MetroTech mourns: Downtown pioneer Terence M. Whalen dies of cancer at 65

MetroTech mourns: Downtown pioneer Terence M. Whalen dies of cancer at 65
Urban development titans: Forest City Ratner property manager Terence M. Whalen, right, here with Bruce Ratner celebrating the 2012 opening of Barclays Center, has passed away.
Forest City Ratner Companies

Charismatic property pundit Terence M. Whalen, whose management chops helped start a Brooklyn real estate revolution and develop the borough’s commercial muscle, died on Nov. 2 of cancer. He was 65 years old.

The avid Giants fan quarterbacked Forest City Ratner Companies’ commercial assets, working right until the end as president of its management and facilities’ firm, First New York Partners. Whalen oversaw Barclays Center and the New York Times Building, among other business holdings, making sure they were places office tenants would want to occupy. But his legacy truly lives on in Downtown’s MetroTech Center.

The urban development expert came to the crime-and-drug-plagued region in the late 1980s when developer Bruce Ratner was breaking ground on the commercial and academic hub that is now home to powerhouses such as JP Morgan Chase, National Grid, and Community News Group and hosts concerts and holiday celebrations on its block-sized, landscaped commons.

Whalen’s time-honored experience, honed across the city and the nation, was integral to Forest City Ratner’s triumphs and made him an ideal partner, said Ratner.

“Terry was a real team player, a consummate professional, and one of the most reliable people I know,” he said. “In every situation we encountered I was always happy to have him on my team, because I knew he could get the job done no matter how hard it was.”

Peers admired his chutzpah.

“Terry came to work in MetroTech at a time when not a lot of people wanted to be here,” said Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “He guided the day-to-day operations, helped people feel safe, and made MetroTech a desirable location.”

Whalen, who lived on Long Island, frequent strolled the commons and credited the area with igniting so-called “Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle” — the concentration of tech-focused schools and businesses in Dumbo, Downtown, and the Navy Yard.

“He liked to tell me that’s why they called it MetroTech,” said Reed. “He was always out and about keeping an eye on things.”

Whalen sat on several realty boards and earned many industry awards, but he was also a grassroots gladiator who helped form the MetroTech Business Improvement District — one of the city’s first. He was part of the 1995 effort to bring new color-coded street signs and guideposts to lure motorists to popular Downtown spots.

“One wrong turn can take you a long way past MetroTech,” he told the New York Daily News at the time. “The way they are now, the signs don’t even tell you you’re anywhere near Downtown Brooklyn.”

Whalen was married to his high-school sweetheart, Ann Marie, for 46 years until his death. She managed the boys’ track team and Whalen’s coach set them up by having Whalen drive her home one night after practice. The couple has two children and several grandchildren.

The affable executive left an indelible impression even on acquaintances.

“Mr. Whalen was a very well-respected man, but he was also a very funny man,” said Clara Zapanta, a human resources associate at Forest City Ratner’s MetroTech office. “Every time I’d see him in the elevator, he always said something to make me laugh.”

Terence Whalen is survived by wife Ann Marie; son Terence, Jr.; daughter Meghan; daughters-in-law Joli and Nicole; grandchildren Brendan, Patrick, and Kira Whalen and Destiny Alvarado-Whalen; brothers Jack and Bobby; and sisters-in-law Carol and Rahma.

His burial site was undisclosed.

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