Mood upbeat but cautious at REBNY’s 116th gala

TRD New York /
Jan.January 20, 2012 11:00 AM

The Real Estate Board of New York’s annual dinner often tracks the mood of the real estate business as a whole, and this year was no different. The dinner last night was well-attended and lively, yet like the market itself, appeared relatively tame and lacked a certain exuberance.

In fact, when builder Douglas Durst addressed the audience, famous for ignoring those on the podium, and said, “I hope you keep silent for the rest of the speakers,” the assembled real estate professionals kind of did. He was given the Bernard H. Mendik lifetime leadership in real estate award, one of six honorees of the evening.

Although not as rowdy as the boom years — the balcony in the dining room was virtually empty — the event brought together the influential leaders of the real estate industry and the city’s top elected officials.

Industry heavyweights like Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York Tri-State region of CBRE Group; David Levinson, chairman and CEO of L&L Holding, and Harold Fetner, president and CEO of Durst Fetner Residential were there, no doubt trading tips and gossip. Others included Frederick Peters president of Warburg Realty; William Macklowe, of the William Macklowe Company; and Jonathan Mechanic, partner and chairman of the real estate department at law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Leroy Comrie, chairman of the City Council’s land use committee, were a few of the elected officials who attended.

Peter Riguardi, president of the New York region for commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, standing among the chatter of attendees in the low light of the dining hall, compared the event to the improved but still uncertain industry.

“I think it is a lot like the market: It feels good, and people are glad they are here, but it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of bragging going on.”

Approximately 2,000 people attended the event at the Hilton New York in Midtown, which included an early cocktail hour followed by an awards ceremony and then dinner of steak, scalloped potatoes and bok choy. A few non-members bought seats for $1,000, and some real estate professionals without tickets just schmoozed along with the others, only prevented from entering the cocktail room and dining room, which were accessible with an invitation only.

The 116-year old organization honored Howard Rubenstein, president of the public relations firm Rubenstein Associates; Douglas Durst, chairman of the Durst Organization; David Green, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield; Pamela Liebman, president and CEO of the Corcoran Group; Gerard Schumm, executive vice president of RFR Realty; and Simon Ziff, president of the Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group.

Quinn, speaking to The Real Deal, said the top real estate issue for the City Council is “how to get more buildings built.”

Comrie, in an interview, said his committee would be involved in a review of the proposed development at the Aqueduct. “Yes, definitely. It is in everybody’s interest,” he said.

Levinson, asked to judge the feeling of the attendees, said, “I think the mood is cautiously optimistic.”

Retail broker Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail sales and leasing at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said the crowd was less than she had imagined, perhaps due to a month of real estate activity that she described as, “very sideways.”

“You would expect they would be busting out the door [at the annual gathering],” she said, considering the improvement seen in New York City real estate in 2011. “[Yet] I just don’t see why it is not more crowded.”

In addition, REBNY screened a short video about real estate taxes produced by CBRE. That video was included, Tighe told reporters at the CBRE media breakfast this week, to provide an educational element at the gala fundraiser. The educational element allows elected officials, such as Bloomberg, to attend the event without having to pay for a ticket, according to state lobbying regulations. Bloomberg was apparently aware of the screening.

And outside, arriving attendees took note of a group of protestors organized by the Metropolitan Council on Housing, who wanted to press the issue of affordable housing with elected officials hobnobbing with REBNY.

“We want to let politicians know that we know that they’re there and REBNY has their ear and need to be listening to tenants, too,” Mario Mazzoni, the group’s executive director told The Real Deal this week.

 With additional reporting provided by Leigh Kamping-Carder and Guelda Voien

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