Paydirt: The talented Mr. Haddow, Thor loses some thunder, 4 Times Square flurry … & more

The industry news you need to start your week, and what’s ahead

Clockwise from top left: Renwick Haddow, President Obama, Joseph Sitt, Douglas Durst and 4 Times Square
Clockwise from top left: Renwick Haddow, President Obama, Joseph Sitt, Douglas Durst and 4 Times Square

The prize went from palm oil plantations in Sierra Leone to desks in co-working spaces in New York. Otherwise, the game remained the same.

Renwick Haddow, the alleged mastermind of a vast international Ponzi scheme that bamboozled “sucker lists” of British retirees, has found his way to New York’s real estate market through a co-working startup called Bar Works. His involvement is hidden: Though he negotiated the company’s leases, signed the purchase document for its building in California and applied for its liquor licenses, he’s a ghost, appearing nowhere on Bar Works’ marketing materials. Instead, the company is billed as a startup founded by Jonathan Black and Zoe Miller. It offers investors long-term leases on individual desks in its spaces, promising them double-digit annual returns and guaranteeing buy-backs.

Here’s where things begin sounding like bad John le Carré fan fiction.

Zoe Miller (sometimes Chloe Miller in Bar Works’ press releases) appears to be Haddow’s Eastern European wife Zoia, as The Real Deal’s Konrad Putzier discovered. Black, the supposed CEO of the firm, has no digital footprint, and the photo he uses on LinkedIn is almost certainly not his. In Crowd Equity, the crowdfunding firm that Bar Works claims it is sponsored by and used as the basis of a $7.5 million valuation, has ties to Haddow. And YouTube is littered with surreal videos of British men with names such as “Richard Williams” talking up the company.

Any fast-growing branch of real estate, particularly one that gave birth to a multibillion-dollar firm such as WeWork, will attract its share of slippery characters. Questionable business models and questionable business practices are not uncommon, and landlords, tenants and investors need to vet before they bet. Still, when it comes to shadiness, Bar Works, which just expanded to Vegas, goes the full monty.

Thor loses thunder: Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities [TRDataCustom] is losing its top residential acquisition executives. Alan Klein and Jonathan Fishman, Stonehenge alum credited with being the driving forces behind Thor’s nearly $300 million residential buying spree over the past two years (that number would have been $1 billion-plus had Thor gone through with the Caiola portfolio purchase), are heading to Silverpeak. The latter firm says it has over $10 billion in real estate assets under management, and is lead by Mark Walsh and Brett Bossung. Walsh, of course, is the guy who lead Lehman Brothers’ real estate division.

Thor, which says it has investments totaling over $10 billion, also lost its longtime CFO Michael Schurer. A company rep, however, said he’d continue to be involved with Thor’s Mexican investments.

“He wanted to focus on his philanthropic endeavors,” the spokesperson said. Let’s see how long Schurer’s hiatus lasts.

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Obama takes a hard look at EB-5: In what is certain to be a purely symbolic move, the Obama administration proposed more than doubling the minimum EB-5 investment in high-unemployment areas to $1.35 million. It also proposed eliminating states’ ability to designate census tracts, which developers have used to their advantage by positioning their projects as being in high-unemployment areas. The proposal would see the federal government take on the task of designating the tracts directly.

But with three days left before Donald Trump takes over, there’s no chance the proposal goes anywhere. Jared Kushner, the president-elect’s son-in-law, has raised EB-5 funds for a project in Jersey City, and advocates for the visa program expect it to thrive under Trump.

“It has to go through him [Trump],” Rosenberg & Estis’ Eric Orenstein said. “And I don’t see him approving it.”

Good times at 4 Times Square: A former professor of mine who worked at the New Yorker used to invite each of his students, once a semester, for lunch at the office. His instructions were as follows:

When you do come for lunch, the address is 4 Times Square. On the elevator, study the directory of Conde Nast magazine offices overhead and try to guess, by appearance and demeanor, which floors your fellow-passengers will be getting off on.”

The tower’s identity was completely intertwined with Conde Nast, and the 800,000-square-foot-plus void the publisher left when it decamped to 1 World Trade Center seemed a very tough one to fill. But Durst, somehow, is pulling it off.

TRD’s Rich Bockmann reported Durst signed fintech firm SS&C to a 140,000-square-foot lease, for space asking in the low $80s per foot. Durst followed that up with a 95,000-square-foot lease with tax firm RSM. Those deals were preceded by another big one in August with financial firm ICAP. None of the tenants have quite the cachet of an Anna Wintour or David Remnick strolling the halls, but they’ll do.

(Paydirt is a weekly column that riffs on the biggest NYC real estate news of the moment, providing analysis and historical context on the deals and players that make this town tick. Read more from Paydirt here.)