CU mourns businessman and philanthropist Paul Milstein

August 12, 2010

Real estate developer, philanthropist, and Cornell benefactor Paul Milstein died August 8 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88. Milstein and his wife, Irma, made possible the new building on campus that will bear his name; Milstein Hall is now under construction for AAP, and will open in 2011.

"Our hearts and thoughts are with the Milstein family during this very difficult time," President David Skorton said. "The Milsteins are among the university's most dedicated leaders and generous benefactors. Cornell would not be the same institution it is today without their engagement and support."

Born in 1922 in New York City, Milstein worked for his father Morris' Bronx-based Circle Floor Co.; he was named president in 1961. He and his older brother Seymour went on to become influential real estate developers, and they were responsible for projects that helped transform and revive neighborhoods throughout the city — including Times Square, Battery Park City, and the Upper West and Upper East sides. At one point the Milstein real estate empire controlled about 20 million square feet of office space, 8,000 hotel rooms, and 50,000 apartments in New York City, as well as the Emigrant Savings Bank and the Milford Plaza Hotel. The brothers would later attain board and top management positions in several companies, including United Brands.

Irma Milstein committed a gift of $10 million to Cornell in 1999 in honor of her husband, for a building that would create a distinctive gateway to the campus. Ground was broken for Milstein Hall in June 2009. The 47,000-square-foot building was designed by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, based in Manhattan and Rotterdam. "Paul Milstein was a man who made a difference in business, in his community and in education," said chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees Peter Meinig '61, '62. "We are profoundly grateful for his and Irma's support of Cornell, and for the dedication to civic commitment that they passed on to their children."

Paul and Irma Milstein's connection with Cornell has been as parents and grandparents — their children Howard '73 and daughter Barbara '76, Barbara's husband David Zalaznick '76 and several grandchildren are all alumni. These ties were instrumental in the family's decision to have the building named for Milstein, who attended the New York University School of Architecture.

At a 2007 naming ceremony on campus honoring his parents, Howard said of his father: "He loves talking to people, people like presidents of the United States and presidents of foreign countries, all the way to the newest employees in one of our buildings. He would talk to waitresses and cabbies. He believed that the best way to learn about a situation was by talking to everybody, and he developed a worldview that really was a step ahead of others."

The Milstein family's charitable legacy in New York City includes the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the Museum of Natural History; the Milstein Hospital Building of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center; the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia Business School; and the New York Public Library's Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History, and Genealogy. Paul Milstein also served on the board of the UJA-Federation in New York and chaired its Jewish Leadership Forum; and served on the board of the Jewish Association for Services to the Aged.

He is survived by his wife, Irma; their four children: Howard, Barbara, Edward, and Roslyn Meyer; sister Gloria Flanzer; 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A private funeral took place August 10, and a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

By Dan Aloi

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