Tony Malkin on looting, unions and Empire State Building reopening

Observatory plan awaits state approval, which cannot come too soon for owner

Anthony Malkin, president of the Empire State Realty Trust, sounded off on working from home, police protests and a socially distanced Observatory. (Getty, iStock)
Anthony Malkin, president of the Empire State Realty Trust, sounded off on working from home, police protests and a socially distanced Observatory. (Getty, iStock)

Anthony Malkin has a lot on his mind — and a few things to get off his chest.

The CEO and chairman of the Empire State Realty Trust, which owns the Empire State Building, is preparing to reopen its famous observatories and taking a dismissive view of the work-from-home movement and the recent looting.

Malkin shared his thoughts with The Real Deal in an interview just before the REIT revealed a staff shakeup that put even more responsibility on his shoulders.

The coronavirus pandemic has led many to reevaluate offices. Mark Zuckerberg this month estimated that half of Facebook’s employees would be working from home in a decade. But that wouldn’t work for everyone, said Malkin, who suggested it may be an attempt to keep workers from joining a union.

“You can understand why Mark Zuckerberg would like to have people in Des Moines, in Tonopah, in Baton Rouge, all spread out,” said Malkin. “Not the top of the company, but the worker bees, the very people who benefit from the opportunity to get ahead, and to organize as teams, which is precisely what he doesn’t want them to do.”

Although it’s not surprising that the head of a major office REIT would take a pro-office tack, Malkin said office work makes sense as a business, echoing sentiments from Brookfield Properties CEO Brian Kingston, who recently said that he “can’t wait to get back” to the office.

“We believe in work from work,” said Malkin. “And I don’t mean that as a card-carrying member of the landlord union — I mean as a business leader, I believe in work from work.”

Being a property owner in New York City involves coping with local politics. But landlords faced a jolt this month when looters plundered some Manhattan stores. A slew of landlords, including Malkin, boarded up windows to head off what he said amounted to “organized crime.”

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“We took the boards off the windows of the Empire State Building [June 11], and we’re taking them down over the rest of our portfolio,” said Malkin. “It was a couple of nights of organized crime, plain and simple.”

But Malkin does not think the looting — which some later speculated was overblown in news reports — will deter investment in New York City.

“There have been incidents in every major city in the United States, since its foundation, of riots and political unrest,” said Malkin. “And we move forward.”

One way Malkin plans to do that is by reopening the Empire State Building’s 70,000-square-foot observatory on the 102nd floor, which was overhauled as part of the REIT’s $165 million, four-year renovation of the building completed last fall. The work included creating a separate entrance for the lucrative tourist attraction and enhancing the building’s air filtration system.

The 86th-floor observation deck is part of the tourism experience, which is an important moneymaker for the REIT. The observatories brought in $128.8 million, or 39.2 percent of the Empire State Building’s total revenue last year, when it had 3.5 million visitors.

“Our present plan is to operate at low capacity,” said Malkin. “And this is the plan that we are putting forward to the state, which controls when you can open.”

Malkin said staff will wear masks and control the elevator capacity, and indicators will help ensure social distancing. Visitors will follow a one-way path marked with arrows on the floor, which Empire State Realty Trust expects will also point the way to higher profits.