When Marty Burger addressed 130 real estate players at a ski retreat in early March, he said the event might be the last “before the coronavirus passes.”
At the time, the Silverstein Properties CEO didn’t realize the magnitude of his words. He and at least 15 other attendees contracted coronavirus on the annual trip, he told The Real Deal in an interview on Tuesday. And 30 to 40 others experienced symptoms.
Burger, who has been out of quarantine since last Tuesday, predicts that the health crisis will change the way those in the industry interact. “It’s not going to be business as usual,” he said.
He pointed to chairman Larry Silverstein, who always greets CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe with a hug and a kiss at their weekly meetings. “That’s been their relationship for 20, 30, 40 years,” Burger said. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen every time Mary Ann comes to the building now.”
For now, Silverstein Properties has other issues to contend with. Along with other landlords across the country, the firm was bracing itself for the potential loss of rental income this month, as New York City effectively shut down.
As of Tuesday, Burger said 70 percent of commercial tenants and nearly 80 percent of residential tenants had paid April’s rent. The company plans to work with tenants who are unable to make their payments on a case-by-case basis. “If you can pay rent, pay rent. If you can’t pay rent, let’s talk about it,” he said. In rare cases, Silverstein Properties is willing to talk about rent deferrals, Burger said. “But if we did it for everybody, we wouldn’t be able to pay the building staff, our operating expenses, let alone our debt service. We can’t be everybody’s bank.”
Overall, Burger remained optimistic about the industry being able to move forward after this crisis. For Silverstein Properties, he said the firm is seeing opportunity in the debt and distressed real estate sectors. And while office layouts and real estate’s schmoozing culture may adjust, “We’re tough New Yorkers for the most part…We’re all coming together to see this thing through.”
Of course, Burger also addressed questions about the fate of WTC 2. Make sure to watch the full interview above.
Text by Danielle Balbi