The Touch-Up Artist

How would you describe the downtown office landscape when you first started out? Well, when I first started out, anything

How would you describe the downtown office landscape when you first started out?
Well, when I first started out, anything below Canal Street or really Worth Street was financial, and parts of it—where the World Trade Center was going—was all camera places and electronic places. There were areas that were one-industry areas. That was 1956—you were mostly likely a gleam in your mother’s eye at that time.

I’ve seen the transformation of all areas. Park Avenue used to be lawyers and financial companies. Madison Avenue was advertising. It ain’t that way today. New York is becoming a more vibrant and multifaceted city. We have a building over on Greenwich Street and Park Place, which is two blocks north of Larry Silverstein’s building and where the World Trade Center is being built, and across the street from where the Bank of New York has their big operation center on Barclay Street. When we opened that building, we thought it was going to be primarily government agencies, and it wound up being not only government agencies but … Reuters was in there, which was [then] a communications company. Donnelly was a printing operation for the financial sector … Luckily this city has a vibrancy to allow it to continue to change.

How do you, as a building owner, prepare for that change?
Well, every tenant, theoretically, needs the same kind of service. Some tenants need a little more electricity, some tenants need more bandwidth, some tenants need more high-tech stuff, but most tenants today need about the same stuff. They need enough electricity, they need temporary power, emergency generators, they need room for their computers and space for their computers and the backup for their computers, air conditioning. It isn’t only a 9-to-5 business today. A lot of these companies are 24/7. I’m sure you’re aware of that at The New York Observer. You need overdrive air conditioning, you need generators, you need all those things. What we’re doing with our buildings is we’re constantly upgrading the infrastructure so we can handle almost every possible requirement that a tenant will need.

That’s funny, as I imagine bandwidth and Wi-Fi were the last things on your mind when you first owned these buildings.
Well, it depended upon the industry that you were getting in there. Our first tenant at Water Street was a British bank which had operations throughout the world, and they ran a 24/7 operation. We have Prudential Securities, which ran a 24/7 operation, because they had to be up when the Japanese market was open and they had to be up when the British market was open. So they were—and I remember we had to get our garage to open early in order to get the people up there so that they could get in when the London market was open. So it hasn’t changed—I mean it’s changed, but the difference is the bandwidth and all the refinements of the computers. There were computers then, also. There were computers that could fill up this conference room that I’m sitting in. Right now you’re going to have as much power in a little Apple iPhone. Whoever thought about Wi-Fi in the ’80s? You didn’t understand what the hell it was then, and now you can’t do anything without Wi-Fi.

What other kinds of potential tenants have come in and looked at the space?
The whole landscape of tenants from financial to publishing to lawyers, to insurance, IT. Remember, this area, the building on Water Street goes down to John Street.

John Street was the spine of the insurance industry in downtown. William Street and John Street were where all the insurance companies were, and Pine Street. But they’re all over the place now. So we have some insurance companies who are also looking in the area.

Looking ahead, what are going to be the next challenges for these buildings? Is it preparing them for the next technical innovation? Turning them all into LEED-certified buildings?
How many times do I have to say yes? [Laughs.] Honestly, look what’s happening two blocks away with 1 World Trade Center. Those buildings are really a little bit smarter than the buildings that were built in the ’80s and ’90s.

But I think the buildings that were built in the ’80s and ’90s, as long as they had the ability to add those extra smarts to it, you’ve got it made. When the World Trade Center originally was built, that was the ’60s, late ’60s, early ’70s. How smart were those buildings? One thing they had was ceiling heights and they had pretty good open areas. They were able to put a lot of stuff into that ceiling height.

When we built Water Street, we built a building with four columns on the whole floor in a 30-odd-thousand-foot floor. But we had emergency power, we had an under-floor duct system, we had supplemental air conditioning, we had a loadable electric, we had Telecom at that time. And the LEED certification is important. We’re firm believers in the green concept of buildings. We’re trying to do it in all of our buildings. You’re not going to be able to do it the way Douglas [Durst] and Bank of America did it with Bryant Park because those buildings were designed to be platinum. But if I had it to do all over again, I would go higher in the buildings that we built. But at that time nobody knew about LEEDs.

What are some of the other projects you are working on?
Oh, we’ve got the rerenting projects on Water Street, which I mentioned, and we’ve got 75 Park Place, which is Park Place and Greenwich. We also are looking at other things to buy and to invest in and we’re also constantly upgrading our existing portfolio of office buildings and apartment houses. We believe in upgrading the buildings before we have to—a constant mantra that I have here.

The Touch-Up Artist