China has emerged as a major player in American real estate, so it’s fitting that The Real Deal‘s U.S. Real Estate Showcase & Forum in Shanghai was the largest U.S.-focused real estate event ever held in the country. The industry’s leading developers, brokers, and foreign investment experts gathered to mingle, educate and learn from their Chinese counterparts, in an event that brought in around 4,500 attendees.
Held at the Jing An Shangri-La in Shanghai’s premier business district, the forum, which ran from Sept. 10-12, brought in New York developers such as Eliot Spitzer, Steve Witkoff, Xinyuan Real Estate’s John Liang, the Naftali Group’s Miki Naftali, the Sapir Organization’s Alex Sapir and Rotem Rosen, and many others. They were joined by their counterparts from Miami, such as Stephen Owens of Swire Properties, and Los Angeles, where Greenland USA chief Ifei Chang is building a $1 billion project.
TRD publisher Amir Korangy played tour guide, whisking developers and brokers to the top of Shanghai Tower the world’s second-tallest building.
The cameras even captured Douglas Elliman broker and star of “Million Dollar Listing New York” Fredrik Eklund performing his signature high kicks as Shanghai’s imposing skyline glistened in the background.
On Thursday night, Korangy hosted an intimate 20-head dinner at a private dining room inside the LVMH store with some of the biggest U.S. developers, including Spitzer, Witkoff, Sapir, Rosen and their Chinese counterparts to discuss how the two groups could work together.
The Chinese gifted the Americans copies of “The Jews in Shanghai,” while TRD presented guests with advance copies of The Closing, our coffee table-book that compiles 100 personal interviews with industry titans, which will be released later this month.
Guests caught up with U.S. colleagues and made new connections among Chinese investors at the kickoff party, sponsored by Town Residential. They traded notes on some of the best nightspots in Shanghai to hit up after the day’s proceedings — La Baron and Mint emerged as favorites — and traded far-hazier notes the following morning.
The event featured 10 panels over two days, encompassing everything from how to invest in U.S. real estate, to a star-studded developer panel, to panels on EB-5 investment, and investment opportunities in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. All panels were simultaneously translated into Mandarin.
At least 35 exhibitors showed off about 75 development projects across the showcase floor, many displayed as scale models with elaborate architectural touchtones and flashing lights.
Panelists offered insight on some of the key cultural differences between doing business in China and the U.S. In China, there is a “centuries-old dance of negotiation when buying anything,” said Nikki Field, senior global real estate advisor for Sotheby’s International Realty.
“You are very good at it, we are very bad at it,” she told the audience. In response, Mercedes Yao of China Vanke said: “You know Chinese people, we like to bargain.”
There were plenty of other light-hearted moments. While discussing the emergence of young, casually-dressed technology entrepreneurs as a new driving force in New York’s office leasing market, Cushman & Wakefield chair of global brokerage Bruce Mosler took off his tie and tossed it onto the floor, drawing a roaring reaction from the audience. It’s well understood that the millennials of China are transforming the cultural and business relationships between the two nations, he said.
Omer Ozden, president of RockTree Capital, put his fluent Mandarin to good use during a panel, twice saying a phrase that he later translated as: “New York is the bomb,” drawing laughter from the Shanghai crowd.
And Spitzer, who at one point helped the TRD team set up seating for his panel, said that when raising money for projects, he avoided some banks, because he “used to prosecute them.”
On Friday night, TRD, Ernst & Young and the Industry Bank of China co-hosted another VIP dinner for attendees, with more than 200 enjoying jellyfish and other Chinese delicacies. The forum culminated in a farewell dinner hosted by the U.S. Immigration Fund, which helps arrange EB-5 financing. When Korangy was handed the mic for the umpteenth time that week and asked to give a speech, he instead broke into song, belting out the Elton John classic: “Can you feel the love tonight?” After three days of marathon panels, endless schmoozing and selling, the guests, kicking back with wine and song, certainly could.