TerraCRG Names Dan Marks CEO 

The veteran broker plans to expand the investment sales brokerage’s reach in its native Brooklyn 

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“Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way,” Notorious B.I.G. once said. And Brooklyn-based TerraCRG is officially spreading that love with its new CEO. 

Dan Marks, who joined the firm 13 years ago and a partner at the brokerage, was elevated to CEO this week, Commercial Observer can first report. Ofer Cohen, co-founder and CEO, will become TerraCRG’s chairman. 

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“It feels like a natural evolution,” Marks said. “I’ve been a partner now for seven years and worked very closely with Ofer and Melissa [that’s Melissa Warren, a founding partner and senior vice president] for 13. As we came out of the pandemic, and as the market started to go through this [current period of dislocation], we looked at our company and realized it was a good time for us to re-strategize, refocus, and re-energize going into this new and exciting chapter.”

As Marks steps up, Cohen will take a more senior oversight role — focusing on business strategy and high-level relationships on the institutional side — and allow Marks to focus on the day-to-day execution of the strategy that TerraCRG has been busy developing for 16 years now, Marks said.  

“This is a continuation of everything that Ofer and Melissa started back in 2008,” Marks said. “It encompasses taking all of the things that made TerraCRG what it is today, but also coming up with a new growth strategy focused on all of Brooklyn.” 

It’s been a challenging couple of years for most in the industry. Yet, while several firms continue to pull back, TerraCRG is chasing opportunities coming out of the dislocation. 

“We’re doubling down on our efforts in Brooklyn and our commitment to it, and part of that is we had to rethink and reorganize in such a way that everybody’s charging full steam ahead,” Cohen said. “It’s an evolution of the company related to market timing, and also the perfect timing for us to do this.” 

And Marks says he’s ready. “When we started talking about it, I got more and more excited about the prospect of continuing to work with the firm that has been so supportive of me in the market that I’ve fallen in love with over the last 13 years.” 

No sleep till Brooklyn

Indeed, Marks isn’t a Brooklyn native. He grew up in Glenview, Ill., and went to school in Boulder, Colo. — roughly 1,800 miles west of Brooklyn. But, as E.B. White described in his tale of three New Yorks, while the commuters give the city its tidal restlessness and the natives give it solidity and continuity, it’s the settlers — “the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something” — who give the city its passion. 

And Marks’s passion for his soon-to-be-home was clear from the start. 

From day one, Dan was an unstoppable force,” Warren said. “He’s always had this amazing energy, and the ability to connect with anyone and find common ground with that person. He has this warmness about his personality that enables people to open up to him, and trust in his ability — I’ve seen it in his mentorship of our sales teams, and in hand-holding with certain clients that we have who are first-time sellers, or have their businesses deeply rooted in the property that they’re selling. Dan has a gift of being able to connect with people and giving them the faith that he’ll perform, and get the job done.” 

That’s not to say the learning curve wasn’t a steep one. But, somewhat serendipitously, just as Marks was starting a new adventure when he landed in Brooklyn in 2011, the borough itself was about to undergo a significant transformation as a development and investment hub. 

“I met with Ofer and Melissa in the back of a garage that they were renting,” he said of his initial interview. “There was a huge hole in the ground across the street, and that’s where Barclays Center was being built.” 

Neither the garage nor crater scared him, and Marks took a leap of faith, trusting that Warren and Ofer knew what they were doing in building the borough-specific firm. “They did, and their love and passion for the Brooklyn market was infectious,” Marks said. 

Marks got to work, networking and making friends in high places, including Andrew Kimball, who was getting started as the CEO of Brooklyn’s Industry City business hub at the time. He also got involved with various nonprofits to further immerse himself in the borough and its communities. By the time Barclays Center opened in 2012, Marks was living down the street and attended the Jay-Z concert that marked the arena’s debut, as well as several Nets games with professionals he was getting to know from Barclays Center developer Forest City Ratner. 

Around him, the borough was changing quickly. He was working in Downtown Brooklyn at the beginning of the development boom. Elsewhere, Dumbo and Williamsburg were becoming extra-happening hot spots. He was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but he dedicated solid time and energy in understanding the market, making sure that he had the knowledge to be able to give good advice to the brokerage’s clients. 

The fact that TerraCRG “eats, sleeps and breathes Brooklyn 24/7” helped Marks to learn faster. “It’s a big reason why I picked TerraCRG — that hyper focus on just one market,” he said.

After attending the University of Colorado, Marks got his industry start as a partner at Emerald Real Estate Group, a commercial real estate management and brokerage firm in Boulder, where he worked for seven years. His calling to New York came in the form of a desire to make a move to the Big Apple, where several of his friends lived, and pursue a career in real estate brokerage — one that he could not fail at, lest he “end up back on my parents’ sofa in Glenview, Illinois,”  he said with a laugh. 

For TerraCRG, the company’s commitment to Brooklyn is rooted in Cohen and Warren’s early experiences working at Massey Knakal Realty Services’ Brooklyn office two decades ago now. 

For Cohen, “the exciting part for me about Brooklyn was that I saw opportunity there,” he said. “My decision to focus on Brooklyn was made because I didn’t want to be one more guy that does math and real estate. I wanted to make an impact.” 

At the time, Cohen was reading a book about General Electric where former CEO Jack Welch was quoted saying that GE would only get into businesses it could be No. 1 or No. 2 in. “I saw that opportunity in Brooklyn, because I didn’t think anyone was focusing appropriately on it, and that it deserved its own attention, its own focus, its own thing,” Cohen said.  “I thought that if we do that, we could become No. 1 and the leaders in that market. And it worked.” 

It also happily worked faster than expected. The Brooklyn market took off shortly after Marks joined, skyrocketing from $1 billion worth of transactions in 2010 to almost $10 billion in 2015.

Every couple of years since the company’s founding, Cohen has looked back at TerraCRG’s original mission statement, and finds the firm has continued to follow it. 

“We didn’t change our business plan,” he said. “There were market challenges along the way, but the big picture was always this borough of Brooklyn, which, if it were its own city, would be the fourth largest city in America. There was this great opportunity to be part of the transformation of a place — not just to ride the waves up and down of transactions, but also be a participant in the evolution of a place.”  

1401 Low Res Claudine Williams Dan Marks TerraCRG 2024 TerraCRG Names Dan Marks CEO 
Dan Marks. PHOTO: Claudine Williams/for Commercial Observer.

‘Nets’ gains 

The commercial real estate market has taken more hits than a tennis ball these past two years, as interest rates soared and transaction volume sputtered, but Marks and his team have been pleasantly surprised at how their borough has held up through the volatility. 

Cohen and Warren started TerraCRG in February 2008, right before Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers crashed. As such, “it’s always been part of our DNA to get more aggressive when things get tough — to put our heads down and charge forcefully ahead,” Cohen said. 

“When you have a lot of information, feelings and emotions, things are not so clear, and it’s always good to have some kind of a leadership voice,” he said. “The company has always had that voice — and we think that Dan is the best brand ambassador and voice for the market today. If  you have the right person in that leadership position, there’s a lot more impact that you can make.” 

Somebody asked Marks a couple of weeks ago if the bottom of the market had been reached yet — but he doesn’t think that’s the right question. 

“I think the right question is: ‘Where are we in the market?’ because when I started the Brooklyn market was a $1 billion market. Last year, in a ‘down year’ we were over $5 billion, with almost 1,000 transactions,” Marks said. “That’s why our focus remains on Brooklyn. I’m sure nationally in select neighborhoods and cities things are maybe bottoming out, but we are operating in what is still a very strong, dynamic market.” 

“Maybe we see things differently or maybe we’re more optimistic because we know what makes Brooklyn so great,” Marks added. “Yes, there are headwinds that we have to contend with. Interest rates are an important one, as those are going to impact values across the board. Then, there’s understanding the underlying political environment and the  regulations that we have to work with and learn to deal with. But we need to educate our clients and buyers on how best to find value under the current circumstances. We know that real estate is cyclical — it goes up, it goes down, and we feel like we’re on the precipice of another boom.” 

As such, TerraCRG’s plan is not only to grow, but also to expand through that growth. 

“We’ve been very good at covering a lot of but not all of Brooklyn,” Marks said. “So a lot of our hires are going to be in areas that we haven’t historically been very active in. It’s going to require a lot of hiring, and our intention here is to try to add 15 or more people to the team before the end of the year.” 

With 20 people currently on staff, that means that TerraCRG will almost double in size by 2025. But, that muscle power is needed. 

“Brooklyn is a very mature and very strong market today,” Marks said. “I don’t think the demand has ever been higher for people looking to invest in, and own in, Brooklyn. The challenge that we have always faced and will continue to face is on the supply side. Depending on the asset class, there are always more buyers than sellers at any given time in New York City, and Brooklyn in particular.” 

The hindrances to transaction volume today include a lack of affordable housing development subsidies, like the expired 421a state tax abatement for multifamily construction.

“When those things get more in line with where investors want to be, that’s where you start to see this real big run like you saw in 2012 to 2015,” Marks said. “The capital markets were strong, incentives were there for people to invest, there were opportunities for people to continue to improve multifamily buildings or build residential towers and  all of the stars were aligning. In 2021, Brooklyn had almost a record breaking year with almost $10 billion in transactions — so when money is relatively cheap, and there are policies in place and incentives in place for people to invest here, it’s a $10 billion market, and, even when the winds are blowing really hard, it’s still a $5 to $7 billion market.  So, TerraCRG is not done growing and Brooklyn is not done growing.”

That doesn’t mean Brooklyn is going to stop being Brooklyn, or stop being interesting or cool by any means, Marks underscores.

“It’s just going to evolve and change,” he said. “The focus on what makes Brooklyn cool needs to remain. We still need to support the artists and the residents and communities that have been here for so long. It doesn’t mean that both of those things can’t exist at the same time, and we’re firm believers of that. Our job is to continue to promote what’s good about Brooklyn, but also promote the economy of Brooklyn, which is extremely strong — and, in our humble opinion, the very best place to operate a commercial real estate company in the world.” 

As Marks moves forward into his next role, he won’t be stopping his own broker activities. “This is a player-coach role,” he said.

He’s also going to be leaning on his other all-star players. 

“I have an unbelievable team behind me, and people with decades of experience sitting right next to me helping make decisions,” Marks said. “This is not a leadership position where I plan on deciding how we’re going to do things. I think that it’s important that we continue to collaborate and work closely with everybody. The company and brand are in a really good place — we just want to continue to amplify them.” 

Cathy Cunningham can be reached at ccunningham@commercialobserver.com