Brooklyn Booster: Five Questions with Doug Steiner

Steiner Studios' Doug Steiner on how things are looking across his eclectic portfolio amid the market upheaval

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Doug Steiner is finally catching up on a few shows. 

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“I’ve been watching TV, which I rarely do,” Steiner said, a surprising admission from the founder of Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as he shelters at home amid the coronavirus crisis. “I’ve been watching things like ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘Unorthodox,’ because it’s close to home.”

“I haven’t gotten the nerve up to watch ‘Contagion,’ yet.” (We haven’t either, Doug). 

Along with handling re-opening discussions at the studio, the chairman of Steiner NYC has been dealing with a large portfolio of retail, apartment and construction projects concentrated in New York and New Jersey. In Brooklyn, that portfolio includes the Hub apartment tower and a retail parcel that recently welcomed the city’s first Wegmans. 

Commercial Observer caught up with Steiner, who is sheltering at home in Brooklyn, about how things are looking across his eclectic portfolio amid the market upheaval. 

Commercial Observer: Wegmans has had quite the first few months in New York City. It opened to much fanfare in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in October and it’s now navigating the coronavirus pandemic. How is it faring through the crisis? 

Doug Steiner: Very early, they went to great lengths to try to make it as safe as possible for their employees and for their customers. They organized lines for checkout, they put lines on the floors, they protected the checkout places with plexiglass. They were way ahead of the curve on that.

I think for the people out there in the neighborhood, it’s been a godsend that it’s there. Their quality is top notch, the pricing is very competitive, and their services are extraordinary. They have a very big Instacart business going, and they deliver to Manhattan and that’s been real busy.

But their operating expenses are more; every supermarket that’s open has higher expenses due to the protections they have to provide, due to the extra cleaning and intense cleaning and supplies and all that stuff. I mean, it’s just just harder for everyone to operate. I think the City Council is talking about extra money for the workers; it’s well intentioned but wrongheaded, really wrongheaded. I’m sympathetic, but it’s not conducive to having supermarkets stay open in New York City.

What are you seeing more broadly at your retail centers, especially when it comes to smaller, mom-and-pop type tenants that might be seeking rent relief? 

At our other shopping centers, the mom and pops that had to close, we are working with them to keep them in business for when they can be back in business. I’m particularly sympathetic to people who have been with us a long time, are good tenants, and now have no way to get an income. And if I don’t help them, then they’re gonna go out of business. I think it’s the right thing to do, and to the extent that we can afford to help them, we will. We’re dealing with it on a case-by-case basis. 

The apartment market has been hit pretty hard by the crisis, and there’s concern over falling demand across all types of rentals. Are you worried about what might happen to the luxury rental market, and the impact at Hub? 

We’re doing fine at Hub; and we have another building, not the same level of luxury, is fine; another building, not as well – I think it’s really property specific. And the question as to future rent increases, as you know, it’s everybody’s question. I think that’s a question of how well the economy rebounds. So I don’t have an answer there. But I just tried to build the best product I can, manage it the best we can, and pick a good location and hope for the best macroeconomic factors. 

How are things looking on the construction side?

We have some construction work at present that is considered essential. And we’re trying to get that done while keeping all of our workforce safe, both our workforce and our trade contractors.

We’re expanding the studios, acting as development manager for that, and that will continue…We’re using the time to finish our construction documents for the next two buildings that we’re doing. One is a teardown, one is a gut renovation. And it’s full speed ahead on that. We’re looking to start the first one in the fourth quarter. I think, by that time, there’ll be further refinement of what construction is allowed.

We don’t have any other projects in the pipeline, so we’re hoping there will be some good opportunities, actually. 

Do you see opportunities popping up on the distressed side, maybe a chance to step in on projects that need help? 

Usually, the more complicated and the more hair on them, the better. But I don’t think they’ve hit the market yet. I think that all of the distress has not been laid bare yet.