The (New) Wizard of Menlo Park

As The Architect’s Newspaper explained in a review of Centra—which routinely causes passersby to pull off the highway and gawk—the project snagged bold-faced architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox because recessionary slumps in other markets left it twiddling its thumbs. KPF took a suburban New Jersey office development and made it into an attraction, and one that Mr. Simson is effortlessly leasing.

“This is not a rendering,” he has to keep telling people, The Commercial Observer included, when he shows pictures of Centra. The LEED gold-certified building rented 20,000 feet in the past two weeks, to NetApps, a software developer, and 1800 DOCTORS.

Both developments rent at $35 per square foot plus electricity.

The flight to quality is not slowing either, said Mr. Simson, citing Pearson Education’s recent deal for a fancy new home in Hoboken, and a move by McKinsey, the consulting giant, to 65,000 square feet of fresh space in Summit.

“The firms that have the vision are going into a flight to quality building,” said Mr. Simson, “which is causing some issues, by the way, for the older B buildings.”

If Class B buildings don’t have the capital to upgrade they are sometimes being converted to residential or, in some cases, to schools. One older office building was recently converted to a dormitory for Seton Hall students, said Mr. Simson.

Mr. Simson’s own history in real estate is somewhat akin to the market—he always put enough capital forward to upgrade.
Born on Long Island, Mr. Simson attended the University of Maryland and joined the real estate game immediately after. He has worked only in industrial and office leasing in northern New Jersey, where he began at the boutique firm Baker Marin in 1980.

He launched two brokerages (Garner Simson and GVA Williams, both of which he sold to larger companies) before joining Newmark three years ago. His happiness stems from an excellent relationship with Newmark chief executive Barry Gosin, he insisted.

“I respected and admired Barry throughout his career, and since being here I respect him exponentially more,” said Mr. Simson.

And while Mr. Simson is proud of the stature his office has reached, he is not content to rest on his laurels. In 2012, he wants to work on improving Newmark’s retail, industrial and investment sales divisions while also perfecting its project management business.

“More and more buildings come to us for repositioning,” said Mr. Simson. “Some are through owners and some are through lenders who have foreclosed. We have to have a deeper bench of individuals to service those buildings.”
But it’s no small feat joining the Newmark bench. The company, he said, is careful about hiring, and Mr. Simson in particular is wary of a generation of young adults who would just as soon text clients as shake their hands.

“We bring in one or two [new brokers] a year—and that’s a lot,” said Mr. Simson. “I love to have people with MBAs and financial backgrounds.”

Despite his firm exterior, Mr. Simson’s softer side occasionally springs out, such as when, during an interview last week, he took out his iPhone only to reveal a hot-pink encasing. “My daughter bought it for me for my birthday,” he said.
—gvoien@observer.com