By Sarah Trefethen
City policy is often more complicated than it seems.
Take bike lanes. New York City’s cycling corridors might not seem like a subject the chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York would spend much time pondering, but to Mary Ann Tighe they’re a fascinating example of how seemingly unrelated elements of city life tie into real estate.
“Many new laws touch upon the real estate life of the city, and we need to explain to people” the implications of their ideas, Tighe said.
The CEO of CBRE’s New York Tri-State Region’s two-year term at the helm of the Real Estate Board of New York is coming to a close, but she makes a strong case for the importance of the organization’s advice and guidance in shaping the city’s future.
“People talk about Wall Street as the hometown industry of New York,” she said. “And actually, I say real estate is our hometown industry. … An ongoing challenge of the real estate board is educating our public parties with the risk and challenges of practicing real estate in New York City.”
In the case of bike lanes, which the city created in order to encourage residents to bike to work, their effectiveness is limited by a shortage of bicycle parking in Manhattan – a challenge that has yet to be solved to Tighe’s satisfaction.
“Often times these are very good thoughts, but other things need to be adjusted to make them a reality,” she said.
There have been other challenges, however, that she looks back on with pride, starting from early in her term.
When the Obama administration announced its plans to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in lower Manhattan, REBNY was at the forefront of the successful opposition to the plan.
“We forget about it now because it didn’t happen, but think of the consequences if that had happened there,” Tighe said.
Opposing the plan brought together residential and commercial real estate professionals as well as the wider business community, she said, and that alliance has translated to ongoing good communication between the parties.
On a more proactive note, Tighe also points to REBNY’s advocacy for the rezoning of midtown east, which is currently under consideration in city government.
Incoming chairman Rob Speyer will be faced with the ongoing responsibility of advocating with the city for ease of new development, she said, making the case that the new buildings translate to more city revenue.
The real estate industry is also directly affected by the city’s growing population.
“I think there’s going to be tremendous focus on affordable housing,” Tighe said. “This is an area that is far from finished. We haven’t done what we need to do to ensure that the supply of rental housing at various price points exist throughout the city.”
Tighe is the first female chairman in the organization’s history and the first broker to hold the position since the 1980’s.
“I heard over and over again, from veteran real estate women or people starting out their career in real estate, how empowering it was to them to have women take on the chairmanship,” she said.
Brokers have also appreciated seeing one of their own at the helm, she said.
“We have almost 9,000 broker members,” she said. “It was a validation of their importance in the cosmos of New York real estate.”
Tighe is also proud to be leaving the organization larger than when she started. Membership has grown from just under 12,000 to 13,000 during her tenure, she said.
“I think there may have been an embrace of the organization from people who saw it’s not just a club of male owners,” she said.