REBNY’s 2017 Honorees
Question: How does the anti-establishment national mood bode for an organization like the Real Estate Board of New York?
REBNY, as our readers surely know, is the real estate business’ 121-year-old trade association with some 17,000 members and the ultimate insider institution. It has a spoon in the pots of the city’s most important business from housing to zoning to immigration to taxes to construction to you name it. Its opinion carries a great deal of weight.
Well, that’s one of the big questions that an organization like REBNY will have to contend with. Continued relevance and what this organization is going to look like in the future is what Terence Cullen addresses in his story about REBNY’s new executive board, which is younger and more diverse than seen in an organization that tends to skew older, paler and maler. Liam La Guerre reported on how REBNY is trying to broaden its sphere of influence beyond Manhattan. Larry Getlen took a look at REBNY’s data team and how it is keeping abreast of the changes in this ever-shifting metropolis.
As for the myriad of issues that REBNY is toiling away on, the topics are contentious with no clear outcomes in sight. Danielle Balbi reports on EB-5, the immigrant investor program that REBNY has long championed, which is now a lot more vulnerable than it once appeared. Lauren Elkies Schram chronicled REBNY’s battle with the City Council over the number of permits granted to food cart vendors.
Of course, a REBNY issue is not solely about REBNY, per se. Tobias Salinger reports that the Real Estate Roundtable (an unofficial kissing-cousin of REBNY) has already started lobbying the incoming Trump administration on real estate taxes. And we sat down with REBNY’s bête noir, Gary LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, to get a view of REBNY from the other side. All in all, we have tried to offer the broadest possible perspective on an organization where a lot might change before 2018’s REBNY banquet.—Max Gross
Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chairman of the City Planning Commission John E. Zuccotti Public Service Award
Carl Weisbrod, the New York City Department of City Planning Director, announced his resignation the day after setting in motion what may be his final legacy as a public servant: the Midtown East rezoning, which would cap a career now forever linked with Weisbrod’s predecessor and former colleague, the late John Zuccotti.
It was only fitting, then, that the Real Estate Board of New York introduced a new award in 2017 in honor of Zuccotti, who was also once REBNY’s chairman and an executive with Brookfield Property Partners, and is giving it to Weisbrod at REBNY’s banquet on Jan. 19.
Weisbrod’s proudest feat has been “to see the arc of history of the past 50 years and to see the city become the primary urban center of the world,” he told Commercial Observer. “To have played a small role in that, even as a supporting actor, is a real sense of accomplishment.”
Weisbrod, 72, has led major rezonings since Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed him director of the DCP and chairman of the City Planning Commission in 2014. He had made his name as the leader in the effort to transform Times Square and the founding president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation under Mayor David Dinkins.
The Roosevelt Island resident, who grew up in Parkchester in the Bronx and Fresh Meadows in Queens, first met Zuccotti when both were serving in the Lindsay administration. Zuccotti “really is one of my heroes of government,” Weisbrod said.
He recalled Zuccotti’s role in preserving the local core assets of Olympia & York when the Canadian company went bankrupt in the 1990s. Zuccotti’s actions kept the city’s largest taxpayer’s doors open until Brookfield purchased the company’s properties, Weisbrod said.
“To me, that’s just an example of John’s ability to use his experience in the public sector even though he was in the private sector to benefit New York at considerable risk. That is a lesson I never forgot,” Weisbrod told CO. “That commitment to New York City is really what was so emblematic about John.”
Zuccotti, who died in November 2015, helped steward the city through the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and led Lower Manhattan’s post-9/11 recovery. He and Weisbrod share much in common, said Rudin Management Company Chief Executive Officer William Rudin.
“John Zuccotti and people like my dad [Lewis Rudin] back in the ‘70s saved the city by realizing that the public sector can’t do it alone and the private sector can’t do it alone,” Rudin said. “He was thinking big picture, and I think Carl’s the same way. I think he thought of John as a mentor and someone who placed the city above his own interests.”
Weisbrod pointed to the Midtown East rezoning as the “No. 1 objective” for 2017 at DCP, where he will step down at the end of January to become the chair of the Trust for Governors Island. The department certified the application on Jan. 3, starting the approval process for the 78-block plan.
The Midtown East plan would allow developers to build taller in exchange for public transit funds or purchases of air rights from landmarked buildings. Weisbrod said he expects real estate support for the zoning application.
“When there is an opportunity to work together, we do,” Weisbrod said of the city’s real estate industry. “Its value is here in New York City. That value depends on a healthy, vibrant New York City. And that’s an interest we all share.”—Tobias Salinger
Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner Companies Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership Real Estate Award
When MaryAnne Gilmartin found out she was to receive the Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership Real Estate Award, her reaction went like this:
“ ‘Lifetime achievement? Oh my God, I’m done—I’ve peaked,’ ” recalled Gilmartin, the chief executive officer of Forest City Ratner Companies. “I think I have a little more left to me.”
In the years since the Real Estate Board of New York first gave the honor out in 2003, the award has typically gone to people at the sunset of their career, she said. But even Gilmartin, one of the youngest and first Brooklyn-based persons to receive the award, acknowledges her 22 years at Forest City Ratner have been packed with projects.
The real estate executive has overseen three major projects in the city: The New York Times Building at 620 Eighth Avenue, New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street and the sprawling Pacific Park development in Brooklyn.
Gilmartin used the analogy of children that you’ve got to foster when describing each of the three projects. They all required a certain amount of care and have individual merits. As she recalls, The New York Times Building help put Forest City on the map; New York by Gehry was one of the first tall buildings constructed in Lower Manhattan after 9/11; and Pacific Park is a mixed-use project that reshaped a swath of Brooklyn.
“If you’re a developer and you can build one of these three great projects—The New York Times Building, New York by Gehry or Pacific Park—one of the three would make you lucky,” Gilmartin, 52, said. “Building three such or being part of building three such monuments of our great city is a career lottery.”
So with a couple of chapters planned in her real estate life, how does Gilmartin plan to top these three? It’s an answer that has less to do with square footage and more to do with impact. Forest City Ratner is developing The Bridge, a 240,000-square-foot educational and office building on Roosevelt Island. The structure is one of three buildings under construction as part of Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s campus, which also includes an engineering school and an energy-efficient apartment building.
“I call that the ‘Little Building That Could,’ just because I believe that has the potential to really change the way office...is consumed and used in the 21st century,” she said. “So it’s this great little building that represents how the innovation economy has taken down barriers to how companies and entrepreneurs work between themselves and with academia.”
Gilmartin is also one of the few female real estate CEOs in New York City, something not lost on her. Forest City Founder and Executive Chairman Bruce Ratner ran a meritocracy when he ran the company, before handing the baton over to Gilmartin in 2013. She explained that meant the best man, or woman, for the job—including her position—not the “old boys club.”
Having a woman—and a married mother of a daughter and two sons—at the top of the company is “living, breathing” recognition of the meritocracy approach, Gilmartin said. She added that has also helped her understand the needs of her employees.
“When you have a woman who’s had children and managed to grow in her capacity as a professional—but also as a mother and as a woman—I think it’s probably inspiring for others around you,” she said. “Because we all want to believe it’s possible. But when you have an example of that possibility, it creates a very good role model for others.” —Terence Cullen
Chairman and President of the New York tri-state region at JLL Louis Smadbeck Broker Recognition Award
Peter Riguardi—already one of the biggest fish in New York City’s real estate pond—earned a big promotion at the start of 2016 and backed up the new title with one of the biggest deals of the year. Also, JLL’s New York tri-state chairman and president delivered a commencement speech at Madison Square Garden for his alma mater Iona College in 2016.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Real Estate Board of New York gave Riguardi its 2017 Louis Smadbeck Broker Recognition Award. The honor recognizes a commercial broker who shows integrity, leadership and prominence, as well as service on REBNY’s committees.
Riguardi led the team representing private equity giant BlackRock in its December agreement to anchor a new skyscraper in Hudson Yards. Yet he said no single deal “really defines us here” when asked to discuss his proudest accomplishments of the year.
“We had a very good year. We’ve seen a lot of business, we’ve grown our business [and] we’ve attracted new talent. It’s been an exciting year,” Riguardi told Commercial Observer.
“I’m really proud most of how our team here in New York continues to grow and interface together to really provide the best services for our clients.”
Riguardi, 55, followed his father into the real estate business and has two sons working in the industry. He oversees a staff of more than 2,200 people and 200 brokers in seven offices across the tri-state area. He also sits on REBNY’s board of governors.
JLL named him chairman of the tri-state region in February, citing his 30 years of experience and a 30-fold revenue increase since he joined the firm in 2002. Company executives credit Riguardi for expanding both the leasing and investment sales teams in the New York office.
The promotion placed him in charge of all business in the region, including brokerage, capital markets, property management and consulting. Riguardi and three JLL colleagues also took on BlackRock’s search for nearly 1 million square feet of space.
The $5 trillion money manager ultimately signed a letter of intent to occupy 15 floors and 850,000 square feet at Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group’s 50 Hudson Yards. Foster + Partners designed the 58-story tower slated to open on the Far West Side in 2022.
“Like other tenants, BlackRock sees the potential for an unbelievable work-life balance at Hudson Yards,” Riguardi said, noting BlackRock had not yet officially signed the lease. He declined to discuss a possible timeline for officially closing the deal.
His client, though, praised his work and noted his award from REBNY.
“We congratulate Peter on this well-deserved recognition,” Philip Pitruzzello, a BlackRock managing director in charge of the company’s local real estate strategy, said in an emailed statement. “Peter has provided BlackRock with exceptional strategic insights on the New York real estate market as we work to create a world-class global headquarters.”
Riguardi also shared his insights with master’s degree graduates of Iona College in New Rochelle. The 1983 Iona grad delivered the keynote address for the college’s ceremony in May at the Garden while receiving an honorary doctorate.
His advice? “Give back to the community,” Riguardi told CO. “Find things that you’re passionate about. Immerse yourself in your career, and don’t be frustrated by your failures—learn from them.”—T.S.
Chief Executive Officer of Two Trees Management Company Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award
You might say no neighborhood in the city is more hospitable than Dumbo.
Literally. There’s a giant art installation at Brooklyn Bridge Park that says “YO” to residents, workers and tourists gazing toward Lower Manhattan.
Part of that could be traced to Two Trees Management Company and its chief executive officer, Jed Walentas, who played a role in getting the Deborah Kass-designed artwork installed.
Walentas, 42, this week will receive the Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award at the Real Estate Board of New York’s 121st gala.
Playing a role in a community beyond the bricks and sticks is important to many players in the real estate industry, Walentas told Commercial Observer.
“We try to always leave neighborhoods and neighbors feeling like that place in the world is better off with us having worked there than before,” he said. “We all try really hard—certainly myself and my organization—to take that responsibility seriously and really make neighborhoods better off for having our imprint in our projects.”
That’s certainly been the case in Dumbo, which has become every much as synonymous with Two Trees as Walentas or his father, David, who founded the company in 1968. Walentas’ parents have been major art supporters, and the firm has often given space in its buildings to artists for a significantly reduced rent, he said.
A little further north along the Brooklyn coastline, Two Trees is repurposing the former Domino Sugar Refinery into a mixed-use community that includes commercial, residential and public space. Walentas said preliminary construction has begun on the park attached to the Williamsburg project—something he considers a key factor.
“It’s nice when all those things come together,” he said. “It’s a nice way to live your life. It’s a nice way to run your business when doing the right thing or doing good for the community is also helpful to your broader mission in what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Another big philanthropic issue for Two Trees and particularly Walentas has been the city’s education system, “some of which people know about, some of which people don’t,” said the married father of two.
Some of that known work includes a 45,000-square-foot pre-kindergarten and middle school at 60 Water Street—the company’s waterfront 290-unit residential building.
Walentas said the school has two benefits when it comes to education. First, it serves as a model for how to build a new preschool in the Big Apple, he said. Bringing it local, it provides a new school for the neighborhood, which has seen a major growth in population since his father first invested in it nearly 40 years ago.
“We’re huge believers in education and trying to level that playing field in New York City,” he said. “The opportunity that children at one end of the socioeconomic spectrum get versus the opportunities that children at the other end of the spectrum get are massively unequal in our city.”
On giving back in general, he said, “As we become more successful, we do spend more of our time and energy giving our money and trying to do other things. We’re kind of growing that piece of the organization, and constantly evaluating what that should be for us, what it means for us.”—T.C.
Executive Vice President of Operations at Silverstein Properties George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award
Silverstein Properties’ World Trade Center Operations Chief Bill Dacunto burst into Larry Silverstein’s office on Sept. 11, 2001, around noon.
The terrorist attack had knocked down the Twin Towers and cut off communications from Lower Manhattan to the firm’s then-headquarters in Midtown. Dacunto, who narrowly avoided death that horrible day, was “covered from head to toe in white ash,” Silverstein recalled.
“He said, ‘Well, I made it.’ He had walked all the way from the Trade Center to Midtown at 43rd and Fifth Avenue,” Silverstein said.
Dacunto, now the company’s executive vice president of operations, started at Silverstein back in 1987. Dacunto helped lead Silverstein’s responses to the 1993 Trade Center attack, 9/11, the 2003 blackout and Superstorm Sandy.
The Real Estate Board of New York named Dacunto the 2017 recipient of its George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award. He now manages Silverstein’s entire portfolio and its charity efforts while taking charge of the buildings’ safety and security.
The work helps him to cope with the trauma of surviving an attack that killed almost 3,000 people, Dacunto said.
“You say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to let these people down,’ ” he told Commercial Observer. “It became a mission to rebuild, to do whatever you had to do. Part of it is to show reverence for those who lost their lives. You’re really on sacred ground.”
Dacunto, a 56-year-old father of two, married his wife the same year he started at Silverstein. The morning of Sept. 11, two colleagues on the 88th floor of the North Tower wanted to talk. He asked them to wait an hour while he attended a breakfast meeting downstairs.
“I wasn’t able to keep that promise,” Dacunto said. “The speculation is that they stopped to help someone else, and they didn’t make it.”
Dacunto also received an award in May 2015 from REBNY named in honor of one of the two fallen men, the John M. Griffin Community Service Award. Silverstein employees have donated 3,200 pints of blood and 56,000 pounds of food over the past five years under Dacunto’s leadership, according to Silverstein.
“He’s just been a phenomenal human being, totally dedicated, completely loyal,” Silverstein said. “His focus has been extraordinary in terms of caring for people less fortunate.”
Dacunto and his family also support the homeless youth organization Covenant House, and he serves on the board of directors of the organ donation group Donate Eight. The organ donor organization’s parent group, the LiveOnNY Foundation, appointed him to its board as well.
“I said, ‘I’m all in if there are no rubber chicken dinners, no long speeches and every single dollar goes to the cause we’re asking for,’ ” Dacunto said.
Most of Dacunto’s workday involves planning for the worst, though. The company routinely sends undercover specialists to test its staff, and he praised Silverstein’s investments in revamped safety and resiliency designs at all of the properties.
Yet, Dacunto always keeps in mind how Griffin’s family has been without him for these past 15 years, while Dacunto and his wife have watched their 25-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son grow into adults, he said.
“He had two kids that are the same age as my kids,” Dacunto said. “I have the ability to give something back, so I’m trying to do that as much as I can.”—T.S.
Chief Executive Officer of SL Green Realty Corp. Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award
When you ask real estate mavens what the biggest development in the city is, there are three options: the World Trade Center, Hudson Yards and 1 Vanderbilt. The last stands out first because it’s the only single-building option but also because the windfall the city will take from it.
SL Green Realty Corp. agreed to pay $220 million in upgrades to the subway infrastructure below the neighboring Grand Central Terminal in exchange for more density. The project, which broke ground in the fall, is slated to bring more than 1 million square feet of new office space to the aging Midtown East district.
And this year, SL Green Chief Executive Officer Marc Holliday will receive the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award from the Real Estate Board of New York. Past winners of the award, which recognizes contributions to the city’s welfare, include the likes of Larry Silverstein, Stephen Ross and Jerry Speyer.
“I have attended all these events and have seen countless other award recipients before me receive the Harry Helmsley award,” Holliday told Commercial Observer. “I think to be part of that group of people who have done so much for the city before us, and to be recognized by the industry in this way is humbling, but it’s very satisfying because it’s been a career’s work—focused entirely and exclusively on New York City real estate.”
SL Green’s rezoning model for 1 Vanderbilt helped pave the way for a broader rezoning of the adjacent Vanderbilt Avenue, which runs from East 42nd to East 47th Streets. Caveats of the zoning—investing in mass transit in exchange for more density—are now being factored into the broader rezoning of Midtown East.
But aside from SL Green’s role in policy making, the firm also happens to be the city’s largest commercial landlord with 46.6 million square feet in Manhattan.
And Holliday has been civically active outside of the boardroom. He’s actively involved in Columbia University, where he got his master’s degree in the early 1990s, and the Ivy League school’s real estate program. He and his wife, Sheree, are also supporters of the National Jewish Health hospital in Denver, and more locally the NYU Langone Medical Center (both of his parents were treated at the hospital’s cancer center).
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for their doctors and research teams and nursing teams,” Holliday said of NYU. “Their facilities have been upgraded substantially to a point where they compete along with the best.”
Holliday said it’s important for real estate players to have a role in the city well beyond the bottom line. Because of the unique role that landlords play in shaping the skyline, there comes a duty to ensure the Big Apple stays ripe.
“I feel the leaders of this industry have a particular responsibility not only to do business and profit by it,” he said, “but to get very much involved with organizations like REBNY and also directly with the city and the state to make sure that all of these activities are being done in a way not only to spur economic activity, but also to create the best possible environment for city residents, tourists and businesses.”—T.C.
Founding Partner of the New York office at Transwestern Young Real Estate Professional of the Year Award
Generally the Young Men’s/Women’s Real Estate Association selects a past chairman as the recipient of its annual award of distinction. Not this year.
Lindsay Ornstein, who was elected last December to lead the 400-member influential real estate group in 2017, will receive the Young Real Estate Professional of the Year Award, which is presented to a member who “exemplifies strong integrity, professionalism and personal ethics.”
The 39-year-old said she suspects she is being honored at the Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala because of her work on behalf of the association as well as her leadership role at Transwestern. That includes her efforts to create a collaborative company culture. Indeed, the company, unlike other office leasing outfits, operates on a salary and bonus structure rather than commission. Ornstein proudly noted that Transwestern topped last year’s list of Crain’s New York Business’ 100 Best Places to Work in New York City.
She touted the company’s ability to bring on board talent from some of the city’s most high-profile brokerages, including Jonathan Tootell from Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, Rory Murphy from Cushman & Wakefield and Alexander Erdos from Savills Studley, most recently.
Having a big name nationally, Transwestern sought to cultivate a presence in New York City with the 2011 establishment of an office, today at 600 Lexington Avenue between East 53rd and East 54th Streets. The team is 35 strong, including 20 to 25 brokers and consultants. The plan, Ornstein said, is to add 10 people per year to the office.
Transwestern’s agency leasing business increased eight-fold last year, Ornstein said (declining to cite specific numbers). She also noted that the firm’s tenant business has grown. One of Ornstein’s functions is running branding for the consulting services group for the Northeast. It’s a role that allows her to employ her marketing experience. (Ornstein, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, started in the real estate business in 2003 as the director of marketing at the defunct Staubach Company.)
“My role in consulting is a constant evolution of my two skills blended into one—marketing and branding acumen and my real estate experience and knowledge,” Ornstein said.
Ornstein has been a player-coach, but plans to focus more on the transactional side of the business, “on client interface and transactions particularly as it relates to consulting,” she said. One of her most recent deals is representing online women’s magazine Bustle in its relocation and expansion to 34,100 square feet at 315 Park Avenue South between East 23rd and East 24th Streets. The company signed for two of the nine floors that Credit Suisse will be vacating this April. This was the third deal Transwestern did on behalf of Bustle.
Other notable Ornstein deals include last year finding 36,000 square feet for online publication Mic at 1 World Trade Center and renewing the Robin Hood Foundation in 34,500 square feet at 826 Broadway at East 12th Street.
Ornstein is happy that she made the transition to brokerage in 2004 because it suits her “entrepreneurial sensibilities.” She added, “I love the flexibility that our industry affords.” That flexibility allows her to have great success in business and to spend ample time on the Upper West Side with her husband and three daughters, ages 2, 7 and 10.—Lauren Elkies Schram