The Rector of Hudson Square
Jotham Sederstrom Feb. 8, 2010, 4:54 p.m.
When Queen Anne of England bestowed Trinity Church with a large land grant in 1705, the aim was to establish an Anglican foothold in the New World, not a commercial hub for New York City’s creative underclass.
But with 6 million square feet of property situated, lucratively, in what is now considered the Hudson Square district, Trinity’s real estate arm has indeed succeeded in luring not only the WASPs from ye olde England but the postproduction companies and advertising boutiques from Tribeca. Not bad for a 300-year-old church.
“It’s sort of a younger, hipper feel, so, I think, really, that’s what drew people here,” said Jason Pizer, 45, the Trinity Real Estate executive who has been credited as a driver behind Hudson Square’s emergence as a vista for the creative class. “But probably most importantly-and I don’t want to kid myself-we were a lower-priced alternative to midtown. We were sort of off the beaten path.”
Off the beaten path or not, the Hudson Square district is where Mr. Pizer, a relative newcomer to real estate, has earned his bragging rights. Indeed, since 2005, when he became vice president of leasing for Trinity, the 15-year real estate professional has nailed nearly all of his 3.3 million square feet in transaction activity to 16 acres of space just north of Tribeca and slightly south of the West Village.
While his transaction weight has been dominated by the independently owned businesses that are slowly becoming a calling card for Trinity, its heft has bulged from heavy hitters like Viacom and CBS, which broadcasts five of its radio stations-WFAN and Mike Francesa, anyone?-from its 17-story building at 345 Hudson Street. Both of those media industry behemoths inked big deals in 2007-Viacom for 400,000 feet; CBS for 112,000-that triggered an ambitious repositioning at the building that included lobby, window, electrical- and cooling-system overhauls, Mr. Pizer said. The renovations were completed in 2008.
And for Mr. Pizer and his colleagues, the push toward leasing bigger, more established companies continues, most recently with Horizon Media, a direct marketing company that last week signed a 15-year, 115,000-foot lease at 1 Hudson Square. The firm, which currently leases in midtown, will occupy swing space at 100 Avenue of the Americas until raw floorage at 1 Hudson is fully built out.
“They’re looking to consolidate into one building,” said Mr. Pizer of Horizon, which currently leases space throughout midtown. “It’s a very large transaction for the marketplace we’re in, and, for that, we’re very happy.”
By juggling the demands of the boldface corporations and scrappy boutiques alike, Trinity has turned what was once a neighborhood of bankrupt printing presses owned by the likes of Bowne of New York and Rosenbaum into the kind of trendy office space your 16-year-old son will someday turn into a terrific start-up. Indeed, several of the 18 buildings in Trinity’s portfolio are expected to see ambitious renovations over the next decade, including what Mr. Pizer described as major face-lifts for 200 Hudson Street and 100 Sixth Avenue. Like recent work at 1 Hudson Square, the renovations will most likely be deal-driven, said Mr. Pizer.
“It’s been a little bit slower than it might be, but the changes I’ve seen in 10-plus years, it’s been like night and day,” he said from his modern office at 1 Hudson Square, his floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Varick Street. “I remember showing space in these buildings that had been occupied by the printers, and they had the lights hanging down off the ceiling, and you knew you had to warn people to duck because there were wires and pools of ink on the floor from leaky machines, or ink that had spilled.”
As if confronting a particularly horrid flashback, Mr. Pizer, after another moment of recollection, added, perhaps ruefully, “And the odors …”
MR. PIZER WAS raised by his mother, Josephine, in Bayside, Queens, until the age of 13, when the pair moved to Great Neck. With no familial connection to the real estate industry, he initially sought to become a lawyer, even going so far as to earn a law degree from the University of Albany. But that plan changed shortly after accepting a construction management job that opened up his eyes to the real estate industry.
Mr. Pizer joined Trinity in 1999 as an assistant director of leasing and was soon promoted to director in 2002. But when the firm’s president retired, the rising star took a step back to consider Trinity’s uncertain future.
“The position had been vacant for at least eight months,” recalled Mr. Pizer, who also worked at a commodities exchange and, briefly, as a day trader before grounding himself in the real estate world. “I started wondering what was going on with leadership. There was sort of a lack of direction.”
Partly as a way to be closer to his upstate home, he left Trinity in 2004 to take a job at W&M Properties’ northern Westchester offices. He returned to Trinity-as the director of leasing-less than a year later, he said.
Since then, he has immersed himself in all things Trinity, including its historical roots and, most astutely, the neighborhood where the firm inks nearly all its real estate transactions.
“The history of Trinity … is very interesting, and I do get a kick out of it,” said Mr. Pizer, a self-proclaimed history buff who said he is currently reading 1491, a book about the Americas before Columbus’ great discovery. “Many of the street names are related to the church, like Vestry and Rector. Varick was a vestryman and the current rector lives in a house on Charlton Street that was once owned by Aaron Burr.”
But like all real estate professionals, Mr. Pizer is focused on the here and now-and the creative class and their particular real estate needs, to be sure-and looking ahead to the future, which he expects to be a bit brighter than the previous 12 months or so.
“We had some expansions, some early renewals and a couple new deals,” said Mr. Pizer, the married father of a 6-year-old boy named Jackson. “So we’re not gloating, but we’re actually happy with 2009, and also happy that 2009 is over.”