St. John’s Celebrates Grand Opening of Mattone Family Institute for Real Estate Law
Last night, with a cut of a St. John’s red ribbon, Joseph M. Mattone, Sr. ‘53C, ‘55L, ‘93HON officially opened the Mattone Family Institute for Real Estate Law.
Housed in well-appointed, spacious quarters at St. John’s Law, the Mattone Institute is led by full-time director Robert J. Sein ‘03 and will be supported by students and fellows. “We’ve designed the Institute to be the Law School’s academic and pre-professional training hub for all students interested in pursuing a career in real estate law. We plan to provide students with the knowledge, practical experience, and ethical training required to excel in today’s real estate law practice,” Sein says. As Mattone envisions it, it’s “a bridge with many exits” that will provide continuing legal education, colloquia and conferences, expanded course offerings, clinical training, and externships and internships, among other opportunities.
In design and mission, the Institute reflects the values of a man who, by all accounts, was born to work in New York real estate. The youngest of nine, Mattone was raised in the house his grandfather built in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn during the height of the Great Depression. He attended P.S. 17, Stuyvesant High School, St. John’s Prep, and St. John’s College and Law School, from which he graduated in five years cum laude.
“The Vincentian fathers allowed my father’s family to pay tuition when they could, and he has never forgotten that,” says Mattone’s son, Michael X. Mattone ‘91, chief financial officer of the Mattone Group. “My father was the only one in his family to graduate from college and law school. That was made possible by the sacrifices of his parents and siblings, all of whom worked from an early age to help the family. It was incredibly important to them that my father achieve his goals.”
Mattone’s grandparents arrived in New York from Italy in 1875 with the hope for a better life for their children and for the generations to come. Mattone’s father embraced their strong work ethic and passed it down to his children. It was this inheritance, plus the Vincentian ideals of community and service, that provided the foundation for Mattone’s successful career.
After he graduated from St. John’s Law, Mattone started working with his brother, who was 21 years his senior. He handled condemnation matters in Brooklyn and Queens during the period of Robert Moses’ expansive urban renewal programs. Always success-minded, Mattone was happy to take on “whatever came through the door.”
As Mattone recalls, it wasn’t long before he received a call from an attorney who was looking for a local lawyer in Brooklyn. The attorney asked what he knew about land rights under water and, with his typical candor, Mattone replied, “not too much.” Despite his lack of experience, he got the job representing Pepsi-Cola’s bid to buy submerged land in the area. “The crazy thing,” Mattone says, is that “the land was more valuable with water over it.”
When the relative newcomer Mattone asked more seasoned colleagues what he should charge for this new line of work, they said, “These are Manhattan guys.” So, he billed his clients one-tenth of one percent on a $10 million deal for three days of work. His fair billing and excellent representation led to work with Alcoa and, before he knew it, Mattone was the riparian law expert of Brooklyn.
In the years that followed, he worked on a number of real estate deals in the borough. One involved purchasing a small property for $1,500 for a client named “Izzy.” Less than three hours later, Mattone received a call asking if Izzy would be willing to sell. Izzy told him to ask for $15,000 and, despite thinking “this was insane,” Mattone relayed the price quote just as directed.
The prospective buyer, Jimmy Mannix, immediately came to his office to see who would have the guts to ask for that kind of immediate return on their investment. He didn’t end up buying that property, Mattone says, but it was the start of a long relationship between the two that included many joint real estate deals.
After amassing solid experience developing commercial and industrial properties for others, Mattone branched out and began to develop projects on his own. Among the young mogul’s earliest independent endeavors was the development and leasing of properties to McDonald’s, Burger King, Exxon, Texaco, and Mobil. He also built and leased properties to Chemical Bank and Home Federal Saving and Loan.
As he grew his commercial business, Mattone started to delve into residential properties, most notably two 19-story, 360-unit apartment buildings in Brooklyn called Harway Terrace. He also bought vacant land in Queens where he constructed 110 one-family homes in one of the largest residential development projects in the county’s history. He was one of the original development partners in MetroTech, a four million square foot Class A office park in Downtown Brooklyn.
Today, Mattone sits as chairman and chief executive officer of the Mattone Group, LLC, a Queens-based development and construction company that manages over two million square feet of commercial, residential, and industrial properties in New York, Georgia, Illinois, Connecticut, and Florida. One of their most notable properties is the Jamaica Center Site 1, a 411,000 square foot development, located in the heart of Jamaica, Queens.
The creation of the Jamaica Center attracted big-name tenants to the neighborhood for the first time in decades. Other projects in the borough include restaurants adjoining the Queens Center Mall, a Pathmark supermarket in Springfield Gardens, and a Home Depot in Jamaica. Mattone’s focus on developing properties in Queens and Brooklyn has brought new amenities, economic activity, and hundreds of jobs to the community.
In addition to his property development work, Mattone is a senior partner at Mattone, Mattone, Mattone LLP, a full-service law firm based in Queens. The firm represents several financial institutions as outside counsel for their residential mortgage closings. Mattone attributes his success in business and law to hard work and fairness. “You want to be recognized as someone who respects the deal, especially in the brokerage community,” he says. “Integrity travels.”
Throughout his professional career, Mattone has promoted education and philanthropy, knowing first-hand the power that both have in shaping future generations. He was the first person to give $1 million to St. John’s University, and served as a founding member of its board of governors.
Continuing this proud tradition of supporting alma mater, in 2016, Mattone made a transformational $3 million gift to establish the Mattone Family Institute for Real Estate Law.
Joining their patriarch to celebrate the Institute’s grand opening were members of the Mattone family, which includes 27 grandchildren and St. John’s graduates Irene M. Mattone ‘79C, ‘82L (Daughter); Julie Mattone Bello ’79CBA (Daughter); Joseph M. Mattone, Jr. ‘86 (Son); Teresa A. Mattone ‘88 (Daughter); James V. Mattone ‘89 (Nephew); Denise R. Melillo ‘90 (Daughter-in-law); Michael X. Mattone (Son); Grovine Y. Mattone ‘97 (Niece); Joseph Lobosco 2013 ‘13 (Grandson); Christina Bello ‘15 (Granddaughter); and Irene Mattone ‘15C (Granddaughter).
“When I was in law school, I couldn’t tell you what a deed was,” Irene Mattone says. “The Institute will be critical to helping students gain practical, hands-on experience. Traditional law school curriculum doesn’t teach you to handle the nuts and bolts of closings, foreclosures, etc. I’m excited students will get that opportunity.” Reflecting on her father’s generosity, she adds: “He’s always been more of a doer than a talker when it comes to giving back. The Institute is another example of that.”
About 130 St. John’s Law alumni, students, and friends also joined in the grand opening celebration, including Hon. Janet DiFiore, ’81, '17HON, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and the State of New York, and Queens Borough President Melinda N. Katz ’90, who expressed their gratitude to Mattone and his family for providing a vital real estate forum to St. John’s Law and the wider community. Katz also presented Mattone with a plaque proclaiming “Wednesday, November 8, 2017 as Joseph M. Mattone, Sr. Day in Queens.”
“Like many of my fellow St. John’s Law alumni, I’ve been excited about the Mattone Institute for some time, and I was delighted to celebrate its official opening,” says Peter Irwin '96, corporate partner and chair of the real estate group at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. “The academic and pre-professional training the Institute will provide to aspiring real estate attorneys will give them a considerable head start in the real estate industry.”
“I’m ever grateful to Joe and his family for their generosity and vision in establishing the Mattone Institute," Dean Michael A. Simons says. “St. John’s Law has a long history of producing excellent real estate attorneys, and the Institute will cement our role as a hub for legal education, scholarship, and training in New York for years to come.”