Mr. Zuckerman: Sit down, I’m reading about one of my favorite topics: the Middle East. I get all the articles—all the major political articles from all the Israeli newspapers. I’ve been reading it for 30 years; it’s really fantastic. Some people would sort of say that you don’t find out what’s happening in the United States by reading The Washington Post or The New York Times—certainly The New York Times. These are all the major papers and you really get all the different views on a major topic.
Location: Do you do that with the American press?
I don’t. I do read The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and, most critically, the Daily News. I read Time and Newsweek, and, of course, The Observer; and The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune and Vanity Fair.
What did you think of your New Yorker profile?
I think, as most profiles go, two-thirds was accurate. There were so many inaccuracies, including the date of my divorce from my wife, which drove her crazy because she tried to correct it and I tried to correct it twice. It was a little embarrassing to her because it indicated she was divorced after she was remarried. That was symptomatic to a lot of issues. I thought there were a lot of good things in it, but it was written like an arithmetic program: It’s one plus two plus three plus four plus five plus six plus nine plus seven minus two. What it failed to capture in my judgment was my real passion for the work that I do.
You are building a new tower on Eighth Avenue next to the Hearst Tower. How tall is it supposed to be?
Who’s the architect?
It’s KPF. We are trying to use the Lever House as a template—in modern terms and contemporary terms. You’ll have that same kind of simple elegance to the lines of the building. It’s a clean kind of clarity to the design. It’s not an overwhelming design, yet it really works and has endured. That’s what we’re trying to do.
What sort of statement is Mort Zuckerman and Boston Properties making with this new skyscraper?
We try to put up buildings that will combine two things: a sense of aesthetic [so] that [you] look at a building and say, ‘That’s a first-rate building.’ That’s a design issue as well as a construction issue, and we’ve merged the two. And, secondly, from the point of view of the occupant, you want to give a sense of how well it functions.
If you look at the lobby of this building [599 Lexington Avenue, a Boston Properties’ building], you’ll see a certain monumentality to it and you’ll see a wonderful relief painting that we commissioned from Frank Stella, who is a very good friend of mine. One time, we came out of the elevator bank into the lobby, and I said, ‘Frank, what do you think? How does it look?’ And he said, ‘Mort, you hung it upside down.’
Do you have an anchor tenant yet for the new tower?
I think I am not permitted to make what is called selective disclosure, but you would not be wrong if you hypothesized that we do. We’re definitely going ahead with the building.
What kind of tenant do you want in the building?
The building is uniquely designed for office users, mostly for lawyers. It’s perfect for lawyers.
Any law firms in mind?
Anyone who can pay the highest rents.
What kind of rents are you charging?
High. I can’t say what I’m—we’ll charge what we think is fair.
Above $150 a foot?
It will certainly have to be fair for both sides.
Douglas Durst is asking for $185 per foot for a floor at the new Bank of America Tower building.
Yes. Well, this is at the top of the building; and it’s a very good building and he may get close to $185.
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.