Robert Douglass, Founding Chair of the Alliance for Downtown New York and Civic Champion, Dies at 85 | Downtown Alliance

Robert Douglass, Founding Chair of the Alliance for Downtown New York and Civic Champion, Dies at 85

Robert Douglass, who was the longtime chair of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (D-LMA), the founding chair of the Alliance for Downtown New York and a staunch advocate of Lower Manhattan businesses and residents, died on December 6th, 2016 at his home in Greenwich, CT, surrounded by his family. He was 85 years old.

In his work with the D-LMA and as Counsel and Secretary to New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Douglass played a formative part in shaping downtown New York. His fingerprints were on everything from Battery Park City to the original World Trade Center.

More than two decades ago, he was among a small group of visionaries who conceived of and pushed for plans to revitalize Lower Manhattan. He also played a pivotal role in the area’s recovery after the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

In 1993, as the chair of the D-LMA, Douglass worked with the New York City Planning Department to draft a blueprint for a new Lower Manhattan, which called for zoning changes, incentives for residential conversions and new commercial tenants, tax abatement programs and the establishment of a business improvement district. This and a subsequent D-LMA proposal outlining specific incentives led to the city’s Plan for the Revitalization of Lower Manhattan as well as the creation of the Alliance for Downtown New York. The Alliance manages the business improvement district for Lower Manhattan and provides service, advocacy, research and information to advance the area as a global model of a 21st century Central Business District for businesses, residents and visitors. 

“He was a giant and a gentleman, and it is nearly impossible to overstate his influence on this neighborhood,” said Downtown Alliance President Jessica Lappin. “For more than 30 years, he championed Lower Manhattan’s growth and played a significant part in its recovery after the 9/11 attacks. As an advocate for businesses and residents, he has helped articulate a compelling vision for a Lower Manhattan for the 21st Century. Lower Manhattan simply would not be what it is today without him.”

After receiving the Liberty Award at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s annual gala in 2012, Douglass described Lower Manhattan’s extraordinary recovery after the 9/11 attacks and added: “I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world to have had the opportunity to play a part in this incredible transformation.”

In 2005, Mr. Douglass was appointed by New York Governor George Pataki to the Board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Pataki described Douglass as “a tireless advocate for Lower Manhattan for decades” and a “dynamic, committed leader who brings the vision, experience and expertise to ensure that we realize the Master Site Plan for the World Trade Center and ensure that Lower Manhattan remains the financial capital of the world for generations to come.”

Of Counsel to Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Douglass led a prestigious career in civic service and in domestic and international banking. He was also Chairman of the Board of Clearstream International, the Luxembourg-based international securities clearing and settlement organization.

Douglass was a partner at Milbank from 1972 through 1976. Between 1965 to 1972, he served as Counsel and later Secretary to New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. Prior to that, he was associated with the law firm of Hinman, Howard & Kattell of Binghamton, NY.

In 1985, Douglass became General Counsel of The Chase Manhattan Corporation and subsequently served as Vice Chairman and a Director. He held several other positions at Chase, including chief client relations officer, head of institutional banking, head of national banking and executive in charge of strategic planning and legal affairs. In 1993, he returned to Milbank.

Douglass was a member of several business and not-for-profit boards of directors. He was Vice Chairman of the Board of Urstadt Biddle Properties, a Director of the Business Council for the United Nations and a former Trustee of the following organizations: the New York Public Library, The New York Botanical Garden, The Museum of Modern Art and Dartmouth College. He was a former Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 

Robert R. Douglass was born on Oct. 16, 1931, in Binghamton, NY. He received his B.A. with distinction from Dartmouth College in 1953, an L.L.B. from Cornell Law School in 1959 and an honorary Master of Arts degree from Dartmouth in 1983. In 1974, Mr. Douglass received the Annual Wallace Award given by the American-Scottish Foundation to persons of Scottish descent for distinguished service to the United States.

Douglass was a member of the Round Hill Club and Blind Brook, The Century Association and The Downtown Association. Douglass used to spend time at his family’s  summer home in Maine, where he was a member of The Harbor Club and the Seal Harbor Yacht Club.

He is survived by his wife, Linda,  two sons, Robert, Jr., and Andrew, and a daughter, Brooke.