In his latest effort to revive New York’s sagging economy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is traveling to London in mid-March to entice British and foreign companies to set up new operations in the city, The Observer has learned.
Mr. Bloomberg, who owns a $10 million townhouse and an office building full of Bloomberg L.P. employees in London, is sparing no expense in this effort to attract British capital to the city. He will dispatch his deputy mayor for economic development, Dan Doctoroff, to give a huge presentation before his arrival. To cap the trip, Mr. Bloomberg will host a dinner at the townhouse, a red brick Victorian affair on London’s high-toned Cadogan Square, where he will entertain an exclusive group of executives who, he hopes, will consider setting up operations in New York, sources familiar with the Mayor’s plans say.
The lavish townhouse is decorated with art by Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, and boasts marble pillars and a sweeping central staircase. Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t been there for at least two years, and in the interim it has more or less sat empty, presided over by a solitary housekeeper and a portrait of George Washington.
On March 19, sources say, Mr. Doctoroff will host a big reception at a London hotel, where he’ll make an extravagant pitch for New York to dozens of London-based executives. The next day, Mr. Bloomberg will arrive for another round of presentations with Mr. Doctoroff, the sources said. The dinner party at the Mayor’s townhouse is scheduled for that evening.
Mr. Bloomberg has made it a hallmark of his Mayoralty to put his connections and personal assets at the disposal of the city. He has ferried City Council members in his private jet, staged secret budget talks in his Bermuda mansion, and dipped into his extensive fund-raising Rolodex to help plug the city’s gaping deficits.
But the Mayor’s planned London trip is remarkable, even unprecedented. It’s the first time he has pressed his London townhouse into service to benefit the city. It also seems to be the first time this Mayor-or any Mayor in recent memory, for that matter-has so extensively tapped into an international network of contacts to lure business to New York. While previous Mayors went abroad in search of international investment in the city, they tended to rely on an entourage of New York business leaders to give them credibility with the international community. Mr. Bloomberg, by contrast, already has dealt with many of the executives he’s wooing in the course of building Bloomberg L.P., his global media company.
“Unlike Ed Koch and David Dinkins, Bloomberg doesn’t need to lead a parade of New York business leaders,” said Kathryn Wylde, the president of New York City Partnership, a group of business leaders which supports the Mayor’s efforts. “He alone has the relationships and the international credibility. He’s the whole show.”
Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts to entice London companies would seem to have the makings of a transatlantic border war similar to the battle for companies that has raged between New York and New Jersey for decades. But London leaders hardly seem worried that Mr. Bloomberg will poach jobs from their city.
“We don’t see London and New York as competitors,” said Dame Judith Mayhew, the financial and business adviser to Mayor Ken Livingston of London. “They complement each other in many markets.”
According to sources, the Bloomberg administration has quietly drawn up a list of British and foreign companies that, officials believe, may be persuaded to create a presence in New York or to expand already existing operations here. The administration has mainly targeted industries with a presence in both cities-financial-services companies, big publishing houses and, perhaps most important, pharmaceutical companies.
The guest lists for the reception by Mr. Doctoroff, as well as the more exclusive dinner at Mr. Bloomberg’s townhouse, is made up of executives from these industries. Among the invited companies are the publishers Oxford University Press and Reed Elsevier, as well as HFCC, the international banking giant, and Glaxo Smith Klein, the pharmaceutical company.
Ed Skyler, a spokesman for the Mayor, declined to comment for this story.
Mr. Bloomberg’s trip to London also fits into a broader agenda: his promise to market the city around the country and abroad. The Mayor vowed in his State of the City address in January to hire a chief marketing officer whose central task will be to do just that. Mr. Bloomberg’s aggressive selling of the city has produced several recent successes-notably the decision by the national Republican Party to stage its 2004 convention in New York, as well as the announcement that the city is a finalist to host the 2012 Olympics.
But the Mayor faces a tough challenge in his quest to market New York in London and elsewhere. No matter how compelling the sales pitch, Mr. Bloomberg will have to overcome the fact that the city is an expensive place to do business. New York is facing huge budget gaps in coming years, making hikes in personal income taxes and other fees more and more likely, and the costs of hotels and other amenities are far higher than in other localities. But Mr. Bloomberg remains optimistic: In a recent speech to business leaders, the Mayor observed that while New York may indeed be pricey, the city was well worth it.
“Bloomberg is right to acknowledge that in many ways, New York is worth what you pay for,” said City Council member Eric Gioia of Queens. “Unfortunately, some bottom-line-obsessed corporations may not agree. If he is able to convince people to not only look at the cost, but at the quality of the product they are getting when they do business here, he will have proven that he’s a great salesman, and he will have done a great service to the city.”
Mr. Bloomberg is hoping that his familiarity with members of the London elite will enable him to make that case. Before running for Mayor, Mr. Bloomberg was well known to London’s business leaders. The London office of his media company, in Sinsbury Square, houses around 1,100 employees. He has been a regular contributor to London arts and cultural institutions.
Londoners curious about Mr. Bloomberg’s life in their midst, however, have been frustrated by the Mayor’s customary desire for privacy: His London address has never been published, and no photograph of his townhouse has ever been printed in the press.
Still, some details have managed to leak out. One visitor has been quoted describing Mr. Bloomberg’s townhouse as “an entertainment palace complete with marble pilasters.” The townhouse’s interior was fitted by Jamie Drake, the internationally known interior designer who stocked Mr. Bloomberg’s East 79th Street mansion with velvet-covered chairs, French carpets and other trappings of the Gilded Age.
Details of his social habits have also made the rounds. According to the Sunday Telegraph , when entertaining in London, Mr. Bloomberg has been known to ferry friends and patrons by helicopter to the renowned Ascot race course and then follow up by sending them a custom photo album, filled with pictures of his guests sipping champagne in his private box.
“He’s a guy with global connections and a global reach,” added Alair Townsend, the publisher of Crain’s New York Business and a deputy mayor in the Koch administration. “He can go over there and meet the cream of the crop-and many of them have been customers of his company.”