REBNY Gala Brings Strong Words From Hochul, Adams

New York’s top elected officials implore the commercial real estate industry’s largest trade group to intervene on housing and educational policy

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The Real Estate Board of New York’s annual gala on Thursday was an inaugural ball of sorts, with Douglas Durst finishing a three-year term as chairman of the trade group and Jed Walentas stepping in.

As such, politicians paid their respects to REBNY’s now former leader as well as the group’s efforts to push for new housing legislation, but it wasn’t all praise. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul took the mic during the ceremony at The Glasshouse in Hell’s Kitchen, where she stressed the importance of building housing from a competitive standpoint and simultaneously threw the Garden State under the bus.

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“I came out and said last year that we have a housing crisis, if we don’t start building now, we’re going to lose to New Jersey. How does that feel, everybody? Losing out to New Jersey?” Hochul said at the podium. “I don’t want more people to live in New Jersey, Connecticut or Pennsylvania because they cannot find a home here in New York.

“That cannot be in our future,” she added. “I’m committed with REBNY, our friends in labor, the advocates. I believe there is an answer that can be found and one we can do in the next couple of months.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams one-upped the governor by castigating REBNY over an unexpected issue: mayoral control of public schools.

Vexed at the possibility that legislators in Albany may not renew mayoral control, Adams argued that losing that authority would impact the quality of education and increase crime, which he believes could make potential renters and buyers look elsewhere. 

“Why am I still fighting for school governance? … That impacts your industry, that impacts [whether] people are going to occupy your apartments, your condominiums, your office spaces. You need to be leading this fight,” Adams said. “I have not seen one ad from REBNY. I have not seen one comment from you. We can no longer be detached spectators in this full-contact sport called life as we fight on behalf of the City of New York.”

Many of  New York City commercial real estate’s leading names attended the event, notably Jeffrey Levine of Douglaston Development, Bruce Mosler of Cushman & Wakefield, Leslie Himmel of Himmel + Meringoff, and Barry Gosin of Newmark (NMRK)

“The REBNY Gala is a great night. It’s bringing together and talking about all we’ve done, all the collaboration, all the thinking,” Hal Fetner, CEO of Fetner Properties, told CO. “It’s celebrating what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past year.”  

The past year has seen a lot of changes the organization has not been happy with, however. Its top legislative priority — a successor to the 421a development tax abatement that expired in mid-2022 — stalled in Albany. And, by REBNY’s own measure, regular office occupancy in Manhattan remains a struggle some days. 

Still, gala attendees spoke of the importance that the event plays in reminding the real estate community of its responsibilities to the city. 

“For me, REBNY has always been where we can all talk, assess the year, but more than that, we can celebrate the industry that we’re in and recognize how fortunate we are to be in an industry that not only drives the city, but interfaces with the community in a way in which I think is unique,” Mosler said in an interview with CO.  

Fred Cerullo, a commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission and the president and CEO of the Grand Central Partnership, a business improvement district, was awarded the John E. Zuccotti Public Service Award that evening. He spoke of the inspiration of Zuccotti’s decades in both real estate development and public service.  

“As someone who has spent my career in public service, I can’t think of a greater honor than to receive an award in his name,” Cerullo told CO. “He came from a place of love for our city, whether he was in the government like I have been, or in the private sector. His love for the city always drove his decisions, his choices and his direction, so it’s a wonderful night for me.” 

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com. Brian Pascus can be reached at bpascus@commercialobserver.com.