REBNY 2020: The Long Road Ahead

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When the leader of a major organization retires and a new one steps in, it’s a moment to take stock and see what’s working and what isn’t.

SEE ALSO: Fortune Magazine Gets Trendy New Offices

The Real Estate Board of New York had such an opportunity in June when REBNY President John Banks, who had been at the helm since 2015, handed his position over to James Whelan.

This came at a moment when real estate was something of a dirty word in New York. An industry that had always felt pretty good about itself and its intentions was suddenly under siege. Serious New York politicos such as Corey Johnson, Jimmy Van Bramer, Zephyr Teachout and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all eschewed real estate donors, and progressives in Albany passed the most sweeping rent reform in decades. This has all been a bitter pill for REBNY to swallow.

All that being said, the nearly 124-year-old trade organization still has some 17,000 members, all of whom have agendas that they expect REBNY to pursue.

In this year’s REBNY issue we looked at the board’s priorities going into the new decade.

Whelan sat down with Nicholas Rizzi to take the temperature of the moment; Rebecca Baird-Remba looked at the mid-level landlords most impacted by the new rent laws; CO’s staff looked at who REBNY was honoring this year; Larry Getlen looked at the sheer amount of education REBNY is providing its members; Adam Bonislawski looked at the city’s new sustainability standards for real estate; and Chava Gourarie reported on the one victory that every New Yorker could get behind: congestion pricing.

We expect more explosions in the 2020s.—Max Gross

Henry M. Celestino

Vice Chairman, L&L Holding Company

George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award

With a career spanning nearly 50 years, Henry Celestino of L&L Holding Company is an expert in the field of property management. It’s fitting, then, that he’s being recognized by the Real Estate Board of New York with the George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award.

“My love for the business started at a very young age,” said Celestino, who jumped into real estate in the mid-1970s after graduating with a degree in civil engineering from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.

“A recognition of this magnitude really lets you know that you’re impacting the future of the city in a positive way.”

Since those early days, he’s risen steadily through the ranks — working as a tradesman and then managing construction for a Westchester County office developer before moving over to Newmark Real Estate — finally landing at L&L, where he serves as vice chairman.

“I’ve had the privilege of working on a number of complex, high-profile, ambitious and transformative projects across Westchester County and New York City throughout my career,” he said. “Each project is interesting partly because each brings a unique set of challenges.”

The job at L&L, which comes with a nearly 10-million-square-foot portfolio of commercial space in New York City, keeps him on his toes. He’s responsible for overseeing the day-to-day construction, engineering, building operations and management of buildings ranging from 200 Fifth Avenue on the border of Madison Square Park to 195 Broadway in the Financial District.

He counts three projects at L&L among his most recent successes: 390 Madison Avenue, 150 Fifth Avenue and 425 Park Avenue. Between last year and the end of 2020, L&L will have transitioned all three projects to fully operational, and it has executed leases for the vast majority of the spaces, with just half of one building remaining to be filled.

“All three have been extraordinarily complex undertakings incorporating reconstruction, re-massing, renovation and rooftop additions,” Celestino said. “It’s a challenge coordinating each tenant’s interior construction work while simultaneously completing the base building infrastructure, commissioning the mechanical equipment and vertical transportation and executing our initial building operations transition plans.”

The executive, who lives with his wife in the northern suburbs of New York City, advises new entrants to the field to study up on the business and fine-tune their ability to contribute and collaborate within a larger team.

“It’s also important to remain focused on the tasks at hand while not losing sight of the basics and common sense during the decision-making process,” he said.

He counts REBNY as unique for uniting those who develop, construct, clean, secure and operate all types of properties across the five boroughs.

“It’s great to be able to collaborate with the best of the real estate industry in resolving common issues and make a lasting impact on New York City’s skyline and economy,” he said.

Celestino has served as a board member on REBNY’s Management Board of Directors and Commercial Management Council; BOMA’s Codes & Regulations and Security Task Force Committees; and on the New York Energy Consumers Council’s Board of Directors.

In his spare time, he’s normally outdoors playing tennis or basketball, golfiing or swimming with one of his seven grandchildren.—Sarika Gangar

Jodi Pulice

Founder and CEO, JRT Realty Group

Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership in Real Estate Award

Jodi Pulice has always been a pioneer in the commercial real estate industry. After graduating from Wagner College with a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology and public health, the Staten Island native decided she wanted to travel. She ended up spending three years working as an airline reservation specialist for Northwest Airlines, which gave her the opportunity to go anywhere in the world for about five dollars a ticket. When Pulice realized that she was one of the top sales specialists at the airline, one of her friends recommended that she interview for commercial leasing jobs.

“It was really tough because my father was a New York City police officer, and my mother was a teacher,” Pulice said. “At that time I didn’t have the connections to get into the commercial real estate world.”

Nevertheless, a broker named Mary Solano hired Pulice at Berley & Company, a now-defunct commercial real estate firm. Pulice entered the office leasing business in the 1980s as one of only a few women in a male-dominated arena, doing stints at Huberth & Peters, Insignia/ESG and the Sylvan Lawrence Company. While working at Berley, she met her now-husband Greg Smith, and then moved to launch JRT Realty in 1996. The 12-person company does strategic planning, corporate real estate portfolio management, leasing, financing, tenant representation and investment sales.

Pulice oversees a leasing and management portfolio of 10 million square feet of office and industrial space, including Madison Realty Capital’s Union Crossing in the South Bronx and a 100,000-square-foot addition to Kaufman Astoria Studios at 34-11 36th Street in Astoria. JRT also handles large lease deals for city agencies on behalf of the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services. And the firm manages 30 million square feet of commercial space through its partnership with Cushman & Wakefield.

In her spare time, the Turtle Bay resident serves on the boards of the Long Island YMCA, the UNFCU Foundation for Women, the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, and REBNY’s Commercial Board of Directors. Pulice believes that women need to serve on more boards because they provide important networking opportunities and help set policies for the organizations they govern.

“I believe that if women don’t get on boards of any kind we’re not going to accomplish what we need to accomplish,” she said. “If you make the board cognizant and aware of the fact that MWBEs [minority- and women-owned business enterprises] have to be part of their program in order for their program to be successful,” then companies will be more likely to hire women and people of color, she explained.

Thirty years into her career, Pulice still feels that the commercial real estate industry has been slow to embrace diverse recruitment, hiring and promotion processes.

“There seems to be a new awareness, but then there’s putting that into action,” she noted. “It’s being brought to the forefront by Bill Rudin and Jim Whelan at REBNY. It’s being highlighted that it has to be diverse and it has to have more minorities and women in order for commercial real estate to be successful in the future.”—Rebecca Baird-Remba

Jay Kriegel

John E. Zuccotti Public Service Award

The city would be hard-pressed to find a more deserving recipient for the Real Estate Board of New York’s John E. Zuccotti Public Service Award — given to people who displayed exceptional accomplishments and service in the public’s interest — than Jay Kriegel.

Kriegel, who passed away last month at the age of 79, had a five-decade career that started when he was just 25 as a mayoral advisor to Mayor John Lindsay and included stints as a senior vice president of CBS, heading up the New York City’s ultimately failed bid to host the Olympics, and helping Related Companies get its mega-development Hudson Yards built.

“He was just an incredible New Yorker who loved this city and lived and breathed its politics and government and business and civic and philanthropy,” said William Rudin, the chairman of REBNY. “That was his oxygen. That’s what he lived for.”

Fresh out of Harvard University with a law degree, Kriegel joined Lindsay’s administration in 1965 as an aide along with several other Ivy League grads in what was dubbed the “kiddie corps” that shook up the city’s power brokers, according to The New York Times. The group helped write sections of what would later become the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Kriegel worked as Lindsay’s chief of staff from 1966 to 1973 and helped start the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an oversight agency to the New York City Police Department, after a series of scandals in the police department.

It was during his time in Lindsay’s administration that Rudin first met Kriegel, but he really got to know him when Kriegel fought alongside Rudin’s father, Lewis Rudin, to kill a Reagan administration proposal to end state and local tax deductions on federal returns in 1986.

Kriegel — who was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Midwood High School — left Lindsay’s administration in 1973 but remained an influential figure in the city’s politics for decades after.

He led the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics, which despite its failure created the groundwork for the redevelopment of the West Side and the 7 train extension to the neighborhood. Kriegel later joined Related to work as a senior advisor to Hudson Yards.

He also served as the publisher of The American Lawyer magazine, director of special projects for the Loews Corporation, senior vice president at news station CBS, ran his own consulting firm, and served on many philanthropic and civic group boards, as the Times reported.

Rudin remembers Kriegel for his boundless energy, quick read on issues and laser-focused attention during conversations despite constantly juggling multiple things.

“I think he was always working with three or four cellphones,” Rudin said. “It was an incredible feat to watch. But when he was talking to you, you knew he was talking to you.”

Kriegel is the second person REBNY will honor posthumously at the gala, with former 32BJ SEIU president Héctor Figueroa receiving the Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award. Rudin said REBNY planned to give both men their awards before their deaths.

“It just shows that their legacy will continue,” Rudin said. “The fact that we were recognizing them at REBNY was very important for us, and obviously we were hoping that they would both be there to accept their awards. They will be smiling down at the dinner knowing that everyone in that room loved and respected both of them and recognizes them for what they contributed to our city,” Rudin added.—Nicholas Rizzi

Héctor Figueroa

President, 32BJ SEIU

Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award

Elected officials and the labor community were dealt a shock on July 11, 2019, when Héctor Figueroa, the president of the influential property service workers union 32BJ SEIU, died of a reported heart attack at age 57.

Figueroa led the union since 2012 — representing more than 163,000 members that includes office cleaners, doormen and maintenance workers — and was an influential figure in New York politics. (Figueroa was a constant fixture on Commercial Observer’s Power 100 list.)  He was credited with helping get the state’s minimum wage increased to $15 an hour and airport workers’ pay raised to $19 an hour.

His constant fighting for 32BJ’s members and service to the city was behind the Real Estate Board of New York’s decision to bestow upon him the Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award. It was a decision made before Figueroa’s death, but he will receive the award posthumously at this year’s REBNY gala.

“Héctor was incredibly representative of 32BJ and its members and he cared passionately about them,” said William Rudin, the chairman of REBNY. “That was always his first and foremost priority.”

Rudin remembered Figueroa as someone who always fought for the best interests of the union’s rank and file, even if it wasn’t a popular stance to take. For example, Figueroa supported Amazon’s ultimately failed bid to build part of its second headquarters in Queens because of the jobs it could have created for 32BJ members, despite many progressive voices fighting against Amazon.

In a Feb. 2019 op-ed in the New York Daily News, Figueroa explained his decision to back the notoriously anti-union Amazon’s plan to come to the city partly because it would be easier to organize Amazon workers in the city.

“New York City is where the labor movement already has the most density and the most political power,” Figueroa wrote. “If there is any place where it would be possible to leverage the labor movement’s existing power to crack open the door to collective bargaining for Amazon workers, it is here.”

Rudin noted that “even though there were other unions against Amazon coming to New York, [Figueroa] knew that [Amazon’s] presence would be very, very important for the city because those buildings need to have cleaners and doormen and floor directors and security cleaners.”

“Everybody in our industry and our city understood that first, he fought for his members, and second, he fought for his city,” Rudin added. “He knew that those two things were linked.”

Figueroa was born to a pair of teachers in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York City in 1982, according to The New York Times. He lived with his aunt and uncle in the Bronx while he completed an economics degree from New York University.

He joined the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Union in 1990, then joined 32BJ in 1995, eventually becoming the director for Puerto Rico, according to his 32BJ profile. Figueroa returned to New York as the secretary-treasurer of the union in 2000 and was elected president in 2012, according to the Times.

In recent years, Figueroa became known for his Twitter presence, where he explained 32BJ’s decision-making process to members, sparred with critics, and outlined the union’s support of different policy decisions.

“As a labor leader, I see it as my responsibility to demystify the union movement and be as accessible to members and the larger community as I can,” Figueroa told the Gotham Gazette last year. “Social media offers us a very effective way to communicate with a broader audience and build our collective power.”

Figueroa lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, and is survived by his wife, Deidre, and his two children, Eric and Elena.—N.R.

Robin Fisher

Senior Managing Director, Newmark Knight Frank

The Young Real Estate Professional of the Year Award

Robin Fisher got her start as an intern in the Cushman & Wakefield research department, which tasked the Upper East Side native with walking around Midtown and photographing every Class A office building and space that was available for lease. She was fresh out of Cornell University with a degree in Spanish and American Studies in 2004, and after her internship she interviewed at a slew of commercial real estate firms.

She got several job offers and settled on Neil Goldmacher’s team at Newmark Knight Frank, where she cut her teeth in the real estate world and has remained ever since.

The 38-year-old office broker is still fascinated with unused commercial space, and she has parlayed her interest into two different businesses.

First was Space in the Raw, a company that offered short-term commercial real estate for events and parties. Now she is working on launching a new, similar platform called Blace (a portmanteau of “beautiful place”), which will allow organizations to reserve vacant office and retail space for events and book catering companies as well as other kinds of vendors. Blace aims to help landlords earn two to five times more than what they would earn if they rented a space to a typical office tenant, Fisher said.

The business is already up and running, but she and her partners are still working on the public-facing booking platform. Big companies use the service for “intimate events, private chef’s dinners, corporate receptions, corporate presentations, holiday parties and galas,” Fisher said.

During the day, she is a senior managing director at NKF, where she represents a broad array of tech and media clients. In her 15 years as a broker, Fisher has arranged leases with companies like The Skimm, Sesame Workshop, Common Bond, Credit Junction, Climb Capital, Mashable and Title Vest, along with commissary kitchens for Dig Inn and Hale & Hearty.

Her two most recent deals were a relocation of clothing subscription rental company Gwynnie Bee to 5 Penn Plaza and a sublease of HelloFresh’s office at 40 West 25th Street to Gradian Health Systems and Looker Data Sciences.

She explained that “the entrepreneurial culture at Newmark” inspired her to start her own company, and it helped that she came of age, career-wise, during the tech boom.

“I was the beneficiary of young CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg who were willing to hire younger brokers to find office space,” she said. “So Blace is kind of my opportunity to marry the relationships I’ve made in real estate to what I’ve learned in this incredibly lucrative event-production world.”—Rebecca Baird-Remba

Kevin Wang

Founder, KRW Realty Advisors

Louis Smadbeck Memorial Broker Recognition Award

Kevin Wang is the founder of KRW Realty Advisors and a real estate veteran with 40 years of experience behind him.

Over his career, Wang has filled the role of broker, investor and developer, and has often joined forces with institutional partners to acquire assets.

A native New Yorker, Wang grew up in Manhasset, one of four children of Albert Wang, a Korean war veteran and New York Life Insurance executive. He started his career in real estate after graduating from Cornell University, working as a landlord and tenant representative at Cross & Brown Company where he was promoted to vice president by the age of 24.

Wang moved to The Mendik Company in 1985, where he was responsible for office leasing. Vornado Realty Trust acquired The Mendik Company in 1997, and two years later Wang founded KRW Realty Advisors, which he’s headed ever since.

Under Wang’s leadership, KRW operates as a partner in redevelopment projects, as well as an asset manager. The firm has undertaken several unique redevelopment and repositioning projects, including the 30-story office tower at 501 Madison Avenue, the warehouse conversion known as Hub LIC, and a project to transform Times Square’s last remaining red-light business into a creative office and retail complex.

KRW has partnered with Colliers on that project, dubbed the Hive, which will transform the adjacent properties at 303 West 42nd Street and 300 West 43rd Street into an $80 million, 140,000-square-foot property. The West 42nd Street site was formerly Richard Basciano’s Show World Center, one of the only pornography shops to survive the crackdown of the 1990s and the redevelopment that followed.

In 2013, KRW oversaw the repositioning of the 1920s-era office tower at 501 Madison Avenue, after the Vanderbilt family took full possession of the Art Deco building. The family patriarch, Cornelius Vanderbilt, built the property, and it had been ground leased for 84 years.

“In 501 Madison Avenue, we are transforming this classic, boutique officer tower into a meticulously restored and modernized Midtown gem,” Wang told Real Estate Weekly at the time.

More recently, Italian fashion retailer Caruso signed a lease at the building for a new studio. And, in true Italian fashion, the Caruso team met with Wang over cappuccinos to seal the deal, Commercial Observer reported at the time.

In addition to his real estate work, Wang has been a prominent member of the REBNY community. He currently sits on the Board of Governors and is chairman of the General Meetings Committee, as well as a member of the REBNY Arbitration Committee.

He was formerly a member of the Young Men’s/Women’s Real Estate Association and was awarded Young Man of the Year in 1990 and Senior Man of the Year in 2010.—Chava Gourarie

David R. Greenbaum

Vice Chairman, Vornado Realty Trust

Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award

From his beginnings as a tax attorney in the 1970s, David Greenbaum never imagined that he’d one day be vaulted into a league with the likes of Larry Silverstein, Burt Resnick and Seymour Durst.

Greenbaum, the vice chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, is this year’s recipient of the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award — one of the Real Estate Board of New York’s top honors — for his contributions to the city’s civic welfare.

“It is extremely gratifying and quite humbling to be given this award by REBNY and to be mentioned in the same category with past Helmsley Award recipients, including Mr. Helmsley,” he said.

Greenbaum came to Vornado by way of The Mendik Company, which merged with Vornado in the 1990s, and counts Bernard Mendik and Steven Roth among his mentor figures. He currently oversees a 30-million-square-foot portfolio of real estate in New York, which ranks as one of the largest and most sustainable portfolios in the city.

“As Bernie Mendik once said, ‘There is New York and there is the rest of the world,’” Greenbaum said. “The vibrancy, life, resiliency and continuous reinvention of our great city is what drives all of us in the real estate industry.”

Greenbaum is currently focused on the $2 billion modernization of the neighborhood around Penn Station, a strategy that involves a mash-up of redeveloping office space, rethinking the commuter experience and refreshing the streetscape. The projects include the redevelopment of the Farley Building, which will include a new train hall servicing Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road, as well as the Penn 1 and Penn 2 office towers.

He juggles this work with a slew of commitments to nonprofits and organizations, including roles at the Citizens Budget Commission, the 34th Street Partnership, the Times Square Alliance, the Jewish National Fund and the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, among others. He also serves on REBNY’s Executive Committee of the Board of Governors.

It was Greenbaum’s family ties, with his parents escaping from Germany just as World War II broke out, that sparked his connection to real estate. His mother lost her childhood home amid the ensuing chaos, only to get it back in the 1950s as reparations. He recalls her keen words: “There is something about real estate; they just can’t take it away from you.”

Greenbaum, who counts the upcoming REBNY gala on Jan. 16 as his 39th in attendance, was first introduced to the lobbying group by Mendik, who later went on to serve as REBNY chairman.

Greenbaum’s advice to the younger generation of real estate execs draws from this experience: It’s “critical to be part of organizations like REBNY to meet as many people as you can in the industry and to find mentors,” he said. “By working hard and meeting everyone in the industry, young people entering this business can create their own serendipity.”—S.G.