Presented By: GFP Real Estate
The Heart of the Deal
As ESG and socially conscientious investing continues trending in real estate, one company has spent decades prioritizing shared success in communities
New Yorkers have finally begun to get back into the city and apartment rents are returning to their pre-pandemic levels, but the business and retail communities have yet to return in full force. Many businesses are taking a “wait and see” approach to returning, while others were forced to shutter entirely.
According to GFP Real Estate Co-CEO Eric Gural, it makes no sense when landlords stand by and allow that to happen.
“No one wins when tenants go out of business — the entire community loses,” Gural said. “Shared success has far more upside than a zero-sum ideology because we have to work together to succeed together. Owning a property without a community doesn’t seem to be adding value.”
GFP Real Estate owns and manages more than 55 buildings and 12.8 million square feet in New York City, including iconic landmarks such as the Flatiron Building. Like many of the city’s landlords, the company has a number of tenants in dire financial straits and numerous vacant storefronts as a result of the pandemic. Rather than rely on the courts to force tenants to pay and boarding up their empty retail space, GFP took a different approach by stepping up to work with tenants to ensure their survival, and repurposed many vacant storefronts into inspiring art installations.
“It’s about doing the right thing when businesses needed it most,” said Gural, who was recently a keynote speaker at NYC ESG and Sustainable Investing Summit. “The problems faced by these businesses were a direct result of the pandemic, not due to any failure on their part. We knew we had to step in and help them stay in business.”
Founded in 1952 and helmed by three generations of the Gural family, GFPRE has long been a major supporter of local arts and nonprofit communities, and is steeped in the tradition of doing business the family way. More than one-third of its tenants are nonprofits, and its commitment to tenants’ success has resulted in a remarkable 90 percent tenant renewal rate. GFPRE has also donated millions to several nonprofit organizations, including the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, Kids in Distressed Situations, and Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City Inc. As of this writing, the company has donated more than $11 million to nonprofit organizations this year.
When the pandemic was in full swing, GFP assisted more than half of its 2,500-plus office and retail tenant roster during the pandemic with reduced or free rent whenever possible, and found other creative ways of supporting smaller tenants to ensure their survival. “Having experienced several sharp downturns over the years, we understood that it’s always better to help people in their time of need,” Gural said. “The result is that many of our tenants were able to pull through.”
Late last year, iconic Astor Place Hair Stylists barbershop faced going out of business after nearly 75 years. GFP and other notable patrons stepped up to ensure the East Village landmark stayed open, calling it a no-brainer. “Nobody wanted to see it closed,” said GFP Chairman Jeff Gural. “They’ve been a great tenant. It was a team effort to keep Astor open.”
Paul Vezza, one of the shop’s managers whose grandfather, Enrico Vezza Sr., founded the three-generation family business — where customers have included everyone from Andy Warhol to Robert DeNiro — called the last-minute lifeline “a tremendous blessing” and praised Jeff Gural. “We were going to close this week; this was an 11th-hour save. Better days are ahead,’’ Vezza said. “Gural is a good guy — the best. My dad would always tell me, ‘Jeff is a smart man.’”
As New York finally begins to turn the corner on the pandemic, the company wanted to do something at street level to brighten everyone’s path. As part of its #GFPRECares campaign, designed to raise awareness of the need to work together through challenging times, the company commissioned a series of illustrations by award-winning illustrator Anthony Russo and transformed their vacant storefronts into symbols of hope and inspiration for returning New Yorkers. Russo’s work is currently on display in the windows of 10 Astor Place, 200 Varick Street and 80 Eighth Avenue.
“We wanted to commemorate the beginning of New York’s gradual return by bringing some positivity and inspiration directly to the streets,” said Jeff Gural. “Anthony’s poignant yet uplifting illustrations perfectly express the importance of empathy, connectivity and creativity that make New York the greatest city on Earth. More importantly, the work also recognizes that we need to look out for and take care of one another. This mentality has been a core component of our company’s mission statement — to make stronger and better communities by working together.”
Perhaps in 2021, nice guys don’t finish last — maybe they’re just built to last.
For more on these efforts, visit GFPRE.com