Michelle Walker has stayed busy at Cushman & Wakefield, schooling herself on both landlord and tenant representation. It’s given her unique insight into the Manhattan markets that she covers, where dwindling supply can leave smaller tenants out in the cold and larger tech firms swallowing hard while reimagining their must-have lists. On the tenant side, she’s represented Sugar Publishing in its lease at Monday Properties’ 386 Park Avenue South. In fact, when The Commercial Observer caught up with her last week, she was rushing in from showing Sugar’s available sublease space at the building. Meanwhile, her landlord representation started with Harbor Group International’s 1412 Broadway, an assignment that taught her a lot about how landlords are leveraging their space in Times Square South. Hint: It takes guts.
You were rushing to get here from somewhere. Can you talk about what listing you were showing?
I have a sublease on Park South—it’s about 5,000 square feet—but it’s a pretty popular sublease because there are a lot of dot-coms that are sprouting up, and they’re all looking for those interesting, quirky, different spaces. Or they’re looking for good office space that’s in trendy, interesting, funky spaces that they live in. They’ll take one or the other. So Union Square—that Park South area between 34th and 14th Street—is probably the tightest market in all of the United States. The vacancy rate is falling below five percent right now, which is unheard of. And it just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the U.S. All of these dot-coms that are sprouting up all want to be there. So that one little 5,000-square-foot sublease has been the most active listing I’ve ever had. It’s unbelievable.
Where on Park Avenue South is the space you were showing?
386 Park Avenue South. We had a dot-com in Soho, and, again, the trend is to try to and get as close to Union Square as you possibly can, because a lot of people live in that area and they want to walk to work. I worked with a broker, Clark Finney, and we had a company in Soho—they were in about 5,000 square feet at 532 Broadway, Sugar Publishing, and their trajectory for growth is enormous. They were in about 5,000 square feet down in Soho and needed a lot more space. Soho didn’t have it. So Sugar found this great space in the Monday Properties’ building at 386 Park Avenue South. They went from 5,000 square feet, and they took almost 20,000 square feet just like that. They had just signed that deal in Soho about two years previous, so in just two years they went from 5,000 to 20,000. They actually took more space at 386 than they needed. They’re only going to occupy about 15,000 square feet of that space, but they’ve earmarked 5,000 for sublease. So they took the space knowing that they were going to sublease the space because they were uncertain about how much more they were going to grow.
With startups looking for niche space, do you find yourself having to manage expectations?
It doesn’t take long. Obviously, if you’re going to be a smart broker, you want to make sure that you’re dipping them in a very strong dose of reality. Like, “This is what you’re going to be facing.” Because it’s not going to take long. I don’t have to do a lot of convincing because the market convinces them. The product that I have to end up showing them convinces them.
You have clients whom you represent, but you represent landlords as well?
I do. In the last year it’s been kind of an up-and-down, tumbling time for me because I’ve taken on an agency for the first time, and I wanted to. I really pushed management and said that it was critical for me to learn both sides of the formula. To be a landlord’s agent has completely opened my eyes to how to negotiate, and it’s really sharpened my skills. It’s been amazing, actually. I teamed up with a broker named Mitch Arkin, and we pitched a building, 1412 Broadway. It’s a new landlord in the area, Harbor Group International, which is based in Virginia. They came into New York and they purchased 4 New York Plaza and 1412. We became the agents at 1412. We started in August of 2011.