At a March real-estate luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria, members from the investment firm Broadway Partners didn’t really fit in.
For starters, they looked young for an industry that isn’t exactly youthful. When you spoke with them, you found they had résumés teeming with Ivy League degrees, plus jags in law and business schools, the sorts of mega-privileged pedigrees that aren’t common in the real-estate industry. And the Broadway members at the lunch, split among men and women, were also pretty attractive.
In other words, Broadway Partners looks nothing like the Manhattan commercial real-estate world.
And yet: Here they are, totally dominating the stage. In the eight years since it started, Broadway Partners has turned from a small regional landlord to one of the most relentless buyers in the city.
In the last three months alone, the company has signed contracts for about $7 billion worth of office towers nationally, which includes a staggering four million square feet of Manhattan real estate. When these deals close, Broadway’s city portfolio will have more than six million square feet, all acquired in less than a year.
Their recent Manhattan purchases have all been for prized, Park Avenue-quality buildings.
“You know what a Broadway deal is,” said Darcy Stacom, the power broker at CB Richard Ellis. “They’re looking for excellent location and excellent real estate.”
Their latest coup includes the 1.2-million-square-foot tower at 280 Park Avenue, which they nabbed from Istithmar, the aggressive real-estate player from Dubai. Broadway Partners put up a little more than $1.2 billion in an off-market and invite-only bidding process, edging out other, more established invitees like Steve Roth’s Vornado Realty Trust.
With that buy alone, the company put itself into an elite field.
Then again, Broadway has made a habit of making gaudy buys. Just weeks earlier, Broadway struck a deal with Beacon Capital Partners for a portfolio buy of about $5 billion, which included the 1.1-million- square-foot 237 Park Avenue and the 458,000-foot 100 Wall Street. When the deal closes, it will be one of the biggest real-estate deals of 2007, even bigger than Broadway’s $3-billion-plus deal last year involving another portfolio from Beacon.
It wasn’t always this way for Broadway. In fact, the company’s devoted pursuit of prime real estate is a total departure from what was a relatively quiet first few years of existence.
The company was started in 1999 by 42-year-old Scott Lawlor, the gray-haired and fresh-faced C.E.O. who attended the Columbia School of Architecture and worked for the Fortress Investment Group, a real-estate investment firm, before he created Broadway.
He didn’t make his first Manhattan buy until last May, when he bought 660 Madison for $216 million. This was shortly after Mr. Lawlor decided to move the company’s headquarters from the sleepy Connecticut suburbs to the Seagram Building, the ultimate symbol of Manhattan power-office space. (He was also reticent about this story and ultimately declined to comment.)
The people he has hired to propel his company to the status of an elite firm have been pooled from a variety of fields instrumental in real estate: politics, finance and law.
“I think they epitomize the new type of ownership in the city,” said Peter Riguardi, the New York president at Jones Lang LaSalle. “They’re very smart, they’re extremely professional, very entrepreneurial, and they do things in a corporate way. And they are broker-friendly.”
Mr. Lawlor poached Charles Millard, a onetime City Councilman and the former head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, from Lehman Brothers to become managing director of Broadway. The company’s chief investment officer is John Rivard, a real-estate guru who has been around for more than two decades, working last at O’Connor Capital Partners; the chief operating officer is Jonathon Yormak, a one-time star lawyer at Fried Frank; the 28-year-old director of acquisitions, David Peretz, is a Penn business grad.
It has been these men, along with a staff of about 30 others, who have created the turbocharged pace that Broadway has set for the beginning of 2007.
“They see an angle that some don’t see right now,” said Dan Fasulo, the director of market analysis for the research firm Real Capital Analytics. “And they have the money to back up their convictions.”
And where exactly is that money coming from? The company gets its financial backing from more than 150 individual investors and 12 institutional investors, according to CNBC. In essence, Broadway will target a building, call up its investors and get the money to pounce.
But it’s also this contribution of outside capital—and the ceaseless demands from investors—that leads many to believe that the company will not be a longtime landlord in the city. Whatever prizes it buys, it will sooner or later flip—or so the argument goes. Indeed, Mr. Millard said in a January interview on CNBC that Broadway buys so that it can ultimately sell.
“We’ll take a building that’s maybe 75 percent occupied, and we’ll have a plan and strategy for how to get it 90 percent occupied,” he said. “At that point, we’ll sell it to people who want 90-percent-occupied buildings.”
Mr. Millard said that Broadway will hold onto a building for anywhere from three to 10 years. That’s not exactly the timeline for the long-term owner. But being a long-term owner isn’t really a part of Broadway’s strategy.
“I admire their optimism,” said Douglas Durst, the longtime developer. “The market goes up and the market goes down, so it’s great that they’re optimistic about this cycle.”
But that’s also sort of the catch to the whole Broadway thing. What happens if the firm’s too optimistic?
Cautionary tales lurk all over the industry. For every success, there’s a story like Adam Hochfelder, the overeager buyer in Manhattan real estate who bought aggressively at the beginning of the decade, only to lose it all. And then there’s David and Jean Solomon, who developed large office towers in the 1980’s but couldn’t find any tenants to fill them when the early-1990’s recession hit.
Of course, finding capital and finding tenants isn’t hard in this Manhattan market; vacancy rates are tickling all-time lows, and the local economy remains very strong. And at least for the last 12 months, Broadway Partners has wagered that this is exactly the right time to buy big.
“Lawlor decided that he was going to buy in bulk and buy good-quality real estate, and he bet the market would improve,” said Charles Bendit, the co-owner of Taconic Investment Partners, another investment fund. “And so far, it’s a good bet.”