With rabbi’s blessing, new Roth-Sporn venture sets its sights on Europe, Asia

By Sarabeth Sanders | February 04, 2010 12:49PM

At left: Gaia managing partners Amir Yerushalmi and Danny Friedman and Park River Properties’ Lenny Sporn and Mickey Roth at their new office opening. At right: Lenny Sporn with Rabbi Yishayahu Yosef Pinto at the office.

It’s been less than three months since Prudential Douglas Elliman powerbrokers Mickey Roth and Lenny Sporn departed the firm to start their own venture, but the Roth-Sporn brand appears to be holding strong, even under their new company name, Park River Properties.

The freshly-minted firm, which organizes foreign buyers into purchase groups for bulk deals in new development condominiums in New York City, is planning a slew of international outposts for its forthcoming expansion. In addition to the existing Park River office in Tel Aviv, Israel, a branch is coming to Rome next month, Sporn said. He is hoping to open a total of five new overseas offices over the course of the year, and is eyeing Japan and India for two of them.

Park River, which launched in December as part of one-year-old Gaia Real Estate, a distressed investment firm, also moved into a permanent U.S. headquarters this week with Gaia and Gaia’s latest acquisition, Vision Property Management, at the Carnegie Hall Tower at 152 West 57th Street. Park River currently employs 15 agents in New York and also has plans to open two more Manhattan branches over the next six months.

Danny Fishman, a managing partner at Gaia, met Sporn several years ago in Israel and the two later decided to pair up on their new enterprises.
Together, the Gaia companies appear well-positioned to capture the growing population of foreign buyers looking for pieds-a-terre at what many believe to be a near-trough in the city’s residential market.

Gaia is currently in negotiations to buy a building on the Upper West Side, which Park River would market to its primarily international clients. Vision, which specializes in properties for absentee apartment owners, would manage it. The companies declined to state the address.

“We realized that it could be very synergetic to merge [Gaia and Park River] so that we could offer full services under one roof,” Fishman said,

On Tuesday, between 150 and 200 friends, supporters and colleagues from the city’s influential Israeli real estate community gathered to celebrate the new office opening and to catch a rare glimpse of a revered, if mysterious, guest.

Rabbi Yishayahu Yosef Pinto, considered to be one of the most prominent rabbis in the world, also has what some say is an undue influence on New York City real estate.

He has no formal business education, speaks only in Hebrew, has not yet hit the age of 40 and offers each visitor only a few minutes of his time, but many followers, including Roth and Sporn, swear by his business advice. Roth said he’s taken advice from the rabbi on many a real estate deal, and trusts him completely to keep things confidential.

When Pinto arrived at the new Park River offices Tuesday afternoon to give the space and the company his blessing, the men in attendance (the rabbi does not meet with women) lined up in the lobby and hallway to grab a moment of his time. Pinto’s appearance at the office opening made it “much more special,” Sporn said.

Whether or not the advice Pinto has given the duo has worked, Roth and Sporn appear to be scoring some business.

Park River has two bulk deals under its belt so far, one of which is slated to be announced next week.

The first, at Zamir Equities’ the Setai at 40 Broad Street in the Financial District, was for 25 units, 70 percent of which went to foreign buyers. Ten of the units have signed contracts and the remaining 15 are still in the works, Sporn said.

Next week, Park River plans to announce its second major deal: 30 units in a Union Square-area development. The partners would not say which one. Roughly half of the buyers are international, Sporn said. The rest are mostly locals, who came to them through past relationships and as former Elliman clients.

Also close to an announcement is a deal for Park River to become the exclusive marketing agent for a 120-unit Upper East Side development. Again, the partners were mum on the building’s name.

Park River, which until this week was housed in a temporary suite at 117 East 57th Street, collects a standard, 3 percent commission from developers. Depending on the complexity of the deal, buyers also kick in as much as 2 percent for a particularly time-intensive or costly negotiation.

Though relatively new to the New York scene, Park River’s strategy is already popular in Israel. Sporn said Park River’s Israel office has a list of about 200 foreigners, especially Israelis, who are looking to buy a piece of New York City. The company interviews them, finds out what they’re looking for, whether they’re going to pay cash or need a mortgage. Then it goes out and negotiates with developers to score multiple units for a group of those buyers at a bigger discount than they’d ever be able to find as individuals.

Developers are also into the idea. “We have developers coming to us even before they plan a building to see if we’re interested in doing pre-sales,” said Amir Yerushalmi, also a managing partner at Gaia. With purchase group deals, a building can swiftly get enough contracts signed to be eligible for financing from the Federal Housing Administration, for example. Plus, a surge in sales “creates a very good buzz for the development,” Yerushalmi said.

One developer who attended the office opening yesterday — the partners would not say which one — proposed a deal with Park River on the spot. “‘If I were to give you 30 units in my building what would your buyers be willing to pay?’” the developer apparently asked.