The Real Deal New York

Inside the 2017 REBNY gala: PHOTOS

Real estate's bigwigs descend upon the Hilton for ritual bash

The Real Estate Board of New York’s annual banquet is usually all about bricks, tradition and continuity. But this year, a whiff of change was in the air. For the first time in 121 years, black ties were optional and about half the male attendees showed up in business suits. In a bigger sign that times are changing, two female award winners used their speeches to address the widespread discrimination against women in the commercial real estate industry.

“I dedicate this award to all the women whose talents and ambitions were overlooked and underrated by our industry,” said Forest City Ratner’s CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin, who won a lifetime achievement award, to loud cheers. Lindsay Ornstein, who co-heads Transwestern’s New York office, bemoaned the fact that the award she won tonight was called “young real estate man of the year” until this year. It took a concerted effort, she said, to finally change it to “young person.”

Gilmartin told The Real Deal she had been arguing with CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe over changing the dress code. She argued that younger people don’t want to wear black tie, while Tighe thought it was nice. Gilmartin prevailed.

The banquet is always an occasion for people to take stock of the previous year and swap predictions for the year ahead, but tonight, there was an added urgency: Donald Trump will be sworn in as U.S. president Friday, and REBNY president John Banks said he was confident having a developer in the White House would be good for the real estate business. Others, however, were less sure.

“Uncertainty creates short-term opportunity, but long-term problems,” said Rockrose Development’s Justin Elghanayan.

Council member David Greenfield, a Democrat, was optimistic that Trump would soften some of his more combative ways. “History has proven that the White House changes all of its occupants,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio made the rounds, as did de Blasio’s challenger in the upcoming mayoral election, Paul Massey. The Cushman & Wakefield executive was greeted by a small crowd of supporters holding signs outside. “The real estate industry will vote for him [Massey],” said Colliers’ Bradley Mendelson. Massey noted that the mayor spent a lot of time outside of New York, and that he probably “has ambitions for higher office.” One real estate executive was overheard telling Massey: “de Blasio doesn’t know what’s going on in this city.” Massey replied, “I’ll work on it.”

Massey’s business partner Bob Knakal said the $1.6 million Massey had raised – a big chunk of that from real estate players – was “just a drop in the bucket.”

Cuomo was seen chatting with developers Bill Rudin and Gary Barnett. When asked what they talked about, Barnett quipped: “Like I’m going to tell you!”

Meridian Capital Group’s David Schechtman, while pleased about the election and sporting a Donald Trump pin, was less enthused about the current state of the investment sales market:

“It’s like pushing an elephant up the stairs,” he said. “Two years ago I was shooting fish in a barrel.”

L&L Holding’s David Levinson said he was invited to the inauguration, but would rather watch it on TV. “Whatever cards we get dealt, we know how to play the hand,” he said. “Sometimes you like the cards, sometimes you don’t.”