Sweet Home Savanna
Since taking the reins as leasing director and a partner at Savanna last month, Todd Korren has applied his 27 years of experiences as a developer, leasing agent, property manager and real estate executive to the real estate private equity firm’s three million-plus square feet of property. The former Swig Equities senior vice president, 47, spoke last week with The Commercial Observer about his new role at Savanna, his continued confidence in Lower Manhattan and assets such as 100 Wall Street and 31 Penn Plaza.
The Commercial Observer: Why did you leave Swig Equities and move to Savanna?
Mr. Korren: I spent seven good years with Kent, and Kent and I still remain good friends. Our companies were a bit intermingled, and Swig continues to manage some of the Savanna properties, but it was really just a great opportunity for me because Savanna has been growing rapidly. In fact, it’s probably one of the most active, if not the most active, buyer of office buildings over the last 12 or 15 months.
While still at Swig, how frequently were you and associates partnering with Savanna?
Over the last year, pretty intensively. Savanna had acquired 5 Hanover Square in October of 2010 so I was the point person, handling all the leasing, helping them develop the capital program for the property and, of course, developing the leasing plan. And with the acquisition of 80 Broad Street, I’ve also been involved with that.
What goals do you have in your new position as director of leasing at Savanna?
First and foremost is to develop the Savanna brand. Not only the tenants, but brokers—we want them to know what to expect if they’re doing business with Savanna. We’ve set our sights very high. I work very hard and my reputation is important, and so is Savanna’s. And what we want to do by joining forces is let the tenants and brokers know that we’re going to be giving them high-quality service.
Since you began working in the real estate industry 27 years ago, you’ve dabbled on all fronts—including development, brokerage, leasing and management. What could Savanna possibly offer you that you haven’t experienced previously in your career?
What’s super exciting is being involved with a well-established company to help them expand the business model by bringing in the lease renewals, which is my primary focal area. We’ve actually brought the leasing department in-house. So, for me, what’s exciting is being able to help them build the business and really to be involved in establishing systems procedures and helping catapult the company into the upper echelons of well-known and very well-respected owners.
Why the decision to create an in-house leasing department?
The reason why we did that is to help them better manage our tenants and create value for our investors at the same time. Basically, everything has been outsourced to third-party leasing and management firms. But the overall business model isn’t changing, except for us now handling the lease renewals in the house. And I’m going to be coordinating the efforts of our third-party leasing agents.
Savanna acquired the 18-story 31 Penn Plaza two weeks ago. What’s the plan there?
We just recently acquired a building in the Penn Station market, 31 Penn Plaza. That was actually a straightforward deal. It was an off-market deal, which kudos to our acquisitions department that are able to find off-market deals—but that was just a straight purchase. But we have a very deliberate model for how we’re going to run our assets—very high quality so that the tenants and brokers know that whether from a business standpoint or from a capital standpoint you’re going to know what to expect from us. But as far as the deals we’re going to look at, we’re not in that proverbial box. We’re very creative and we like to take a look at every opportunity.
At Swig Equities you put a premium on Lower Manhattan. Will you continue to put such a significant focus on leasing below Canal Street?
Absolutely. We have four direct assets downtown as well as buildings in midtown south and midtown. But I’m still personally very excited about downtown. Before I took this job, Savanna was very excited about Lower Manhattan, and subsequent to working together they’ve demonstrated their continued confidence. We’re now the fee owner of 100 Wall Street. We have interests in several other buildings, a couple that are public and one that isn’t. We have a significant commitment to downtown.
With 100 Wall Street in particular, what’s in store?
We have a great capital improvement program with that building. We’re also in active negotiations right now with renewals for a little over 50,000 square feet. It’s a mix of financial services firms and professional services firms. We’re still seeing a significant migration of professional services firms that are moving downtown and want to remain downtown. Wall Street is still Wall Street. Towers notwithstanding, we’ve seen very prominent and well-known publishing and service groups move.
A number of publishers and technology firms have signed leases in Lower Manhattan recently, most notably Condé Nast. But on Wall Street specifically have you seen a shift away from the financial services sector, or is Wall Street impervious to such a change?
It’s actually more of a mix than you might realize. I’ve been involved with a number of properties on Wall Street, and, yes, it’s financial services. But we also have other firms. Manhattan is a world-renowned address, but Wall Street in particular is an address that is known throughout the world. I recently signed a 4,000-square-foot lease with a Chinese company, and they have nothing to do with financial services. They’re involved with shipping and providing services to airports and airlines. For them, they’re a Chinese company, and Wall Street is an address known everywhere.