Jennifer Schwartzman: The Connector from Connecticut
Jotham Sederstrom Aug. 24, 2010, 10:20 a.m.
Jimmy Kuhn touched down like a tornado into his corner office, full of bluster and a dollop of that signature shoot-from-the-hip bravado that has colored much of his real estate career.
A pair of top-of-the-line keyboards, Mr. Kuhn’s preferred instrument, towered opposite a glass coffee table, around which veteran broker Jennifer Schwartzman and a publicist for Newmark Knight Frank tentatively took their seats alongside a reporter. When Mr. Kuhn burst through the doors minutes later, all eyes pivoted.
The reason for the president’s visit, it became clear, was to add an extra coat of gloss to Ms. Schwartzman’s already pristine reputation as a rising senior managing director at the company. As the interview unfolded, it also became clear that Ms. Schwartzman, an 11-year veteran of the firm, wasn’t just a rising star, but the soft-spoken yin to Mr. Kuhn’s utterly bombastic yang.
“I don’t want to write this story for you, but the way I would open this up is …” blurted Mr. Kuhn, his declaration of purpose taking flight long before his derriere even considered its landing.
And, with that, Ms. Schwartzman’s rise as a director for the firm’s Capital Markets Group was laid bare, largely through Mr. Kuhn’s eyes. Since 1999, when Mr. Kuhn plucked her from an economic development job in Connecticut, Ms. Schwartzman has overseen accounts for Verizon, Mount Sinai Hospital and the Hudson Yards Development Corp., among a cadre of high-profile clients.
With the Hudson Yards Development Corp. in particular, Ms. Schwartzman and her associates were tapped to advise the group in its creation of a request for proposals for a project that, after alterations, now includes 12 million feet of mixed-use residential and office construction. Together, they culled financial and demographic statistics for the Development Corp. before it went to market with its proposal. Earlier this year, the Related Companies and the Oxford Property Group were chosen by the M.T.A. to lease air rights over the Hudson yards.
“As the seller, you want to know the market response before you actually go to the market, and you don’t want to have to sign yourself up to the developer before you do that,” said Ms. Schwartzman, by way of explaining Newmark’s behind-the-scenes work on Hudson yards. “It really was trying to figure out what type of financing would be of interest to developers, what kind of staging.”
With Verizon, Ms. Schwartzman was initially embedded inside the telecommunication company’s headquarters, where she served as a transaction manager. From office space to industrial work centers throughout the five boroughs, Ms. Schwartzman has inked dozens of deals for Verizon, most recently a 126,000-square-foot one at 210 West 18th Street that closed in December.
In that $25 million deal, said Ms. Schwartzman, Verizon sold the upper floors of its 19-story Art Deco-era building to a Cedarhurst, N.Y.-based developer who now plans to convert a portion of the structure into commercial and residential condos. Verizon will maintain several of the lower floors for offices, she said.
In an earlier deal with Verizon, Ms. Schwartzman sold a 94,000-square-foot garage and parking lot at 536 West 54th Street to Two Trees developer David Walentas. Originally zoned for manufacturing, the site was rezoned last year to allow for construction of what will soon be a 900-unit rental apartment building, second in height in the neighborhood only to an adjacent, white-facade AT&T tower.
“One thing that you’ll see in each of these examples is that they’re long-term, complex relationships,” said Ms. Schwartzman, who has represented Verizon since joining Newmark 11 years ago. “They are all very difficult transactions that often take years.”
Recalling Newmark’s developing relationship with Verizon in early 1999, Mr. Kuhn reminded a reporter that Ms. Schwartzman faced an uphill battle as a new broker, which was only made more complicated by what he described as the phone company’s less-than-desirable building portfolio.
“A lot of it was crappy property,” Mr. Kuhn chimed in as Newmark’s publicist squinted slightly.
“No!” Ms. Schwartzman objected.
“O.K., not crap,” responded Mr. Kuhn, after reconsidering his phraseology. “It was property that was not the traditional beautiful office buildings that you could go out and sell easily.”
MR. KUHN TAPPED Ms. Schwartzman-a holder of degrees in business, law and public affairs-while she was serving as a master planner for the city of Bridgeport, Conn. The first encounter came seven years after Mr. Kuhn and his associates launched the firm’s Capital Markets Group. Rather than recruiting from within New York City’s brokerage community, however, Mr. Kuhn chose to scout out what he described as “smart professional people.”
Ms. Schwartzman fit the bill.
“My first impression of her was, ‘Why was she living in Connecticut?'” Mr. Kuhn laughed, before saying, in all seriousness, “No, my first impression of her was just that she was smart.”
He immediately placed the University of Connecticut alum inside Verizon’s headquarters, where she was among a small group of point people helping to develop a relatively new relationship with the telecommunications concern.
For Ms. Schwartzman, who earned her law degree from Fordham, the jump from government to a commercial real estate firm allowed her an opportunity to bridge a divide between the public and private and, hopefully, illuminate the possibilities.
“My interest is helping people succeed, and so that’s really where my interest was,” said Ms. Schwartzman, who grew up in Norwalk and now lives near the garment district in Manhattan. “I thought it was very important for the public side to look at things from a business point of view, and I thought it was important for the business side, especially in real estate, to look at things from a public point of view. And real estate brings that all together.”
When a reporter suggested to Ms. Schwartzman that she seemed big-hearted, at least compared to many of her competitors in the commercial real estate industry, the broker smiled but kept quiet. But Mr. Kuhn didn’t.
“She wants to save the world,” he smiled.