The Record-Setter Who Rocked Retail
Jotham Sederstrom May 24, 2010, 2:46 p.m.
Long before last month’s news that Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo had inked a blockbuster deal to expand its rainbow-tinged empire across Fifth Avenue, Brad Mendelson was leading his team on a reconnaissance mission.
Armed with a laser-enhanced distance measurer and a tip that Uniqlo agents were scouting retail hot spots other than what he was pushing at 666 Fifth Avenue, the Cushman & Wakefield executive vice president took an eight-block stroll along the strip’s ultra-fanciful retail corridor.
Climbing an over-the-top commercial cascade between 50th and 57th streets, he and his colleagues discreetly noted ceiling heights, the distance between columns and the presence of loading docks at Diesel, the Gap and H&M, among other probable competitors.
“We made a chart of every store-the sizes, the ceiling heights, the column spans, the loading dock, no loading dock. All the things that you need,” recalled a chatty Mr. Mendelson. “And when we looked at them, we found that H&M has no loading dock, Disney has no loading dock. …”
By now, news of the deal has swept from New York to Asia and echo-chambered across real estate and fashion blogs alike. At $300 million, the 15-year, 90,000-square-foot deal is the most expensive retail transaction in New York City history. And, at more than $2,000 per foot for prime retail space, it’s a possible harbinger of an uptick in the real estate market.
For Mr. Mendelson, who represented owners the Carlyle Group, Kushner Companies (Jared Kushner, a principal at Kushner, publishes The Commercial Observer) and Crown Acquisitions in the deal, the transaction is yet another notch in his tally sheet and represents a clear shot at the Real Estate Board of New York’s coveted “Most Creative Deal” award this year, which he had previously earned for his efforts to bring the Toys R Us flagship to Time Square a decade ago.
“Every deal that’s done on Fifth Avenue marks a new high,” said Mr. Mendelson, 62. “Uniqlo has done this strictly because of its sheer size. No one has ever rented a 90,000-square-foot store on Fifth Avenue except for Tiffany’s, and that was done so long ago I doubt they paid anything for it. But it’s the traffic that walks in front of the store and the ability to provide a commercially viable retail store, which means it makes a lot of money.”
In the past 18 months, Mr. Mendelson has inked retail transactions in excess of $1 billion, including the Uniqlo deal. But with transactions pending on several other leases, that number is expected to increase significantly, as it will for most retail brokers.
To be sure, a survey conducted by CB Richard Ellis last week found that 70 percent of U.S. retailers believed the economy was pointing up, and a big 92 percent said they were planning to go forward with expansion plans.
At the Times Square Theater, which is owned by the nonprofit New 42, Mr. Mendelson is negotiating a deal that would bring to the city one of two attractions “that would be the only ones like it in the world,” he said. He expects to finalize the deal by August.
Nearby, meanwhile, he is competing with another firm to represent the property controlled by Blackstone at 1095 Avenue of the Americas; the deal would reposition three blocks near Bryant Park as an entertainment and retail oasis. In a rendering he showed The Commercial Observer, some of the hypothetical retailers he used to boost the plan include such coveted venues as the Top Shop and something he called the “Horror Hall of Fame.”
“We went up against six other real estate firms. We’re in the final two,” said Mr. Mendelson, who focuses much of his work in the Times Square neighborhood and surrounding areas. “I think we’ll probably end up getting the assignment, or hopeful that we are [going to], but we gave them our vision.”
MR. MENDELSON WAS born in 1947 on the Upper East Side, the son of an entrepreneur who owned a wallpaper business on Third Avenue. He later helped his father rent the storefront out of which the business had been running for decades, but not before a youthful detour to England.
Before Mr. Mendelson found his calling in real estate, he was a studio percussionist in London who wore his hair long. Although he is shy about naming any of the rock groups he drummed for, the list is impressive.
“I was a musician living in London. I got very sick, and my aunt flew over and brought me back,” recalled Mr. Mendelson of his late ’60s foray into the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “I had very long hair and I was very skinny. And she said to me, ‘You’ve got to get a job.'”
Back in New York City and having successfully rented his father’s store, Mr. Mendelson sought work at a brokerage house and found it at Garrick & Company, where he quickly climbed the ranks as a retail broker.
When the firm merged with Charlie Aug’s office leasing company in 1970, he became a founding partner and president of what would become Garrick & Aug, the firm that would nurture the careers of many of the city’s most respected retail reps.
“Having two equal partners is like being married to two women at the same time,” said Mr. Mendelson, who now lives in Rye, N.Y., with his wife and children. “Everybody’s interest is different and diverse.”
He later joined the Edward S. Gordon Company and continued working for nearly every incarnation of that firm, including Insignia/ESG, until opting for a position at Cushman in 2003.
As for his continued success, Mr. Mendelson is modest, attributing his prolific transaction history to the bevy of Cushman & Wakefield colleagues who have assisted him in his deals.
“I attribute a lot of my success, and the ability to do these things, to the team that I work with,” said Mr. Mendelson. “We do get assistance from all of our retail brokers at Cushman, both locally and internationally. We’ve done well together after all these years.”