NYC real estate pumps up DC lobbying

Jul.July 31, 2009 11:04 AM

New York City-based real estate companies have increased their Washington lobbying expenditures by more than a quarter this year, as the industry battles a severe downturn and Congress considers a raft of transformative legislation, federal data shows.

Eleven city-based firms such as Tishman Speyer Properties, Forest City Ratner and Arverne East Development, together spent a total of $655,000 in the first six months of the year, compared with $510,000 in the same period a year ago, an increase of 28 percent, according to The Real Deal’s analysis of public lobbying records released this month.

The companies made the lobbying expenditures for a variety of reasons, including monitoring transportation, economic development and tax issues. The quarterly reports are filed with the Senate Office of Public Records by the lobbying firms to show how much they have been paid by their clients and for what purpose.

While most of the lobbying expenditures were targeted for city-related matters, the large landlord firms such as SL Green, Related Companies and Tishman Speyer lobbied on issues that were not specific to the five boroughs, such as leasing space to government entities nationwide, the filings show.

Evan Stavisky, a partner with the New York consulting and lobbying firm Parkside Group, said business executives spend lobbying money to remain in the governmental process.

“Business leaders need to run their businesses and not spend their days in D.C. It only makes sense that they send someone to show up for them in the halls of government, be it Albany, Washington or Lower Manhattan,” he said. His firm has lobbied for Arverne East Development in New York, but did not represent it in Washington.

The biggest spender among the 11 New York City real estate companies whose expenditures were filed with the Senate, was Starrett City Associates, which paid $160,000 in the first half of both 2008 and 2009. The most recent filing for the second quarter said the firm was seeking advice on federal funding opportunities.

However, last year the firm was paying Washington insiders to lobby on the “sale of assets,” a 2008 filing shows. At the time the company was trying to sell the middle-income complex in East New York, Brooklyn, but that effort was abandoned in February.

A number of firms lobbied for transportation issues, such as Forest City Ratner, which is developing Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn; Arverne East Development, which is working on a site in the Rockaways in Queens; and Greater Jamaica Development, which is overseeing development in Jamaica, Queens.

Carlisle Towery, president of the non-profit Greater Jamaica Development, said the Washington lobbying was to get federal money for the city, not for itself.

“We lobby for money for the city of New York to invest in downtown Jamaica. In this case for infrastructure projects around the AirTrain,” he said, referring to the elevated rail service connecting downtown Jamaica to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

One company, 375 Pearl Associates, spent $40,000 this year lobbying for homeland security issues, while it spent nothing last year, the data shows. The company is an affiliate of Taconic Investment Partners, which is planning to convert the former Verizon tower at 375 Pearl Street near the Brooklyn Bridge into an office building.

In addition, five national real estate brokerage firms, each with a heavy presence in New York City, increased spending by 82 percent to $460,000 in the first half of the year, compared to $252,500 a year earlier.

Their spending, mostly aimed at gaining real estate management contracts, was not specifically linked to New York City, the filings show. The largest spending increase was from Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, which saw Washington lobbying more than double to $190,000 in the first six months of this year from $70,000 in the same period last year.

Others spent less compared to last year. Realogy, parent company of the Corcoran Group and Citi Habitats, cut spending to a total of $100,000 in the first half of this year, from $160,000 in the first two quarters last year. 

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