The evening sparkled on Thursday, January 17, as over 2200 business leaders, real estate titans and a panoply of elected officials gathered at the New York Hilton Hotel for the 117th annual Real Estate Board of New York banquet.
Considered to be one a must-attend for the New York society crowd, a palpable electricity filled the room at the $1000 a plate gala that saw a 10% increase in attendance from last year. The REBNY has come a long way since its founding days, as a mere 50 guests attended the very first dinner back in 1897.
Industry experts attribute the growing attendance to vibrant activity in the retail sector of the real estate market and a booming rental and investment sales market.
Among the prominent New York personalities on hand were New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, as well as thousands of celebrated real estate professionals, such as Douglas Durst, Kent Swig, Lawrence Gluck, Larry Silverstein, Ziel Feldman, Paul Massey and James Kuhn. Former MTA Chairman and mayoral candidate Joseph Lhota was in attendance as was John Catsimatidis.
During the cocktail reception, talk of business could be heard amongst brokers and many voiced varied prognostications on how 2013 would unfold for the New York real estate world.
According to reports posted on the premiere real estate web site, “The Real Deal”, a number of the biggest movers and shakers in the industry weighed in.
Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail sales and leasing at Douglas Elliman, took an optimistic tone on retail: “I think it can go even further.”
Taking a more circumspect approach on retail was Jason Pruger, an executive managing director at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. While some areas, such as Fifth Avenue, were doing well with the tourist traffic, others were not, he said. “There are areas like Downtown, since the flooding, and Second Avenue, that are hurting. Where tourists are not shopping, that is a challenge,” Pruger said.
One person who has been in the forefront of making acquisitions of multi-family dwellings in Manhattan is Avi Lebor of Kushner Companies. He expects rental rates to continue to rise, but did not expect much growth this year in the value of office buildings. “We feel very bullish on the residential market, we certainly hope so. That’s why we are buying,” he said.
“Our biggest problem is lack of product. We did a mass sell off in December. We had 90 transactions. It decimated our listing inventory,” ruefully observed James Nelson, a partner at Massey Knakal Realty Services.
The luxury rental market “is somewhat seasonal”, said MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president at the development firm Forest City Ratner, adding that the number of potential residential tenants looking to lease a $50,000-per-month apartment was smaller. She said the three top penthouses remained available at New York by Gehry, at 8 Spruce Street, even as apartment hunters below had leased 90 percent of the tower.
Real estate folks seemed genuinely forlorn knowing that Mayor Bloomberg, who was attending the event as mayor for the very last time, would be leaving office net January. With tongue in cheek, Robert Shapiro, president of City Center Real Estate said that Bloomberg should “run for a fourth term.”
Although Bloomberg’s popularity remains high with this sector of the business community, some took a skeptical perspective on his recent attempt at leaving a lasting legacy on Midtown development. The rezoning proposal is being led by gala-attendee Amanda Burden, director of the Department of City Planning, and some conjectured that is would face insurmountable hurdles in getting passed.
Highly doubtful that the plan would be passed before the conclusion of Bloomberg’s term in December of 2013, Thomas Elghanayan, chairman of TF Cornerstone said, “I don’t think they will be able to do it,” and added that it would be very likely that the next mayor would not pursue the plan.
“We need a mayor who has a view of how government and business need to come together,” said Bruce Mosler, chairman of Global Brokerage at Cushman & Wakefield.
Noting Bloomberg’s step-by-step approach to attracting technology companies to New York, Scott Rechler, CEO of RXR Realty and vice-chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the next mayor must have a practical way of implementing his or her vision.
The organization honored six real estate professionals during the awards ceremony. Dottie Herman, CEO of residential brokerage Douglas Elliman, was given the Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award and Woody Heller, executive managing director at Studley, won the Louis Smadbeck Broker Recognition Award.
Another Studley broker, William Montana, a managing director, was presented with the The Young Real Estate Man of the Year Award. Developer Donald Zucker, chairman of the Donald Zucker Company, was the recipient of the Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership in Real Estate Award.
Meanwhile, Dick Concannon, a senior vice president at Rudin Management, won the George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award, and Mike Fishman, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, was given the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award.
“It feels like there are 50 percent more people here than last year. That may mean it’s time to sell. There was this same feeling in 2007,” cautioned Peter Hauspurg, CEO of Eastern Consolidated.
Absent from the banquet, however, were several celebrated real estate professionals, whose obligations to their families made it impossible for them to attend. Among them are Jeff Sutton of Wharton Properties, Stanley Chera of Crown Acquisitions, Morris Bailey of Jemb Realty and Joey Sitt of Thor Equities. As giants in the real estate world, their presence at the event was sorely missed. “I feel like there is a gaping hole without these guys being with us tonight as they are so incredibly important to our industry,” said a professional acquaintance. He added that, “They are true family men in every respect, and this week their kids have winter break from school. Because they devote so much time to business throughout the year, they specifically designated this week to spending time exclusively with their wives and their beloved kids. For that, myself and others here applaud them.”