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[IMGCAP(1)]NEW YORK CITY-”We are extremely bullish on Downtown,” and “there is Downtown demand for retail” were the chief statements echoed from many key players who served as panelists at Real Estate Media’s inaugural RealShare Downtown New York conference Tuesday. The conference, which attracted nearly 300 attendees, provided an overview of the current redevelopment and investment climate here, analyzed trends and patterns, and discussed leasing as well as the continued impact of the credit crunch on the financing investment sales markets.

[IMGCAP(2)]Keynote speaker Avi Schick, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. launched the event by discussing key examples of value in the Downtown area. He pointed to the six office towers coming online in the near future as a key advantage. He also noted that many investments being made in the area, such as transportation; parks and open space; cultural institutions; hotels; schools; retail; and residential, are key factors in Downtown’s future. “We will continue to invest Downtown,” he said, “and we look forward to the future of lower Manhattan.”

[IMGCAP(3)]Schick’s optimistic view continued on through the next session titled: “Town Hall Meeting: State of the Downtown Market,” where leading industry experts and key Downtown players were also bullish about Downtown’s future. Lois Weiss, columnist for the New York Post, moderated the panel, which included: Larry Silverstein, president and CEO of Silverstein Properties Inc.; Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York; David Arena, president of Grubb & Ellis New York Inc.; Robert Freedman, president & CEO of GVA Williams; Dennis Friedrich, president & COO of Brookfield Properties; and Alan Gerson, City Council Member of the 1st District of the New York City Council. Gerson began the discussion assuring the audience that as far as gubernatorial presence goes, “we have a team who is committed to Downtown.” Silverstein agreed that Gov. Paterson is “determined to advance Downtown.”

Spinola said that “everybody is pretty optimistic about how things are going here.” He also pointed to “phenomenal” vacancy rates as a sign of confidence.

“There is roughly $20 to $25 billion that will likely be invested in six square miles over the next few years,” Arena said. “I would be bullish if I was an investor or tenant Downtown.” Arena noted that his firm has had a tremendous amount of Downtown inquiries.

Friedrich said that the number one complaint from tenants in lower Manhattan is that there isn’t enough retail as of yet. He explained that in San Francisco for example, there is one-sf of retail for every eight sf of office space; in Chicago there is one-sf of retail for every five sf of office; but in Downtown, there is one-sf of retail for every 17 sf of office space, “therefore it is a good investment right now.”

Gerson agreed with Friedrich, noting that there is a demand for retail, and “we need to meet that demand.” Gerson did note that it is important to “be sure we can manage all the new construction projects.”

The redevelopment effort Downtown was also debated by two key players following the Town Hall Meeting. In the “Fact or Fiction” panel, moderated by Michael Desiato, group publisher and vice president of Real Estate Media, both Bruce Mosler, president and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield Inc., and Kent Swig, principal of Swig Equities, agreed that Downtown has regained its footing since 9/11. “Downtown is in the best shape it’s been in quite a while,” Mosler said.

Both Mosler and Swig also agree that we are in a national recession but not a local recession. “New York has been able to remove itself from some of the challenges,” Mosler said, adding that although things could get worse, “fundamentals are more sound this time around.”

When it came to whether or not investment volume would reduce by 50% from 2007 to 2008, although both panelists didn’t focus on any particular percentage, they did agree that transaction volume would go down; however Swig noted that it isn’t related to value. “Investment sales volume will be down,” Mosler said, but reminded the audience that there are trillions of dollars that will be reinvested in the market. “This year will be difficult in terms of lending,” he said, “but when the market turns, it turns quickly.”

As far as whether existing inventory will be negatively impacted when the new construction eventually does come online, Swig said that there would be an impact, but he said it would be a positive impact, rather than negative. “The only way to grow a city is to grow a city,” he said.

Mosler on the other hand said it would be a challenge for existing landlords. “New product always produces a flight to quality.” He further explained that it might have been better for new product to come online in a “staged fashion.”

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