The Brooklyn Kid Who Done Good: Grubb & Ellis’ Corporate Services Chief Helps Connect Firms and Locations
“Whenever I bounce from meeting to meeting in Manhattan I tend to walk by my favorite manholes–to this day. And my favorite has always been my last one.”
Marty Cottingham grew up among the bright row houses of Windsor Terrace, drinking at neighborhood fixture Farrell’s, where his uncles bartended, and working at the little deli next door before it became an Italian restaurant.
It was as a teenager in the Brooklyn neighborhood that he met his future wife, herself a student at the nearby girls’ elementary school, Holy Name, and also where his mother worked as a teacher’s aide at P.S. 10.
And with the Prospect Expressway two blocks from his home, the area also served as a reminder of the city’s ever-changing landscape, as well as the impact real estate can have on the lives of everyday citizens. It was in the 1950s that, despite heavy opposition, Robert Moses successfully carved his two-mile highway through the heart of Windsor Terrace, wiping out blocks of houses and displacing residents.
“The one thing that always amazed me growing up in Brooklyn, and being so close to Manhattan, was the constant change,” said Mr. Cottingham, now 39. “The neighborhoods gentrify and the buildings turn over. On any given day you can walk down the street and an old storefront is being changed or a new building is on the way up. It’s that energy that’s drawn me to real estate.”
Since April, however, Mr. Cottingham has served as the head of Grubb & Ellis’ Corporate Services division, a role that has allowed the local boy to identify teams within the firm that can assist in developing business with the few larger-than-life corporations that rarely bother to cross into the borough of Kings.
Thanks to the large network of relationships he developed as a project manager for Bear Stearns, Mr. Cottingham has been consulting with firms like Continuum Health Partners and the corporate services company Pratt & Whitney, which hired him earlier this year to provide facility and project oversight for its 4 million-square-foot office campus over in Hartford, Conn.
During the summer, Mr. Cottingham won a large national assignment with Univision Media, which is seeking to expand in Los Angeles, Detroit and New York. Now saddled with leases at three buildings in Miami, meanwhile, the group–which some predict will become the country’s largest network by 2015–hopes to consolidate about 200,000 feet under one Florida roof.
“I’d like to see them move over here to Brooklyn,” laughed Mr. Cottingham of the TV network’s New York search.
Late last year, meanwhile, the broker helped ink a 250,000-square-foot deal with a financial services insurance firm in New Jersey. In a transaction he described as the state’s third-largest deal last year, Mr. Cottingham explored an estimated 40 locations throughout New Jersey before finally agreeing on a renewal deal in Woodbridge that, he said, saved his clients significant cash.
“What they’re all really looking for is what’s going on in the industry, and what the other competing firms are looking to do,” said Mr. Cottingham, who inked the deal in collaboration with Michael Gottlieb in New York and Jeff Kolodkin in New Jersey. “They all just want to know how other firms are responding to this current downturn.”
WHEN MR. COTTINGHAM walks down the street, he takes note of the manhole covers he worked under as a splicer at Con Edison. They serve as reminders, he said, of the dangerous life he lived prior to his work in real estate, a workplace in which fires and asbestos were commonplace. In 1989, when a manhole explosion in Gramercy Park killed several of his colleagues, he knew a change needed to happen sooner rather than later.
“Whenever I bounce from meeting to meeting in Manhattan, I tend to walk by my favorite manholes–to this day,” said Mr. Cottingham. “And my favorite has always been my last one.”
He left the Con Ed job four years later, on a Friday, and began his new job at Bear Stearns the following Monday. He started out in office services and climbed up to a project management position. By 1997, he had been named co-head of construction worldwide, overseeing all of the company’s new office projects, including its corporate headquarters on Madison Avenue.
“For four years and almost seven days a week, I was coordinating all of the construction,” said Mr. Cottingham, who served as a liaison between Bear Stearns and Metro North, Con Edison and other agencies. “On any given day, there were a thousand people on the job. It was like a small city; there was crime on the project. It was really just like any corner on Times Square.”
But since joining Grubb & Ellis in 2007, the broker has continued to keep one eye on his childhood alliances while also balancing his corporate clients’ needs. Indeed, since last year, he’s served as an adviser for the LaSalle Academy, his old high school in the East Village. With the school truggling to stay afloat in the face of looming budget cuts, Mr. Cottingham led a team that, in July, successfully leased space to another entity that will soon share space with his alma mater and stave off closure of his school.
But for Mr. Cottingham, who lives with his wife and two kids in Windsor Terrace, where he actively participates in numerous civic duties, the assignment was nothing less than a call to duty.
“It’s something that we worked on for three years, myself and others,” said Mr. Cottingham, who sits on the board of the school despite admitting he was merely “an average student.” “It took a tremendous amount of patience. It was exhausting, but at the end of the day, it was a gratifying experience.”