A Room With A View (Of Central Park)
Jotham Sederstrom Oct. 25, 2011, 9:49 a.m.
For an emerging—albeit press-shy—wealth management firm like Forty North Capital LLC, snagging a prime block of office space on the 30th floor of a building that features stupefying views of Central Park and an intimidating list of titanic private equity tenants like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Silver Lake Partners is indeed a bold move.
In August, Forty North signed a 10-year lease to take 17,000 square feet at 9 West 57th Street, a gleaming, 50-story skyscraper owned by real estate titan Sheldon Solow with an address that a business of any shape or size would kill to have on its business card.
Little is known about Forty North, which is run by the scions of two powerful real estate dynasties: the Winter Organization, which counts the Crown Building at 730 Fifth Avenue among its many Manhattan holdings, and Heyman Properties, a Westport, Conn.-based real estate firm that has 3.5 million square feet of office and retail space.
Those who worked on the deal said Forty North invests primarily in a mixture of equities, fixed assets and real estate. But that, in essence, is all that’s widely known about the company.
“They’re pretty private about the details of their organization,” said Scott Panzer, vice chairman at Jones Lang LaSalle, who represented landlord Sheldon Solow during the leasing negotiations.
Forty North could not be reached for comment.
Ben Friedland, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis, represented Forty North in the deal. Mr. Friedland declined requests for comment.
Those familiar with the deal said the company was drawn to the north-facing views of Central Park offered by 9 West 57th Street’s unique and legendary vantage point.
The pristine roster of finance tenants at 9 West 57th Street was another lure for Forty North. Several of those tenants extended their lease or expanded their occupancy in the past year alone.
Portfolio management firm Summit Rock Advisors increased its occupancy on the 12th floor of the building to 14,000 square feet and reupped its lease to seven years.
KKR signed up for an additional 60,000 square feet, for a total of 160,000 square feet, at an average of $120 per square foot. Private equity firm Apollo Management increased its space to three floors, paying $160 per square foot, according to published reports.
“The attraction of 9 West [57th Street] is they get the lion’s share of the big boutique investment banking houses and hedge funds,” said Mr. Panzer. “They are not huge companies, [but] they have huge assets under management,” Mr. Panzer added.
Those small companies with huge assets also pay one of the steepest dollar-per-square-foot rent rates in Manhattan—which can go as high as $200.
Forty North was willing to pay for the price of admission.
“They wanted the views, they wanted to have a certain presence and stature,” said Mr. Panzer.
In April, with the company looking to move out of its offices at 667 Madison Avenue, Forty North looked at 30,000 square feet of available space on 9 West 57th’s 30th floor.
The sweeping northern views of Central Park and all of upper Manhattan were intriguing enough for the firm. But to have all of the floor’s north-facing views would come at a premium, said Mr. Panzer.
The group agreed to take a portion of the floor—70 percent—with just enough of the north-facing view. The decision led to a lower cost-per-square-foot rent.
Afterward, drawing on their notable real estate lineage and savvy, Forty North’s owners wanted to have the flexibility to potentially grow in the building down the line.
For Mr. Solow and Mr. Panzer, they wondered how the building would allow Forty North the ability to grow its company without the landlord’s losing control over its space.
“We found some reasonable compromises,” said Mr. Panzer.
Forty North agreed to rights of first offer and rights of first refusal for contiguous space on that floor and on the 29th floor.
“The floor was a vacant floor so they got first dibs on what they wanted, which is part of the attraction for them,” said Mr. Panzer. Forty North will be paying $165 per square foot, said people familiar with the deal.
Should the company look to expand while keeping its rent at bay, it would have the chance to take another office floor in the lower bank of the building—used primarily for office accounting and support functions—while keeping the upper floors for client spacing and executive offices.
“That is exactly what KKR did and what Apollo is looking at doing,” said Mr. Panzer.
For now—and coming soon in 2012—Forty North will be working among the top players of private equity and money management.
“They sort of flock to each other; it’s sort of interesting how they all operate,” said Mr. Panzer.
Since being tabbed as the leasing agent for the 1.5-million-square-foot building, Mr. Panzer has had to deal with sizable vacancy, not to mention a historically litigious building owner in Mr. Solow.
After brokering the KKR and Forty North deals at prerecession rates, Mr. Panzer is showing that there’s still demand for office space at desirable locations.
“It’s clearly an indication that there’s some strength in the market,” said John Cicero, managing partner of Miller Cicero, a real estate appraisal and consulting firm. “There is always demand for the top quality assets in this market,” he added.