Q&A: Kushner wants to get NYC office buildings connected

WiredNYC initiative aims to create LEED-like benchmark for Internet access
By Hiten Samtani | October 03, 2013 01:10PM

Real estate mogul Jared Kushner was frustrated with what he saw as a lack of transparency around connectivity and broadband access in office buildings. Tenants increasingly rely on high-speed internet for their businesses, but Kushner felt like they were getting shortchanged by a lack of information on what exactly a building could offer. After several conversations with landlords, brokers and technology companies, Kushner met with the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s Seth Pinsky (who recently departed for Scott Rechler’s RXR Realty) to brainstorm solutions.

What they came up with is WiredNYC, a rating platform launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday that evaluates the broadband connectivity and infrastructure of office buildings and establishes a new internet connectivity benchmark.

Bloomberg also announced during the launch that the city would offer free public WiFi in several areas, including the Fulton Street corridor, the Flatiron district, the East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan and Long Island City.

The Real Deal caught up with Kushner to find out more about the initiative.

What’s the idea behind WiredNYC?
I’m involved with a lot of tech companies here in New York as well as real estate companies. I recognized a very similar pattern of pain points within these companies. Broadband service is essential to many tenants, but landlords are often opaque about it. The problem is, tenants have to make a decision based on something that’s not readily available. WiredNYC is a criteria of standards for broadband connectivity and infrastructure. It aims to improve transparency by creating a benchmark similar to LEED certification [used to benchmark energy efficiency].

How does it work?
Landlords can go to the platform’s website at wiredscore.com and report data about their building’s Internet capabilities. The platform then evaluates the data and provides landlords with a rating ranging from “platinum” to “connected.” They can then choose whether or not to disclose the score on the site. Tenants can also search the site for connectivity information on buildings they’re interested it, and can search buildings by the level of connectivity they offer.

What are the benefits to landlords?
The goal is not to shame landlords who don’t have good scores, but to help them see where they can improve. At some point, space is a commodity. I really want landlords to recognize the shortcomings in their buildings as they are often in the dark about how critical the Internet is to their tenants. This will make landlords more compatible with the tech community.

Who have you got on board so far?
We only opened up to major landlords in the beta phase [including Vornado Realty Trust, Rudin Management, Tishman Speyer and SL Green Realty]. All of the Kushner Companies’ buildings are being certified. And now [post-launch], we’re encouraging building owners all across the city to share their data. We have 150 buildings currently signed up for the program, representing 100 million square feet of office space, and we have landlords upgrading another 50 million square feet of space before signing up. My goal is to have every building in New York on this program.

What’s next?
The outreach really starts now. We’re in touch with several brokers in the tech world who are beyond thrilled by the initiative.