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.