Michael Caretnay Bailkin was a high school dropout who qualified for admission in 1960 to Temple by taking a GED while in the Army. Today, he’s responsible for billions in economic development incentives and the planning and implementation of multiple “transformational” urban projects. His education at Temple was a major factor in that path, even though his primary goal was simply to learn. “I didn’t have a career path or a need for credentials then,” he says, “but I acutely felt a knowledge gap. So my focus was on ‘learning to learn” through a broad liberal arts education.”
Still, he moved at his own pace, taking over seven years to earn his B.A., including time off to sail with the Danish Merchant Marine, race motorcycles in Mexico, study martial arts in Japan and serve in the Peace Corps, where he organized the first Urban Community Development program in Asia. It was only during his tour in India that Mr. Bailkin focused on completing his formal education and selecting a career path. He chose law for its Socratic methodology and for providing the best skills to make an impact. Mr. Bailkin pursued this choice at the University of Chicago, earning both a law degree and an M.A. in Urban Studies.
In keeping with his “best advice,” Mr. Bailkin’s career has followed his passions, core competencies, need for adventure, and desire to make an impact. “I chose urban revitalization,” he says, “because that field excited me, required cutting-edge approaches, and offered a great potential for positive change.”
Mr. Bailkin started his professional career in a traditional mode, as an associate at a Wall Street law firm. But he left within six months to follow opportunities in his targeted field. He first became Deputy Counsel at the Roosevelt Island Development Corporation just as the groundwork was being laid for the country’s first so-called “New Town.” “The idea was that we could cure urban ills by creating new urban communities from scratch,” Mr. Bailkin says.
That experience opened up a new horizon for Mr. Bailkin. Although still a new lawyer with limited experience, suddenly he was dealing with major developers in New York City and he was flush with responsibility. “What really turned me on was having such a high level of responsibility, with both the risk of failure and the opportunity to do something transformational,” Mr. Bailkin says.
Government, he realized, offered him a unique chance at making an impact. As he completed the pioneering phase of Roosevelt Island, he took a risk and joined New York City Mayor John Lindsay’s administration with just a month left in Mr. Lindsay’s term. There was no guarantee that the incoming mayor, Abraham Beame, would keep him. In hindsight, Bailkin says it was the best move he ever made. He was named General Counsel to the City’s various economic development offices, which morphed into the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the agency that implements economic growth across the city’s five boroughs, and eventually became effective head of New York City’s emerging economic development efforts.
The timing—New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1975—provided Mr. Bailkin leeway to devise and implement creative solutions, his wheelhouse. He became part of the City’s team that dealt with solutions to its fiscal crisis. He also became a lead participant in addressing the underlying causes of New York’s economic decline. A pivotal point came when Mayor Beame selected him to act as the City’s Chief Negotiator on Donald Trump’s first major project, the Commodore Hotel, next to Grand Central Terminal. Although highly controversial, and requiring over a year of negotiation and political processing, the result was the successful redevelopment of the Commodore into the Grand Hyatt. A broader result was a new economic development program devised by Bailkin that became the core approach for New York, and which both spurred billions of dollars in new construction across the city and became a model for other cities.
His public sector roles convinced Mr. Bailkin that older cities could become viable only through Public/Private Partnerships (P3) and he built his post-government career on that principle. In the private sector, whether as a lawyer, consultant or principal, Mr. Bailkin played leading conceptual and implementation roles in a number of P3 “transformational” projects, including the renewal of Harlem’s 125th Street corridor, redevelopment of Theatre Row and Times Square, Pfizer’s redevelopment of the area surrounding its Brooklyn plant, the Master Planning and rezoning of Long Island City, and MetroTech Center, a nine million-square-foot mixed-use campus developed in downtown Brooklyn as the country’s first privately initiated Urban Renewal project. Currently, he is managing the redevelopment of J&R Music World’s full block of properties facing City Hall Park as a multi-project mixed use complex.
Mr. Bailkin’s civic pursuits have dovetailed with his career focus. He has served in committee roles on leading real estate and economic development organizations, such as the Urban Land Institute, Real Estate Board of New York, IIUSA, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where his company served for two years as Co-Chairman of the Business Council. He has written extensively for Wharton’s Journal of Real Estate Finance and served as Chairman of Wharton Real Estate’s Corporate Outreach Program. Mr. Bailkin has been for many years, and continues to be listed in the “Best Lawyers in America” and “Super Lawyers in New York City.”
Mr. Bailkin’s primary current P3 project is transforming an impacted area of North Philadelphia into a major new job and tax generating community. In partnership with other private firms and with Amtrak, Mr. Bailkin is engaged in developing an “Innovation Community” of up to 4 million square feet. This project, known as North Station District (or NSD), will create a complex of applied innovation facilities and activities. It will provide expansion and tech business opportunities for the Temple community, particularly the medical complex. It will also involve upgrading and expanding the adjacent Amtrak and SEPTA transit facilities.
Mr. Bailkin sees NSD both as a “legacy” project, and as the model for the next phase of his continuing career—which is to apply his P3 approach to older cities throughout the U.S., focusing on large underutilized sites located near transit centers and academic institutions. In Mr. Bailkin’s view, “The challenge in the 60s was to save cities from blight and decline. While there are still inner city areas that need help, the current focus is to build on the emerging role of cities as generators of wealth and culture, and as a critical means of sustainability.”
For Mr. Bailkin, a major benefit of the NSD project has been to bring him back to his roots at Temple. “I owe a great deal to Temple for giving me a launching pad.” In particular, the NSD project has enabled Mr. Bailkin to work closely with the Fox School of Business, from where his son, Alex, recently graduated. At Fox, Mr. Bailkin shares his expertise in P3 development with students, including involving them in “hands-on” roles in the NSD project. Recently, he and his NSD partners demonstrated their commitment to Fox by funding a case study competition for a key innovation facility. Recognizing the strong institutional and talent base at Fox, Mr. Bailkin’s emerging goal is to help Fox become the leading institution in urban development, perhaps having a role in revitalizing cities equivalent to the role land grant universities played in catalyzing modern agriculture.
Temple University Degree
Bachelor of Arts ’67, College of Liberal Arts Concentration: Philosophy
Title & Company
Founder and Managing Principal, Arete Strategic Development, LLC Of Counsel, Akerman LLP
What I wanted to be when I was 20 years old
An adventurer. My goal, starting with joining the army at 17, was to experience as much adventure in life as possible. That same goal remains as a factor today in both my professional career and my personal pursuits.
Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me
The best advice (which I gave to myself early in life) was to always follow my own passions and natural abilities rather than defined career paths, and to compete with myself rather than try to match the success of others.