Madame Chair

tighe Madame ChairThe Commercial Observer: Congratulations on becoming chairwoman for the Real Estate Board of New York. What will be your first order of business as chairwoman?
Ms. Tighe: Last week, I met with the executive committee of REBNY. In the last quarter of 2009, I joked that I went on a listening tour, where I met with as many members as I could of the board of governors and the executive committee and as many of the past chairmen as were able to find time to meet. [REBNY president] Steve Spinola, his staff and myself put together priorities for REBNY to focus on in 2010. We talked to the executive committee and got their sign-off on those priorities, and we’ve begun to organize ourselves around those priorities.

And what are those priorities?
We put together a collection of priorities that really are aimed not only at real estate but also at things we believe are critical for the well-being of the city. The first priority is to advocate for programs that incentivize job creation and retention in New York City, and we’re actually making a specific proposal, which our economic development committee has put together for the [Economic Development Corporation], for tax credits related to people who are bringing new employees to the city. The second priority is to advocate for fiscal discipline at the city and state level. The third priority is to work with all relevant parties to encourage the development of affordable housing. The fourth is to advocate for a better and stronger Buildings Department.
We think they’ve done a great job on dealing with security at construction sites, but, meanwhile, there are a number of hurdles that need to be overcome in terms of making the management side of the operation flow better so we can be ready for the next construction cycle. Also, we’re concerned because the unemployment rate among the construction trades is 25 percent in the city right now, and there are over 500 projects that are stopped; so we want to work, in general, with the city to try to deal with unemployment in the trades as well as some of the jobs that are troubled.
Another priority is that we want to seek more federal infrastructure dollars because New York City has not gotten its fair share.
We want to support immigration reform, and, finally, we want to encourage everyone to participate in the 2010 census.

Looking inward, do you have a cohesive vision for REBNY?
REBNY’s structure is a strong and very healthy structure. I think if there was any area of focus, it’s that we want to continue to expand the membership. We’re 12,000 strong now, but we want to bring in more young members.

You mentioned the Buildings Department. With REBNY being such a powerful lobby, I’d love to hear your opinion of Mayor Bloomberg.
There’s no official REBNY stance on the mayor, except to say that the city has flourished under his leadership and that in this very difficult economic time for the city, we all feel blessed that such a skilled businessman and manager is at the helm. So I think we can only feel very positive that he’s leading us these next four years.

Take off your REBNY hat. What’s your personal opinion about Bloomberg?
I personally believe everything I just said. This is a case where there’s just a period of stress on a lot of the different systems in the city, and it is a very happy thing to wake up in the morning and know crime is down in New York. It’s a wonderful thing to realize that there are fewer deaths in the Fire Department. And it’s wonderful to know he’s continuing to fight the good fight for the schools of the city, and our role at REBNY is to make sure the physical environment keeps up with his grand vision.

You’re the first woman to be elected chairman in REBNY’s 113-year history. Is that shocking to you? Is it a significant benchmark in your mind?
It means a great deal to me, but I can’t say that I’m shocked, because our industry has tended to be slow to change. I think that’s probably the best way to describe it. I think it’s only within the last 20 years or so that you’re beginning to see the female membership of the Real Estate Board growing significantly. I don’t mean that historically there haven’t been important women in New York real estate—because there are many of them—but they have been isolated cases. The good news now is, there have been a number of women in our industry who would qualify to be chairman of the Real Estate Board, and what’s nice is that the executive committee and our president, Steve Spinola, has decided it was time to recognize somebody. But, believe me, there are several others who could just as well be in my role.

You’ve been hailed as one of the most influential women in New York City by the New York Post. Do you agree with that statement?

If it means having the ability to get things done—that you can envision something and get it done—than I’d like to think yes, that that’s the case. There are a few things I’ve managed to get done that make me feel like I can have some impact on our city.

Can you name one of them?
I think you can look at two towers that are standing that I don’t think anybody would’ve bet on. The Condé Nast at Four Times Square, which was the first new construction in a decade and the first building at Times Square. As you probably know, it was a project that was held up for more than two decades. And then, of course, there was the New York Times building at a site that I don’t think most people thought was coming into development anytime soon.

You were honored with a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award by REBNY at its award ceremony. That must be a little weird, right?
You know, I suddenly thought to myself, ‘Oh my! Am I that old?’ On the other hand, that night was so fun. I always joke that 25 years ago, I was so intimidated by the event, and now it seems like I’m going to a family wedding. I mean, it has that kind of festive feeling for me, so the award just added to that.

In a previous life, you worked at ABC, where you helped to create the A&E network. What do you think of A&E these days? Are you watching it?
I love A&E. One of the things that gave me great pride … I can still envision the moment, on a yellow legal pad, I wrote down ‘Arts & Entertainment’ and then crossed out the letters, and it’s hard to believe that myself and a dear friend, Liz Oliver, could be sitting at the garage she rented in East Hampton in 1981, and then, lo and behold, all these years later A&E is part of the viewing landscape.

Have you watched The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty yet?
[laughs] I haven’t. I have to admit. Though I must admit I’m on the channel all the time, but I haven’t gotten to that. [laughs] I’m sure I would enjoy it, though.

Let’s shift from the Jacksons and go back to real estate. What’s your outlook for 2010?

I think we’re already in the process of seeing an uptick. In the leasing market in Manhattan, we’re seeing an increase in activity. The five-year rolling average in midtown leasing, just to give one statistic, is 1.2 million square feet per month. We were under that number until June, when we broke through the million-square-foot mark. With the exception of one month, we’ve been up every month. In December, we did 1.6 million square feet of leasing in midtown. Every single market all had their availability rate drop—not hugely, but at least 10 or 20 basis points for each one. In addition, I think most of them had positive absorption, if not all of them.
What’s happened is very simple: We now have enough volume to establish where pricing is. Once you’ve established pricing, people feel confident they can transact.

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