Upper West Side resident Joshua Rechnitz comes from a family of philanthropists. His parents engaged in philanthropy in New Jersey, founding a theater company in Red Bank and bankrolling an arts building at Monmouth College. Rechnitz's grandparents, meanwhile, gave generously over the years to various New York City institutions, including Columbia University and Rockefeller University, as well as Jewish groups and museums. Rechnitz is an heir to his grandfather, Robert H. Heilbrunn's fortune. Heilbrunn, who passed in 2001, amassed wealth investing in undervalued companies starting during the Great Depression.
Rechnitz himself has kept a low profile. A Sarah Lawrence graduate, Rechnitz developed a passion for bicycling and became an amateur racer, later helping finance an amateur team. He also became minority partner of a bike shop in the West Village and has driven around the city in a Swedish roadster worth $1,200. Naturally, these interests have translated to philanthropy, and the quirky philanthropist in his early 50s made a splash a few years ago when he made an initial pledge of $40 million (upped to $50 million) to fund a fieldhouse with an indoor cycling race track in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The fieldhouse was set to have as many as 2,500 seats, and a 22,000-square-foot field that could be used for other activities including yoga and basketball. At the time, the gift was to be the largest single donation made to New York City parks. Of course, this was before hedge funder John Paulson came onto the scene with his controversial $100 million gift to Central Park. As for Rechnitz, his gift also came with controversy, from neighborhood groups wary of added traffic to those who weren't quite seeing the need for huge facilities for such an obscure sport. Ultimately, Rechnitz withdrew his proposal after the project was deemed too expensive.
That's not all Reichnitz has been invoved with, however. He's given at least $7 million to Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation, a nonprofit he established to purchase and transform an early 20th century Brooklyn power-generating station into artists’ studios. When completed, Powerhouse Workshop will be a "permanent home for a community of New York City artists dedicated to the creation and exhibition of new work." Powerhouse enrolled the site in the NYS Brownfield Clean-Up Program and measures to clean out the building and improve the site have been ongoing.
It's unclear where Rechnitz goes from here, but to some extent he well-embodies this new era of philanthropists where individuals are turning to philanthropy at much younger ages. One can also add Rechnitz to a growing list of private moneymen who have the potential to wield large influence over public spaces.