Moinian’s Main Man: Gregg Weisser on Columbus Circle and Young & Rubicam
Daniel Edward Rosen Feb. 21, 2012, 12:30 p.m.
Gregg Weisser knows how to handle a hot house. The newly anointed executive managing director of the Moinian Group, and volunteer fireman with the Kismet Fire Department in Fire Island, New York, is no stranger to putting out fires, be it a burning beach house or as a director of leasing across some of the city’s most notable addresses. As the real estate director of JPMorgan Chase, where he had worked for over 20 years, Mr. Weisser closed a million and a half feet of empty space in 1 New York Plaza.
It took him two years, and he appears to have enjoyed every moment of it. “Those are the things that you kind of live for; that’s what I love,” he told The Commercial Observer. Now happily ensconced with the Moinian Group, where since October he has been charged with overseeing the commercial and retail leasing of the firm’s 20-building portfolio in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago, Mr. Weisser spoke with The Commercial Observer about the challenges that lie ahead, and the promise of 3 Columbus Circle.
The Commercial Observer: How does the Moinian Group differ from working with a large financial institution like JPMorgan Chase?
Gregg Weisser: Everything to this point has enhanced my abilities to be here. I started as a broker at Cross & Brown, and I did that for a period of years and then joined what was then the Chase Manhattan Bank. At Chase, I was responsible for a lot of the owned assets and also third-party tenants during part of my tenure there over 20 years. The other part I spent doing tenant strategies on the tenant side, working as a tenant.
I would tell you that to be an owner, to have had a brokerage background—and I have my broker’s license, my New York State broker’s license—to be a broker, to be a tenant, and to be a landlord all brings me to being here, and everything that I did was very useful in getting me to this place. And I think it’s a unique set of qualities that allows me to understand the shoes of everybody that walks in this door. I know where they’re coming from, and I think it makes it easy for us to talk to each other and make deals.
You’re going to the Moinian Group. They own a ton of properties across New York, but what are the challenges working for a group that is somewhat prolific in New York City and is known to buy and build new buildings at a fairly steady clip?
The Moinian Group owns roughly 20 million square feet of space nationally. They have another 10 million square feet of development-ready sites across the country, 4.5 of which are in New York.
There’s a beautiful site on 42nd Street and 11th Avenue called 605 West 42nd Street. Joe has a vision of putting in 100,000 feet of retail on the ground floor and lower floors and putting a residential tower above. He also has a site on 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which we believe to be the best site of all of Hudson Yards, which is where the 7 train comes right up into the building at 34th Street and sits on the northeast corner of what will then be Hudson Street, and it runs an entire block.
So there are no buildings butted up against it, and there will be breathtaking views all the way around. Joe wants to put in office use. He wants to put in retail use. He’s thinking of a hotel. He’s an extremely creative guy.
My job is more limited to running the commercial and retail aspects of leasing real property. So while my expertise in other areas can be useful, and I’m often pulled into some of these meetings and some of these adventures, mostly what I focus on on a daily basis is to create and add value to the properties and make sure they’re rented up properly. That’s what I think my key performance measure is: How well are the buildings rented?
And how well are the buildings rented?
Well, I’m glad you asked [laughs]. Each one is in a different marketplace, so certain markets are hotter than others. For example, there is a claim that suggests that midtown south is probably one of the hottest real estate areas in the entire country, and fortunately Joe Moinian, who is a visionary and thinks about this stuff years and years ahead of anybody else, has four properties within that area. We have two of the four buildings nearly completely leased up, and the other ones are on their way to being leased up, and we have marketing campaigns for both of them and I think we’re doing pretty well.
The problem that I have is I have very high expectations and I would like to see these buildings leased 100 percent at all times.
There are a couple of opportunities to achieve better occupancy, and one of them is 535-545 Fifth Avenue. It’s a pair of buildings that butt up and they’re two blocks from Grand Central Station. The lobbies were renovated just a few years ago. They’re wonderful properties, they’re right on Fifth Avenue, and on those lower floors, we could break through the two buildings to create a 33,000-foot floor plate, which is very, very rare for a Fifth Avenue location near Grand Central Station in a reasonable class-A type of building, so that’s very cool.
Are there any new developments in the works for Moinian?
Actually, yes. We’re building a building over on Eighth Avenue in the 50’s and we think that’s going to be hotel-oriented. A lot of what we’re doing, a lot of what I see we’re doing, is we’re recapitalizing the assets, we’re trying to position them properly in the marketplace, that is what I see.
Joe could probably build buildings for the rest of his life without having to buy something, which to me is also very amazing.
Considering your feet are still wet, what type of deals have you worked on since joining the firm in October?
I can tell you that I am very pleased to be part of the group that’s going to see the 3 Columbus Circle building finally get finished, 1775 Broadway. When Joe bought this thing, it was an older building, it was not positioned in the marketplace properly. He was smart enough to bring his partner, SL Green, into the picture, who does most of the heavy lifting these days. But to be candid with you, it’s a team effort, and I’m just glad I’m on the team to finally see this property get realized the way Joe envisioned this thing when he first got into it.
Did you work on the Young & Rubicam deal?
Not prior to joining Moinian. I mean, I know all those guys pretty well because I was a tenant, and WPP, which owns Y&R, a lot of tenants tend to know each other very, very well in the marketplace. This was a very creative deal, and I would tip my hat to SL Green for really driving this one home.
This is a Madison Avenue mainstay, and to go over to 3 Columbus Avenue—let’s be honest, it had its fair share of bad press, or, at least, its financial troubles were well reported on. How did the deal come about?
I can tell you that when this thing started up, it went very, very quickly, and CBRE, who was representing their interests, pushed very, very hard to get this accomplished.
I can only tell you that 3 Columbus offered the most compelling argument of all to Y&R. By the way, the Columbus Circle area is full of media-type advertising tenants. This is a new hub, if you will, of tenancy. The Time Warner Center, Time Warner Cable, you have a lot of communication companies over there, so I think it’s almost natural for Y&R to want to be up there. I don’t see that as sort of a queer location. I see it as a normal course of events in a big city like this.
What’s been the Y&R effect? Are you starting to see a lot of other media companies visit 3 Columbus?
Yes, we are, and we’re looking at a lot of other opportunities. In fact, another lease was just signed yesterday that I can’t talk about for another floor at the building, so the building has real momentum going for it.
We are negotiating right now with a three-floor tenant. We’re going to be moving over there, so I’m told, now that 530 [Fifth Avenue] is no longer owned by us. So there are only going to be a couple of floors left.
Again, just to be party to a real successful project like that is really a great thing. Over my career, I’ve had an opportunity to be involved in some real winners, for instance 1 New York Plaza: Chase owned the building. And when we moved to Metrotech, when Forest City Ratner built those two buildings for us and we moved over there, the building was over a million and a half feet of empty space in a two-million-square-foot building. I was tasked with the responsibility—awesome responsibility—of leasing that building up, and it took me almost two years.
But you know what, we leased it up, and we turned it around, we turned the asset around and we sold it for almost double [the amount] that we paid for it. Those are the things that you kind of live for, that’s what I love.