Brooklyn Buzz: From Spike Lee to Etsy, C&W’s Glenn Markman Has BK Down
Daniel Geiger Oct. 30, 2012, 7 a.m.
Glenn Markman first began to pay attention to Brooklyn long before there was a Barclays Center to crystallize the borough’s rise.
Like so many success stories in real estate, buying in early was key.
Having done deals in Brooklyn for 20 years, Mr. Markman by now is known as an expert in office leasing in the borough, though he is also prolific in Manhattan. From his résumé, there’s no mistaking his prominence as a Brooklyn dealmaker.
In 2008, he represented Spike Lee in finding a Dumbo office for the film director’s advertising company, Spike DDB.
Earlier this year, when the Brooklyn Nets decided to relocate the team’s executive offices from New Jersey to be closer to the new Barclays arena, Mr. Markman, who is a leasing executive at Cushman & Wakefield, led a C&W team that brought the Nets into 35,000 square feet at 15 MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn.
Along with C&W’s chairman of global brokerage, Bruce Mosler, Mr. Markman is currently in the process of conducting a search for a large new practice facility for the team.
Mr. Markman has done notable deals outside of Brooklyn, too. In the late 1990s, he convinced the NBA to open a prominent store where it could both sell its merchandise and broadcast its brand at 666 Fifth Avenue, one of city’s most storied retail addresses. He represented the fashion apparel company Michael Kors in taking office space at 11 West 42nd Street, where it has grown to about 100,000 square feet. He has also done jumbo-size leases: in the late 1990s he was part of a Grubb & Ellis team that represented the New York City Housing Authority in a roughly 500,000-square-foot deal at 90 Church Street.
But it has been Brooklyn with which Mr. Markman’s reputation has become closely linked; it both paved the way for his career and has kept his pipeline flush with the kinds of creative deals he prizes.
At about 7 million square feet, the commercial office neighborhood in the borough is a fraction of the size of the nearly 400-million-square-foot Manhattan market. Yet command of the Brooklyn market has never been a better skill set to have as more companies are crowding into an area increasingly considered the pinnacle of culture and lifestyle in the city.
“Brooklyn is igniting this incredible passion from creative companies in Manhattan,” Mr. Markman said. “Brooklyn buzz combined with scarcity of space and increasing rental rates in areas like Midtown South are pushing more companies to come to the borough and providing the opportunity for the area to land blue-chip creative firms.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Markman represented one such company, a firm called MakerBot, which manufactures 3D printers, in a deal to take about 35,000 square feet at 15 MetroTech. The lease was typical of the kind of transaction Mr. Markman has sought to focus his career on: an innovative tenant coming to a space that could help unlock its potential and spur its growth.
Mr. Markman doesn’t profess to be an artist, but he clearly has an affinity for the creative. His wife is a full-time painter. In his office, he has eye-catching abstract paintings that he commissioned from an artist he is friendly with. The vicarious thrill he gets from lending his services to help businesses like MakerBot animates him far more than more routine deals that are larger in size and thus more lucrative.
“The kind of tenants that I work with has always been the most important thing for me,” Mr. Markman said. “Getting to work with interesting, creative companies and helping them to get where they want to go and the transformational part of real estate for them is what I’ve focused on. Changing their environment is ultimately going to change how they go about doing their business.”
A few years ago, he was introduced to Spike Lee, who wanted space for his advertising company. Mr. Markman, who says he is fixated on being punctual, noticed that Mr. Lee showed up to meetings even earlier than he did.
“He’s 15 minutes early, and he’s balancing five things at the same time,” said Mr. Markman. “He doesn’t have a handler or an assistant. The opportunity to work with someone like him is what the business is about for me.”
Mr. Lee’s preference was to buy a building, preferably a firehouse, in Fort Greene or an area nearby and then set up shop. Mr. Markman knew that such a strategy would be a long shot; real estate investors would clamor for such an asset, and the likelihood of finding an available property of that type was remote.
“Spike is a one-in-a-million type of guy, so who’s to say he can’t make a one-in-a-million real estate deal?” Mr. Markman said. “I leveled with him. If you want a firehouse, I’m not your guy. But I can get you a place that will give you a vibe and the right environment.”
Mr. Lee reconsidered, and Mr. Markman brought the firm to a space at 55 Washington Street in Dumbo, an area that has increasingly become a rival to popular submarkets of Midtown South, such as Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, as a home for tech and creative companies. A year later, in 2009, Mr. Markman moved Etsy.com, the online retailer of handcrafted, small-batch products such as jewelry and art, to the same building.
“It’s interesting how it all flows,” Mr. Markman said. “I’m always trying to put myself in my tenant’s shoes.”
Mr. Markman’s start in Brooklyn leasing wasn’t driven by a premonition of the potential that is so evident there today. It was the early 1990s, and his brother, Greg, who had recently graduated college, was not enthused at the prospect of having to put on a suit. Greg decided instead that he would open a restaurant on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. Glenn, who was then with the firm Grubb & Ellis, went to work finding him a space.
Mr. Markman had grown up in Bensonhurst and left it behind for an apartment in Manhattan as soon as he graduated from college. While getting acquainted with the nightlife and dining scene of Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn in the search on behalf of his brother, he could feel the area’s up-and-coming vibe. As he would be at other important junctures in his career, Mr. Markman was struck by a sense of opportunity.
Like any young broker, he was struggling to do lucrative deals with major tenants in Manhattan. Mr. Markman, however, knew that large companies took space at places like the MetroTech Center, especially for back-office functions. At the time, these were little-noticed deals, and few leasing brokers of any importance were making Brooklyn a priority. The area was
wide open for an ambitious young upstart.
Through a connection with the real estate executive Michael Fascitelli, now the chief executive officer of Vornado Realty Trust but then a partner at Goldman Sachs, Mr. Markman began to handle some sublease space that Goldman was trying to dispose of at the office building 1 Pierrepont Plaza. He eventually subleased two floors to the U.S. Attorney in a roughly 70,000-square-foot deal. Soon after, he subleased another floor in the skyscraper from the Royal Bank of Canada to the same tenant.
“I couldn’t have worked on transactions of that ilk with those kinds of tenants in Manhattan so early in my career,” Mr. Markman said. “By doing those deals in Brooklyn, I accelerated my career incredibly and tapped opportunities I never would have otherwise had.”
Mr. Markman found other openings for advancement, and not just in Brooklyn. Fresh off his success in that borough, he was riding one day in a cab through Midtown when he noticed Disney and Warner Bros. both had retail stores. He had just read an article about the tremendous profits the NBA was netting from its merchandise. Why didn’t it have a store too, he wondered.
“I wound up contacting them and pitching the idea,” Mr. Markman said.
His vision culminated in a 35,000-square-foot lease for an NBA store at 666 Fifth Avenue, with a starting rent of nearly $3 million annually—then one of the most lucrative deals ever done in the city for a retail space.
Aside from his brokerage work, Mr. Markman now owns two Brooklyn restaurants with his brother. It was while riding on the No. 4 train to one of them, Della Rocco’s Brick Oven Pizza, that he noticed how big Brooklyn had become.
“I realized [all these older women] were heading to the Barbara Streisand concert at Barclays,” Mr. Markman said. “These people would never take the 4—they would never ever take the train to Brooklyn. And yet here they were all heading to Barclays, and it really dawned on me: This thing is big.”