TORONTO – Paul Reichmann was remembered as a giant in the real estate field, who, along with his brothers, earned billions from their innovative and ambitious projects, but who also gave tens of millions to a wide range of community organizations.
Reichmann, a Hungarian-born developer and philanthropist, died late last week at 83. He had been ill and bed-ridden for some time.
A senior staff member at one of the Reichmann-supported Orthodox institutions in Toronto compared him to a modern-day Rothschild.
His passing was noted by a variety of business publications and dailies for leading his family’s Olympia & York Developments Ltd. in designing and constructing landmark projects, including London’s Canary Wharf and New York’s World Financial Center.
According to author Anthony Bianco, who wrote a book about the family, Olympia & York was “the greatest property development company in western history.”
At its height in 1988, the cumulative wealth of the Reichmann brothers – Paul, Albert and Ralph – was estimated at $9.2 billion by Forbes magazine. Reichmann purchased eight Manhattan office buildings in 1977 for more than $300 million (all figures US). Ten years later they were worth $3 billion.
According to JTA, The company built nearly 100 buildings in the Toronto area during its first 15 years of operation. Among the family’s projects was First Canadian Place, the tallest bank tower in the world at 72 storeys when it was completed in 1975.
By 1992, Olympia & York was forced to seek bankruptcy protection when loans to finance Canary Wharf came due before tenants could be found for the development.
The crisis affected the family’s ability to support a number of philanthropic projects, which, at their height, amounted to some $50 million a year, according to the New York Times.
The Reichmanns were instrumental in founding Kollel Toronto, a community learning institution and adult education centre.
“It was his idea and his family’s to start the Toronto kollel,” said a senior staff member who asked that his name not be used.
“He came up with the idea of having a kollel and getting the younger crowd to stay in town. People were moving to New York or perhaps Israel,” he said.
When the kollel was founded in 1970, “it was kind of an experiment. It was a first. There was no such thing.”
“The idea was to bring a group of young scholars to town, and that would attract younger people, [and] the schools would get larger and attract more people.”
The kollel proved successful in stemming the outflow of young Orthodox people, he added.
The ability of the Reichmann family to support the facility was compromised by the family’s financial woes, but even afterward, their support contributed to more than half the institution’s budget, the staffer said. Over the years, they gave “millions and millions of dollars” to the facility, which now boasts more than 40 full-time scholars and a few hundred who study part time or worship at the centre.
The kollel was not the only Toronto institution to benefit from Reichmann’s support.
“Until [the bankruptcy], he was one of the main funders of Orthodox institutions [in Toronto],” said the staff person. Even when the family could no longer maintain the same level of funding, “he was the driving force behind it and he got other people behind it.”
Reichmann was born in Vienna, the fifth of six children. His father, Samuel, was a successful businessman who had left Hungary in 1928.
According to Bianco, the family fled Austria after the German annexation in 1938, moving first to Paris and later to Morocco, where Samuel made “a second fortune” as a currency dealer.
As a young man, Paul devoted himself to studying Torah. According to Bloomberg News, from 1953 to 1956 he worked in Casablanca as educational director of Ozar Hatorah, which operated Orthodox schools.
He moved to Toronto in 1957. He expanded his brothers’ import business, Olympia Floor & Wall Tile, and turned to real estate development.
Despite his success, Reichmann never forgot his roots. Their offices and businesses were closed on Saturdays as the Reichmann family remained committed to their Jewish heritage.
A memorial service attended by 1,000 people was held at the Bais Yaakov girls school on Saranac Boulevard, which he had supported. He was interred in Jerusalem. The funeral service “was very sad,” the Kollel staff person said. Reichmann’s generosity affected many worthwhile charities. “There’s almost no one who wasn’t touched,” he said.
Paul is survived by his wife, Lea, and five children, Vivian, Rachel, Libby, Barry and Henry.