In September, retail brokerage veteran Patrick Breslin joined Studley as executive vice president of East Coast Retail Services, a division that, until now, the international real estate firm never had reason to focus on. The former president of Grubb & Ellis’s U.S. retail division and a retail broker at CBRE, Mr. Breslin, 50, spoke about his strategy at the International Council of Shopping Centers this week, his goals for Studley’s new East Coast Retail division and father Jimmy Breslin’s views on commercial real estate.
The Commercial Observer: What’s your strategy going into the International Council of Shopping Centers conference this week?
Mr. Breslin: I’m going to be checking out, and going after with vengeance, all of my competitors’ customers. It’s a little facetious, but I’m going to go, and the first three or four hours on Monday gives me a pretty good idea of the pulse and whether it’s an upbeat or it’s a status quo, a par line, or if it’s downbeat.
Since 2008 the mood at ICSC has gotten increasingly positive yet never exuberant.
No, and I honestly think that the positiveness—you have to stay positive where all the tell-tale signs are not positive. You also try to keep upbeat. You try to keep the landlords upbeat. You try to keep the tenants upbeat. Tenant numbers and sales numbers are—you know, numbers are numbers. They’re meant not to lie.
Will there be a larger focus on foreign retailers this year?
Normally around here, we never paid attention to what was going on on the other side of the oceans around the world because it never affected us much. But all of a sudden the global economy versus local economy is beginning to factor in at a significant pace and a significant amount, as well.
You came to Studley this September as executive vice president of retail, and until now Studley hadn’t focused on the retail sector. That must be daunting.
Yeah. It is daunting, but the one thing I’ll say here that—in all the other places I’ve worked, in all the time that I’ve worked added up, referrals from investment sales brokers and capital markets brokers and office brokers, I’ve had more opportunities to talk with global retail players referred from in-house from different areas of the real estate business, but I’ve had more referrals and meetings with retailers in the last 90 days than I could probably add up in the previous 25 years.
What do you attribute that to?
I attribute it to the type of clients that we represent on the office space side, and, specifically, in the retail side we’ve represented some pretty large retailers. We just completed representing—it’s public information now—the office brokers in here just represented J. Crew in the renewal of their corporate headquarters in Vornado’s building down on Aster Place and Broadway. This was done in the last 90 days or so, 120 days.
Over the next six to 12 months, what goals have you set for the retail division?
I’d like to add on some new tenants. We’re in the process of doing a lot of pitches—pitches locally, pitches regionally, pitches nationally and pitches globally.
I went to Europe two weeks ago and spent some time with some of our counterparts in Paris and in Italy and managed to meet some of the significant luxury brand people in Europe and some of the middle of the road brands, as well. It’s well received. Our partners in Europe are very well versed and really good at what they do. They represent retailers on that side of the ocean like here.
So at least one of the goals is to actually find a European retailer and bring them over?
Yeah. We’re looking, and I’ll tell you we’re looking at South American retailers, Central American retailers, European, etc. We’re dealing with companies from Asia who are high-end pastry and coffee shops and tea shops from Asia.
Is it a point of pride for a retail broker to be the first to bring someone into this market?
Mr. Breslin: Yeah, it’s kind of a little feather in the cap type of thing. A landlord will give it extra attention. The landlords here are quite different than a lot of landlords. Even mom and pop landlords here are getting quite sophisticated about who the tenant is.
How does Studley differ from Grubb & Ellis or CBRE, two firms at which you’ve worked?
Here it’s literally baking a cake from scratch with all the ingredients. You put all the ingredients in and you come out with the type of cake you want. All of the people here at Studley are behind it 100 percent. I’ve had numerous discussions with them about what they can do to make it better. They say we really want to become a first-rate division of this company because we’re very successful in all our other divisions. We just want this to morph and come into the fold and be successful. So with the upper management and the senior management here, and the owners of the company behind it, it’s an exciting thing. Also, it’s a private company. Private versus public, to me these days, is a godsend.
The Commercial Observer: After 9/11, when CNN lost its antennas at World Trade Center, you got it a new lease at 1 Chase Plaza in 72 hours. How do you do a deal—any deal— in 72 hours?
Mr. Breslin: There was a guy I know who is specifically an antenna and cell tower consultant. I’ve know him a very, very long time. The way it happened is I ran into him on the street. We were talking. ‘Hey, what are you up to these days?’ He says I’m representing some companies that lost broadcast antennas in the World Trade Center. I don’t know if, in his package, CNN was the only one that piggy-backed onto that tower, but CNN was the player.
Those CNN antennas eventually ended up at 1 Chase Plaza.
How did that happen?
I was representing Chase Bank in retail with some other folks. I had a very, very good relationship with a really senior guy at Chase Bank. The reason why Chase played into it so precisely and quickly was they had the tallest building in downtown Manhattan after the World Trade Centers came down. So it was pretty natural. In the meantime, I had a friend who was pretty instrumental in steering most of the red tape through the city and through Chase because big corporations have a lot of red tape. But he understood what it was for and what the need was. We put together the deal in a matter of days. There were all kinds of security issues with Chase. They never wanted anybody on their property.
As a retail broker, you must be on the lookout for the next new neighborhood.
What are you seeing in terms of the new, exciting, vibrant neighborhood for retail in Manhattan?
The Upper East Side—86th Street between Second and Lexington avenues—has evolved upward very quickly with those two developments that went on on 86th, the one on the corner of Third and the one on the corner of Lex, where H & M is and those guys. You just got a Shake Shack in there and La Fontaine, the French soap and perfume company, just opened a store up there.
Wait a second—in other words, the new hip neighborhood is the Upper East Side?
It’s sad to say or scary to say, but if you go up and stand outside the Shake Shack on a Saturday or Sunday around 12:00, the line is astronomical. It’s unbelievable.
Your father, [columnist, novelist and author] Jimmy Breslin, is famously opinionated. Does he have any insight into the commercial real estate market in the city? Does he ever talk about it?
He jokes around. I remember once he said something to me. It was like one of the presidents’ birthdays—like Washington’s or Lincoln’s or something like that. I was married at the time and he called on that Monday and everything is closed. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m working.’ He goes, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re greedy.’ It stuck me kind of like a thorn and a joke at the same time because my father, he called me once, and I was in Europe or somewhere. I was in Austria. He goes, ‘Yeah, you go all over the world, and I can’t get off of Broadway.’ But the greedy thing on President’s Day was the one that struck me as pretty funny.