Strong activity in the retail sector, and a robust rental and investment sales market seemed to be the tonic buoying the crowd at the 117th annual Real Estate Board of New York banquet.
The gathering, held at the New York Hilton Hotel in Midtown, attracted prominent elected leaders, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, as well as thousands of prominent real estate professionals, such as Douglas Durst, Kent Swig, Lawrence Gluck, Larry Silverstein, Ziel Feldman, Paul Massey and James Kuhn. Mayoral candidates Joseph Lhota and John Catsimatidis also attended.
Brokers who attended the gathering were split on how 2013 would shape up.
Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail sales and leasing at Douglas Elliman, took an optimistic tone on retail: “I think it can go even further.”
But Jason Pruger, an executive managing director at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, was more circumspect on retail. While some areas, such as Fifth Avenue, were doing well with the tourist traffic, others were not, he said. “There are areas like Downtown, since the flooding, and Second Avenue, that are hurting. Where tourists are not shopping, that is a challenge,” Pruger said.
Avi Lebor, director of acquisitions at Kushner Companies, which has been actively acquiring multi-family properties in Manhattan, expected rental rates to continue to rise, but did not expect much growth this year in the value of office buildings. “We feel very bullish on the [residential] market, we certainly hope so. That’s why we are buying,” he said.
James Nelson, a partner at Massey Knakal Realty Services, said, “Our biggest problem is lack of product. We did a mass sell off in December. We had 90 transactions. It decimated our listing inventory.”
MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president at the development firm Forest City Ratner, said the three top penthouses remained available at New York by Gehry, at 8 Spruce Street, even as apartment hunters below had leased 90 percent of the tower. The luxury rental market “is somewhat seasonal,” she said, adding that the number of potential residential tenants looking to lease a $50,000-per-month apartment was smaller.
Several attendees said they would be sad to see Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the event for the last time as mayor, leave office next January. “Bloomberg should run for a fourth term,” Robert Shapiro, president of City Center Real Estate, said in jest.
Despite Bloomberg’s popularity with the crowd, some were skeptical his recent attempt at leaving a lasting legacy on Midtown development — the rezoning proposal is being led by gala-attendee Amanda Burden, director of the Department of City Planning — would ever pass.
“I don’t think they will be able to do it,” Thomas Elghanayan, chairman of TF Cornerstone, said. He believed the plan would not be passed before Bloomberg’s term ends in December, and the next mayor would likely not pick the plan up.
Burden told The Real Deal: “Economic development is crucial for jobs, making the city more competitive, new housing and keeping the economy of the city strong for generations to come. REBNY is the champion of that.”
Unlike last year, when the dining hall was unusually quiet, this year the speakers were mostly drowned out by chatty brokers and developers.
One elected official did strain above the din to be heard. Schumer took the podium to offer a few words to the crowd, sounding a bit like a high school coach, ending with, “Let’s keep building — and grow New York! Have a great evening.”
REBNY expected about 2,200 attendees to tonight’s gala, a bump of approximately 10 percent from last year, a spokesperson said. The event costs attendees $1,000 per plate.
The organization honored six real estate professionals during the awards ceremony. Dottie Herman, CEO of residential brokerage Douglas Elliman, was given the Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award; Woody Heller, executive managing director at Studley, won the Louis Smadbeck Broker Recognition Award.
Another Studley broker, William Montana, a managing director, was given the The Young Real Estate Man of the Year Award. Developer Donald Zucker, chairman of the Donald Zucker Company, was given the Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Leadership in Real Estate Award.
Meanwhile, Dick Concannon, a senior vice president at Rudin Management, won the George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award, and Mike Fishman, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, was given the Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award.
Peter Hauspurg, CEO of Eastern Consolidated, had words of caution in the midst of the raucous drinking and eating and backslapping. “It feels like there are 50 percent more people here than last year. That may mean it’s time to sell. There was this same feeling in 2007,” he said.