The Logician, the Compass and the Dreamer
Jotham Sederstrom May 24, 2011, 10:11 a.m.
It was less than two short weeks until the International Council of Shopping Centers summit in Las Vegas, and Lori Shabtai was mulling over floor plans the way a general might a battlefield.
Scattered indiscriminately across five Upper West Side buildings, each one of them housing national retailers like Whole Foods, T.J. Maxx and Sephora, the blueprints ran black with vacant storefronts ranging in size from just 2,403 square feet to nearly 9,000.
The plans were for Columbus Square, the Chetrit Group-owned shopping and residential complex that opened two years ago between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues in the West 90’s. Ms. Shabtai’s theater of war, however, was in Las Vegas, where she and her colleagues at Winick Realty were due to compete against thousands of retail brokers to market as much as 42,000 square feet to merchants at the ICSC event, which opened over the weekend.
“We’ll be talking to everyone,” Ms. Shabtai said beforehand. The Winick executive vice president said she had already taken her pitch to existing small businesses on the Upper West Side as well. “We’re really looking for a shoe store, we’re looking for amenities for children, and we’re looking for other retailers like those. But we’re putting out just a huge net.”
Ms. Shabtai and members of her team, comprised of director Monica Kass and associate director Kelly Gedinsky, began marketing the retail portion of Columbus Square back in 2007, shortly before that year’s ICSC event. The group was tapped to market more than 350,000 square feet, and, as such, it sent early word to about 350 retailers. Subsequently, it met with as many as 20 companies while in Las Vegas, talking them up during the day and wining and dining them at night. The strategy paid off, said Ms. Gedinsky, with many of those retailers signing leases shortly after the event.
“There was such an enormous amount of interest,” she said, adding that, four years later, the trio continues to touch base with retailers who showed initial interest in Columbus Square, but for varying reasons have yet to sign deals.
But if marketing the square has proved to be a gigantic endeavor–so big, in fact, that the assignment earned the group the Most Significant Deal of the Year award from REBNY–it’s merely one in a list. From leasing duties at 855 Sixth Avenue and 450 West 14th Street in the meatpacking district to a big transaction in 2009 for the Empire Room bar at the Empire State Building, the team has masterminded some of the city’s bigger recent retail leases.
Among those, Ms. Shabtai said, was the assignment to locate a retailer to occupy space at the landmark Puck Building. Until now, the three-tiered space had been used as a catering hall, but the team saw great potential for what the space could become. In the end, the owner, Kushner Companies, chose to lease the space to REI, an outdoor gear and sporting goods store that, until now, had no stores in New York. The deal was inked in August. (Jared Kushner, a principal at Kushner Companies, is publisher of The Commercial Observer.)
Meanwhile, the trio has been juggling an assignment to lease retail space at 555 Sixth Avenue, the Stonehenge-owned property the group converted into a rental apartment building last year after St. Vincent’s Hospital closed. As such, when the building’s residents begin moving in, retail leasing will be underway, said Ms. Gedinsky. As for potential retailers, she said, tenants and their customers will benefit from 15-foot ceilings and more than 300 feet of wraparound glass facades.
“We’re really looking for people who might take the entire space,” said Ms. Gedinsky of the 18,000-square-foot two-tiered retail space at 15th Street. “There are plans to build escalators so they would even have their very own designated escalators and elevators.”
“This is going to change the entire neighborhood,” Ms. Shabtai added hopefully.
IN DESCRIBING HER role at Winick, where she has worked for six years, Ms. Shabtai insisted that she has regularly collaborated with many of its brokers, and not only Ms. Gedinsky and Ms. Kass. “We’re Jeff’s Angels,” she said jokingly, referring to the firm’s chief executive, Jeffrey Winick. “We’re here for him.”
As for her team, the broker alternately plays the role of boss and ice-breaker to her less seasoned staff. Despite gruelingly long hours and high stress, however, the threesome laugh easily and can finish each other’s sentences and decipher what they described as their own admittedly cryptic shorthand. “We’re together 20 hours a day,” said Ms. Shabtai, a mother of three. “Whether it’s texting or e-mailing or having dinner, and landlords also call us at, like, 5 a.m. But what makes us unique is that we’re so dedicated to the people we work for, and we have so much fun working together.”
The three brokers, each a New York State native, came to Winick from different backgrounds. Ms. Shabtai launched her own real estate career 25 years ago following a stint as a jeweler. For Ms. Kass, who joined Winick in 2006 after working at Garrick-Aug Associates, the road to commercial real estate followed stints working in photography, alongside art dealers, for makeup artists and within the hospitality industry, among other disciplines. Ms. Gedinsky, meanwhile, joined in 2007, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin.
With such disparate backgrounds, Ms. Shabtai insisted, they each bring a unique perspective and an assortment of skill sets to the negotiating table.
“I try to see the best in everyone, and then Monica will just be, like, ‘O.K., uh no,'” said Ms. Shabtai of potential clients, some of whom, she admitted, have been less than ideal. “She’s the voice of reason. And Kelly is the voice of …
“Morality,” said Ms. Kass to a gust of laughter. “She’s the moral compass.”
“And I’m just, like, out there-the dreamer,” continued Ms. Shabtai.