Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick



As leasing agent for some of Manhattan’s most iconic buildings, CBRE executive vice president Brad Gerla has access to some impressive real estate—like J.P. Morgan’s former pied-à-terre on the 31st floor of 14 Wall Street or the neo-Gothic inner workings of the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway.

So it was strange to chat with him one recent rainy morning in a nondescript conference room in an equally nondescript–dare we say blah–office, save for the fact that the conference room was nestled inside the former MetLife headquarters at 11 Madison Avenue.

cbre brad gerla Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
Brad Gerla.

Mr. Gerla has made a name for himself as a go-to guy for noteworthy Manhattan buildings, mostly of the sort found in Lower Manhattan, where he works out of the firm’s dedicated Downtown office.

In addition to 11 Madison Avenue, Mr. Gerla has at various times handled leasing for Silverstein Properties’ 3, 4 and 7 World Trade Center and 40 Wall Street. There is also the recently recapped 14 Wall Street, 233 Broadway and L&L Holdings’ 195 Broadway, where Omnicom Group recently took 200,000 square feet for its New York headquarters.

In some cases, the leasing is preceded by a repositioning or reimagining of the property. Due to the shifting dynamics Downtown, this has become more and more the case not only for the buildings—offices as luxury lofts, for example—but also for the tenants who occupy them.

To chart it all involves a trip back to a time when the Financial District was solely that.

“I started at Williams back in the ’80s—at the time it was called Williams—and back then we had a pretty impressive group who are now major players in the marketplace: Bob Alexander, Peter Riguardi, Neil Goldmacher, David Falk,” Mr. Gerla said of his early days in the business.

He left Williams to join Jones Lang Wootton until its merger with LaSalle Partners in 1999.

“When Jones Lang Wootton and LaSalle merged, half of us went to Cushman and half of us went to, at the time, Insignia/ESG,” Mr. Gerla said.

Edward Gordon, the legendary broker who sold Edward S. Gordon Co. to Insignia Financial Group in 1996, told Mr. Gerla that he’d be perfect for Insignia’s Downtown office, so in 1999 off he went. By design he already had a familiarity with the area from his time at Williams, where he made a conscious decision to make the area his specialty. At Williams, David Levinson, a broker then, had some assignments Downtown, so Mr. Gerla had taken the opportunity to learn the market.

“At that time there wasn’t a lot of interest in Downtown or a lot of hype, and I felt that if I could be the expert in that market I could really develop a niche for myself,” he said. Relationships with landlords and tenants in the area developed and evolved, and Mr. Gerla had become the go-to guy for the action by the time Edward Gordon redeployed him to the area.

Of course, much has changed since then. Mr. Gerla has lived through the destruction of 9/11 and the subsequent and ongoing redevelopment of the World Trade Center site and surrounding area. And, in a sense, he has been tasked with helping it along, through specific work assignments and projects he has taken on outside the office.

“We’re involved in all the groups Downtown—the Downtown Alliance, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council,” Mr. Gerla explained. He owes his involvement to CBRE colleague Cherrie Nanninga, who previously served as deputy chief financial officer and director of real estate for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Cherrie used to work at the Trade Center and got very involved with this. We’re all very involved,” Mr. Gerla said.

CBRE makes a point to stay involved and has a commitment Downtown, he said.

“Listen, for us to do well you have to have a community that’s doing well and you have to give back,” he said. “You can’t just sit there and do deals; you have to give something back to the community.”