It all began with a simple premise: If you could ask the city's biggest, most powerful commercial real estate owners 15 questions, what would they be, and what would that list look like?
Sure, it would include market predictions and boilerplate real estate stuff, like views on Midtown South's dramatic uptick in popularity and its ongoing trendiness among tech upstarts. But it would also feature more intimate questions about politics and family, art and personal achievement. In short, it would be our platonic ideal of a night out with some of the most successful businessmen in New York.
And to our surprise, real estate owners responded enthusiastically and, in many cases, with a level of candor previously unseen in an industry where owners often play their cards close to the vest. Indeed, real estate titans like Anthony Malkin, Jason Pizer and Donald Trump let down their guard-if only for a moment-to share a lifetime of personal wisdom, market predictions and some strongly held convictions, from the outcome of November's presidential elections to a dollop of property tax angst.
However, even some of the omissions in their answers to our inquisition were telling. When asked, "Is LEED certification all it's cracked up to be?" Douglas Durst, the co-chairman of the Durst Organization, widely considered to be one of the real estate industry's most outspoken boosters of sustainable building, avoided the question altogether. So did a few political animals when asked to predict the elections.
As much as possible, we viewed this, our First Annual Owners Inquisition, as an opportunity to include the city's diverse array of landlords, from real estate investment trusts like SL Green and Vornado-who together command in excess of 50 million square feet of property in Manhattan-to smaller, nimbler companies like RXR Realty, Newmark Holdings and a host of other players whose well-known names dot the borough's skyline. The only requirement, in fact, was that the submissions come from owners boasting property in Manhattan rather than the outer boroughs, which hundreds of additional landlords call home.
Between July and September, we sent questionnaires to the media liaisons of the 50 largest Manhattan real estate owners, asking that they forward the questions to their company's president, chief executive and chairman. In some cases we reached out to the principals themselves, to managing directors or anyone else with access to decision-makers. Still later, we publicized the project through Twitter, The Commercial Observer's own website and other avenues. By last month, with dozens of questionnaires already submitted, we added a second layer of landlord profiles in an effort to create as comprehensive a list of the industry's ownership community as possible.
As a result, the who's who of commercial real estate owners that follows is a lovely cross-section of strong personalities, young up-and-comers and brash industry veterans, all going above and beyond to share their insights with the industry they lead.-Jotham Sederstrom, Editor-in-Chief
PRESIDENT & CO-CEO, SILVERSTEIN PROPERTIES
With 7 World Trade Center now fully leased and a second of his four planned towers at the site topping out at 72 stories in June, Larry Silverstein is looking to export his company's hard-won expertise in bringing huge projects to market. Silverstein Properties has an acquisition and development team stationed in Warsaw, where it's purchased three buildings as part of a joint venture with Poland's richest man, Yan Kulczyk. The company also plans to open an office in Shanghai in October or November, said Marty Burger, the 81-year-old Mr. Silverstein's co-CEO and heir apparent.
"We have incredible talent in this firm in building large projects," and China is one of the few markets with the demand to support them, Mr. Burger said.
7 World Trade Center was the first building to reopen at the site of the twin towers, which were destroyed in the 2001 terrorist attacks shortly after Silverstein acquired them. 4 World Trade Center, which topped out in June, is just over 50 percent leased to the city and the Port Authority, and the company expects the building to be open and operating next year, Mr. Burger said.
Of the two remaining structures, 3 World Trade Center has been built up to seven of its planned 80 floors and 2 Word Trade Center up to two floors of an eventual 79. Construction will proceed once tenants can be lined up, under an agreement that sets targets to trigger financing from the Port Authority. Mr. Burger said he's confident tenants will come.
"It's going to be a mixed bag, not all dependent on the financial industry," he said. 7 World Trade Center has drawn from the advertising and entertainment industries, as well as nonprofits and technology firms, among others. Contrary to expectations after the terrorist attack, the neighborhood has gained in appeal as a residential area, more than doubling in population to over 60,000, as lower Manhattan became the richest ZIP code in the nation, he said.
Among Silverstein's other projects in the city are a residential and hotel tower at 99 Church Street-now called 30 Park Place-where Moody's Investors Service was located before moving to 7 World Trade Center. Mr. Burger said he expects construction to begin next year.
A Four Seasons Hotel will occupy the first 22 floors of the 80-story tower, which will also include a specialty restaurant operated by the hotel chain. The upper floors will be devoted to apartments as large as 6,500 square feet.
Mr. Silverstein, who pioneered residential development near the west end of 42nd Street, is planning another project near his 921-unit River Place and 1,359-unit Silver Towers. The company is working with Mercedes-Benz on what Mr. Burger said is likely to be a mixed-use development on the site of the German automaker's former showroom on 11th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets. Mr. Burger, who calls himself "part of the solution for the future" at Silverstein Properties, previously worked at Goldman Sachs's Whitehall real estate investment fund, at Blackstone and, later, at the Related Companies, where he became one of Steve Ross's top deputies.
When he was searching for candidates to succeed him, Mr. Silverstein liked Mr. Burger's energy and persistence as a negotiator. "He reminds me a lot of myself as a younger man," Mr. Silverstein told The Commercial Observer. ?