The WTC leasing posse

A look at the under-the-radar Westfield crew tasked with filling the country’s most high-profile mall with tenants

David Ruddick
David Ruddick

In March, the Australian mall giant Westfield Group closed on its $1.4 billion purchase of the massive retail space at the World Trade Center.

Now the real estate investment trust’s New York City team is feverishly trying to lock in tenants for the few remaining vacancies before it opens next year — a high-stakes job at the most high-profile retail complex project in the country.

Insiders said that the 365,000 square feet of store space within the multi-story mall is at about 70 percent leased or in advanced negotiations (see related story here).

But while retail brokers and executives at stores taking space in the Trade Center know Westfield’s core group of local players, to most of the industry they remain something of a mystery.

This month, The Real Deal looked at just who’s running the show there. While Westfield declined to comment, industry sources helped to fill in the blanks.

In Manhattan, the Trade Center leasing group is led by Australian David Ruddick, who is on the firm’s global leasing committee and has managed some of the company’s largest projects internationally in recent years, including in Brazil.

Other top executives on the team, which operates out of a 5,300-square-foot space on the 37th floor of 7 World Trade Center, include: David Weinert, Ron Bondy, and Rachel Belam.

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Weinert, a senior executive vice president of leasing in the Americas for Westfield, joined the firm in 2013 after a 26-year stint with rival Taubman Centers. Insiders said he is a classic salesman. “He could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge,” one broker said. Others said Weinert leverages his national contacts to help structure leasing deals at the Trade Center, and has been known to lean on retailers to sign on for space in the Lower Manhattan mega-project in exchange for agreeing to deals elsewhere. While that is a common practice in New York and in the broader mall-leasing world, some brokers gripe that it’s unfair.

Bondy, meanwhile, focuses on non-food retailers, ranging from electronics to apparel. He joined Westfield in 2010 after more than two decades at mall REIT, Macerich.

For her part, Belam is the Trade Center’s top food broker. She came to New York after coordinating food at Westfield London and Westfield Stratford, the malls that had the third and fourth highest revenue per square foot in the world, respectively, figures from the International Council of Shopping Centers showed. Sources say she’s assembling a roster of restaurants and markets that is likely to include a version of the celebrity chef Mario Batali’s popular Italian bazaar Eataly.

But Westfield has not been able to retain all of its brokers throughout the Trade Center lease-up. South Street Seaport developer Howard Hughes Corp. recently poached both New York–based Brent Habeck and California-based Jonathan Lauren. Sources said while Lauren was not in New York, Westfield could have tried to recruit him to its Trade Center team rather than allowing him to head to Howard Hughes. Prior to leaving, Habeck was the go-to person for fashion tenants, several brokers said.

The Westfield team does have some serious competition on its hands. Directly across the street, Brookfield Office Properties has nearly finished leasing up its renovated Brookfield Place mall, which insiders said had an edge on the Trade Center at attracting super-luxury tenants. That operation is being headed by Edward Hogan, a New York retail veteran.

But while Westfield’s brokers are (relatively) new to the New York retail scene, the company is a powerful player locally. In addition to the Trade Center, it recently won the right to manage the nearby Fulton Center. That will add to the more than 90 malls it controls in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, valued at more than $65 billion.

The company has been invested in the Lower Manhattan project for more than a decade. It bought a stake in the Trade Center in July 2001, just months before the terrorist attacks. It had just signed a 99-year lease with the Port Authority for the retail complex, then called the Mall at the World Trade Center.

When Westfield took over leasing back in 2001, the 427,000-square-foot shopping center was about 73 percent leased, and was expected to pull in about $45 million in annual rental revenue. It was a bonanza for retailers, bringing in nearly $900 per square foot in sales annually, among the highest in the country at the time. Today, the mall is expected to double or triple the sales per square foot numbers, as well as rental revenue. Analysts estimate the complex could generate sales of $2,000 to $3,000 per foot for retailers, and bring Westfield $120 million or more in annual rent revenue.