Affordable Housing or Lack Thereof
City Councilman Brad Lander is looking to rein in exploding expenditures from super PAC-like groups with proposed new legislation that would slap cigarette-style warnings on their mailings, among other regulations.
The package of proposed reforms comes as outside groups are pouring millions of dollars into city races through so-called “independent expenditures,” following the Citizens United court decision, which allows near-unlimited spending, as long as the groups don’t directly co-ordinate with campaigns. Of particular concern to Mr. Lander in the real estate industry-backed “Jobs 4 NY” committee, which has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on local City Council races–sometimes in the face of candidates’ opposition.
New York City public advocate and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio added his voice to a growing chorus of commentators (including The Observer) who have noted similarities between Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s affordable housing platform, announced in her State of the City address earlier this week, and a plan proposed by the real estate industry in 2011. The proposal would cap property taxes for whole buildings if they agreed to set aside a certain percentage of their units to let at below-market rate rents.
Square footage was the first thing on our minds when we walked into REBNY’s Residential Deal of the Year Awards. The Metropolitan Pavilion space was so cavernous that despite a sizable crowd of brokers chatting over cocktails it still felt oddly empty, with a cold draft drifting in from the entrance. Nor did the flickering candles grouped on the tables contribute much warmth or intimacy, but we appreciated the gesture—a nice reminder that we were among those who sold residential real estate for a living.
Shivering, The Observer walked into the scrum of darkly-clad revelers and found ourselves standing next to Halstead president Diane Ramirez. She planted a kiss in the air some ten inches to the left of our cheek and encouraged us to buy raffle tickets in support of REBNY’s “residential member in need fund.” The charity was the real point of the evening, she told us, gentling nudging us toward the table before flitting off.
You know them, you love them, and now they have a kid on the way. EDC president Seth Pinsky let slip in an interview with The Real Deal, that his wife Angela Sung Pinsky, a big over at REBNY, is now pregnant.
Tails of Retail
An assault on the city’s Landmarks Law has quietly been taking place in the corridors of power, through press releases and legislation, for going on a year now. But groups allied against landmarking are planning to fire their first public volley tomorrow, The Observer has learned, with the announcement of a coalition of development and labor groups known as the Responsible Landmarks Coalition.
Formed by the Real Estate Board of New York, it is made up of a number of influential real estate and labor organizations, “and it is only going to get bigger,” one person involved in the effort said. “We are going to have some very major institutions looking at these landmarks.”
The main issues of concern for the coalition are the increasing prevalence of historic districts, a lack of transparency in the landmarking process, and insufficient public input. The coalition will argue that the growing number of landmark buildings and historic districts are hampering the city’s economy and stymieing development.
Can you legislate a storefront? That is what the Upper West Side is hoping. For more than a year, the Department of City Planning worked at a plan to rezone a swath of the once tawdry, now tony neighborhood, to protect the retail character on its main shopping strips. The plan, which has been opposed by local landlords, just won the conditional support of Borough President Scott Stringer.
Imagine, if you will, the landscape of New York City 15 years hence. A drive to Citi Field in Willets Point takes you past a pleasant if overpriced cluster of residential buildings, rather than seedy chop-shops. Roosevelt Island is home to a sprawling $2 billion applied-sciences campus spinning out an army of developers to populate ping-pong-table-clad start-up clusters from Dumbo to Union Square. On Manhattan’s far West Side, the rezoned stretch of Hudson Yards offers millions of square feet for office space, housing and retail and 14 acres of open public space. You can already see traces of a more built-up, scrubbed-down New York in Luna Park’s freshly-painted Scream Zone, the first new roller-coasters Coney Island has seen in 80 years, and the rapidly-metastasizing arena at Atlantic Yards, which will soon play home court to the rebranded Brooklyn Nets.
It’s hardly a scenario Seth Pinsky could have imagined in September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed just seven months into his tenure as president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a not-for-profit arm of the Mayor’s office charged with fostering economic growth across the five boroughs.
At the time, Mr. Pinsky was a 36-year-old former lawyer and investment analyst, only a few years removed from a private sector gig refinancing real estate deals for the big banks as an associate at Cleary Gottlieb. He had one big win under his belt—jump-starting the World Trade Center redevelopment project—but he didn’t have “a political bone in his body,” as one insider put it. “People kept saying to me, ‘Wow, you’re the head of the Economic Development Corporation? We’re in an economic meltdown!’’ Mr. Pinsky told The Observer.
“At the time it meant, ‘You must be really crazy.’”
Downtown Brooklyn developers and cooperators, with a hefty helping hand from the real estate lobby, threw everything they could at the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, a new landmarking effort aimed at saving the area’s historic highrises. In the end, the preservationists won out, as a City Council subcommittee voted unanimously yesterday to approve the historic district, all but ensuring its passage by the full council on February 1.
Speeches were casually ignored, drinks were spilled and bonds were formed at last Thursday’s 116th annual Real Estate Board of New York Gala, which this year drew an estimated 2,000 brokers, owners, advertising buyers and real estate reporters to the New York Hilton for an evening of conviviality, honorifics and hushed deal making. Among the fray was Commercial Observer staff writer Daniel Geiger, who during the course of the evening saw his stenopad tossed by an irate real estate broker and who unabashedly accosted Studley’s Woody Heller in the hotel’s bathroom, all for the sake of the story. Below, a timeline of gala comings and goings, from the innocuous gossip down to the downright obnoxious.
Two years ago this month, CBRE tristate chief executive Mary Ann Tighe rattled cages when the Real Estate Board of New York named her its first female chairwoman in the 116-year-old organization’s history. During those 24 months, the former TV executive—yes, she helped launch cable channel A&E—helped renew the 421a tax exemption program, oversaw passage of the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act, and shepherded a series of projects meant to fuel construction across New York. Throughout those lobbying efforts, she managed to tally what she described as the second-most successful year of leasing in her career. Last week, REBNY’s first lady spoke to The Commercial Observer about her achievements thus far as chairwoman, the complications behind her deals for Condé Nast, Coach and Young & Rubicam, and what to expect at this year’s gala.