By Sarah Trefethen
You don’t need a big law firm to do exciting deals. Just ask David Bleckner, founder of the three-attorney David J. Bleckner, P.C.
From the top of the Empire State Building to a star-studded music venue upstate, the 12-year-old firm is flexible enough to handle whatever clients throw its way.
The firm represents Malkin Holdings in leasing the Empire State Building, including the agreements for radio and television stations that broadcast from the building’s spire.
And recently, the attorneys put on their tenant representation hats and helped entrepreneur Peter Shapiro revive the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., which reopened as a music venue in September with a sold-out concert by Bob Dylan.
“I like to think my experience as a landlord lawyer has made me a better tenant representative,” Bleckner says.
The Capitol Theatre deal came to the firm though Ian Lester, a partner in the firm, who has known Shapiro, the client, since they were children. They first represented Shapiro when he set up Brooklyn Bowl, a 20,000 s/f hybrid bowling alley and music venue that opened in Williamsburg in 2009. The property was previously a warehouse.
Shapiro’s entrepreneurial vision adds a twist to real estate transactions, the lawyers say — sellers at times need to be persuaded that a change of use for the space will be viable.
“Once you get out of Manhattan, there’s a little bit more room for imagination when it comes to negation,” Lester said.
In the case of the Capitol Theater, Lester said, the previous owner had shied away from the historic facility’s history as a venue that has hosted concerts by the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Derek and the Dominos, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, David Bowie, Santana, Black Sabbath, Iggy Pop, and was leasing the space for private events.
“The guy was well off, had an emotional connection to the property. The dollars weren’t even a top-five consideration,” Bleckner said.
Instead, the deal hinged on convincing the seller that Shapiro’s vision for the property would be a successful revival.
“We have to be psychologists as well as attorneys,” Bleckner said.
Bleckner studied law at Fordham University, where he discovered real estate law, graduating in 1986. After assisting a professor with a book project, he was introduced at Wien Malkin & Bettex, where he went on to become a partner in 1995.
In late 1999, he struck out on his own, taking an office in the ESB. He maintained his relationship with the Malkins and took on leasing assignments in the building.
Working with landlords led to relationships with corporate tenants, Bleckner said, and he takes pride in seeing the perspective of all parties in a deal.
As tenants in the Empire State Building had shrunk in number but grown in size, the scrappy firm — which itself occupies just 2,000 s/f on the 28th floor — had handled larger and larger leases, such as fragrance manufacturer Coty’s recent expansion to 300,000 s/f.
The company is planning to hire another attorney, Bleckner said, but still thinks clients value the hands-on attention and personal service they get from a small firm.
Bleckner lives on the Upper West Side with his wife. They have three children, two sons in college and a daughter who studies at Laguardia Arts high school.
Both of the partners value family, Lester said, and strive to leave the office at the end of the workday, sometimes working from home in the evening if necessary.
“We’re always working — we’re blessed to be very busy — but it’s nevertheless a friendly atmosphere,” Bleckner said. “We enjoy eating, so lunch is always fun.”