Jotham Sederstrom Dec. 14, 2009, 1:21 p.m.
The Commercial Observer: Considering the holiday season, is this time of year nerve-wracking for you?
Mr. Futterman: I wouldn’t describe it as nerve-wracking. It’s better than last year at this time, I’ll tell you that much. Last year seemed really dead, really quiet. We just had the [International Council of Shopping Centers] convention in New York, and last year was really scary because you felt you were in free fall, and you didn’t know what was going to happen. It was very similar to the way the city felt post-9/11.
This year the buzz at the ICSC conference was that things were starting to pick up, and we’ve actually had an incredibly good last couple of months. We think we’re going to maybe be 10 percent off from last year—and I’m talking about bookings because you have to remember it lags. The deals get booked even though the times were lousy. Deals did get booked and now this year, to have such a good year, is pretty incredible.
What were people talking about at this year’s ICSC conference?
The conference is broken up into developers, tenants and brokers. The tenants that showed up at the ICSC conference wanted to take space; they wanted to open more stores; they wanted to hear about what’s available; they asked us if we were the guys to help them. And landlords, which were in abundance, were looking for tenants, and a lot of them come over to us, and they say, ‘Well, who do you got? Who’s expanding?’ We represent some tenants not just in the New York tristate area but we do help some tenants expand around the country. So you got a lot of owners with projects in other parts of the country that come over and say ‘can you reach so-and-so?’ and ‘do you know so-and-so?’ So it was pretty active for everybody.
How do you get new business in this market?
You have to get really creative. One of the things we do is creatively market space, what we bring to the table and how we differentiate ourselves. Bryant Park, we have this great building—1095 Sixth Avenue—and we are strongly considering having a fashion show, having a fashion tenant come in there during Fashion Week and getting the space viewed; so, doing something a little bit different. We were talking about maybe live mannequins in some space we have on Fifth Avenue during Christmastime. With retail space, you can do this. With office space, nobody looks up. Retail is at the front of the building. It’s very emotional for an owner.
What is the next hot area for retailers going to be?
In 2007, you started seeing the elasticity of neighborhoods, and started to see 14th Street and Union Square grow east, all the way to the meatpacking district. And then you’d see these areas like Nolita, and everybody was hot on Harlem and all that. So the new hot spot is what has always been the hot spot. It’s 34th Street, it’s Bloomingdales, it’s Times Square, it’s Soho, it’s Union Square, it’s Upper West Side.
How did RKF do this year?
We get Christmas twice a year in the retail leasing business because we have a big convention in May in Las Vegas—another ICSC convention—which creates a lot of buzz and carries momentum through the summer, although attendance was way down this year. So I’d say that in May, June and July, things were pretty quiet. But we’ve seen a pulse since the second quarter. We also opened offices in L.A., an office in Vegas, an office in San Francisco and now we do business around the country.
Now that you have an office in Vegas, how often do you go out there?
I’ll be in Las Vegas on Dec. 19. I make a couple trips a year.
Are you a high roller?
I’m not. It’s funny. When you own a brokerage company with an office in Las Vegas—and we have a couple of big projects there that we’re involved in—you work and you go to dinner and you go to sleep. You’re not there for fun and games.
That market has really gotten turned on its heels. We’re involved in a project that’s more of a mass-appeal project called Miracle Mile Shops, which used to be the Desert Passage. It’s one of the best turnaround stories I’ve seen.
Why the name change?
Desert Passage was ill-fated from the start. It had opened just months after 9/11. It was the Aladdin; it was sort of like this Arabian-themed hotel and shopping mall, and it just didn’t get well received. Miracle Mile has been used as a reference to different shopping areas in the U.S., like in Manhasset on Long Island. Northern Boulevard is referred to as the Miracle Mile. In Miami there’s a design district called the Miracle Mile, and in Chicago, they have the Magnificent Mile. So we did this thinking it would be an interesting play on words and a good shopping experience.
Any plans to brand a specific street in New York with the Miracle Mile tag?
It’s funny, I’d like to take the name and take it on the road. Do it in New York, do it in L.A., do it in Chicago. I think it would work.
Tell me what’s happening at the Plaza.
Right now, we’re not involved with the Plaza. We were involved at the beginning as a consultant. The original plan at the Plaza was to lure a department store, and that was part of our big effort: to bring in food, the ballroom and a mini–department store, around 60,000 square feet. Then over time, they hired their own internal people and, I don’t know, I think the jury’s still out. I think, hopefully, with that location and that history, they can survive and be successful. But we’re not involved.
Have you been watching what’s happening there?
I am. I’ve been down there, and I’ve noticed some of the press they’ve gotten—some good, some bad. And, you know, I wish them the best. I think it’s a great idea to have a department store there, but at the time, it appeared the market was so frothy that subdividing the space and doing smaller shops, you can get a lot of rent. Well, a little of that’s changed right now. It’s changed quite a bit.
What kind of work have you done outside of Manhattan?
The boroughs are interesting. The difference between the city and the boroughs is, in the boroughs we do what’s considered ‘promotional brokerage,’ and what I mean by that is, we don’t necessarily exclusively represent the landlord or the tenant, but it still makes us the most active brokers. In other words, in New York, we like to represent the landlord exclusively or the tenant exclusively. In the boroughs you really have to roll your sleeves up. You can’t be afraid to get a bloody nose. You have to be extremely gritty. You have to know all the owners. There’s a lot of small guys, a lot of mom-and-pops, a lot of companies that were retail companies that became landlords, and it’s a much more labor-intensive, relationship-driven business.
Is it going to be a big shopping season for the Futterman family?
You mean my two spoiled-rotten sons who’ve had it so good for so long? It’ll be fine. I think they also—I have a 15-year-old and 17-year-old son—and we’ve been talking for the last year about, ‘Hey, read the paper. Watch the news. Things are different.’
Is that your way of telling them not to expect that much this year?
As they’ve grown up, their needs are less. I don’t have to get as creative. There’s not that much you can buy a 17-year-old. But, yeah, I think the Futterman family will be just fine. They’re all in this with me; they see what’s going on. They know that Dad does pretty well, but they also notice that Dad seems to be working a lot harder.