Madame Chair

You’re the first woman to be elected chairman in REBNY’s 113-year history. Is that shocking to you? Is it a significant benchmark in your mind?
It means a great deal to me, but I can’t say that I’m shocked, because our industry has tended to be slow to change. I think that’s probably the best way to describe it. I think it’s only within the last 20 years or so that you’re beginning to see the female membership of the Real Estate Board growing significantly. I don’t mean that historically there haven’t been important women in New York real estate—because there are many of them—but they have been isolated cases. The good news now is, there have been a number of women in our industry who would qualify to be chairman of the Real Estate Board, and what’s nice is that the executive committee and our president, Steve Spinola, has decided it was time to recognize somebody. But, believe me, there are several others who could just as well be in my role.

You’ve been hailed as one of the most influential women in New York City by the New York Post. Do you agree with that statement?

If it means having the ability to get things done—that you can envision something and get it done—than I’d like to think yes, that that’s the case. There are a few things I’ve managed to get done that make me feel like I can have some impact on our city.

Can you name one of them?
I think you can look at two towers that are standing that I don’t think anybody would’ve bet on. The Condé Nast at Four Times Square, which was the first new construction in a decade and the first building at Times Square. As you probably know, it was a project that was held up for more than two decades. And then, of course, there was the New York Times building at a site that I don’t think most people thought was coming into development anytime soon.

You were honored with a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award by REBNY at its award ceremony. That must be a little weird, right?
You know, I suddenly thought to myself, ‘Oh my! Am I that old?’ On the other hand, that night was so fun. I always joke that 25 years ago, I was so intimidated by the event, and now it seems like I’m going to a family wedding. I mean, it has that kind of festive feeling for me, so the award just added to that.

In a previous life, you worked at ABC, where you helped to create the A&E network. What do you think of A&E these days? Are you watching it?
I love A&E. One of the things that gave me great pride … I can still envision the moment, on a yellow legal pad, I wrote down ‘Arts & Entertainment’ and then crossed out the letters, and it’s hard to believe that myself and a dear friend, Liz Oliver, could be sitting at the garage she rented in East Hampton in 1981, and then, lo and behold, all these years later A&E is part of the viewing landscape.

Have you watched The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty yet?
[laughs] I haven’t. I have to admit. Though I must admit I’m on the channel all the time, but I haven’t gotten to that. [laughs] I’m sure I would enjoy it, though.

Let’s shift from the Jacksons and go back to real estate. What’s your outlook for 2010?

I think we’re already in the process of seeing an uptick. In the leasing market in Manhattan, we’re seeing an increase in activity. The five-year rolling average in midtown leasing, just to give one statistic, is 1.2 million square feet per month. We were under that number until June, when we broke through the million-square-foot mark. With the exception of one month, we’ve been up every month. In December, we did 1.6 million square feet of leasing in midtown. Every single market all had their availability rate drop—not hugely, but at least 10 or 20 basis points for each one. In addition, I think most of them had positive absorption, if not all of them.
What’s happened is very simple: We now have enough volume to establish where pricing is. Once you’ve established pricing, people feel confident they can transact.

jsederstrom@observer.com

Madame Chair