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This article originally appeared in Real Estate New York magazine, where Barbara L. Nelson is editor.

Elad Properties recently unveiled its much awaited plans for The Plaza hotel’s retail component, which includes 160,000 sf of shops on six floors. The project is part of a $350-million overhaul that is turning the luxury hotel into a high-value mixed-use project. Locally based Robert K. Futterman & Associates is the exclusive leasing agent for the project’s retail component. Robert Futterman, chairman and CEO, talks about his role in leasing this landmark location as well as other hot topics in the city’s retail market, where his firm is no stranger to working on high-profile retail projects.

GSR: How has leasing The Plaza space gone so far?

Futterman: There’s already a frenzy, and an enormous amount of tenants interested. There’s interest from luxury brands and luxury tenants, world-renowned gourmet chefs, and some of the city’s best known catering businesses. There will be a hair salon, spa, fitness club, as well as restaurants, a shoe store, high-end jewelry, and cosmetic retailers. We don’t have any leases signed, but we have several letters of intent. There’s a real merchandise mix. It’s about the right tenant, the right use.

GSR: When will leasing commence?

Futterman: Our goal is to have retail shops open in October ’07. Realistically it takes three to four months to get leases negotiated, and four to six months for tenants’ space to be built out.

GSR: What will the spaces rent for?

Futterman: Rents on Fifth Avenue are over $1,000 per sf, so we are trying to be somewhat competitive with what market rents are on Fifth Avenue. Lower levels should be $150 per sf, ground floor should be competitive with Fifth Avenue, and the second floor should be $250 to $350 per sf.

GSR: What is the biggest challenge?

Futterman: We really haven’t had any. It hasn’t been a cakewalk, but we have enough retailers interested. It’s a real concept—The Plaza as a destination. Once it’s leased, it has to be maintained and marketed. The buzz needs to be kept going. The challenge is the repositioning. It’s been closed. People don’t know what’s happening. They have a 100th anniversary coming up in October of ‘07. It’s really gearing up for that opening. Our plan is to be 100% leased by then.

GSR: It’s been said that Nordstrom is looking for space. Do you think they will find it and, if so, where?

Futterman: I don’t know how Nordstrom is going to do it. Maybe at the World Trade Center when that’s done. There’s space for an anchor there. Nordstrom needs to be part of a co-tenanted shopping center. A lot of people were thinking that they might end up in the Lord & Taylor’s space but Lord & Taylor’s is not going anywhere. It’s a thriving entity. The two shopping centers that are planned are the World Trade Center, and Related talked about a Vornado/Related shopping center as part of their Moynihan Station development.

GSR: What about the bank expansion taking up corner space? Has that stopped?

Futterman: It seems to have slowed up a bit. When you look at Midtown, Third Avenue, Sixth Avenue you would really be hard pressed to find a bank that is not there. Unless there is a new entrant, the major players that are already here have saturated the market sufficiently. With banks slowing up a little bit, you might see more of an opportunity for chains to open up, more and more experimental companies will come in and take a chance.

GSR: What is the latest hot spot?

Futterman: The Meatpacking District, there are just more and more retailers and restaurants looking there. It seems to be really hot. Of course there is the Flatiron, Union Square and Nolita, which are still evolving.

GSR: What about the boroughs?

Futterman: We get more and more requests from tenants that want to be in the boroughs. Better tenants want to be in Park Slope, Montague Street, Forest Hills. The big box tenants have obviously infiltrated the boroughs—Target, Costco and Home Depot. But it’s still under retailed, so I think there is a real opportunity for expansion in the boroughs. You are going to see more national chains, a little bit better national chains. The most exciting development is that the Rockefeller Group is involved with Michael Lee in Flushing Commons, bringing in 400,000 sf of retail. The Bronx Terminal Market is also exciting. In the boroughs the demographics are there. The transportation is there. Retail will continue to grow in the boroughs.

GSR: After the entrance of Hermes and Tiffany’s Downtown, do you see any interest from other luxury retailers?

Futterman: Gucci Group said they wanted to look on Wall Street. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton kicking some tires Downtown, especially once Hermes and Tiffany’s open and do well. People are going to start to realize there’s a lot of money Downtown and people don’t have any place to shop. All the money flows Uptown.

GSR: What about the World Trade Center site?

Futterman: People are going to start talking about it when the next step in the chain of events occurs. In the chain of events, I believe what’s going to happen is Westfield has an option to buy. If they do buy it, what are their plans going to be? If they don’t buy it, what does the Port Authority do then? Is Larry Silverstein the obvious buyer? A lot of people assume he is. I think that tenants aren’t holding their breath anymore. They know it’s going to happen. They know it’s coming down and a lot of tenants have decided to look at other points Downtown and when the Trade Center comes, they will take it seriously and consider it like any other location.

GSR: How do you think leasing will be at the WTC site?

Futterman: I think it will be very patient. I think luxury will work. I think restaurants will work. It could be a combination of large space users, maybe a department store, a bookstore, fashion and accessories, and services. With this transportation hub being built below grade, hopefully you will get the vibrancy that once existed there. Plus, now it will have some cultural significance, and obviously it will be a tourist attraction.

GSR: What about food stores Downtown?

Futterman: The Whole Foods market going in on Greenwich and Chambers is going to satisfy a lot of people. I think you could probably use another market down on Wall Street and maybe towards Water Street. It would be nice to see Citarellas, Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s, or Trader Joe’s. There’s plenty of space. Downtown is very reasonably priced compared to Midtown and the Upper East Side.

GSR: What about Wal-Mart or Costco? Will they find a home in Manhattan?

Futterman: Wal-Mart could stand alone, so they could go in remote locations like Harlem, the Far West Side, or the East Side. I think they could do well, but prices in New York are high. Nothing in New York is inexpensive. They might get priced out, or they might take a shot at opening and pay the price. Unfortunately for Wal-Mart, they have a stigma and tend to get people a little riled up. I think some of that sentiment has been misguided toward Costco now. And I think Costco would be incredible for New York. I think it would be great for communities. It would create jobs and would be a great value to people. You could buy things at a very low markup and get the same bargain as the people in the suburbs.

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