Louise Sunshine takes on Vornado’s 220 Central Park South

New dev marketing legend dishes on "staying relevant" and bringing value to RE through design

Apr.April 21, 2015 09:00 AM

As the first lady of new development marketing in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Louise Sunshine left her mark on more than 75 projects in New York, Miami and beyond. A biography on her website describes her life as having been “one of almost epic proportions.” Since 2005, however, when her Sunshine Group officially merged with the Corcoran Group, she’s been largely out of the limelight.

Now, she’s taking on her most high-profile assignment in a decade. Steven Roth, CEO of Vornado Realty Trust and a longtime friend of Sunshine, has tapped her to serve as a consultant on 220 Central Park South, the Robert A.M. Stern-designed ultra-luxury building that is the most hotly-anticipated addition to Billionaires’ Row.

Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, an offspring of the Sunshine Group, is handling sales at 220 CPS. But Sunshine’s relationship with Roth and her new development track record suggest that her influence on the project will be immense.

“It’s a masterpiece,” Sunshine said of 220 CPS, which she is otherwise not permitted to discuss, in part due to Roth’s notorious aversion to media interviews.

Industry players said it’s no surprise to see Sunshine and Roth teaming up again, after collaborating in the past on the Park Laurel at 15 West 63rd Street and Bloomberg Tower at 731 Lexington Avenue, which houses the 105-unit One Beacon Court. “She is an icon in the business, and that’s a really big mothership,” said Donna Olshan, founder of Olshan Realty.

The project at 220 CPS is one of only a handful that Sunshine has been publicly associated with since she sold her company in 2002 to Corcoran parent NRT. “Staying relevant after you have fulfilled the majority of your goals and accomplished many things you set out to accomplish when you were younger, it’s a very interesting question,” she told The Real Deal over a recent breakfast of yogurt and berries. “Maybe the title of a book.”

Ensconced at a back table inside The Mark Restaurant, the Jean Georges eatery inside The Mark Hotel, Sunshine is dressed in a blue tweed jacket and wearing a signature pendant necklace and oversized rings. “I designed this,” she said of the space, which the Alexico Group renovated for around $100 million before the bust. Tucked under the table is a black cane, which the 74-year-old has carried since undergoing open spine surgery several years ago.

Sunshine is currently involved in four Manhattan new developments, three of which remain undisclosed. Outside the city, she’s a consultant for The Surf Club Four Seasons in Miami Beach and Granite Park Place in Pasadena, Calif. She’s also working on what she described as a tech-driven approach to real estate design that, in her words, will take predevelopment planning to “the next place.”

“That’s where my strength is,” she added.

The granddaughter of Barneys New York founder Barney Pressman, Sunshine worked in New York state politics before kicking off her real estate career with Donald Trump. She was a key player in the rollout of the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Central Park, a project that inspired her to copyright the phrase, “All square feet are not created equal,” and helped change the landscape of the 59th Street corridor. The neighborhood subsequently saw the rise of Related Cos.’ Time Warner Center and the emergence of Billionaires’ Row.

In 2005, Sunshine left her firm when it officially merged with Corcoran to form Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, now led by Kelly Kennedy Mack. Sunshine was bound by a noncompete agreement until 2010, but an exception to the agreement permitted her to work for Izak Senbahar and Simon Elias’ Alexico Group, Which Developed 165 Charles Street, The Laurel And The Grand Beekman On East 51st Street. “I was very appreciative that I could continue to work with Alexico,” she recalled. “It kept me in the game.”

Since the noncompete ran out, Sunshine has quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) consulted on projects locally and around the country.

In 2012, she rolled out Sunshine Select Residences, a brand that offers curated furnishings for high-end residences. Through Sunshine Select, she’s become a “mini developer” herself by flipping penthouses. She’s currently asking $11.75 million for her Miami Beach penthouse, a 6,400-square-foot pad that was originally two units. Sunshine purchased the two apartments for a combined $4 million in 2013 and subsequently convinced the building’s board to change the façade of the building as part of an extensive renovation of the penthouse.

“It’s where I’m going in life,” she says. “I want to keep being able to create value for people by helping furnish and design.” The condominium owners association at the project, known as the Grand Venetian Condominium in Miami Beach, allegedly asked her to pay a $1 million fee to combine the penthouses, and Sunshine is battling the association in court.

Sunshine is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of New York new development marketing. When she started her firm in 1986, she was able to set the tone for how luxury projects in the city were positioned. Now, however, competition in the space is far more intense.

“It’s a very different world than it once was,” said Adrienne Albert, the founder and CEO of new development sales firm, the Marketing Directors and another veteran in the space. “Twenty years ago, you could put together a beautiful presentation and that would do it.”

End-user clients are incredibly savvy, Albert added. “You have to be able to justify everything, including the heating system, the cooling system, construction details, your pricing, your ability to have a product finance,” she said. “You can’t be on the sidelines watching, you have to be in the game every day if you want to make things happen.”

It’s been a decade since Sunshine was a day-to-day player. But sources said her strength is a singular focus on creating value for developers.

“Louise’s strong suit was always understanding what the product wanted to be and inventing new ways to express value,” said Nancy Packes, who has been called the rental counterpart to Sunshine.

Joseph Moinian, who hired Sunshine in 2012 to boost sales at his W New York Downtown project, told TRD in an email that Sunshine represented the developer and his project “at the highest levels of personal and professional excellence.”

“Her ability, taste, and marketing acumen is unrivaled,” Moinian added.

Still, sources observed that Sunshine’s partnership with Corcoran Sunshine on 220 CPS was likely borne out of necessity. “Louise doesn’t have a sales company anymore so they’d need someone to handle on-site sales,” one source noted.

But if there is any tension stemming from having too many cooks in the kitchen, neither side will say. Corcoran declined to comment, and Corcoran Sunshine did not respond to a request for comment. Vornado also did not comment.

“I’m not competing with Corcoran Sunshine at all,” Sunshine said. “They have a specific mantra. They are challenged to sell a project. My role is geared toward everything needed to develop a property so they can sell or so the developer can position the property to create more value.”

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