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Commercial Observer Power Gala Attendees Strike Defiant Tone

Commercial real estate’s top brass are done with the naysayers coming out of COVID-19


New York’s real estate royalty hasn’t had many opportunities to hobnob since the pandemic swept across the region 18 months ago.

But, few could pass up an invitation to schmooze with Silverstein Properties Larry Silverstein and his fellow honorees at Commercial Observer’s 14th annual Power 100 gala on the evening of Sept. 29 at 3 World Trade Center.

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It was the first time many had seen Silverstein — clocking in at No. 8 on the list — in months, and he was thrilled to see so many colleagues mingling on the stunning, 17th floor terrace that had a pigeon’s-eye view of his legacy across the street.

“I’m glad I came,” he said, admiring all 94 stories of One World Trade Center to his right, after hearing a great deal of praise heaped upon him. “I’m sorry I didn’t have my mother here with me.”

The businessman, forever known for resurrecting the World Trade Center complex, was in a defiant mood. He compared the naysayers warning the city’s office market would not recover from COVID-19 with critics who claimed two decades ago that Downtown Manhattan was dead after the devastation wrought by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Not to have done it would have let the terrorists win,” Silverstein said. “Goddamnit, that was not going to happen. We were going to rebuild this place bigger and better than ever.”

Few shared such a brashly optimistic sentiment a year ago when the city was grappling with a catastrophic health crisis. Offices emptied out. Restaurants and businesses shuttered, some for good. And thousands of New Yorkers left the city altogether. It was a “bleak moment,” Commercial Observer Editor-in-Chief Max Gross noted. Certainly not a time for soirees and ceremonies.

But millions of New Yorkers have gotten vaccinated, the city was reopening throughout the summer, and some segments of the real estate market have been breaking sales records. Who could ask for anything more right now?

“Recovery is hard work,” Gross said. “It feels like a long time. It has been a long time. But we’ll all be there to greet the dawn.”

First, though, guests took in stunning views of dusk as the sun set across the Hudson River. It was, as Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of RXR Realty, said, referencing Silverstein, “a night we’ll remember … at a beautiful location at a sacred site with an incredible person to honor.”

In addition to Silverstein, CO celebrated Rechler; Simon Ziff, president of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group; and Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of CBRE (CBRE)‘s New York tri-state region; as well as its 2021 gala superlative award winners, including JLL (JLL) for equity and inclusion, Empire State Realty Trust for its greening efforts, and Silverstein Properties for its efforts toward economic recovery.

Drinking and carousing as this all went on were a huge number of honorees from the Power 100 and Power Finance lists that were published in May. The big firms were well represented: Tighe’s colleague at CBRE, Darcy Stacom, made an appearance, as did fellow super brokers like Robert Knakal of JLL (who also writes his Concrete Thoughts column for Commercial Observer); Bruce Mosler of Cushman & Wakefield (CWK)Newmark (NMRK)’s Barry GosinDavid Falk and Dustin StollyAvison Young’s Mitti LiebersohnJames Nelson and Arthur Mirante; and SCG Retail’s Chase Welles and Jacqueline Klinger.

Bankers, finance brokers and investors were also in legion: Bank of China (BACHF)’s Anthony Wong came, as did John Adams of New York Community BankSquare Mile’s Jeff Fastov was rubbing elbows with Walker & Dunlop’s Aaron AppelKeith Kurland and Mo Beller.

A few out-of-towners also came up for the event. Starwood (STWD) Capital Group’s Jeffrey DiModica made the trek from Miami to attend the gathering, his colleague Dennis Schuh came down from the Connecticut office, and Camber Creek’s Jake Fingert was up from Washington, D.C.

Developers and owners were also out in full force: Silverstein’s colleagues Marty Burger and Jeremy Moss were in attendance, as were Jamestown’s Michael PhillipsHines’ Tommy Craig and Oxford Properties Group’s Dean Shapiro (fresh off the $2.1 billion Google deal at St. John’s Terminal). Don Peebles attended with his wife KatrinaCraig Deitelzweig from Marx Realty was there, as was Blackstone (BX)’s Kenneth Caplan, who took the No. 1 spot on the Power 100 this year.

An array of other real estate bigwigs also attended, from lawyers like Fried Frank’s Jonathan Mechanic, to consultancy Turner & Townsend’s Linda Foggie, to architects like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s T.J. Gottesdiener, to Lendlease’s Melissa Burch.

New Yorkers still, for the most part, haven’t gotten back to their offices, but few executives in the increasingly festive crowd seemed worried.

Silverstein touted progress made on 5 World Trade Center, a residential tower with 1,300 units, and 2 World Trade Center, the 80-story office tower that will eventually offer 3 million square feet for lease, as his peers held up his mantra of “just keep going” in the face of adversity.

“These spaces will be filled again with talent that hasn’t even arrived yet,” Tighe said.