was sometime last March when Alan Miller got a phone call from architect Gene Kaufman, who had been hired by a French investment group to design what would be its first U.S. acquisition.
Intent on locating available land in the East Village or on the Lower East Side, the architect’s search had reached a dead end when he finally rang Mr. Miller, a broker known in certain circles for his photographic memory of Manhattan. “I don’t need to go to a database,” said Mr. Miller, who has brokered land and air rights deals as well as note sales for Eastern Consolidated since 1999. “I’m like, ‘Gene, there isn’t anything in the East Village or on the Lower East Side.’ And that’s one of the reasons why a lot of people come to me: because I have an encyclopedic knowledge of this.”
Still on the phone with the architect, Mr. Miller reflexively scrolled back to a vacant Salvation Army building on the Bowery that had been put up for sale in 2007, before being dragged off the market when the economy tanked.
To the hoteliers, the Bowery—with its recent revitalization and hip spots like the New Museum and the chic Bowery Hotel—had every bit as much cachet as the East Village and Lower East Side. And so, in December, Mr. Miller inked a deal on behalf of Louzon, the French investment group that prevailed over other developers to buy land at 347 Bowery, across from the Bowery Hotel.
“And these are the type of people that Eastern tends to uncover—these first-time buyers,” Mr. Miller, 48, said. “And, with me, I can uncover these spaces that a lot of people don’t know about.”
With a slew of land, air and hotel deals last year and about 20 note sales over the same period, the senior director has a knack for turning up every rock—and eventually finding gold underneath—that has earned him a devoted following among developers, both new and old. Indeed, with transactions including a 591-room hotel development site that has since become a Radisson in Herald Square, a 220-room property that was transformed into the luxury Ameritania Hotel on Broadway and the sale of a site in Times Square that has been turned into the luxury hotel the Muse, Mr. Miller’s hotel connections run deep.
Nowhere is his bond with hoteliers more apparent, in fact, than with the enigmatic Sam Chang, chief executive of the McSam Hotel Group. Known for being particularly allusive-both with the press and his colleagues in the real estate world-Mr. Chang works with Mr. Miller regularly on development deals. They speak so often, in fact, that Mr. Miller’s peers sometimes wonder if he has a direct pipeline to Mr. Chang. “Sam is very hard to get ahold of,” said Mr. Miller, who estimated that he has done 20 land, sales and financing transactions with Mr. Chang. “First of all, he has a BlackBerry-and I know he checks it-but he has never once responded to an email. He wasn’t in the press until three or four years ago. But he’s hard to get on the phone.”
THE ONE epiphany that persuaded Mr. Miller to head into a commercial real estate career occurred during a Knicks game. And, no, the Long Island native doesn’t remember who won.
Only 22 and a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in economics, Mr. Miller had just accepted an entry-level position at Lehman Brothers, where, for a mere six weeks, he made cold calls. His next job was at Chase Manhattan, where, for six months, he wondered what, exactly, he was doing with his career. Money, of course, was an issue, and as Mr. Miller and a group of college pals watched the Knicks game, a friend who had just begun working as an agent at the brokerage Lee O’Dell Real Estate ran toward the group with a check in hand.
“I remember in the second quarter of the game, this 19-year-old kid came up,” Mr. Miller said. “He had been sitting in the rafters, and he came up waving this $29,000 check. He had just come from a real estate closing.”
Within days, Mr. Miller had joined his friend at Lee O’Dell, where for the next 10 years the agent learned the ropes. In hindsight, he said, his first three days at the firm were, perhaps, the most illuminating of his career. From there, he landed with Stonehenge Partners, where he worked alongside Ofer Yardeni, whom he still considers a close confidant. It was shortly after Mr. Yardeni became a principal at the firm in 1994 that Mr. Miller was tapped by Stonehenge to run the company’s brokerage division. That he lives in a building in Times Square owned by Stonehenge only makes their long business ties and friendship stronger, said Mr. Miller. “I represented him just recently,” Mr. Miller said of Mr. Yardeni last week, referring to the $37.96 million sale of a mixed-use building at 401 West 56th Street.
Now married with a 12-week-old daughter and a 3-year-old son, Mr. Miller said that his growing family has given him a new lease on life that has kept him upbeat even in a recession. Luckily, he said, the economy is seeing a rather brisk uptick. “We’ve just never seen the fervor or incredible run-up; but if we’re talking about Manhattan, it started picking up in the beginning of the first quarter of 2010,” Mr. Miller said. “But, in the last 150 days, there’s been a land ramp-up that I haven’t seen since 1985—and, honestly, I don’t even understand it.”