Last But Not Least
Jotham Sederstrom Jan. 24, 2012, noon
Is he the most prolific attorney in the city you’ve never heard about?
Still, it’s possible to lose track of just how many deals Fried Frank partner Meyer Last inked in 2011. Call it the Jon Mechanic effect.
Mr. Mechanic, the head of Fried Frank’s real estate practice, is a staple of industry social and speaking events as well as host of the firm’s annual holiday party, one of real estate’s biggest gatherings of the year.
On top of it, Mr. Mechanic is often the attorney on the city’s largest leasing and sales deals. As a result, he has become the city’s most recognized real estate lawyer and, in a business where brokers and landlords usually get the credit for arranging transactions anyway, tends to overshadow the rest of his ilk.
“Jon is this incredible combination between being a brilliant marketer for the firm and also an exceptional lawyer. Very few really can combine both the way he does,” Mr. Last said. There isn’t an ounce of rivalry in the way Mr. Last speaks of his colleague; he’s genuinely in awe.
After a year like 2011, however, Mr. Last may give Mr. Mechanic a run for his money. While Mr. Mechanic was one of the lead attorneys on the year’s biggest and most prestigious leasing transaction, Condé Nast’s one-million-plus-square-foot deal at 1 World Trade Center, Mr. Last has tallied his own dizzying array of high-stakes deals.
He represented the landlord George Comfort & Sons in its 900,000-square-foot lease with the Japanese financial company Nomura at Worldwide Plaza. He also was the attorney for Brookfield Properties, one of Fried Frank’s biggest clients, in its 750,000-plus-square-foot renewal at the World Financial Center with Bank of America.
The two deals caused something of an awkward situation for Mr. Last.
Nomura was one of the World Financial Center’s largest tenants and for a time Brookfield was competing fiercely with George Comfort & Sons to hold onto the company. So while Mr. Last was negotiating to keep Bank of America on the one hand, he was simultaneously arranging to have Nomura go elsewhere.
Such is the balancing act of being one of the city’s most successful real estate attorneys.
“Needless to say, I never mentioned the word Nomura during the Bank of America talks,” Mr. Last said. “Brookfield is an incredibly sophisticated owner and they’re able to recognize that I’m not the one deciding where Nomura is going. I’m working for my client. In theory sometimes every attorney has to watch out for conflicts of interest. Usually my connections facilitate deals though.”
Mr. Last said he wasn’t even sure the Nomura deal was going to go through until only days before the lease was signed during the summer—a revelation that shows just how uncertain the world of big-time dealmaking can actually be. Though it takes many months to arrive at a deal, last-minute decisions, even whims, can unwind or seal even the most carefully planned transactions.
George Comfort & Sons, Mr. Last said, was also in serious negotiations with another tenant, which, though smaller than Nomura, was in talks to do a deal for higher rents.
“The final week, the week before the Nomura lease was done, I would have guessed the other deal,” Mr. Last said. “We had a meeting with Nomura on a Sunday. All day we met and were able to close a lot of the points and get it near completion and Peter Duncan [George Comfort’s chief executive] decided to go with it.”
Mr. Last sat with The Commercial Observer at the company’s Midtown conference center high in the Seagrams Building, one of Midtown’s most exclusive towers. The space is small, purposely so, to assure that the location is strictly a place for meetings and doesn’t evolve into something more akin to a small Midtown branch where attorneys begin to regularly hang their hats. Fried Frank’s main offices are downtown, in 1 New York Plaza, an office building owned by Brookfield Properties.
“We felt like it was important to be downtown, that if we moved to Midtown, we probably wouldn’t come to lower Manhattan as much,” Mr. Last said.
There’s no denying the building’s elegance. Even the original amber-tone lights, hardly within the spectrum of a typical office environment but that by landmark regulations must be left untouched near the building’s windows so that they continue to produce the building’s signature bronze glow, have a charm.
“I’ve grown to love the building,” Mr. Last said. “It’s a calm environment, the lobby, the way the building is in the middle of everything but at once also removed because of the plaza area.”
Mr. Last came to Fried Frank in the 1980s. By the 1990s he was made a partner. Large leases are nothing new to him. Last year probably wasn’t even his biggest year. Years ago he arranged a million-plus-square-foot deal to have Standard & Poor’s take space at 55 Water Street, which, at a staggering 3.8 million square feet, is the city’s largest office property. He also worked on the deal to have Citibank sell 1 Court Square, the large office building it owned in Long Island City, and lease back about 1.4 million square feet of space there.
Still, if 2011 wasn’t the biggest, it missed out only by a hair and it easily could have been even bigger. Mr. Last represented the Swiss bank UBS in its talks to take 900,000 or more square feet at the World Trade Center. The deal would have anchored a whole new tower at the site, 3 World Trade Center, and would have allowed the bank to relocate staff there from Stamford, Conn. The lease was in talks for months, but when the European debt crisis boiled over, the bank eventually canceled the plan.
Mr. Last said it wasn’t hard juggling all the deals during the year.
“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s adrenaline, the deals are exciting and when you’re in the thick of negotiating them, there’s definitely that adrenaline factor,” Mr. Last said. “I can get going a lot quicker on three hours sleep during an exciting period than on a full night if there’s not much going on.”
His pipeline doesn’t show signs of flagging. Already, in the opening days of 2012, he helped arrange a deal in China outside of Shanghai, representing the New York-based development company Tishman Speyer in a 600,000-square-foot lease to have the apparel giant Nike anchor a new office complex Tishman is going to be build in the area.
“To me there is nothing more fun than working on development deals,” Mr. Last said. “You’re transforming an empty hole in the ground into a new structure or piece of infrastructure. They’re always the most interesting deals.”