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Power Broker

Power Broker

Ismael Leyva is the Adapter

Ismael Levya by Arman Dzidzovic/Commercial Observer

It took several years for the Hell’s Kitchen apartment building called the Icon to realize its potential. As Ismael Leyva Architects was putting the finishing touches on the sliver of glass structure that juts 43 stories from an oddly shaped lot at 785 Eighth Avenue in 2008, the financial crisis stalled the West 48th Street project. The 122-unit building’s original developers would later file for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the structure’s distinctive shape and shaky finances became an object of scorn on real estate blogs.

These days, however, Toronto-based First Dominion Developments has repurposed the building as a high-end rental property. The brokers from Town Residential in charge of marketing it rave about the $80-per-square foot rent it commands. And Mr. Leyva (pronounced LAY-va) told Commercial Observer that the Icon is one of his favorite completed projects. Read More

Power Broker, REBNY 2015

Former Con Ed Honcho to Shine Light as REBNY’s Next President

John Banks

The Real Estate Board of New York’s next president got his start in city government just as the board’s current president assumed the role.

In 1986, the same year Steven Spinola started his nearly three decades as REBNY president, Mayor Ed Koch’s administration hired a recent graduate of Manhattan College named John H. Banks to the mayor’s Office of Operations. In the wake of the infamous Parking Violations Bureau scandal, Mr. Koch tapped Mr. Banks to join a team investigating the cause and scope of a bribery and extortion scheme that turned the city’s political world upside down that year. Read More

Power Broker

Ambassador Rechler of RXR Realty

RXR Realty's Seth Pinsky and Scott Rechler, from left. (Aaron Adler)

It’s not often that the top real estate honchos are willing, dare we say eager, to call a reporter from the mountains of North Africa to talk about one of their colleagues.

But when it came to talking about Scott Rechler, they called from far and wide over the holidays to heap praise on the chief executive officer and chairman of RXR Realty. Developer Joseph Sitt, the head of Thor Equities, for one, phoned Commercial Observer last week from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.  Read More

Power Broker

The McSam Hotel Group Founder is McLovin the Garment District

Sam Chang. (Aaron Adler)

It is obvious how much real estate professionals love limited-service hotel developer Sam Chang, the prolific developer who is behind numerous Hilton Gardens, Comfort Inns and Holiday Inn Expresses.

A number of people who have worked with the president and chief executive officer of Great Neck-based McSam Hotel Group said the same things: He’s decisive, he doesn’t get mired in minutia, he’s a handshake guy and he has the uncanny ability to retain details on more than a dozen deals in his head at the same time. Read More

Power Broker

Winick Broker Lights up Signs, Neighborhoods

Darrell Rubens

One won’t find the name of Darrell Rubens of Winick Realty in the deed for NYC REIT’s recent $170.3 million purchase of 570 Seventh Avenue near Times Square. But the retail broker’s work on site certainly merits mention. Acting on behalf of the previous owners—Carlyle Investment Management and Capstone Equities—Mr. Rubens worked with lighting designers at Sensory Interactive to implement a roughly $10 million LED system with 3,800 square feet of digital signage and 3,600 square feet of static signage. And the building changed hands on Nov. 5 for $87.3 million more than the landlords purchased it for last year, property records show.

The only catch for Mr. Rubens is that the new ownership hired a different brokerage to market the retail space. Read More

Power Broker

Siras Development’s Ashwin Verma’s High Line and Hudson Yards Visions

Ashwin Verma (Michael Nagle).

In 2007, long before West Chelsea became synonymous with chic and the High Line became an international sensation, Ashwin Verma of Siras Development planned to buy a plot of land for construction. The site, like many parcels of land near the West Side Highway, was then home to an auto body shop.

“There were a couple of guys in overalls, [and] when they heard that we wanted to buy this lot and build a hotel, they were pretty surprised,” recalled Mr. Verma. Read More

Power Broker

L&L’s Andrew Wiener Is Building With Legos

Andrew Weiner. (Adam Jones)

Andrew Wiener of L&L Holding Company has worked on high-profile Midtown South deals like Lego System’s new flagship at the former International Toy Center and Gawker Media’s 2015 planned relocation to 114 Fifth Avenue.

The director of leasing for the privately held owner, operator and property manager, Mr. Wiener partners with veteran David C. Berkey, and the duo, along with Samantha Fishbone, are tasked with leasing the firm’s 6.5-million-square-foot portfolio of Class A commercial office buildings primarily in Manhattan. Read More

Power Broker

SOM’s Mega-Project Manager Dishes on 1 WTC

T.J. Gottesdiener

Models, awards and pictures from projects all over the world adorn the walls and corridors of the Lower Manhattan offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, but the World Trade Center assemblage stands apart from all the rest. There are the gleaming pictures of Dubai’s 2,716-foot Burj Khalifa, a framed certificate recognizing Midtown’s Lever House for the 1980 American Institute of Architects’ 25-year award and the awe-inspiring design portfolio that includes seven of the world’s tallest 15 buildings and over 100 New York City structures. But they give way to a transparent scale model of the World Trade Center complex that’s all alone next to conference rooms and the executive offices where managing partner T.J. Gottesdiener oversees design, construction and planning at the firm’s New York City office. Read More

Power Broker

Daniel Libeskind Memorializes, Moves Forward

Daniel Libeskind. (Arman Dzidzovic)

World Trade Center master planner Daniel Libeskind’s office library contains nearly a dozen bookcases filled with books about philosophy, religious studies, history, travel, literature, art, architecture, design and other fields and genres. And when Commercial Observer visited Studio Daniel Libeskind three blocks south of the trade center site, he described the necessity in his work of the same four components Herman Melville wishes for in Moby Dick: time, strength, cash and patience.

He had invoked the same line a few days days earlier during a trade center construction update event at 4 World Trade Center timed for the week of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The four necessities have helped rebuild the site where 2,753 New Yorkers lost their lives and fulfill the vision that guided the nation-sized group of stakeholders to the site’s current status, he told a room full of local and international media outlets and several of the interested parties themselves. Read More

Power Broker

David Ehrenberg On Overseeing the Brooklyn Navy Yard

David Ehrenberg. (Lea Rubin Photography)

The first thing David Ehrenberg sees as he approaches his workplace, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is Building 77. In his rearview mirror, the last thing Mr. Ehrenberg sees as he departs each day is that 960,000-square-foot under-construction building.

“That creates a level of ownership,” said Mr. Ehrenberg last week as he gave Commercial Observer a tour of the 300-acre waterfront industrial campus that the city owns and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Corporation manages. That sense of ownership is one of the aspects of the job that piqued Mr. Ehrenberg’s interest when he was tapped for the president and chief executive officer positions at the non-profit organization by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the summer of 2013. He was then reappointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Read More

Power Broker

Brokering Insurance and Real Estate Advocacy

Robert Morris

When a lender required more endorsements from real estate investment and operating company Madison Capital in order to close a large transaction one snowy Friday, the company with $2.1 billion in 21 New York City assets faced a problem: the underwriters’ offices were closed. That’s when Robert Morris of the Rampart Group, whose friends call him Robby, sprang into action. The insurance broker and president at the full-service insurance company that his grandfather started in 1965 took matters into his own hands and drove his car to the underwriters’ house through a snowstorm to get the necessary endorsements. The transaction closed the following Monday.

Mr. Morris, CLU, LUTCF, a 42-year-old married father of three, connects real estate clients with carriers of all types of insurance. But he also takes to the airwaves and the papers to warn of potential trouble on the horizon for his clients. With concerns about the New York state Scaffold Law, warnings about the Washington maneuverings around the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act reauthorization and cautionary words of wisdom on the dangers of hacking, Mr. Morris is touching on issues that affect the entire real estate industry even as the affable Long Island native equips property owners with protections.  Read More

Power Broker

Brokering the Diamond District, New York City’s Crown Jewel

Diamond Ring

In a vault in the middle of the stretch of West 47th Street between Avenue of the Americas and Fifth Avenue that’s known as the Diamond District, a longtime merchant keeps his literal crown jewels: a set designed in the 18th century for the French royal family. The jewelry salesman and collector places the value of the tiara, bracelet, necklace and earrings with origins in the Bourbon-Medici clan at $1 million, but those jewels are not for sale, he says. He says he plans to donate the piece to a museum someday, and his employees show off less pricey merchandise like a $650,000 choker and a $565,000 necklace. If those items seem too expensive, a store employee tells Commercial Observer, he’s happy to point out items that sell for closer to $500,000. Read More

Power Broker

AIA New York Chapter Leaders Preach Public Space

Rick Bell and Lance Jay Brown

Near the end of Commercial Observer’s visit to the Center for Architecture in the South Village, Lance Jay Brown of the American Institute of Architects’ New York Chapter excused himself for a moment to approach a group of students. The teenagers were in front of a picture of the Occupy Wall Street crowds of 2011 at Zuccotti Park discussing how to create public spaces as part of one of the museum’s hundreds of annual programs for local students and residents. Far from interjecting to discuss his local, national or international urban design experience, Mr. Brown grinned and tiptoed toward the powwow to snap a picture of the engaged youngsters with his cell phone without disturbing the conversation. Then the 71-year-old president of the influential founding chapter of AIA shook hands with one of the group’s leaders, and, a few moments later, pedaled away from the center on a bicycle. Read More

Power Broker

Down to a Science: John Cahill of Colliers International

John Cahill of Colliers. (Aaron Adler)

As the son of a doctor and a nurse, broker John Cahill may have been predestined to work in the medical field in one form or another. Fresh out of Syracuse University, the New York native first chose pharmaceutical sales as his field of choice.

Initially lacking the required experience, Mr. Cahill spent one year at ADP learning the ropes of a sales role and in the process picking up both his employer’s Rookie of the Year award and an expense-paid trip to Hawaii. Read More