BY LINDA O’FLANAGAN
Matt Leon has been promoted to executive managing director in the first of a series of staff announcements expected out of Newmark Knight Frank as it ends the year.
The lawyer-turned broker is forming his own team representing landlords and tenants after 12 years of perfecting his own deal making skills working with a roster of NKF stars.
His agency clients will include TF Cornerstone and its one million square foot office portfolio that includes the Carnegie Hall Tower, a prestigious uptown address that Leon has been credited with keeping full through several market cycles as part of a team led by Billy Cohen.
Leon told REW this week that the buy-over of NKF by financial brokerage BGC earlier this year had been the impetus for his decision to expand his own role within the firm.
“The new platform has created a lot of buzz and renewed energy,” said Leon. “As a former lawyer, I tend to think things through ad nauseam and I have been thinking about this for two or three years. But the company supported my decision and I’m very excited about this next step in my career,” said, Leon, whose name more usually appears trailer-like behind the likes of Cohen, Barry Gosin or David Falk in the real estate press, albeit in relation to many of the city’s highest profile leasing transactions in which he has played pivotal roles.
“The alignment with BGC just adds to the new opportunities, enhanced brand and increased platform my team will be able to utilize to add value and assist our clients.”
In assembling his team, Leon is aiming for a combination of seasoned brokers along with relative newcomers ready to learn his style of doing business.
“My core belief is that a real estate consultant needs to be a professional advisor at all times and on many levels and not just limited to securing office space once a lease cycle.
“I am assembling a team where each member brings a distinct skill set which compliments each other and my transactional real estate legal background to allow for us to enhance and refine our services.”
Leon’s “style” is one that has put him on the Christmas card list of some of the city’s most prominent owners and earned him assignments from a gift register of tenants.
His very first job after transitioning from the NKF legal department in 2001 after a career at such firms as Fried Frank Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, was working under Billy Cohen at TF Cornerstone’s 60-story Carnegie Hall Tower.
The assignment played to his strengths of negotiating with the long-term in mind. “Carnegie Hall Tower is a terrific asset owned by a tremendous company with a strong commitment to its tenants,” said Leon.
Although many of the deals he negotiated there were boutique in size, they were of a level of sophistication that necessitated the kind of strategic thinking upon which Leon thrives and that have enabled him to build up an enviable inventory of clients for whom he has facilitated long-term and often complicated future real estate plans.
One such deal involved the multi-billion dollar investment manager Stone Tower Capital that originally leased just 4,200 s/f in the base of Carnegie Hall Tower. “Over two years, we grew STC to 30,000 s/f in the tower, representing both the ownership and the tenant,” recalled Leon, noting that a combination of ownership dexterousness and the building’s own striking spaces resulted in an ongoing campaign to reconfigure square footage at the building to suit tenant expansion.
“A smart owner always embraces their tenants needs,” he said. “Cornerstone is always communicating with its tenants and they run a great building. My job is to represent it well.”
As a real estate advisor, Leon usually meets with tenants long before it is time to look at space. “I am a people person with an analytical strength to my approach and that’s my value add, that’s how I go about my business. Being loyal, diligent and ethical. I am not one to throw space around and hope that a deal sticks. I need to be involved every step of the way and the client’s best interests are always my priority.”
His agency work includes the one-million-square-foot TF Cornerstone office portfolio in New York and his team will direct the overhaul of 387 Park Avenue South where Cornerstone has retained Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects for a multimillion-dollar large scale renovation of the office building whose tenancy reaches a cumulative expiration in 2014.
“All of the leases expire in 2014 and we could feasibly go to the market with what will be, in essence, a brand new building in excess of 200,000 s/f,” said Leon.
With 20,00 s/f floorplates and a red hot Manhattan South location in the midst of a transportation hub and its own restaurant row, the diplomatic Leon said Cornerstone “certainly won’t be kicking anybody out, but the sky is the limit in terms of what the building will become.”
He’s also busy negotiating several deals at Carnegie Hall Tower, including two long term expansion relocations, and he continues to consult for financial services, legal and entertainment tenants, Fenway Partners, AMV Artists, William Morris Endeavor, RHO Capital and Dick Clark Productions among them.
Recently, he helped Six Flags Entertainment Corp. achieve a 35 percent savings in occupancy costs by disavowing an existing, above-market lease as part of an on-going bankruptcy proceeding, enabling the company to move into a new turn-key, full-floor at 230 Park Avenue.
“I do get a lot of referrals and recommendations which is certainly the best and most rewarding way to gain business,” said Leon.
“I believe you should show up any time there’s an issue and solve it. The tenant should be happy with the way buildings are run and how the maintenance schedule operates – its the attention to detail that goes a long way and I am a big advocate of staying in touch through the good and the bad.
“This is exciting time in my life and one that I have been building towards for several years. I have been energized by the loyalty of my clients who have helped make this happen by believing in me. I won’t forget that.”
Billy Cohen beamed like a proud dad telling REW he was thrilled with his former protege’s success. “Matt has been a stellar associate and it is time for him to spread his wings and fly,” he said.
“We grow our own here at Newmark. It is a testament to our firm’s ability to cultivate our talented professionals. Scott Klau, now a very successful partner, is the first example that comes to mind.
“Having served as leasing agent for Carnegie Hall Tower since 1989, I now stand behind Matt with a wealth of knowledge to assure his continued success.”