Political wannabes give retail badly needed boost

<span style="font-style: italic;">Candidates for public office seize upon lower retail rents and storefront vacancies</span>

When political newcomer Doug Biviano wanted to increase his visibility as a City Council candidate, he looked no further than one of the most prime retail strips in his Brooklyn Heights district: Montague Street.

While in more flush times a new political candidate’s war chest might not have had enough cash to pay for such a premier, high-traffic location, Biviano took advantage of the strip’s nearly 10 vacant storefronts and the area’s dropping retail rents.

And he is not alone.

With the New York City primary elections next month, and the general elections this November, candidates for mayor, City Council and other citywide offices all need space for their campaign headquarters.

And, in this market, a new real estate trend is emerging among them: Even candidates without the deep pockets of Mayor Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire, can secure crucial storefront space.

Since vacancies are dotting major retail strips throughout their communities, politicians are swooping in and scoring deeply discounted deals for spaces they otherwise might not be able to afford. That helps some landlords, too, by temporarily providing rental income in vacant sites.

While Bloomberg is not typical, he is pumping a lot of money into real estate for the election. According to campaign spokeswoman Silvia Alvarez, he has 11 storefront spaces citywide.

According to campaign finance records, his 2009 campaign dished out $873,859 in office rent through July 11, as The Real Deal reported last month. That represented a 71 percent increase over the $510,509 the campaign spent on rent at the same point in the 2005 race.

Bloomberg also spent $30,124 on brokers’ fees during this election cycle and he is spending $125,000 a month on his headquarters site near Bryant Park, where he has a one-year lease for the entire fifth floor of 1065 Avenue of the Americas.

As The Real Deal also noted last month, his Democratic opponent, William Thompson, the comptroller, has spent $67,000 in office rent this year and has not shelled out money for brokers’ fees.

Both candidates would have likely spent even more if the economy was strong. Average asking retail rents citywide are down 11 percent since fall 2008, according to a spring real estate report by the Real Estate Board of New York. The report found that a new mix of tenants who previously could not afford leases are now looking for space in large numbers.

Meanwhile, Biviano, who is running for the 33rd Council District covering Brooklyn Heights, found his campaign headquarters almost by accident.

He spotted a vacant space on the corner of Montague and Hicks streets that was formerly home to a boutique clothing store called Blue Rose, which moved to Park Slope. He contacted the landlord in June and quickly struck a deal that was both within his budget and lucrative for the landlord.

“It was kind of a no-brainer. I need to be on Main Street,” Biviano recalled. “And in this kind of environment, I could do it.”

Adam Stupak, a broker with Winick Realty Group, works frequently with companies who want temporary office space, and said the deals are a win-win.

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“It’s extra income, the store is occupied, [and] when someone walks by with a broker and it shows that someone’s in, it helps sell the place,” Stupak said.

A tenant also helps keep the mechanicals working properly, he noted.

Biviano made those arguments to his landlord, who relented.

“It’s lucrative for the time being, and hopefully at some point I’ll have a full-time permanent tenant in there that can be successful,” said the landlord, who would only give her first name, Andrea.

She said that Biviano pays “not a rent that I would accept for a long-term tenant.”

Biviano signed a month-to-month lease and will vacate the property if the landlord finds a permanent tenant. He also must keep the “For Lease” sign in the window.

The property’s broker, David Chaiken of Robert K. Futterman, said Biviano’s presence can help him show the space.

“[A pop-up shop] gives a retail [spot] a chance to get a little publicity or give a space a higher profile,” he said.

He added, “I don’t think it hurts my marketing chances.”

For current City Council member and comptroller candidate David Weprin, the down market allowed him to find two storefront campaign offices as well, one on West 54th Street in Manhattan, and another on Putnam Avenue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

“There are so many retail vacancies, the landlords are willing to take lower rents,” said Weprin’s campaign manager, Eben Bronfman. “I’ve been doing this in New York for 30 years, and this is the second time I’ve gotten a storefront at all, or been able to.”

Bronfman said both of the campaign storefronts’ landlords agreed that “something is better than nothing, basically.”

Landlords had actively, but unsuccessfully, been marketing the vacant spaces for over a year, he said.

Brokers can still show the property while the campaign offices are set up, and the campaign agreed to leave at a moment’s notice if necessary, Bronfman said.

Biviano said having those who are running for public office on major retail strips “brings vibrancy back to the neighborhood. It’s a small-town feel and that’s how I think politics should be.”