The Real Deal New York

Overcast skies for Sunshine-Corcoran merger, rivals say

November 28, 2007
By Tom Acitelli

The new Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group is stumbling out of the gate, according to competitors, who claim the impending departure of Louise Sunshine from the firm she founded more than 19 years ago gives developers the impression of a fledgling organization in disarray.

The new group’s leaders, including Sunshine herself, however, dismiss the criticism as so much jealousy within a real estate market notorious for its competition.

In early July, the Corcoran Group and the Sunshine Group, both owned by Cendant subsidiary NRT, announced a merger that would create one marketing arm for Corcoran’s development properties. Louise Sunshine then stepped down as chairwoman and CEO of her namesake firm, and into a consulting role with the new group that she said doesn’t involve day-to-day responsibilities.

“She’s going to do everything she used to do except she’s not involved in everyday operations that would distract her from the creativity and all the marketing,” Corcoran president and CEO Pamela Liebman told The Real Deal in late July, “because the amount of projects that we have taken on is enormous.”

Competitors didn’t miss a chance to pile on the rival firm, saying Sunshine’s new role and the merger hinders, rather than helps, Corcoran.

“The merger has caused a lot of concern for developers who were considering awarding jobs to Sunshine,” said Andrew Gerringer, managing director of Prudential Douglas Elliman Development Marketing Group. “They don’t know what they are at this point. Louise is basically out of the picture and is being pushed aside, and this has helped [us] with a number of key projects. Luckily, we are the beneficiary of the confusion of who’s who and who’s what over there.”

Gerringer would not say which developers had talked with him about the merger or about projects that may have gone to Corcoran, but now may not because of what he called the “dissension among the ranks over there.”

Sunshine told The Real Deal her one-year consulting contract could be renewed “indefinitely,” and that she now works under the title of chairman emeritus. She also said she wanted to see all the projects she’s working on through to sales, which suggests that her exit is not as contentious nor as messy as competitors and perhaps developers believe.

“I think our competitors are not sitting in the offices with us,” Liebman said. “Louise and I have an incredibly strong business relationship as well as an incredibly strong friendship.”

Gerringer’s boss, Prudential Douglas Elliman chairman and co-owner Howard Lorber, said the aftermath of the merger was far from amiable. He, too, declined to cite names behind the “doubt” he said he was hearing from developers, but said it had been gestating for months, even before the merger became public knowledge.

“I don’t think it’s a merger,” Lorber said. “I think it’s that Louise is basically out or on the way out… It is what it is.”

Sunshine, for her part, called any rumors of disarray or contention at the new group “absurd,” the byproduct of jealousy from competitors. Liebman, during a conference call interview with Sunshine, called them “nonsense.”

Sunshine founded the Sunshine Group in 1986 as a marketing, leasing and sales firm for luxury condominiums. She came from the Trump Organization, where she developed its residential division, learning from Donald Trump, whom she called “a great teacher” in a 2004 interview with the New York Sun. She sold the firm to NRT in 2002, but remained decidedly in charge of it.

Jacquelyn Sonenberg was Sunshine’s first executive vice president and broker of record when she first broke away from Trump. Sonenberg said she thinks it’s only a matter of time before Sunshine leaves the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group for good.

“Within the next six months, she will no longer be involved at all, from what we understand,” said Sonenberg, now an executive vice president and managing director at Stribling. “I know Louise very well. She built an extraordinary company, and it’s probably very difficult for her to see it merge, first of all, with another company, and then, at a certain point in time, no longer be involved.”

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