Mort Zuckerman, the ‘Happy’ (Very) Landlord

When the Zeckendorfs put a skyscraper at 825 Eighth Avenue 20 years ago, people thought they were crazy for building so far west. Is it sort of incredible how it’s transformed?

I was involved for 10 years trying to get the Time Warner site. I had no doubt that that would happen. If you have some sense, you could just see where it was going.

What buildings recently put up in the city do you admire? You look at it and think, ‘I wish I had built that building.’

I think what The New York Times built on 42nd street is a good building, good architecture. I do think that the Bear Stearns building is a good building—not as good as I would have liked it, but still good. I do think that MoMA is a wonderful building.

You know, in the last quarter, rent growth slowed a little bit—

See, that’s a very dangerous statement. It reminds me of the many people who drowned while walking across water where the average depth is four feet. Rent growth may or may not have slowed, but the rent growth is different for the top of the market than it is for other market buildings.

All our buildings are [Class] A buildings or double A or triple A. We don’t do anything else. We have found that we do better in good markets and much better in bad markets because people want to be in those buildings just as people want to be in good apartments. We find that there is still very little inventory and a lot of demand.

Over the last six months several developers and owners purposefully avoided the storm of the market—they weren’t active compared to someone like Broadway Partners, which bought six million square feet in a year. Now everyone who was active is having trouble financing buildings. You didn’t buy anything—did you see this happening?

We were very proactive coming at it from a completely different direction—we were sellers in the market, not buyers. We sold two buildings in New York—5 Times Square and 280 Park Avenue. We were sellers, and we are extremely happy that we were sellers, to get the prices, to get what we got. Today, we couldn’t get those prices. I sold into the market, not bought into that market. In retrospect, I feel very good about that.

Why did you decide to sell two billion-dollar buildings?

We actually got $2.5 billion. I would have even sold them even if we weren’t developing, because we felt the market was at a level where we were happy to be sellers. I didn’t say we would get the highest price, but it so happens we got very close to the highest price. We didn’t go in expecting that. We went in expecting we would get a price that would make us very, very, very, very, very, very, very happy—very, very happy. I hope the next guy makes money, too.

So you’re saying you’re happy?

Very happy. I love the business, I love the creation of the buildings and all the agonies you go through. I watch people go in and out of these buildings, and they don’t have any idea of what the complications were to put them up. They take it for granted—it’s just part of the urban landscape. But I think of it as part of an urban design that changed that whole part of the city. I just love it. I love it.

Mort Zuckerman, the ‘Happy’ (Very) Landlord