Speyer (right) made one of his first
public appearances before taking the
helm at REBNY at Tuesday's RealShare
New York conference.<@SM>Kuhn talked with vice president
and group publisher, Michael Desiato
about the next big markets in NYC.

NEW YORK CITY-The city’s global competitiveness as a hub for technology, healthcare, energy and other emerging sectors in the wake of international pressure was the main topic of conversation among panelists at the 2012 RealShare New York conference on Tuesday morning. The event, sponsored by ALM Real Estate Media Group, parent company of GlobeSt.com and Real Estate Forum, attracted approximately 400 attendees to the Grand Hyatt in Midtown.

Fresh off its recent merger with BGC Partners, James Kuhn, president of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, talked about the brokerage’s bigger national platform and plans to double in size over time. “We wanted to build a great company,” he said, during the event’s “Inside the Real Estate Mind” panel with ALM Real Estate Media Group’s vice president and group publisher, Michael Desiato. “We didn’t want to do this because we wanted a boatload of money,” adding that NGKF’s culture is defined as a “great entrepreneurial business.”

On the Manhattan front, Kuhn explained that New York City remains a “safe haven” for investors to park capital, but as competition for core assets and development parcels increases, product is becoming more and more scarce—and land values are rising. “Whether it is multifamily or it is office, you can always do something with properties anywhere,” he said. “But the challenge? It is difficult to acquire quality assets today. Multifamily is like buying a treasury bond.”

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Giving advice to the young real estate professionals in the room, Kuhn – having worn many different hats as a butcher, a musician and many other jobs before making his foray into real estate – encouraged the audience to keep their ear to the ground about the next ‘big’ market, like a Williamsburg, a Long Island City or Lower Manhattan – or, places that attract youth and talent. “If I was a young person today, I would be trying to figure out what the next neighborhood is,” he said. “They have the advantage.”

During “New York Power Panel” moderated by REBNY president Steven Spinola, panelists discussed the diversification of the Manhattan market as it increasingly continues to go head-to-head with other cities, such as London, Hong Kong and others. Glenn Rufrano, president and CEO at Cushman & Wakefield, said while New York holds an important position in the global economy, the city still needs to be conservative in terms of where it invests capital. “Like the old saying, in a storm, you have to get into the biggest boat, and we have one of the biggest boats around the world to invest in,” he said. “Over the last several years, New York has been #1 in terms of global investment,” noting that London and Tokyo are close behind, but given New York’s reputation for core assets, the city remains a desirable, safe place to put money amid fiscal issues in other countries, like the Eurozone. “If you think about where we people are investing because of the environment we are in, we are in a very good position.”

Kevin Hackett, president and CEO of the Rockefeller Group, an owner and developer of class A buildings like 1221 Ave. of the Americas and BASF’s North American Headquarters in Florham Park, said that while the company sees “ wonderful opportunistic opportunities in Europe, it just makes New York more and more attractive,” based on its stability.

In one of his first public appearances before taking the role as chairman as REBNY in 2013, Rob Speyer, president and co-CEO of Tishman Speyer, said in addition to the company’s core New York assets, Tishman is diversifying its portfolio and eyeing global acquisitions around the world, particularly in China and Brazil. “Part of the world where we found government to be the most collaborative and the best partner, and this may surprise you, and it’s China,” he said, noting that the country’s GDP is generated mostly by fixed-asset investment, most of which is infrastructure and real estate development. “It has a tremendous vested interest in the positive function of the real estate market. Despite what you might read about a dampening residential market, commercial real estate is still something that the government has been very helpful at facilitating, and we have found the officials to be straightforward, and that obviously is not the case in every country.”

Secondly, Speyer explained, was the emphasis on sustainability across the globe. “Over the last 15 years, there are not many class A buildings that are left [in New York] that are not LEED-certified,” he said. “Now the rest of the world is starting to catch up,” but noted that the most importance difference is how property management is treated. “All of us who own class A buildings here in New York take a lot of pride in how we run them,” he said. “The property management industry is mature here and specialized, and that is simply not the case around the world.”

Arthur Mirante, principal and Tri-State president at Avison Young, a Canadian company aggressively expanding in the US, said the common theme among investors and users is that New York City is the strongest commercial and residential market in the world. On attending a different conference held by McKinsey, he said that panelists mentioned availability of resources, infrastructure, access to air traffic and governance as the biggest issues in commercial real estate. “New York City has ranked number #1 as far as talent and infrastructure,” he said. “If you take the macro concepts, New York has a very positive future, as we are experiencing this day to day.”

Matthew Van Buren, president of the New York Tri-State Region at CBRE, said while New York remains strong as a whole, the city faces challenges, such as aging infrastructure. “Our average building stock is quite old, and it’s about 70,” he said. “We are going to add about 20 million of new stock in five years, and that’s really only 5% of the market, so we are remaining old going forward.” At the same time, Van Buren said the city remains in ‘good shape’ based on its other foundation: human capital. “We are starting to diversify,” he said, noting that New York’s tenant base is expanding beyond financial services as the dominant industry.

Michael Katz, co-chief executive officer of Sterling American Funds, said after investing outside of New York for a period of time, the company has come back, investing in two condominiums in the Village and the Upper West Side. The company was also just assigned as co-developer at the redevelopment of Willets Point in Flushing, Queens. “We wanted to come back to New York and we did so for several reasons, one is, we love it and wanted to come back,” he said. “Prices are realistic,” later adding “no matter what happens in the economy,” New York “always bounces back.”

[For more RealShare NY coverage, please check GlobeSt.com tomorrow for the latest updates.]