we want to reach, both in and outside the business.”

Mr. Fedak doesn’t love every new building. “At the end of the day, I don’t support all new development,” he said, adding that he would have been happy if the cantilever on the Nordstrom Tower, the Extell building sprouting at 217 West 57th Street, had never been greenlighted. “A big mistake,” he said. “The design could have been much better.”

He had harsh words for Peter Poon’s new hotel at 307 West 37th Street. “Damn is it ugly ... his most hideous piece of work to date,” Mr. Fedak wrote on his site, describing a detail on the facade as “what appears to be an enormous fruit roll-up.”

Mr. Fedak is also no fan of Gene Kaufman’s budget hotels on West 28th Street, dismissing them as “the Great Wall of Kaufman.” (The response of the targets to such barbs? Largely indifference, said Mr. Fedak, whose site is not the only one to have taken issues with their projects. In an email message, Mr. Kaufman’s office said he was not familiar with the site. Mr. Poon’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

Mr. Fedak doesn’t mince words. But he acknowledged that his online blend of reporting and sharp-edged opinion has grown less cheeky over time.

Not surprisingly Mr. Fedak’s favorites among the city’s buildings are giants, among them many of the newcomers along 57th Street — “I definitely love 57th Street” — along with Christian de Portzamparc’s tower at 400 Park Avenue South and such golden oldies as the Gothic-tinged American Radiator Building on West 40th Street. The taller the building, the faster he talks and the more excited he sounds.

Although Mr. Fedak’s postings routinely find their way to sites like Curbed and the Real Deal, his site is unusual in that it both focuses on development in the city and beats the drum on its behalf, according to Michael Slattery, a senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York. And even many preservationists keep a watchful eye on Mr. Fedak’s updates.

“He offers a very useful perspective,” said Andrew Berman, the longtime executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “We may differ in our opinions, but his site performs a real public service. If there’s a good new project out there, I’m as happy as anyone.”

Mr. Fedak’s journey to Yimby began six years ago, when he moved to New York to attend Fordham, where he majored in political science. He embarked upon his blog in late 2011, shortly before starting at the Clinton Global Initiative, and expanded it when he moved to Surface, a design magazine. Last June he left Surface to concentrate on the site full time.

“I didn’t tell my parents when I left the magazine because I didn’t want to worry them,” Mr. Fedak said. “I’d had a college fund, so I didn’t have any loans. But I was still super-nervous. It really was six months of purgatory.”

The site is a bare-bones operation, with Mr. Fedak a one-man band handling editorial matters and Mr. George overseeing the business side. When Mr. George signed on, he began to provide both technological and financial support, and expenses continue to be minimal.

Today, the business is turning a profit, thanks to increasing traffic and a growing number of advertisers, not only Douglas Elliman but also Halstead Property Development Marketing and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

But Mr. Fedak’s long workdays are almost entirely consumed with maintaining and expanding the site, with wandering the city snapping pictures, attending Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings and meeting with developers and architects. He trolls the Internet for renderings, and checks in daily with the Buildings Department to see what permits have been issued.

“My laptop, that’s my office,” said Mr. Fedak, who lives in a $2,300-a-month studio on the 23rd floor of 1 West Street in the financial district, appropriately just steps from the Skyscraper Museum. “And work is my life. There are no borders between work and everything else. Plus my life is so boring. I see friends. But the night-life scene has gotten old for me.”

Mr. Fedak sees no conflict between skyline-puncturing newcomers and the prevailing political landscape embodied by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made no secret of his opposition to much of the development that defined the Bloomberg years. “I see de Blasio as pro-development in many instances,” Mr. Fedak said. “He has endorsed the idea of rezoning Midtown East, for example, even though he disagreed with the way Bloomberg was going about it.”

Mr. Fedak has already expanded beyond Manhattan to include such tower-sprouting outposts as Downtown Brooklyn, Jersey City and Long Island City, Queens, and his goal is to eventually go national. With an eye on cities likely to become the next big thing when it comes to really big buildings, he has already licensed Yimby domain names for Washington, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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