Joe Moinian: How I survived the slump
By Al Barbarino
Joseph Moinian owns 17 million square feet of property. So you could say that he knows how to lay down a steady foundation.
But when the CEO of the Moinian Group — one of the most active developers in the city during the boom — laid down his plans for 2012 at a luncheon put on by the Association of Real Estate Women this week, he acknowledged that things got a bit shaky for a while.
“The good news for my company is we survived,” he said, pausing for a few laughs from the crowd.
“We found creative ways in maintaining a vast ownership and deep portfolio, leaving it in better financial condition than before.”
The recession led to several stalled plans and lower than expected returns for the Moinian Group, but they powered through, emerging perhaps stronger than they were going in. The good times seem to be rolling again. One industry professional even referred to Moinian as the Houdini of real estate.
The developer must have clicked his magic wand toward the W Hotel, located at 123 Washington Street. The Moinian Group put up the W Hotel just before the market collapsed, building the 58-story tower, featuring impressive glass curtain walls, during the thick of the recession. Today, Moinian says he has a hard time booking a room “even for some of his friends.” As an “added attraction,” Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks just moved in to one of the building’s condos, Moinian added.
The Moinian Group has now begun work on the second phase of 605 West 42nd Street, a sloping glass tower with upwards of 1,000 apartments, after construction ground to a halt in 2008.
The company also partnered with SL Green to recapitalize 3 Columbus Circle and 180 Maiden Lane, which total over 1.88 million square feet. The building at 3 Columbus circle, on the southern edge of Central Park, was gutted and redesigned, with a new 19-phase glass façade that surrounds the building, Moinian said. The 41-story, 180 Maiden Lane downtown building offers views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty.
With these major projects back on track, Moinan is ready to look to the future. That will involve more recapitalization partnerships with existing owners who might need money and support, he said.
“We will go in, we will help them with our money, we will help them with our know-how, with our team,” he said, “Making sure that they are able to create the best value for their assets.”
Beyond that lies technology, health-related ventures, hotels and tourism, and perhaps one day he can even achieve his dream of building a museum, but that might have to wait.
“The most exciting part of real estate is the technology-related stuff,” Moinian said, as he proceeded to compare the size of technology in the city to the brains of various living creatures, information he picked up at a conference in Florida.
Ten years ago, “technology was about as big as the brain of an ant,” he said. It steadily progressed, morphing into a crab, then a monkey. Humans are next — and Moinian doesn’t want to miss the boat.
“It’s something to think about,” he said.
Moinian did show some reservation when it comes to commercial office buildings in New York, referring to the 30 million square feet of construction under way in the city. The banks aren’t quite ready and the CMBS market shows only mixed signs of life.
“Is the economy going to keep up with this new construction?” he said. “For all of our sakes, especially mine, I hope it does.”
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