Savanna’s Chris Schlank blames Cuomo’s “hubris” and de Blasio’s “weakness” for Amazon ditching New York

He also ripped "blind" Opportunity Zone funds as the "most obnoxiously ridiculous concept ever"
By Erin Hudson | March 18, 2019 08:00AM

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Savanna’s Chris Schlank; Long Island City in the background (Credit: Getty, Flickr/Gabe Shore)

Left in the lurch by Amazon, Savanna managing partner and founder Chris Schlank had strong words for the state’s top political leaders.

“It was incredibly, incredibly, incredibly poorly handled by [Andrew] Cuomo and [Bill] de Blasio,” Schlank said Saturday during a panel discussion at the 92Y and Hundred Stories’ “City of Tomorrow” Summit.

It was only a week before Savanna was set to sign a 1.5 million-square-foot lease with Amazon at One Court Square in Long Island City, that the e-commerce giant announced it was abandoning plans for a Queens campus, he said. Schlank’s firm now has less than a year to fill the 1.5 million-square-foot office tower, which is being vacated by Citigroup.

Joking that he could go on about the scuttled Amazon deal for years, Schlank said that “the hubris that Cuomo showed and the weakness that de Blasio showed tacitly not wanting to put his name on Amazon because he likes the unions was terrible in so many ways.”

“It’s going to take a very long time to repair the damage,” he added.

In fact, nearly all the panelists, which included DDG’s Joe McMillan, Miami developer Gil Dezer, Valley National Bank’s Joe Palermo and Shlomi Reuveni, who founded his own residential brokerage, had something to say about New York’s political climate.

Reuveni said the city needs to roll the clock back to the Bloomberg days.

“I remember 2008-2009 very well… we were facing the abyss at that point,” Reuveni said. “Now we had a certain mayor here… and he injected everything that he could into the city to make it what it is today… This is what we want.”

McMillan said there is “counter-productive economic tenor” in the city and the country that is “problematic.”

“We need to be careful not to vilify business,” he said. “We need to tread a very delicate balance… or everyone’s going to start moving.”

Miami-based Dezer jumped in to note that Florida politicians have a completely different attitude.

“The mentality [in Florida] is we want buyers and we’re not going to be playing this tax game,” he said.

He also reminded the audience they didn’t have to move to Florida permanently to enjoy a tax break, just 135 days. “You’re not advertising are you?” McMillan joked.

Dezer later called New York City’s renewed talks of a pied-à-terre tax “a chiller” that’s “almost on the level of socialism.”

The panel was held a day after Hudson Yards’ opening and panelists weighed in with opposing takes on the much-anticipated megadevelopment.

McMillan was a fan; Schlank described the 28-acre project as feeling “like middle America”; and Reuveni called it “surreal and spectacular.” But the consensus was that despite a few buckets of cold water from critics, Related Companies and its partner Oxford Properties Group would “kill it,” as Schlank put it.

The group seemed to collectively shrug when asked by moderator Jennifer Gould Keil about questions surrounding Related’s data collection and artificial intelligence at Hudson Yards.

“Big Brother is always watching — and has been watching since Facebook started,” said Dezer.

McMillan noted that he believes that the use of artificial intelligence in real estate is still in the early stages, but it’s here to stay. “I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Schlank said more high-profile cases like Hudson Yards may be “the first you know about it,” but agreed the practice was common. That said, he claimed to have intentionally disavowed any kind of smart building technology in his $393 million Vandewater condo in Morningside Heights “where people want to live and not be tracked.”

Finally, in response to a question about how the Opportunity Zone program would effect new development, Schlank unleashed a jab at Anthony Scaramucci‘s planned $3 billion fund.

“It is the most obnoxiously ridiculous concept ever made,” he said. “For a specific asset, [the Opportunity Zone program] makes a lot of sense. For these blinds funds, idiotic.”