Big Swig

In an October Post article, he explained that its reported $37.7 million Lehman mortgage was “one of 2,000 [Lehman] loans for $32 billion.”

Finally in 2005, Mr. Swig, Mr. Levy and others dropped $418 million on the drab, 50-story Sheffield apartment building on West 57th Street. Directly adjacent to the angular Hearst Tower, the Sheffield has since served as the stage for a veritable opéra bouffe starring Mr. Swig and his stabilized tenants.

“Kent Swig is one of the worst developers I’ve dealt with,” said local State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried. “I find Swig to be persistently abusive of his tenants and in disregard of building and fire codes.”

After Mr. Swig bought the Sheffield, and masses of market-rate tenants cleared out, the remaining residents, most rent-stabilized, say they began to feel besieged, according to interviews, a lawsuit and a May 2008 request for the city to appoint an administrator of rents. Tenants banded together as construction crews and security officers coursed through the building.

In September 2005, the city fined Mr. Swig $800 for renting vacant apartments as hotel rooms via the Web (his representative denies the existence of an illegal hotel).

Once construction started, some tenants found themselves living on nearly empty floors that had become work sites and that, according to tenant accounts and photographs, featured exposed wires, frequent flooding and disorderly piles of construction materials.

In the May complaint, tenants alleged “hazardous” conditions, stairways “blocked by construction debris,” and that the “contractors have engaged in a systematic pattern of harassment of tenants, including using employees who identify themselves as security contractors to follow and intimidate Plaintiffs.” Tenants, worried about asbestos, took to wearing masks over their mouths and noses.

“Here’s the scoop,” Mr. Swig said of the asbestos allegations. “There either is or there isn’t. It’s like you’re either pregnant or you’re not. It’s period: There either is existence or there’s not. In this case, there’s not.” Now, Mr. Swig is saddled with slow sales (approximately 54 percent of the units have been sold in what was re-dubbed Sheffield57, even though the building has been on the market since October 2006); financial troubles; and a tenant lawsuit. He has only scathing words for the plaintiffs.

“I said, ‘What will happen is this. We’re going to do construction. And anytime you do construction, it’s an inconvenience,’” Mr. Swig said of meeting with the stabilized tenants. “‘When we’re done with construction, you guys [will] have hit the jackpot. Because you’re going to be in one of the most luxurious buildings, with the most luxurious services.’ … The problem is they didn’t believe me. They thought if they were really difficult, created a big, big problem, we’d buy them out.”

Mr. Swig also purchased Helmsley Spear in 2007, which prompted Arthur and William Lie Zeckendorf, his partners in Terra Holdings, to threaten him with a lawsuit for “breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.”

“They just sent out a letter, just as a reminder that Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead do residential and Helmsley Spear has always done commercial,” Mr. Swig said. “And they wanted to make sure that the two don’t cross. And my allegiance is to both firms.”

 

IN A NEW YORK real estate world that, for all its swagger and bombast, remains a small town, many don’t quite know what to make of Mr. Swig.

He strikes many as “a rich kid’s son” who, when he doesn’t get his way, turns pouty. “The Swigs kind of think of themselves as San Francisco royalty,” said one real estate professional. “He was brought up with a silver spoon. It’s hard to be the son of a rich kid, ’cause you’re always compared to your father.”

Oddly, one of Mr. Swig’s admirers described him similarly: “I like Kent, because what you see is what you get. He’s a snob. He’s good-looking. He comes from a good family. If you deal respectfully with him on a level, you don’t have a problem.”

Mr. Swig grew up in Lucas Valley and in San Francisco, and studied Chinese history at Brown. There, he took up architectural photography. In 1983, after graduating, he spent some time in China. Then he returned to San Francisco and attended UC Hastings Law School.

After his father’s second bout with cancer, Mr. Swig went into the family business. Some interpret his life as a decades-long effort to define himself in opposition to his family.

In 1987, Mr. Swig set out on his own, marrying Harry Macklowe’s daughter (they now live in 740 Park), and joining the Harry Macklowe Real Estate Company, now Macklowe Properties, in New York City. In April of 1994, Mr. Swig set out on his own yet again, partnering with fellow Macklowe alum David Burris to found Swig Burris Equities, which later became Swig Equities.

Mr. Swig’s family apparently continued to loom large. In a 1998 San Francisco Business Times article about his plans for a 48-story luxury condo tower, Mr. Swig said, “It’s a wonderful feeling to come back and it’s extremely satisfying to do something on my own.”

Big Swig