Views from the top: Roth, Barnett and Blau riff on NYC’s market

Developers discuss EB-5 financing, Chinese investment and where prices could end up

Steve Roth, Gary Barnett. Andrew Farkas, Jeff Blau
From left: Steve Roth, Gary Barnett (Credit: STUDIO SCRIVO). Andrew Farkas, Jeff Blau (Credit: Chris Martin)

Extell Development’s Gary Barnett and Vornado Realty Trust’s Steven Roth, who are both testing the limits of Manhattan’s luxury residential market, believe that continued global demand for top-end product could push prices even higher.

The founders of Extell Development and Vornado Realty Trust spoke on a panel Tuesday as part of a forum hosted by the China General Chamber of Commerce at Bloomberg LP’s headquarters in New York. They were joined by Related Cos. CEO Jeff Blau and Goldman Sachs’ Mike Graziano, and discussed Chinese investment in the New York market, the proliferation of EB-5 financing and the state of the residential market.

Barnett, whose One57 holds the record for the city’s priciest closed sale at $100.5 million, said there is still a “tremendous global demand” for high-end real estate. The second-biggest group of buyers at One57, he said, are the Chinese. Roth credited Barnett with pushing the market to its current lofty levels, but he may be going even further — Vornado, sources told The Real Deal in March, could ask up to $175 million for a penthouse at 220 Central Park South, the REIT’s first major residential development in a decade.

Blau said that though Related tends to “service the highest end of the domestic market” – which he said was in the range of between $3,000 to $3,400 per square foot – the very top of the New York market still shows potential for growth. Prices are still relatively cheap compared to other global cities such as London, he said.

Xu Chen, CEO of Bank of China USA, one of the most active lenders in New York, gave the opening remarks at the forum, followed by Bloomberg CEO and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Island Capital Group chairman Andrew Farkas, whose firm holds interests in about $150 billion worth of commercial mortgages, served as moderator of the panel, and joked that “they always pick the least interesting person” for the task.

Farkas set the tone for what was an extremely entertaining discussion. Roth and Blau both introduced themselves with variations of “biggest” or “most active” developer, but Barnett went against the grain by describing himself as someone who “built what I thought was a really nice building at One57, and a few others.”

Roth, who retook the reigns of Vornado in 2013 from Michael Fascitelli, was in particularly fine spirits. He exchanged zingers with his fellow panelists, some of whom are his fiercest competitors.

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When Related’s Blau pointed out that Roth was unsuccessful in winning the bid to develop the 17 million-square-foot Far West Side project known as Hudson Yards, Roth countered with: “By not owning it, I lost? Or maybe I won, we’ll see!”

Vornado’s 220 CPS will be the city’s finest building, Roth proclaimed, and gave no quarter to competing projects.

“Don’t be jerky,” he told Barnett, who developed One57, “it’s not even close.”

The Robert A.M. Stern-designed project was a no-brainer because Vornado’s cost of capital was only 1.4 percent, Roth said. But in general, the REIT shies away from residential projects because they don’t allow developers to profit from a rising market, he added.

“I sold an apartment to a famous person here for $20 million,” Roth said, gesturing above him to One Beacon Court, which is housed above Bloomberg’s headquarters, and likely referring to scandal-plagued hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen. “He now has it on the market for $85 million — I hate that!”

Both Blau and Roth hinted that they could seek Chinese partners for new development projects. Vornado, Roth said, will “likely do something important” with Chinese investors in coming years, and Blau noted that Chinese investors were seeking “an active partnership.”

Blau spoke about how EB-5 had emerged as a major source of capital for Related’s projects, including the 17 million-square-foot Hudson Yards. The developer has become a major regional center for EB-5 financing, he said, with about $800 million of investment accounting for about a third of the market. Extell, Barnett said, used EB-5 financing extensively at the International Gem Tower at 50 West 47th Street.

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