By Konrad Putzier
Visibly less concerned about crime in the wake of William Bratton’s appointment as police commissioner, real estate leaders have now moved on to remind Bill de Blasio about the many other problems he faces.
At the recent Real Estate Breakfast Forum, hosted by Eisner Amper in cooperation with TCBI, panelists voiced demands for low deficits and even lower taxes. The appeals showed that several industry leaders are still concerned that a social democratic mayor could hurt real estate, despite de Blasio’s recent charm offensive.
“What we really need is fiscal responsibility, that will create jobs,” said Steven Witkoff, chairman of the Witkoff Group. Glenn Rufrano, chairman and CEO of O’Connor Capital Partners, added that de Blasio “shouldn’t forget who creates the wealth.”
Former governor David Paterson argued that New York City had only weathered the recent economic crisis so well because the city had previously amassed a $6.5 billion budget surplus. “There has to be that sort of discipline,” he said, urging de Blasio to think about consequences beyond his immediate term.
But worries over taxes and deficit aside, the panelists also voiced plenty of optimism for 2014.
“It’s good to be in New York at this time,” said Rufrano. “Between 2008 and 2009, New York City lost 140,000 jobs. Since then, it has added 250,000,” he said.
The executive argued that this trend — along with continued demand from foreign buyers — is good news for the real estate sector.
Mitchell Rudin, president and CEO of Brookfield Office Properties’ U.S. Commercial Operations, said his company has had a “terrific year,” leasing more than one million square feet of space. He added that Brookfield has already found tenants for more than half the office space freed up by Bank of America’s departure from Brookfield Place.
Panelists were particularly optimistic about the future of downtown and the Westside. “Downtown is no longer the price alternative, it’s the demographic alternative,” said Rudin, in reference to the fact that many of the new high-income Brooklyn residents want to work close to home. He added that Brookfield recently signed law firm Jones Day to a downtown lease, reflecting the shift of traditional midtown-tenants downtown.
Concerning the midtown east market, some panelists argued that the rejection of the rezoning plan may not be that big of a deal. “I don’t think we need more space — we need better space,” said Rufrano. “Midtown is fine the way it is, if we can create more efficient space.”
Mitchell Rudin agreed, saying that the importance of rezoning has been “over-stated”. He explained that Brookfield’s office building at 245 Park Avenue has long-term leases, and that his plans would not have been affected by a rezoning.