Building alliances with the city’s labor unions and keeping New York competitive on the global stage will be important jobs for the Real Estate Board of New York in coming years, according to Robert Speyer, the organization’s newly installed chairman.
Speyer, president and co-CEO of Tishman Speyer, gave his first public talk as REBNY chairman last Tuesday (Feb. 5) at a luncheon meeting of the Association of Real Estate Women (AREW).
Taking up the baton of his predecessor, Mary Ann Tighe of CBRE, Speyer said he believes the proposed rezoning of Midtown East — a change to city building restrictions intended to encourage new office construction around Grand Central Station — is an important initiative that REBNY should strive to see completed before Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office at the end of this year.
And that means working with other groups to make lawmakers and the public see the benefits of the plan, Speyer said.
“The most important thing we’re doing is not just making this a real estate lobby, we’re making it a coalition of groups,” he said.
“Five unions have signed up to support us. So it’s a coalition; it’s not just a bunch of real estate people.
“It’s critical, because we’re not a sympathetic audience by ourselves, but where we can show we’re part of a bigger picture, where we’ll raise all ships, we present a much stronger face.”
REBNY and 32 BJ, the property service workers’ union, are also co-hosting a series of forums with each of the mayoral candidates, Speyer said. In general, according to the youngest-ever chairman in REBNY history, it is important not to allow the inherently contentious nature of contract negotiations stop the real estate industry and the unions it interacts with from recognizing their common interests and presenting a common front on issues such as economic development, job creation and immigration reform.
“We’re going to send a loud message: You can’t drive a wedge between business and labor,” he said.
Tishman Speyer is a global real estate company, with 19 regional offices and over 100 property and project offices in 48 markets around world.
A common platform and universal standard for quality, service and sustainability have allowed the company to succeed from India to Brazil, Speyer said. But that experience also causes him to sound a note of warning for the real estate industry here at home.
“New York City is still the greatest real estate market in the world,” Speyer said. “But in order for us to keep that competitive edge, we have a lot of work to do, because the amount of investment governments are making in cities like Shanghai, Rio and Singapore is exponentially more than we’re investing in our city. And to maintain our competitive edge for the 21st century, we need to keep a close eye on what some of these other cities are doing.”