Jotham Sederstrom Jan. 18, 2010, 2:39 p.m.
At one time or another during his 25-year career, Todd Korren has donned nearly every hat that can be worn in the real estate industry. But whether he’s served as a leasing agent, property manager, developer or acquisitions pro, one puzzle the Swig Equities senior vice president has yet to solve is the one he is reminded of each time he returns to his William Street office: How do you keep Lower Manhattan desirable for potential tenants?
Indeed, as a member of the Real Estate Board of New York’s Downtown Rental Conditions Committee and of a subcommittee focused on drawing new tenants to Lower Manhattan, Mr. Korren has emerged as one of the area’s most committed advocates.
“We’re trying to figure out how to make downtown more competitive,” said Mr. Korren during an interview at his office at 110 William, one of the downtown properties Swig operates. “The question is, how do we lure tenants downtown, and how do we improve retail conditions and encourage them to come down here?”
Mr. Korren is nothing if not passionate about Lower Manhattan, where the Roslyn, N.Y., resident first got his start in the real estate industry. As a college student at New York University, Mr. Korren worked for Rockrose Development, a job that allowed the young upstart to play a role in luring people to Battery Park City in the late 1980s, back when the area was in its earliest development phase and not yet the vibrant community it is today.
“Back then, there was literally one building, for all intents and purposes,” recalled Mr. Korren. As for how difficult it was to lure tenants and residents to the area, Mr. Korren said it was no walk in the park. “Especially in the winter, when it was very cold and there weren’t a lot of attractions. That was before the movie theater was there and before you had other buildings. Taxicabs weren’t even coming over there yet. It was very inconvenient.”
Since then, Mr. Korren has embarked on a career that offers a panoramic view of the real estate industry. From positions at construction management company Structure Tone to the mechanical and electrical contractor EMCOR Group, he has learned the business by working from the ground up and has often followed a project from concept to completion.
“I’ve always felt that the best way to sell a product is by really understanding the product and to sell it from a position of confidence,” said Mr. Korren, 45, who has been married for 20 years to his wife, Donna, and has two young daughters. “The best way to sell from a position of confidence is having knowledge. I’m very interested in learning, and I’ve always been somebody who’s continued to learn during my career.”
In total, he has negotiated more than 830 leases representing over 5 million square feet of property during stints at such companies as the Witkoff Group and Rockrose Development, where he returned as a managing director in 2001. He also played a role in more than 20 acquisitions, with a combined value in excess of $1.2 billion, he said.
Last year, Mr. Korren and Swig Equities-where he has operated since 2004-completed capital-improvement projects at all seven of the company’s Lower Manhattan properties, including lobby and facade renovations at buildings such as 110 Williams Street and 90 Broad Street.
The capital-improvement projects were made easier thanks to a decision by Kent Swig in 2007 to take a break from acquiring new projects and instead to move to refinance Swig’s existing assets-a strategy that turned out to be prescient, said Mr. Korren.
“This was before you had the subprime crises,” Mr. Korren recalled. “Kent realized we needed to stop and get the properties leased up and stabilized so we could refinance them, and we did have a concern that there was going to be some sort of credit-induced crises that would affect our ability to refinance our properties over the next 24 months.”
But what Mr. Korren appears to be most passionate about these days is his work in Lower Manhattan and his efforts to draw new tenants to the area. Although many questions about construction at the World Trade Center have yet to be answered, Mr. Korren said that delays have not kept people from flocking to other areas of Lower Manhattan below Canal Street.
“What’s an interesting fact-and something I like to tell people-is that downtown Manhattan, excluding Tribeca, has the fastest-growing residential population within all five boroughs,” he said. “The fastest-growing residential population! It’s literally doubling since 2000. And that’s absolutely amazing.”
Mr. Korren said that he expects to announce what may be the largest transaction of the year within several weeks, when an undisclosed tenant signs a 120,000-foot lease at 110 William. But Mr. Korren, who is bullish on Lower Manhattan, suggested that the deal could be the first of many for Swig and its portfolio of downtown properties this year.
“Where the uncertainty still remains is the access to the subways, whether it be the Calatrava station or when the PATH station will be finished,” he said. “Those are really the questions people would like to have answered. But as those dates start to get firmly finalized, you’ll see people start to move back down here.”