Since 1999, The New York Post’s Steven Cuozzo and his weekly “Realty Check” column have set the tone for each week’s real estate cycle. In addition to his column, Mr. Cuozzo is also the Post’s top restaurant critic and edits the paper’s Page 6 gossip page—a veritable one-man Curbed.com network. He sat down with The Commercial Observer last week to talk about his column, the buildings that excite him, and the reasons why restaurant folk are meaner than brokers and developers.
Your first column was in November 1999. Do you remember what the story was?
I recall it all too well and with great pleasure, actually. My first “Realty Check” column, which is what we call it, was a sit-down with Stephen Ross of Related [Properties] about the plans for what would become Time Warner Center. At that time, in the fall of 1999, Related hadn’t even yet definitively closed on the deal with the MTA and all the other parties.
It looked like it was going to happen, but as we know, so many things in Manhattan look as if they’re going to happen and they don’t. He talked very confidently about the project going forward, and of course he was entirely vindicated.
As a neophyte real estate writer, I was extremely gratified, shall we say, for the opportunity to debut with such a major subject.
Do you remember your first impressions of the brokers and developers you’ve covered?
There is a popular myth that brokers are interchangeable with used car salesmen. But instead you have the pleasure of getting to know people like Mary Ann Tighe and David Levinson, who is now of course a property owner in his own right, and Ron Cohen and Peter Rigaurdi and so many others who are extraordinarily literate and sophisticated in realms way beyond commercial real estate, and even beyond the difficult and necessary politics of New York City and New York State that go along with being in the business, which I suppose is a way of saying that a lot of them have damn good taste in food and wine, subjects that are close to my heart.
Of course there are exceptions, but I also found that most of them really care about the city. They really love New York City and they love what they do and they derive extraordinary gratification from participating in the transactions that bring beneficial change to neighborhoods and alter perceptions about different parts of the city.
We’re both reporters, and we’re both susceptible to the occasional blowback from an angry subject or a spurned source. I was wondering if you’ve ever gotten it in the ear from a subject or source, or had to deal with some very prickly and difficult personalities.
It’s interesting, it’s a good question. Believe it or not, I get a lot more blowback and outrage, whining and emails and phone calls—sometimes with the person identified, sometimes not—from my restaurant columns. No kidding.
I believe that if you cover commercial real estate, you can’t get that much bad negative blowback if you’re accurate. The handful of times … perhaps I overinterpreted the fact that a lease was up and it was not going to be renewed … generally, I get a polite email or call from their rep saying, “Not really true.”
Let me read you something. Recently I did a restaurant story saying that this place called Romera, which is this wildly expensive restaurant in the Dream Downtown Hotel, right, was probably on its way out because the owners of the space, the Chatwal family, were talking to other chefs about taking over. I got an email just last night before I left [the office] from an unidentified complainant saying, “You are the most malignant journalist the New York Post has. You really should be ashamed of yourself for trying so hard to sabotage such a concept. I was thoroughly disgusted by your hearsay gossip article and can see you have nothing to do with yourself than write trash. Keep up the great work.”
Nobody really attacks me personally. That’s extraordinarily rare. But you are conscious that what you write has consequences.
You have written recently that it’s been rather lackluster in the leasing and development market. Do you think this should be a period of concern for the industry?
I think it is a matter of great concern, because ever since Sept. 11, I have written and the Post has written with a single purpose arguing in favor of large-scale reconstruction. There was tremendous concern in some quarters, especially on the part of The Times and the Daily News, that we faced a glut of office space.
Given your years in the business, how did you come to cover commercial real estate?
I was hired in 1972. I was a copy boy, an entry level job. In those days it literally meant, besides getting coffee for the editors, it meant carrying pieces of copy around. The kind of career I’ve had can only happen when you have great owners, which of course has been Rupert Murdoch for most of that time, and great bosses who allow someone’s career to evolve. So at different times, I was a copy editor in the newsroom. I was the entertainment editor for a number of years. I think I had the title “arts and leisure editor.” I became an assistant managing editor in charge of features. At one time, one of my jobs here back in the early ’80s was organizing contests, sweepstakes in the paper, where I would have to, on a weekly basis, come up with a prize, like a trip to Hawaii. One I remember in particular was “win breakfast with the baby elephant at the Bronx Zoo.”
Things changed and I guess in 1998 I became the restaurant critic. It wasn’t my idea, but I was very happy to say yes. Then a year later, they asked me to write a commercial real estate column, which made me even happier because I love the subject. Sometimes an individual can remain with the same newspaper, the same company, and have more fun in the maturity of one’s career than in its adolescence.
What are the new developments you are most excited about?
I love new development. I believe that new development is a great—obviously there are differences and compromises and not all are wonderful, but I’m the opposite of the knee-jerk New York reaction, which is anti-development, especially in some neighborhoods.
But more specifically to your question: I love 1 World Trade Center. I think 4 World Trade is a great building and I think people are going to be shocked when it’s finished, not only for its size, but also for its austere beauty.
I also love 11 Times Square, the SJP building, which is amazing, these new buildings, because they’re so efficient, can have like a million-plus square feet and not look that large. They look almost dainty, with more efficient floor plates.
One Bryant Park is an extraordinary building too. These new buildings for the most part, they may not be architectural masterpieces, but they are damn good. And they’re good neighbors, too.