NEW YORK CITY-It’s a measure of how the city has evolved in recent years that, as a RealShare New York panelist pointed out, three of the four experts at Tuesday afternoon’s “Development Focus” discussion talked about developing below Midtown. A decade ago, the panelist observed, the conversation would have been very different.
Phillippe Visser, the RealShare panelist who made that observation, emphasized the World Trade redevelopment, which he oversees for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Alicia Hurley, VP for university relations and public affairs at New York University, focused on the school’s large-scale expansion within its Greenwich Village neighborhood and elsewhere. Industry icon Edward J. Minskoff, who spearheaded the World Financial Center project Downtown in the 1980s, is now targeting Union Square with a speculative office project at 51 Astor Place. The panel’s fourth member, Seth Pinsky, takes a citywide approach as president of the New York City Economic Development Corp.
“It can’t just be Manhattan, as obviously important as Midtown is to the city’s economy,” Pinsky said. “It has to be all five boroughs.” And with the EDC’s announcement earlier this month that the world’s largest ferris wheel will come to Staten Island as part of a mixed-use waterfront redevelopment, all five boroughs are clearly on the map.
The panelists charted the ways in which development is playing to the strengths of the city’s legacy and emerging industries as well as the growing appeal of areas outside the core of Manhattan. And as moderator Michael McMahon, co-chair of the government relations group at law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, observed, New York City’s population is projected to reach nine million by 2030, illustrating its continued drawing power to students and young professionals.
Yet real-world concerns can intrude. “The only thing I see right now in the city that’s restrictive is the capital markets,” said Minskoff, president of Edward J. Minskoff Equities Inc. For example, on Related Cos.’ massive Hudson Yards project to revamp Manhattan’s Far West Side, Minskoff said more than one building at a time should go up to shorten the construction horizon and help ensure the development’s success. “But the capital markets will not allow that to happen.”
Although the conference focused mainly on the New York City market, it also looked at the city in its context as a global gateway—and magnet for out-of-town investors. Despite the continued sluggish US economy since the downturn, recent turmoil in the Eurozone and other global economies has made the United States attractive for foreign buyers. During the final “Taking Advantage of Increased Foreign Capital Flow to the US” panel at the event, panelists agreed that most of the cash flow is coming in from China, Russia and Brazil.
Robert White, founder and president of Real Capital Analytics, said that across the board, investors are “a lot more worried about capital preservation” overall. “We are seeing a lot of capital from unstable economies,” he said. “There is a lot less capital coming out of Europe.”
He explained that the movement of the capital, as a result of the downturn, has changed as well. “In 2007 it was basically capital moving from the west to the eastern markets, and that has switched,” leading to much more Asian capital in Europe and the US markets, he said. “Certainly here in Manhattan, it hasn’t been just equity buyers. Perhaps more significantly, there are more lenders from Asia that are having a significant impact.”
At the same time, White says Chinese capital is staying under the radar screen. While large Asian lenders like Bank of China providing financing for core assets like 3 Columbus Circle or 1515 Broadway, White said that most are going outside the class A space to do deals. “It is not like the Japanese capital of the late ‘80s, when they were buying trophy buildings and making headlines,” he said. “The capital is definitely more understated. We are seeing the Chinese capital do a lot of apartment deals out in the boroughs or in the middle of country. There’s not just a focus on being in Midtown.”
According to the US Commerce Department, the US attracted $28.7 billion in direct investment in the beginning of the year. Of that, White said foreign real estate capital drove 30% of all Manhattan investment sales, compared to 10% to 15% for the US overall.
“Nothing compares to opportunity in the US right now, and we are definitely the target of all the global buyers,” he said. “It’s not just about trophy office anymore. There’s a much bigger appetite for the apartment sector, particularly in European institutions. Retail has been attractive, especially urban street front retail in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, and Chicago. We’ve seen some very expensive trades.”
In addition, new sources of capital, like EB-5, a federal program that allows foreign investors to secure a preferred visa category status by providing funding to a business that benefits the US economy or saves at least 10 full-time jobs for American workers, have helped spur activity as well, White said. “Foreign investors put up about a million dollars in a project to get a visa and tremendous incentives for them,” he added. “That is a program that has been extended and it has been very well realized, and it is financing some very large projects right now.”
At the same time, an investment divide is forming across the country. Bruce Mosler, chairman of global brokerage at Cushman & Wakefield, said a “profound bifurcation” exists in the US marketplace between how the capital is flowing between core and secondary cities. He explained that the majority of foreign investment has flown through five major markets, including Manhattan, San Francisco, Washington DC, Los Angeles and Seattle.
But given the competition for A product, Mosler explained that capital markets activity will begin to spill over outside the primary markets. He added that Houston has become a prime secondary city due to its high concentration of energy jobs. “Overall, if you’d like to categorize the US market today, it’s a global buy, he said. “There is nobody on the global scene that doesn’t like the US market. It is not just because our market is so robust. It is because our marketplace today, as compared to the alternative, is a better place to invest. We have anemic but positive GDP growth, and we have safe havens.”