The art of leasing: this broker makes deals for the city’s vibrant arts industry
What’s your secret sauce for getting clients?
They have to feel like you’re their doctor and have full faith in you, because what they’re about to embark on is one of the biggest expenses of their life.
I’m not a big lunch and dinner guy. I’m a very boring eater. I eat a lot of eggs. I pick up the phone and say, “I’m from East New York. I got a lot of connections.”
Also, I am told that I’m funny. I had a two-second cameo on Curb Your Enthusiasm that I didn’t get paid for. The show thought I was one of the extras, and I sat down with my son while they were filming on 77th Street and Central Park—the episode with Mister Softee ice cream. I’m behind the ice cream truck. I tell everyone this story.
Why do your clients choose you?
I make sure they get a fair deal, but it’s also important to get a fair deal for both sides.
The tenant has to live with the landlord for a long time, and you want them to have a good relationship. You’re not buying a product at the store and walking out. It’s not about killing the landlord over every penny. And in the long run it works better for the tenant as well.
A client is about to walk out the door. What’s your Hail Mary move to keep the deal intact?
You know the scene in A Bronx Tale when the guy at the bar locks the door and says, “Now youse can’t leave”? And therefore, they have to sign the lease. Just kidding.
When people are about to close a deal, they are nervous, like anyone would be. You try to calm them down and make them realize why they came this far in the deal. They didn’t come this far to walk away. Remind them of the positives of the deal and to ignore any emotions they may be feeling, because they made this decision a long time ago.
I once had a guy who had a bad experience making a deal with a landlord. He said, “I’m done with this guy and the deal.” I calmed him down and got him to get over the fact that the landlord was an ass.
What’s the most complicated deal you worked on recently?
Right now I’m working with a dance company that needs column-free space with very high ceilings and a low budget—which is basically impossible to find in Manhattan. However, we found a space where we are discussing the possibility of removing columns and slabs to create the high ceilings. But the issue is: Who is going to pay for this?
We think it’ll add value to the building. Whether the landlord agrees is another story.
How did you celebrate your first big deal?
I was working at a Brooklyn Real estate firm, Filmore. I’m in the business for 10 minutes and this guy calls me and tells me he’s interested in an East New York warehouse. I go there and I show it to him, and he says it’s what he wants. He came and signed the lease.
A year later I’m working for Newmark in the bullpen. The phone rings and the FBI is calling me to ask me how long I’ve been friends with the guy. I said, “Friends?” I told them I made a warehouse deal with him and that was it.
Bottom line is: He probably took the warehouse right away so he could store drugs, bodies, inventory, etc. I never had a deal that easy again.
How did you start working with arts tenants?
When I first started canvassing the West Side in Times Square, that brought me to a lot of those kinds of tenants. In the 1980s I represented the arts publication Backstage. It’s the Crain’s of the theater world.
I think getting involved with them and loving arts led me to a lot of those tenants. A couple of years ago I represented Open Jar Studios, one of the largest rehearsal studio spaces for Broadway shows. They have 51,000 square feet here.
What’s it like brokering deals for arts institutions and nonprofits after a pandemic?
I think landlords are more positive about having these tenants now. Even as the office market goes down, theater people still need space. The demand for that type of space is tremendous. Broadway and TV will always be here.
I think for landlords it’s a positive because those people do have to be in person. You also feel like you’re helping the industry expand. They’re not the rich hedge-fund guy spending $300 a foot. Some of them are nonprofits, and that makes it more challenging because you have to find the right landlord.
What’s the most difficult part of brokering deals for the arts sector?
The prices and use of the space. Use of course because there is a lot of noise: tap dancing, piano-playing, etc. That can interfere with other tenants in the building. Also, traffic into the building can be a lot.
It has to be the right landlord who understands and accepts this business. If you had a Class A building with a guy spending $200 per foot on rent, they don’t want to hear people playing music next door while they’re working. It doesn’t mix.