10 to Watch in ’10


Like any other industry, the real estate world can be a spectator’s sport. Rather, as much energy as some professionals put into their careers, into leasing deals, building trades and client services, it always seems someone else is either nipping at their tailcoats or excelling in enviable ways one could only dream of in quieter moments.

The 10 brokers included below and subjectively picked by The Commercial Observer are indeed worth envying, but besides their industry success, most share little else in common. Some hail from national firms like CB Richard Ellis, and others, boutiques like Zelnik & Co. Some deal in the steeled pastures of office towers, others in the shadowed nooks of retail at those towers’ bases. Most, if not all, have had stellar years in 2009, and are expected to keep up the momentum in 2010.
For others, great challenges lie ahead. - By Jotham Sederstrom

Senior vice president
Malkin Holdings

With his signature handlebar mustache and striking bow-tie collection, Fred Posniak looks as though he could’ve leaped from a different era, perhaps the Victorian Age or early 20th-century New York. It’s no surprise, then, that the 52-year-old senior vice president of Malkin Holdings, a dapper Brooklyn native, has managed to carve out something of a niche for himself in, of all things, prestigious prewar commercial buildings.

Indeed, with a portfolio of 8 million square feet over nine Manhattan buildings, the company’s W&H brand is expected to see its best year since its creation, in 2005. That’s thanks in large part to the consolidation efforts that have swept out smaller tenants in favor of growing multinationals at buildings like One Grand Central, where the private-equity firm Pine Brook Partners recently signed a long-term lease. So, too, the Empire State Building, where the F.D.I.C. now occupies 100,000-plus square feet following a massive $550 million upgrade orchestrated by Mr. Posniak.

But if 2009 was a good year for the luxury brand—and with 1 million square feet leased, indeed it was—2010 could shape up to be even better. To be sure, Mr. Posniak anticipates that many of his larger tenants will seek to expand as this cursed recession ends.

Shravan Vidyarthi.

Executive VP of brokerage
Cushman & Wakefield

Walking around town with Deloitte in your back pocket is, in the real estate world, a little like handling dynamite. The international consulting firm has three leases expiring across the city over the next several years, and some 800,000 square feet could be at stake. All told, the company is perhaps the largest tenant currently hunting in the market, and 52-year-old Dale Schlather and his partners at Cushman & Wakefield know it.

Whether Deloitte stays at Two World Financial Center and other Manhattan locations or picks up and moves is anybody’s guess, but wherever the company ends up, Mr. Schlather, the current president of the New York chapter of corporate real estate association Corenet Global, is likely to reap the benefits. “Deloitte is a question mark, whether they stay or go,” said one real estate executive not involved with the group or with Cushman & Wakefield. “But everybody’s watching to see what happens.” 

For Mr. Schlather, whose domestic clients include Wells Fargo Bank, Estee Lauder and Avon, and investment bank Jeffries & Co., the challenge next year will be to position Deloitte—as well as many of his financial services clients—in new or current digs over the next several months. Most of that activity should happen in 2010, when as much as 1.2 million square feet in leases is expected to close under Mr. Schlather’s supervision.

Director of commercial leasing
Two Trees Management

Look closely and you can see Caroline Pardo’s fingerprints all across Dumbo, the tony neighborhood that miraculously grew from the dusty relics of Brooklyn’s waterfront to become among the city’s priciest enclaves. From Salon de Quartier, the upscale hair salon she shepherded onto Washington Street last year, to the area’s fully grown reputation as an artistic and technological hub, this truly unique neighborhood has been crafted in no small part according to Ms. Pardo’s curatorial eye.

As she would no doubt admit, the vision is all David Walentas, but it is she who has furthered the Two Trees founder’s mission ever since joining the company in 2003. Looking forward, Ms. Pardo, 30, has set her sights on luring tenants from sectors as varied as the legal and fashion industries, and maybe, just maybe, a few new high-profile venues and restaurants.

Drawing top names to the waterfront neighborhood should be even easier for the Haitian-born Brooklyn resident in 2010, what with the long-anticipated Brooklyn Bridge Park expected to near completion and draw thousands of new visitors to the area. And with Ms. Pardo a newly expecting mother, maybe she’ll be inspired to bring in a kids’ clothing store.

Shravan Vidyarthi.

Senior vice president of leasing
RFR Realty

Apparently, nobody told Steve Morrows the economy is in poor shape. At top-flight landmark spaces like the Seagram Building and the Lever House, Mr. Morrows, 49, has consistently been fetching an almost unheard of $100 per foot, prices that bring to mind pre-recession days of yesteryear, circa 2007. Those staggering prices are among the highest in Manhattan, but the senior vice president of leasing has managed to draw tenants like Arbor Realty Trust, Exor and Axiom Investors Advisors into the fold despite hard times.

It may be that Mr. Morrows is just more comfortable dealing in prestigious “country club” buildings. Before coming to RFR, Mr. Morrows spent seven years at Rockrose Development Corporation, where he oversaw leasing for, among other legendary edifices, the Carnegie Hall Tower and 300 Park Avenue South.

Ever since, he’s taken to some of the city’s most glamorous buildings with the voracity of a warrior, and that doesn’t expect to change in 2010, even as he takes on a slate of other responsibilities; namely, teaching the art of real estate leasing as an adjunct professor at N.Y.U., and serving as a new board member of the Carnegie East House, a nonprofit that provides housing for elderly people.

Managing director
Jones Lang LaSalle

When Scott Panzer and 13 members of his team were lured away from Newmark Knight Frank in May, it was considered a major coup for his new bosses at Jones Lang LaSalle. Now six months into the job, Mr. Panzer, 51, seems to have settled into his role as a managing director to watch.

With as many as 10 deals in the pipeline expected to be sealed in the next several months, Mr. Panzer’s reach has become increasingly national, with big deals in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina helping to establish the real estate pro all along the Eastern Seaboard.

But before Mr. Panzer and his crew came to JLL, he had already made a reputation for himself. Indeed, in his 16-year career as a real estate service provider, Mr. Panzer has completed more than 22 million square feet of assignments. At Newmark, where Mr. Panzer served as an executive vice president, he brought AXA Equitable into the fold, as well as the United Nations, the Bank of New York and a slew of other big-ticket tenants.

Founder and chief executive officer
Zelnik and Co.

Despite a steady stream of competing brokerages trying to lure him away from his firm, 45-year-old Cory Zelnik has remained at the helm of Zelnik & Co. since 2007, almost defiantly so. But it’s easy to see why,  with former and current clients that include JPMorgan Chase, Blockbuster and Dunkin’ Donuts.

With a well-honed reputation as a “drug store” expert, first by working for CVS pharmacy as it sought to expand into New York, and later with Duane Reade as a partner for the Winick Realty Group, Mr. Zelnik has positioned his company as one of the few legitimate new brokerages to weather the downturn. This year, Mr. Zelnik put to bed roughly 30 transactions, most of them in Manhattan, including a big deal for department store Easy Shopping, which signed a 10,000-square-foot deal last month on 119th Street in Harlem. Earlier this summer, he signed Sephora to a 13,000-square-foot deal at 5 Times Square, the trophy building Mr. Zelnik represents.

Going into 2010, however, Mr. Zelnik acknowledges that competition for the hearts and minds of retailers will grow. “The pool of tenants continues to be small, and there’s no indication that there’s going to be a ton of tenants facing expansion,” Mr. Zelnik said last week. “But I’m bullish [on] the second half of 2010.”


Leasing director
SL Green

Among the monumental real estate tasks going into 2010 will be leasing 100 Church Street, the notoriously out-of-shape 21-story office tower that SL Green took over in August. With roughly 650,000 square feet of vacant space and a decade of leasing fumbles, the building would pose a daunting challenge for anybody. But when asked about the Lower Manhattan property, Steve Durels, 49, is all confidence.

Since acquiring the 1.13 million–square–foot building from the Sapir Organization, Mr. Durels and SL Green have lured nearly a dozen prospective tenants into the fold, in part because of the REIT’s involvement. Already, his team has spruced up the building’s infamously tacky lobby and done away with those chandeliers. One by one, the windows are being replaced and the bathrooms refurbished.

But for Mr. Durels, an even bigger whale lies in Times Square, at 1515 Broadway, the home of Viacom. In August, the media company decided to seek new space for its glass-paneled MTV studio, until recently the petri dish of myriad pop stars and their fans. Now, Mr. Durels is tasked with leasing 24,250 square feet of trophy space to the highest bidder. In the end, he could end up among the biggest rock stars of them all.

Shravan Vidyarthi.

Executive vice president
CB Richard Ellis

The scenes last September of throngs of employees carrying boxes from Lehman Brothers’ headquarters at 399 Park Avenue drew anger. For Peter Turchin, the images represented a leasing challenge, which the licensed attorney has met with aplomb. In less than a year, Mr. Turchin has managed to lease a staggering 356,146 square feet at the Boston Properties–owned building, including three floors to Hank Greenberg’s holding company CV Starr & Co. in September. Last month, he signed Studley and Avenue Capital, deals that allowed him to strike another 118,345 feet from his scorecard.

And unless he completes leasing this year, which is certainly possible, the Real Estate Board of New York teacher should easily be able to fill the remaining 37,000 feet at the building within the first months of 2010. But even though leasing at 399 Park has taken steely focus, Mr. Turchin has still managed to make deals at a handful of other midtown buildings, most notably 300,000 square feet to Ann Taylor at the Times Square Tower and 220,000 feet to Winstar at 685 Third Avenue. For Mr. Turchin, the hefty leasing activity this year should give him wings in 2010.


Senior director of loan sales
and turnaround group
Eastern Consolidated

David Schechtman has been called one of the hungriest investment sales brokers in New York today, and a recent survey of deals confirms the high accolade. In the past 10 months, Mr. Schechtman, 35, has closed on 12 deals despite a withering market.

In the past several months alone, he managed to sell an $8.4 million first mortgage on a mixed-use building in Brooklyn while receiving a slew of assignments from multinational financial institutions, including two from Chinatrust in Manhattan and Jersey City, and is scheduled to close the sale of two Capital One first mortgages on troubled development in Williamsburg.

Additionally, the University of Delaware grad was hired to market 115-117 Nassau Street, a high-profile, 180,000-square-foot development site in the heart of the Financial District, while also having been tapped to represent the owners of 238 Madison Avenue. With all the excitement—and, yes, with $1.5 billion in transactions since joining Eastern in 2005, there has been excitement—it’s easy to forget that Mr. Schechtman, a former lawyer, has made distressed assets his bread and butter. Besides the deals in Brooklyn, he’s also managed to sell a $31 million chunk of subordinate debt on a major hotel in the Financial District. Not to be outdone, he expects more of the same in 2010, with several other special servicers assignments in January.


Executive managing director
Newmark Knight Frank

You might call Howard Kesseler the dean of real estate, what with the myriad education deals he’s made this year, the largest among them a 200,000-square-foot lease for the Claremont Prep School at 25 Broadway, valued at $150 million. He also sealed a deal with the City University of New York, and he’s excelled as a representative for the Department of Education.

But to call Mr. Kesseler, 46, a mover and shaker in the education world alone is to miss the point. He’s everywhere.

In Lower Manhattan, he renewed a 60,000-square-foot lease for the Unified Court System and, even more recently, he completed a $30 million investment sale for the owner of a building on 48th Street that will now be occupied by none other than the government of Singapore. To be sure, the executive managing director has tallied roughly 400,000 square feet as a tenant representative and another 300,000 as a landlord rep. Not bad for one of the worst years for real estate sales in recent memory.

Heavy traffic, though, has always been Mr. Kesseler’s calling card. Indeed, during a five-year stint in the mid-1990s, he negotiated more than 1 million square feet of renewal and new lease transactions at One Penn Plaza, the 2.5 million–square–foot office building he worked for. So duplicating that success in 2010 should come easy for Mr. Kesseler, no matter what you decide to call him.