The Real Deal New York

Photo by STUDIO SCRIVO
Photo by STUDIO SCRIVO

Joe Moinian

By Candace Taylor

Joseph Moinian founded the successful ladies’ apparel company Billy Jack for Her before venturing into real estate in 1982. Today, the Moinian Group operates a 20 million-square-foot portfolio of assets across the U.S., valued at more than $8 billion. The firm’s holdings include the newly opened W New York-Downtown Hotel & Residences and a stake in Chicago’s Sears Tower. At the 768,500-square-foot office tower 3 Columbus Circle, Moinian is close to completing a $175 million redevelopment, after a $138 million equity investment from SL Green Realty Corp. helped fend off an attempted takeover by the Related Companies.

What’s your full name?
Joseph Moinian, no middle initial.

Date of birth?
February 25, 1954.

Where are you from?
I was born in Tehran, the capital of Iran, and moved here to New York City when I was 17. I was the first one in the Moinian family to come here.

Where do you live now?
I live in 655 Park Avenue, and I have a house in Long Island, in the town of Quogue, on the water.

You recently relisted the apartment you own at 1045 Park Avenue, raising the price to $10 million from the initial asking price of $8.99 million. Why?
The apartment is renovated now, and the market has changed since 18 months ago.

How long have you been married?
I have been married 29 years on May 29th. I met Nazee at an engagement party in The Waldorf Astoria hotel when I was 26.

What do you do when you spend time together as a family?
We get together with my whole family [Moinian has five kids] at a minimum of once a week. Sometimes in my house, sometimes my sister’s, sometimes my brother’s. … Big meal, nice discussion. My girls that still live with me, they get up in the morning on Friday and their first question is, “Whose house are we going to tonight?” To them it’s the biggest pleasure that they have for the whole week.

You are known as a dapper dresser. Who is your favorite designer?
I would have to say Prada and Tom Ford.

What is your greatest professional achievement?
I think I’m proudest of what we have done to develop and support the emerging neighborhoods in Manhattan. For example … we own and manage in excess of 5 million square feet in Lower Manhattan. Downtown is one of the markets that we have never given up on. Our W Hotel downtown is a tremendous success.

How many condos do you have left for sale there?
Right now there are a variety of apartments available and I think it will be a great summer for sales, so don’t delay — try to buy one! The W Hotel is very busy. Believe it or not, even I can’t get a room sometimes — I’m not kidding.

Really? Even if you tell them you’re the owner?
I’ve tried sometimes and I couldn’t. When they’re booked, they’re booked.

What is the status of your deal with Joseph Sitt to buy out Goldman Sachs at 245 Fifth Avenue?
Joe and I are very good friends for a long time, and we both purchased Goldman Sachs’ interest in the building. The deal is closed and we are aggressively leasing now. The building is over 93 percent occupied and several tenants are looking at the space.

You paid $162 million, correct?
Something like that.

If you can’t remember that, maybe it means you own too many buildings.
Or it could mean that I know the number and don’t want to tell you. [Laughs.]

How did the deal with SL Green at 3 Columbus Circle come together?
I have been friends with Stephen Green and Marc Holliday and Andrew Mathias for many years. I have known Steve since before he went public. … In the case of 3 Columbus Circle, they understood the value of the asset and the renovation that was nearly completed and they wanted to join the Moinian Group in executing our plans for the property, so this way we [can] create value and benefit a great deal as partners.

How did you react when [Related's] Stephen Ross said on CNBC that he’d purchased the building?
Three Columbus Circle is a very high-profile asset. And when Steve Ross went on CNBC to say he bought it, when he hadn’t, well … I would rather not do business in the media, but in this case I had no choice but to set the story straight [in the courts]. And the rest is history.

The Moinian Group sued Ross over that deal, alleging that he was trying to “steal” the building. What is your relationship like with him now?
I did not take it personally. … He made a business decision, and I made another business decision.

During the worst of the recession, were you ever really afraid you would lose the building, or others in your portfolio?
At times, I thought, “This is time for me to work harder.” So I worked harder. Our business is cyclical; sometimes we have to do more. We did what we had to do.

If you could go back in time to before the financial crisis, what would you have done differently?
Make sure we don’t have the financial crisis in the first place!

What other new projects are you working on?
We are working to restart construction on [the development site] on West 42nd Street, next door to the Atelier. That’s a rental and it might have some housing for sale as well. I’m hoping to start construction very soon.

Who are your heroes?
Ayoub Moinian and Sarah Moinian — my parents. My father was in real estate back in Iran, and of course he has some investments with me.

Who is your mentor in the industry?
Certainly Larry Silverstein; we are very good friends. Jeff Gural, Mary Ann Tighe and Steve Siegel.

Did you go to them for advice during the downturn?
All the time.

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