REBNY Gala: Listen Fast, Mingle Like You Mean It

 REBNY Gala: Listen Fast, Mingle Like You Mean It

Even Almighty God got the back of the hand.

On Thursday evening, the Real Estate Board of New York‘s annual awards gala assembled in a few thousand square feet of the Hilton in Midtown more money than anywhere else that night in the United States. But the crowd greeted the main event with the type of audience indifference usually reserved for the Golden Globes or a high school musical.

In theory, the night was an 111-year-old, black-tie excuse for the largest real estate trade group in the metro region to honor its own through a series of awards. And lots and lots of drinking.

Problem was, no one cared to listen, preferring instead to elevate mingling to an Olympic sport on amphetamines.

Steven Spinola, president of REBNY, gamely proferred introductions for the evening from a three-level dias crammed with luminaries–World Trade Center site leaseholder Larry Silverstein, SL Green head Stephen Green, Gotham Organization stalwart Joel Pickett, Related Companies CEO (and new REBNY Chairman) Steve Ross, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, City Council members James Oddo, Melinda Katz, Leroy Comrie, City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer, office landlord Bill Rudin.

The abrupt belting of “God Bless America” did bring an awkward silence of forced respect as New York’s propertied class rose to its drunken feet. But a decidedly–and deliberately–nondenominational prayer by Mr. Spinola failed to command even a slightly equal silence.

The mingling murmured onward unabated as the dinner got served: steak, fish if you wanted it, mixed vegetables, baked red potatoes, red and white wine, and Coors and Bud beers in bottles. (At a smaller reception before, minglers could snatch Amstel Light and Heineken, among every typical liquor mixture.)

There on the dias was Mary Anne Tighe, chairwoman of CB Richard Ellis, one of the largest commercial brokerages, trying to hand out one of REBNY’s six awards of the Thursday evening. “Hello? Hello?!” she cried out, but no one listened.

Mr. Spinola returned quickly to the podium and announced the next guest speaker betwixt sharp “Shhhs!”

Eventually, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn appeared on the dias and spoke into the microphone: “Something-something-something. Thank you for making New York City as great as it is.” (Mayor Bloomberg had stopped in toward the evening’s slightly more sober start, and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, the Robert Moses of his age–only better liked–made the dutiful rounds at the earlier reception.)

The first booze-soaked after-party was hosted by investment-sales firm Massey Knakal, with reggae band Toots and the Maytals setting the tone to everyone’s slightly jagged sway. (Newmark Knight Frank’s Jimmy Kuhn’s band did not play this year. Bummer.) If you stayed any later, you watched hundreds of glass-eyed brokers stumbling to the hotel’s elevators or picking the wrong coat check over and over again.

Indeed, millions of dollars of deals were probably made last night, all of which were forgotten the second the attendees’ heads hit their pillows in the wee small hours.

Mostly, REBNY’s annual gala stood, again, a testament to what drives the deal-making that drives the New York City real estate market: connections. Making them. Rekindling them. Keeping them.

Mr. Spinola, sensing early on from the dias the lost cause of truly reaching the dozens of brimming white-clothed tables before him, noted the performance of every element of the city’s property market in the year that just passed.

“It’s a clear sign that 2007,” he said, “for the industry, and for New York City, truly looks great.”

- Tom Acitelli & John Koblin