Edward J Minskoff: philanthropist, arts patron, generous Spartan

By Omar Sofradzija, communications manager

“To say that Edward Minskoff is a developer would be like saying Picasso was a painter.”

That’s how the New York Sun described Minskoff – one of America’s preeminent developers – in 2006. In his career he has developed or acquired roughly 40 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate, but the philanthropist has never forgotten his alma mater: Michigan State University, from which he graduated in 1962 with a degree in economics.

Edward J. Minskoff
Edward J. Minskoff

Minskoff, founder and president of Edward J. Minskoff Equities, Inc., has offered his time and treasure to MSU for more than five decades, including his latest gift of $30 million toward the completion of the $62 million Business Pavilion at the Eli Broad College of Business.

It is the largest single gift received from an individual in MSU’s history. While remarkable in size, Minskoff’s generosity toward MSU is nothing new. His efforts in many facets of development helped open the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (which includes the Julie and Edward J. Minskoff Gallery), among other university facilities.

Minskoff is known not just for his development acumen, but also for his desire to build landmark spaces that radiate elegance and style.

“He’s an interesting man,” John Engler, MSU interim president, said during an event unveiling the gift Thursday, Sept. 6. “His career was focused on developing these spaces that really are ground-breaking and inspirational. He had vision and capabilities to do something that others simply looked at, but couldn’t tackle. He did.”

The Business Pavilion construction site. Photo courtesy MSU University Advancement.
The Business Pavilion construction site. Photo courtesy MSU University Advancement.

That aesthetic concern is not incidental but central to Minskoff’s intent. “Buildings are an art form. That’s why I get very involved in the design of everything I build,” he told the Sun in 2006. “I’m a very visual person, but the types of buildings that I develop are meant to have permanency and lasting elegance, and not just offer immediate gratification.”

“I know that what I’ve built will be around during the lifetime of my great-grandchildren,” Minskoff said.

To that end, Minskoff has worked with some of the world’s great architects and architectural firms, including I.M. Pei, Cesar Pelli, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. For the Broad Museum, Minskoff played a major role in getting the university to work with architect Zaha Hadid, who Time magazine named as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010.

Minskoff’s passion for beauty extends to his personal life. ARTnews has frequently listed Minskoff and his wife, Julie, among the world’s top 200 art collectors, known for their interest in postwar, pop, and contemporary American and European art. Their collection includes no fewer than 19 works by Picasso, along with pieces by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and others. The couple also holds one of the world’s largest collections of work by contemporary artist Jeff Koons, the magazine said.

MSU honored Minskoff in 2009 with an honorary doctorate in business and in 2013 with the university’s Philanthropist of the Year Award. He now serves on the President’s Campaign Cabinet, tasked with overseeing MSU’s Empower Extraordinary campaign, which to date has raised more than $1.7 billion to support programs and initiatives across the university.

“The generosity of Mr. Minskoff is really almost beyond words,” Melanie Foster, an MSU trustee, said at the gift unveiling event. “He’s been on a long journey in support of Michigan State.”

Rendering of Business Pavilion's North Lawn.
Rendering of Business Pavilion’s North Lawn.

For the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Minskoff mined his wallet and his wisdom. Not only was he a seven-figure donor to the museum, but he also lent his development acumen to the project.

“Had it not been for Mr. Minskoff’s technical expertise in construction on the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, we would not have brought that project in on time and within budget. He was of tremendous assistance to us in that project,” Foster said. “He truly is a Spartan who gives back.”

Minskoff was happy to help.

“Sometimes the private sector can contribute significantly to institutional decisions, especially complicated ones,” Minskoff told the MSU Alumni Association in 2013. “We’re glad to be able to help both the design selection and development process. The end product is a fantastic architectural gem that will bring tremendous recognition and credibility to Michigan State.”

While generous, Minskoff is very private. “I keep as low a profile as I can. I was never driven to be more successful than my peers,” he told the Sun. “My industry is semi-dysfunctional, and there are people out there who claim more for themselves than warranted. I don’t love notoriety, as some people do. I never compare myself to others. I only hope that I have the respect of my peers.”

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