Bisnow’s State of the Market: How are Deals Getting Done? An Investment and Finance Outlook

Bisnow hosted the annual “State of the Market” real estate event at 4 Times Square on October 22, 2015. Panelists focused on capital markets, growth across asset classes and New York’s new development pipeline.  Herrick’s Real Estate Chair, Belinda Schwartz, moderated the panel entitled: “How are deals getting done? An investment and finance outlook.”

Panelists included:

  • Ralph Herzka, Chairman & CEO, Meridian Capital Group, LLC
  • Michael Nash, Global Head, Real Estate Debt Strategies, Blackstone Group
  • Bob Knakal, Chairman, NY Investment Sales, Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.
  • Abraham Hidary, CEO, Hidrock Realty, Inc.

Belinda opened the discussion with the statement: “Real estate is one of the hottest investment food groups!” Turning to her panelists, she solicited their insights on deals in the market, how to unlock value in properties and how the capital stack has changed over the years. The panel also explored the pipeline of deals that have yet to hit the market, whether the pace of these deals will stay steady for 2016 and what the factors are in creating this exuberant market.

Abraham Hidary commented, “Debt markets are strong. The market was just exceptional in 2014 but up to now we have been doing really well.” Mike Nash added, “Our largest year for business has been 2015. Real estate as an investment is an excellent vehicle.” Ralph Herzka explained, “Real estate has outperformed everything else. Yields keep going down. It is just a solid investment.”

Mr. Nash pointed out that international investors will go offshore to London, Paris or New York where the market is transparent. He noted, “Real estate is a cyclical business but it pays off. It may be a slow burn but it always pays off.” He also said, “Alternative investment forms are not great. There are so many factors spurring on real estate. Where else can you put money down at 0%?”

Mr. Knakal said, “The reason there is so much activity in the market is because capital is thirsty and makes transactions easy to do. In the boom cycles of the 80’s and early 2000’s, lenders were generous with financing. Geopolitical risk around the world is pushing people to invest in NYC real estate to protect their assets. This is what creates demand for the marketplace.” Mr. Herzka added, “Smart money is what we are seeing in the capital stack. The capital stack can get aggressive but we don’t see a lot of risk in our deals. The key is to manage our clients’ expectations.” Mr. Hidary said, “We are in an efficient marketplace. We have to know the right deals and know exactly what we are looking for. Once we find what we want, we bring in brokers like Ralph. Simplicity is key when riding out a downturn.”

On the subject of what neighborhoods might be the “next big thing,” Mr. Knakal explained: “I am kind of bullish about Jamaica, Queens. It’s a remarkable place. The transport in the area is of the best in the city. Retail does well in this area. The affordable housing agenda is perfect for this part of the city. Creating the right incentives in Jamaica will make this area a diamond in the rough.” Mr. Herzka was a bit broader in his response in saying, “Just like San Francisco or even Ohio, people want the ability to walk to work. People do not want to spend their lives in commuter traffic. If we can make jobs more accessible, any neighborhood can be the next big thing. I saw a development in Delaware recently that had beautiful luxury housing. The housing and development phenomenon is not in New York only and technology is big driver in all of this.” Mr. Hidary said, “Ten years ago I would have told you the Garment District was the next big thing but right now West Chelsea is hot. This area has shown tremendous growth and has gone through 50% gentrification already. There are lifestyle hubs, gyms and restaurants. The area around Barclays in Brooklyn has also shown tremendous growth.”

Mr. Nash concluded the discussion by saying, “Formation of neighborhoods, creating cool spaces, converting something old into something new — these are things that drive growth. Areas like Brooklyn and Queens have already shown how successful doing this can be.”

The Borough of Opportunity

On October 13th, Herrick partnered with the Office of the Bronx Borough President and The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, to host a trolley tour showcasing some of the new opportunities and development sites available in the Bronx. Commentary was provided by:

  • Marlene Cintron, President, The Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation
  • Wilhelm Ronda, Director, Planning & Development at The Office of the Bronx Borough President
  • Daniel Donovan, Planner, Bronx Borough President’s Office
  • Sam Goodman, Urban Planner, Bronx Borough President’s Office

The tour kicked off at the beautiful Bronx Supreme Court building at 851 Grand Concourse with a view of Yankee Stadium in the distance. The trolley then headed to a large development site that is currently up for grabs on 149th Street. Marlene Cintron expressed the need for mixed-use development in this particular area that is buzzing with shoppers and commuters. Ms. Cintron commented that BJ’s Wholesale Club, JC Penney’s and Target all have stores located in the Bronx that are among their top five performing stores nationwide. Enhancing the fast-developing neighborhood is a 250-room Hampton Inn that is the second hotel on 149th.  Ms. Cintron also commented, “The Opera House Hotel has 94% occupancy and is a well-known destination for European tourists. Tourism is up 14% in the Bronx.”

“The Harlem River Waterfront District, which has the Harlem River to the West, East 149th Street to the North and the Major Deegan to the East is of particular interest to developers,” said Wilhelm Ronda who also pointed out that this development lot is near one of the first stops on the 4 train and is considered a “soft site.” Mr. Ronda explained: “Zoning is generous in this area. It is close to bridges and is a major thoroughfare. There are many opportunities here.” The Port Morris area, a primarily industrial neighborhood in the Southwest Bronx, is currently experiencing an extensive revitalization with many factories and manufacturing buildings being converted into lofts.  The community has become home to young professionals and artists looking for more reasonable rent price-points outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The tour also passed The Grand Concourse Plaza Shopping Center on 161st Street, The Grand Concourse (modeled on the Champs-Elysees in Paris) that was declared a historic district in 2011 from 153rd to 167th Street is dotted with a mix of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture residential buildings, and the Bruckner Boulevard Corridor that is home to the Clock Tower Building. The building, along with the surrounding area has shown tremendous growth and transformation. Rents have skyrocketed in this area in less than 7 years.

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center will be another triumph for the Bronx. The complex will be housed in the historical building once used as an armory and will feature 9 rinks. It is set to be one of the largest indoor ice-centers in the world and will attract national and international tourism bringing a significant economic boost to the area. NHL great, Mark Messier, is an investor and chief executive on the project.

The Bronx Borough President’s Office expressed enthusiasm about working with developers to continue strengthening the economic development of the Bronx. Borough President Ruben Diaz highlighted the borough’s strong sense of community and its wealth of commodities and character and encouraged those in attendance to explore the area. Investment in the Bronx remains vigorous and has been strong since 2009. Mr. Diaz welcomed developers to the Bronx and urged interested parties to work with his office on current opportunities. “We want to facilitate new development that strengthens neighborhood character and fosters overall growth of the borough.” said Mr. Diaz.

According to Sam Goodman, who was born in the Bronx and is now an Urban Planner in the office of the Bronx Borough President: “The Bronx is not a place to live, it is a place to celebrate life.” With over $7 billion dollars invested in residential, commercial and institutional projects in the borough in the last 6 years, the Bronx is now the new borough of opportunity.