by Daniel Geiger
Starting out in the city as a broker of commercial real estate assets at Grubb & Ellis during the depths of the recession, Jason Meister weathered the tough times and has emerged as a promising young executive at the firm.
Joining Grubb & Ellis in 2008, Meister has become an important member of a prolific team that has handled several notable sales in the city this year. In October, the group was one of the top producing sales teams in the city, an impressive feat for brokers who don’t hail from top tier companies like CBRE or Eastdil, which tend to dominate statistical rankings.
Though Meister, who is 29, is the youngest broker on the team, he has already spearheaded several important deals, including an ongoing effort to sell the Williams Club, an asset that he says is nearing a trade.
During the summer, he was a key member of the Grubb & Ellis team that arranged the disposition of 93 Worth Street, a downtown office building, for almost $50 million to the Izaki Group, which plans to convert it into residential condos.
Late last year, he and his team sold 423 West Street, a distressed condo project that had been seized by Capital Source Bank, to the Sabet Group, which paid $8.4 million for the property. Meister also was the lead in selling a pair of vacant office properties in Stamford, Connecticut that together totaled about 70,000 s/f. In that deal, a subsidiary of the construction and investment firm Structure Tone purchased the buildings for about $4 million.
“When I got into the investment sales business in the city, everything was flat-lining,” Meister said. “But as the market recovered now we’re positioned to capitalize on the increased activity.”
Grubb & Ellis significantly boosted its presence in the Manhattan market when it poached a sales team from rival Cushman & Wakefield in 2009. In that hire, Yoav Oelsner, Charles Kingsley and Jon Epstein joined with Grubb senior brokers Vincent Carrega and Neil Helman.
While internal competition can play a role at some brokerages, Meister, who works with the five executives, said that he has been impressed with the group’s teamwork. Meister said that the team freely delegates assignments between members to juggle all the work rather than allow it to bottleneck in a way that could happen if the executives were less willing to relinquish assignments to colleagues or underlings. The practice has also allowed Meister to take a more senior role in arranging and executing transactions than he might otherwise get at a larger firm.
“The mentality here is if you give someone who is talented and hungry a shot, they’re going to excel,” Meister said. “I know it’s been true for me and I think that’s why the team has done so well. Because everyone here understands that they’re going to get a chance to be successful. We have a lot of competitors but we’re scrappy and we’ve been able to carve out our niche.”
Meister and the rest of the Grubb team were recently hired to handle a development site, a segment of the market that has begun to find surprising traction as prices have recovered for residential and hotel properties. The parcel is located at 12 East 37th Street, between Madison and Fifth Avenue, and can accommodate up to 80,000 s/f of development depending on whether available air rights are purchased with the deal. Like many of Meister’s assignments, the transaction requires some marketing savvy.
The land’s owner, an investment group, is seeking a 99-year lease of the property. Though some buyers prefer to acquire the land they develop on, according to Meister, the structure of the deal is suited for the current lending environment. The lease will allow a builder to avoid the necessity of having to finance or lay down a sizeable lump sum to purchase the parcel, which could be tricky because of resurgent problems in the lending market.
“It’s going to be a great transaction in that someone will lease this property for 99-years and avoid having to take on the extra up-front capital involved with buying the land,” Meister said. “They’ll just be able to focus on financing the development.”
The Williams Club, near the corner of 39th Street and Madison Avenue, is another deal that Meister is focused on. The building is about 30,000 s/f and had long been used as an event space, dining location and private alumni club for Williams College until the school decided to close the location last year and relocate its members to the Princeton Club. Hired by the school to sell the location, Meister and the Grubb team have two routes, to position the property to appeal to a buyer who will convert it into residential condos or sell it to a tenant affiliated with the United Nations.
Though the UN campus is located on the far East Side, beginning on 42nd Street, the building is rare enough (and also proximate enough) to appeal to foreign government tenants such as a consulate, which prize standalone office locations in the general neighborhood of the UN as locations for their operations. Meister wouldn’t yet specify which buyer would emerge with the property.
“It’s not the biggest sale we’ve done but it has generated a lot of interest,” Meister said. “People know the Williams Club. The transactions where you get to work with interesting assets and buyers are the most exciting.”
Meister comes from a well known real estate family. His father, Stephen Meister is a prominent Manhattan attorney and founding partner at the firm Meister Seelig & Fein, where he has represented clients in a number of lawsuits involving significant real estate assets like 3 Columbus Circle, 510 Madison Avenue and the old New York Times building on 43rd Street. While Stephen has grabbed attention for his court cases and also as a television guest on Fox News, where he prognosticates on the health of the economy and the real estate market, Jason has built success with a more soft spoken approach even as many brokers – like lawyers – build their reputation with bombast.
“A lot of the deals I’ve worked on have been more complex than just plain vanilla transactions,” Meister said. “But the team we have at Grubb is creative and that is what has allowed us to continue to impress sellers. You hear a lot of the clichés coming into the brokerage business about having a broker type personality, but I look at it as a thinking-person’s game.”