BUFFALO — Buffalo was riding a decade-long economic turnaround when a racially motivated attack by a gunman killed 10 people in May, overshadowing the progress. While the city grieved, it also had to reckon with unflattering portrayals of the East Side, the impoverished neighborhood where the massacre took place.
Those harsh takes tell only part of the story, say residents, business owners and city officials. Now, they are determined to put the focus back on the recovery.
Major efforts to improve the East Side have been afoot for years, like new job-training facilities and the overhaul of a deserted train station. And citywide initiatives to pour billions into parks, public art projects and apartment complexes have made Buffalo a more desirable place to live, advocates say.
Those efforts may have even reversed a chronic population decline: The latest census figures show Buffalo’s population has increased for the first time in 70 years.
“The other story about Buffalo needs to be told, that investments are being made,” said Brandye Merriweather, the president of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation, a nonprofit group that works to repurpose empty city-owned lots.
“I am very sensitive to the issues that the shooting has raised,” said Ms. Merriweather, who grew up across the street from where the shooting took place and still has family in the neighborhood.
The wave of progress began in 2012 when New York’s governor at the time, Andrew M. Cuomo, pledged $1 billion in grants and tax credits as part of a revitalization effort, and it has been fueled by a mix of taxpayer funds and private investments in the years since.
Perhaps the most visible sign of Buffalo’s changing fortunes are its new apartments, which turn up in empty warehouses, former municipal buildings and longtime parking lots converted into much-needed housing. In the last decade, 224 multifamily projects — encompassing 10,150 apartments, most of them rentals, the equivalent of about $3 billion in investment — have opened or are underway, according to the office of Mayor Byron W. Brown.
And the pace of new housing appears to be quickening: A third of the total, or 78 projects, were unveiled just in 2020 and 2021, the mayor’s office said.
Among them is Seneca One Tower, the city’s tallest building and one of Buffalo’s most prominent projects. Completed in 1972 as a home for a bank, it sat vacant in recent years. Now, the 40-story downtown spire features a variety of uses after a $100 million renovation.
Douglas Development, which bought the tower six years ago, added 115 apartments while also installing a food hall, a large gym and a craft brewery. It also raised walls around a plaza to curb Lake Erie winds.
Barbara Foy, 64, who began renting a two-bedroom apartment at Seneca One this spring with her husband, Jack, 65, said she enjoyed sleeping with her blinds cracked to enjoy the glitter of the skyline. For almost three decades, Ms. Foy worked around the corner as a social worker, though she never really stuck around at night, instead driving back to her home in the suburbs.
But revitalization has helped her see Buffalo in a whole new light. “There seems to be something going on every weekend,” Ms. Foy said, adding that she enjoyed the city’s Pride parade in June. “Buffalo has really come alive, and I’m so proud of it.”
Office leasing has been slow. About 70 percent of the spaces at Seneca One are rented, most of them to M&T Bank, which is based in Buffalo, as well as a dozen small tech firms. The vacancy rate for top office buildings downtown was 13 percent at the end of last year, according to the brokerage firm CBRE, down from 14 percent in 2020.
Residential leasing, on the other hand, has been robust. It took just nine months to rent all of the apartments at Seneca One after they hit the market in fall 2020 for up to $3,000 a month, said Greg Baker, a director of development at Douglas. Buffalo’s median rent is $800 a month, according to census figures.
Since its Seneca One purchase, Douglas has acquired about 20 properties in the region, including former hotels and hospitals that will be converted to housing.
“People are selling houses in the suburbs to move back into the city, versus when I was younger, when they would live in the suburbs and commute to the city,” said Mr. Baker, a Buffalo native.
In a spread-out city that’s sliced up by highways, improving infrastructure has been a priority, too, though efforts so far have mostly come to fruition on the West Side. For instance, a stretch of Niagara Street near a bridge to Canada that was once lined with auto dealerships now gleams with new sidewalks, streetlights and a protected bike lane. Bike shops and restaurants have revived dilapidated storefronts there, too.
Nearby, workers are about to begin a $110 million overhaul of LaSalle Park, a 77-acre waterfront green space that’s hemmed in by Interstate 190. Plans call for a wide pedestrian bridge over the highway.
Softening the rough edges of Buffalo’s commercial past is also a focus downtown, at Canalside, a neighborhood-in-progress that hugs a short remnant of the original Erie Canal. On a recent afternoon, school groups milled around signs explaining how Midwest wheat and pine once flowed through Buffalo en route to Europe. Movie nights and yoga classes take place on lawns nearby.
“Buffalo may have a ways to go, but it still has come a long way,” Stephanie Surowiec, 32, said as she sat in the sun sipping a hard cider bought from a nearby stand. A nurse who grew up in Buffalo’s suburbs, Ms. Surowiec lives in the city limits today.
If there’s a model for how Buffalo can wring new uses from its industrial hulks, it might be Larkinville, a former soap- and box-making enclave in the city that developers reinvented as a business district about a decade ago. Blocklong factories that now hold offices huddle around a plaza dotted with colorful Adirondack chairs. Wednesday night concerts are a summer staple.
Makeovers of a similar scale are fewer on the East Side, but that could soon change.
This spring, officials announced an infusion of $225 million for the neighborhood, including $185 million from the state. Among the funding is $30 million for an African American heritage corridor along Michigan Avenue and $61 million to redevelop Central Terminal, a 17-story Art Deco train station that had its last passengers in 1979.
In June, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an investment of $50 million for the East Side to help homeowners with repairs and unpaid utility bills.
Some projects have already produced tangible results, like the redevelopment of a 35-acre portion of factory-lined Northland Avenue. Though many of the neighborhood’s properties remain derelict, one, which made machines for metalworking, was reborn in 2018 as 237,000-square-foot Northland Central, an office and educational complex. It includes the Northland Workforce Training Center, which teaches job skills to area residents.
“The impact of the place has been phenomenal,” said Derek Frank, 41, who enrolled in classes after serving an eight-year prison sentence for dealing drugs. Today, Mr. Frank is employed as an electrician, as is his son, Derek Jr., 21, who attended classes alongside his father.
“Them putting that building right here in the heart of the city makes it accessible and convenient,” he added.
But East Side redevelopment plans have sometimes hit bumps. An effort to create a cluster of hospitals called the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has caused gentrification. But advocates point out that the hospitals, which employ 15,000, have picked up some of the economic slack after factories shut down.
Whether spurred on by public investment or other reasons, Buffalo has seen notable growth. Its population of 278,000 in the 2020 census was up 7 percent from 261,000 in 2010.
Buffalo enjoys a steady stream of immigrants, like the family of Muhammad Z. Zaman, which immigrated from Bangladesh in 2004 in part because Buffalo was one of the few places in the United States with an Islamic grade school, Mr. Zaman said.
Today, Mr. Zaman, 31, a working artist, is one of several muralists hired to add bright designs to walls of buildings left exposed by demolitions. One of his creations, which incorporates Arabic calligraphy that translates to “our colors make us beautiful,” jazzes up the side of a structure on Broadway.
“When we first moved here, I felt like we were the only Bangladeshi family,” said Mr. Zaman, who noted that there wasn’t a single halal-style restaurant in Buffalo in the mid-2000s, versus about 20 today. “Now, people are coming here from all over the place.”
Mr. Silbar, the real estate agent, has sold it twice in the past three years. The first time, in November 2019, he represented a buyer who offered $168,000 and got it with zero drama. This year it went back on the market, and Mr. Silbar listed it for $250,000. Fourteen offers and a bidding war later, it closed at $300,000.
When Mr. Silbar got into the business, he said, his clients were “nurses and teachers,” and now they’re corporate managers, engineers and other professionals. “What you can afford in Spokane has completely changed,” he said.
The typical home in the Spokane area is worth $411,000, according to Zillow. That’s still vastly less expensive than markets like the San Francisco Bay Area ($1.4 million), Los Angeles ($878,000), Seattle ($734,000) and Portland ($550,000). But it’s dizzying (and enraging) to long-term residents.
Five years ago, a little over half the homes in the Spokane area sold for less than $200,000, and about 70 percent of its employed population could afford to buy a home, according to a recent report commissioned by the Spokane Association of Realtors. Now fewer than 5 percent of homes — a few dozen a month — sell for less than $200,000, and less than 15 percent of the area’s employed population can afford a home. A recent survey by Redfin, the real estate brokerage, showed that home buyers moving to Spokane in 2021 had a budget 23 percent higher than what locals had.
One of Mr. Silbar’s clients, Lindsey Simler, a 38-year-old nurse who grew up in Spokane, wants to buy a home in the $300,000 range but keeps losing out because she doesn’t have enough cash to compete. Spokane isn’t so competitive that it’s awash in all-cash offers, as some higher-priced markets are. But prices have shot up so fast that many homes are appraising for less than their sale price, forcing buyers to put up higher down payments to cover the difference.
A dozen failed offers later, Ms. Simler has decided to sit out the market for a while because the constant losing is so demoralizing. If prices don’t calm down, she said, she’s thinking about becoming a travel nurse. With the health care work force so depleted by Covid-19, travel nursing pays much better and, hopefully, will allow her to save more for a down payment.
“I’m not at the point where I want to give up on living in Spokane, because I have family here and it feels like home,” she said. “But travel nursing is going to be my next step if I haven’t been able to land a house.”
“It’s gone from feeling super lonely and now it’s feeling pretty normal,” Mr. Gray added.
Wall Street and the banking sector are pillars of the city’s economy, and they have been among the most aggressive industries in prodding employees to go back to the office. James Gorman, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, told investors and analysts this month that “if you want to get paid in New York, you need to be in New York.”
Many firms, including Blackstone and Morgan Stanley, have huge real estate holdings or loans to the industry, so there is more than civic pride in their push to get workers to return. Technology companies like Facebook and Google are increasingly important employers as well as major commercial tenants, and they have been increasing their office space. But they have been more flexible about letting employees continue to work remotely.
Google, which has 11,000 employees in New York and plans to add 3,000 in the next few years, intends to return to its offices in West Chelsea in September, but workers will only be required to come in three days a week. The company has also said up to 20 percent of its staff can apply to work remotely full time.
The decision by even a small slice of employees at Google and other companies to stay home part or all of the week could have a significant economic impact.
Even if just 10 percent of Manhattan office workers begin working remotely most of the time, that translates into more than 100,000 people a day not picking up a coffee and bagel on their way to work or a drink afterward, said James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.
“I expect a lot of people will return, but not all of them,” he said. “We might lose some neighborhood businesses as a result.”
The absence of white-collar workers hurts people like Danuta Klosinski, 60, who had been cleaning office buildings in Manhattan for 20 years. She is one of more than about 3,000 office cleaners who remain out of work, according to Denis Johnston, a vice president of their union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
China’s economy is on a tear. Factories are humming, and foreign investment is flowing in. Even so, the wealthy and powerful people atop some of the country’s most prominent companies are heading for the exits.
The latest are Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the husband-and-wife team that runs Soho China, a property developer known for its blobby, futuristic office buildings. In striking a deal this week to sell a controlling stake to the investment giant Blackstone for as much as $3 billion, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang are turning over the company as high-profile entrepreneurs come under public and official scrutiny in China like never before.
Soho China did not respond to a request for comment.
China’s most famous tycoon, the Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since late last year, when the government began a regulatory crackdown on his companies and the wider internet industry. Colin Huang, founder of the Alibaba rival Pinduoduo, resigned as chairman in March, less than a year after he stepped down as chief executive. In May, Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, said he would hand over the chief executive post to focus on long-term strategy.
Under the Communist Party’s top leader, Xi Jinping, nationalism has been resurgent in China, and the government has sought to exert more direct influence over the private sector. Even before this week’s sale, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang of Soho China had been avoiding the spotlight more than they did during an earlier, freer era of China’s economic revival.
going after businesspeople and intellectuals with big online followings. The police that year arrested Wang Gongquan, a friend of Mr. Pan’s and supporter of human rights causes, on charges of disrupting public order.
Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang began selling off property holdings in China and spending more time in the United States. The family of Ms. Zhang and the Safra family of Brazil, long involved in international banking, teamed up to buy a 40 percent stake in the General Motors building in Manhattan.
They noted that the couple donated generously to Harvard and Yale but not to Chinese universities.
After media reports accused Soho China of “fleeing” Shanghai by selling projects there, Mr. Pan wrote on Weibo: “Buying and selling is normal. Don’t read too much into it.”
The company’s last big public event was the opening of Leeza Soho, a lithe, spiraling skyscraper in Beijing, in late 2019. Zaha Hadid, the famed architect who designed the tower and a friend of Ms. Zhang’s, had died a few years earlier.
Last year, Ren Zhiqiang, a retired property mogul and friend of Mr. Pan’s, was detained for an essay he shared with friends on a private chat group. The essay criticized Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the direction he was taking the country. Mr. Ren was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Today, Mr. Pan’s and Ms. Zhang’s Weibo accounts are filled with bland, friendly material: holiday greetings, book recommendations, photos of flowers in bloom outside Soho China buildings. Both of their accounts are set to display only the past half year’s posts.
On Wednesday night, minutes after Soho China announced the sale on its official Weibo account, Mr. Pan reposted the announcement without comment, in what online commentators called a “silent farewell.”
When Allegra Brochin and her boyfriend adopted Sprinkles, a feisty white Maltese, last year, they set about finding pet care.
“I immediately started looking,” said Ms. Brochin, 23, who works as a communications coordinator for Michael Kors in New York.
She saw ads for Bond Vet pop up on her Instagram feed, and when she took in Sprinkles for her shots, she was won over by the look and feel of the clinic, “especially when it’s for a pet you care about and feel responsible for,” she said.
Ms. Brochin is not alone in her devotion to her pandemic pet. More than 12.6 million households adopted animals from March to December of last year, according to the American Pet Products Association, helping to propel an increase in visits and revenue to veterinary offices, as new owners took pets in for their first checkup.
pet care business is riding a growth spurt: Morgan Stanley projected that it would be a $275 billion industry in 2030, up from $100 billion in 2019, with vet care the fastest-growing segment over the next decade.
“Ten years ago, there was a baby boom,” Arash Danialifar, chief executive of GD Realty Group, a California company that has leased space to a veterinary start-up, said about the proliferation of shops selling children’s fashion. “Now it’s all about pets.”
Small Door Veterinary recently announced it had raised $20 million and planned to go from a single location to 25 by 2025. The firm operates on a membership model, with 24/7 telemedicine and waiting areas with arched, white oak-paneled alcoves that give owners and their pets an intimate place to chill before appointments. Designed by Alda Ly Architecture, the clinics are rented storefronts of 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and cost about $1 million to kit out, said Josh Guttman, Small Door’s co-founder and chief executive.
Bond Vet, another New York start-up, models itself on CityMD clinics; it recently raised $17 million and now has six offices, including its first suburban location, in Garden City on Long Island.
Modern Animal, has an office in a high-end shopping district in West Hollywood, with three more to come in the city by year’s end and a dozen clinics in California by 2022, said the company’s founder and chief executive, Steven Eidelman.
new pet owners during the pandemic. Seventy-six percent of millennials own pets, according to a recent survey, and they are spending generously on their charges.
Terravet Real Estate Solutions, founded in 2016, now owns more than 100 buildings in 30 states, many of them housing practices owned by consolidators. For instance, Terravet owns the building housing CountryChase Veterinary Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and the American Veterinary Group, which operates practices across the South, owns the business.
Hound Properties, founded two years ago, has been buying buildings with an investor-backed fund. And Vetley Capital, started this year, has a portfolio of 20 buildings in nine states, most of them on the small side, ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and costing around $1 million, said Zach Goldman, the company’s founder and president.
The price of real estate has risen, but the returns are generally modest. “It’s the ultimate slow and steady income,” said Tripp Stewart, co-founder and chief executive of Hound Properties, who is also a practicing vet.
Despite the interest, there are obstacles to opening pet hospitals. Zoning sometimes limits their locations. In Pasadena, Calif., GD Realty had to request a zoning change for Modern Animal.
Because such businesses revolve around animal doctors, who are in demand as veterinary companies expand, there are shortages of vets in some parts of the country, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The improvements in vet facilities are thus aimed not only at pets and their owners, but also at the doctors themselves, who can choose where they want to work.
“It used to be that when you went to a vet, it was a family vet who worked out of a kitchen in an old house,” said Dr. Stewart. “Today, you’re not going to attract new young vets to an old house.”
Ms. Martinez, who lives not far from the dorm, said she had invested a little over $100,000 in the deal — money that came from the sale of a rental property. Like many investors in Skyloft, she was looking for a way to defer paying capital gains on the prior sale, and the private placement was marketed by brokers as a “1031 exchange” deal that would keep the Internal Revenue Service at bay.
A 1031 exchange deal, named after a section of the federal tax code, allows an investor to defer paying capital gains on the sale of property as long as the proceeds are invested into another property of equal or greater value to the one sold. These transactions are often criticized as a tax break for the rich, but the deals have also long attracted interest from investors of more moderate means.
The Biden administration is considering eliminating many of these deals as a way to raise additional revenue to pay for increased spending on child care and family leave programs. The Biden plan would allow 1031 exchanges to continue for most investors seeking to defer up to $500,000 in capital gains — many in the Skyloft deal fit that bill.
In recent years, student housing projects like Skyloft have become especially attractive real estate investments — especially as universities have encouraged the building of luxury apartment buildings to cater to students from wealthy families. Before the pandemic, there were, on average, $7 billion in student housing transactions in the United States each year. That was up from $3 billion just a decade ago, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm.
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Court filings and interviews with investors set out how the Skyloft project financing worked. To secure the $124 million purchase of Skyloft, Nelson Partners obtained a $66 million mortgage from a group of lenders led by UBS, in addition to the $75 million raised from ordinary investors. It also got $35 million in short-term financing from Axonic Capital, a New York hedge fund that specializes in commercial real estate transactions. The loan from Axonic was used to complete the purchase while Nelson Partners was raising money from investors.
Nelson Partners was to pay Axonic back the bridge loan, plus interest, using money raised from investors like Ms. Martinez. But Mr. Nelson’s firm did not pay back the loan, according to court filings. In February 2020, Axonic put Nelson Partners on notice, and it notified him last May that it was declaring Nelson Partners in default and taking control of the building.
Mr. Nelson opposed Axonic’s move but did not inform investors about his dealings with the hedge fund, according to the lawsuits. Instead, in April 2020, Nelson Partners stopped paying monthly cash dividends to the investors, telling them that it needed to conserve cash during the pandemic in the event students and their parents stopped paying rent. Mr. Nelson’s firm also received a loan of just over $1.2 million from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Helmut Jahn, a German-born architect who designed buildings around the world but was most influential in his adopted hometown, Chicago, where he conceived of an extravagant downtown home to state government and the United Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport, died on Saturday in a traffic accident near the horse farm where he lived, in St. Charles, Ill. He was 81.
His wife, Deborah (Lampe) Jahn, confirmed the death. He had been riding his bicycle in suburban Campton Hills when he was struck by two cars that were heading in opposite directions. A news release from the local police department said that Mr. Jahn failed to brake at a stop sign.
A modernist who began a long flirtation with postmodernism in the 1970s, Mr. Jahn (pronounced “yahn”) designed the Xerox Center, an elegant 45-story office tower with a glass and aluminum curtain wall, a rounded corner and a two-story streetfront that undulates inward that opened in 1980 in Chicago’s Loop.
Philip Johnson called Mr. Jahn “a genuine genius” and “a comet flashing in the sky,” although he added, “I don’t know about him yet.”
At the time, construction of Mr. Jahn’s futuristic design of the State of Illinois Center — a government and retail complex — was nearly complete in the middle of the Loop. The facade is a mix of reflective bluish-turquoise glass; inside, the circular atrium has a mix of salmon-colored and blue metal panels. Multicolored granite lines the base.
In his 1985 review in The New York Times, the architecture critic Paul Goldberger said that the complex’s “squat form, which swoops around one corner in a 16-story-high curve, is one part Pompidou Center, one part Piranesi and one part kitsch 1950s revival. He added, “It is not surprising that it has left even this relatively sophisticated city breathless.”
Reaction to Mr. Jahn’s buildings in Chicago ranged from “dazzling” to the critical observation that it was “unrelated to anything else in the whole of Western civilization.”
Eero Saarinen’s early-1960s designs for Dulles International Airport in Washington and the T.W.A. Flight Center at Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Helmut Jahn was born on Jan. 4, 1940, in Nuremberg, Germany, and grew up in a nearby suburb. His father, Wilhelm, was a special-education teacher. His mother, Lena (Werth) Jahn, was a homemaker.
As a boy, Helmut loved drawing and painting, but he aspired to be an airline pilot. “But he wasn’t very good at languages, which disqualified him to be a pilot for Lufthansa,” his wife said, “so he chose architecture because it involved a lot of drawing.”
After graduating from the Technische Hochschule in Munich, he earned a master’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology College of Architecture. After he graduated in 1967, he was hired by Gene Summers, formerly the right-hand man to the modernist giant Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, at the venerable Chicago architectural firm C.F. Murphy Associates.
But five years later the roof collapsed in a rainstorm.
The failure was found to have been caused by the fracture of high strength bolts that helped suspend the roof.
In 1981, Murphy Associates became Murphy/Jahn; Mr. Jahn became the firm’s president a year later and acquired it in 1983. It was renamed Jahn in 2012.
After designing the State of Illinois Center (which would be renamed the James R. Thompson Center, for the Illinois Republican governor who backed it), Mr. Jahn worked with Donald J. Trump to design a 150-floor tower that would have been the centerpiece of a megacomplex on the West Side of Manhattan called Television City.
That plan never came to fruition, and the site later became a pared-down development called Riverside South.
Mr. Jahn’s other projects in Manhattan included the 70-story CitySpire in Midtown, behind City Center, and 425 Lexington Avenue, which the architecture critic Carter Horsley dismissed in The City Review in 1987 for its “Roto-Rooterized top,” which he said looked like a “squished foil to the irrepressible upward thrust of the Chrysler Building just across 43rd Street.”
Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago (2011), with an elliptical, 40-foot-high dome that covers a 180-seat reading room and an underground automated storage and retrieval system.
Writing in The Chicago Tribune, the critic Blair Kamin called the library a “convention-busting marvel” that “students seem to love because it lets natural air pour inside, liberating them from the university’s dimly lit reading rooms.”
Mr. Jahn was working on designs until the end of his life.
“He was so possessed with getting his work done,” Mrs. Jahn said by phone. “He was just a one-man show. He had so many ideas in his head.”
In addition to his wife, whom he met when she was the interior designer for McCormick Place, Mr. Jahn is survived by his son, Evan, a partner in the firm; two granddaughters; and a brother, Otmar.
Earlier this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration accelerated the process, sending developers a request for proposals to sell the building, whose upkeep has been deemed too costly.
Last year, Mr. Jahn offered a proposal to save the building by adapting it to create new offices, a hotel and apartments, and building an office tower on the southwest corner of West Randolph and North LaSalle Streets. He also proposed removing the building’s front doors and turning the enormous atrium into a covered outdoor space.
“A demolition and replacement would not only take a long time but seeks high density without considering public benefits,” he wrote in his proposal. We need not more bigger buildings, but buildings which improve the public space.”
It has been only five weeks since New York State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The board that will oversee the rollout has yet to be appointed, let alone rules set for how licenses will be issued to cannabis businesses. The sale of legal pot in the state is still a year away. And, of course, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.
But already the rush is on to get a piece of what could be a $4.2 billion industry in the Empire State.
Brokers are talking to landlords about leasing storefronts to dispensaries. Representatives of out-of-state cannabis businesses are flying in to scope out properties. And suppliers of medical marijuana are expanding in the hope that they will be able to branch into recreational sales.
Agricultural land upstate is now marketed as being “in the green zone” for hemp farming or the construction of grow houses for cultivating marijuana.
may soon change.
heated discussions among local officials, some of whom “can’t fathom the idea of the devil’s lettuce businesses within their borders,” said Neil M. Willner, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, a New York City law firm.
But the pandemic may have softened the stance of some officials, given the jobs and tax revenue that cannabis businesses can generate after the protracted health crisis has decimated both. The state estimates that the new industry could bring it $350 million in annual revenue and create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, funding is pouring into the industry in anticipation of possible federal legalization, some lenders will now do business with cannabis companies, and real estate investment trusts have sprung up to serve marijuana interests.
an increase in purchasing over leasing in the past year.
“Going forward, when banking becomes more normalized for us — when we have the opportunity to get real estate debt in the way traditional industries do — we would have a preference for owning real estate,” said Barrington Rutherford, senior vice president of real estate and community integration at Cresco Labs, a cannabis company with operations in several states.
law firms, consultants, insurance agents and accountants specializes in helping clients jump through regulatory hoops. A listing service that is the industry’s answer to Zillow offers a wide range of real estate, from $65,000 lots in an industrial park in Lexington, Okla., to a $109 million, 45,000-square-foot grow house in San Bernardino, Calif.
The brick-and-mortar side of cannabis real estate has also evolved.
As cultivation of marijuana has become more sophisticated, grow houses have expanded — they can be 150,000 square feet or more, with high ceilings, heavy-duty ventilation, lighting and security. Processing typically occurs in separate buildings with high-tech machinery.
dispensaries are increasingly stylish, offering a rarefied retail experience. Accomplished architecture and design firms have gotten into the act. There are even companies that specialize in kitting out dispensaries and other cannabis real estate.
And as marijuana gains broader public acceptance — and some celebrity glamour, with Jay-Z’s Monogram and Seth Rogen’s Houseplant — stores are opening in prominent locations near traditional retailers.
“We’re next to Starbucks in downtown Chicago,” Mr. Rutherford said. “In Philadelphia, the store we’re opening is a half block from Shake Shack and down the block from Macy’s.”
“We are building a portfolio of sites that would be enviable by any retail organization,” he added.
The New York State law also provides for licenses for “consumption sites,” and this is expected to give rise to clublike lounges and cannabis cafes. The prospect of such convivial settings has led to predictions that New York City may become the next Amsterdam.
These new storefront uses would appear to be a godsend for New York’s retail real estate market, where availability has increased and rents have fallen.
“A few years ago, when the market was stronger, it was harder to find landlords willing to play ball,” said Benjamin S. Birnbaum, a broker at the real estate services firm Newmark. “What’s changed, because of the pandemic, is that every landlord is willing to talk about it.”
in a recent CNBC interview.
Regardless of size, opening a dispensary can be complicated and expensive, in part because states have required that would-be retailers have control of a site, through a lease or option to lease, before they can apply for a license. But the number of licenses in some states is limited, with no guarantee a business will get one.
In Oregon, some applicants had to wait so long — one or two years, said Andrew DeWeese, a lawyer with Green Light Law Group in Portland — they eventually gave up and essentially sold their place in line.
“It’s a Catch-22,” said Kristin Jordan, a cannabis lawyer in New York City. “You want to secure real estate, but you don’t want to jump the gun.”
Still, the prospect of operating in New York, a state with more than 19 million residents and a major tourist destination, is so enticing that cannabis companies are getting their ducks in row.
Companies that have medical dispensaries, which have been operating since 2016, are in an enviable position because it is believed they will have an advantage in securing additional licenses.
Cresco Labs has four medical dispensaries in New York, including one in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is unclear whether the state will allow recreational marijuana to be sold at those locations, but Mr. Rutherford is hedging his bets, adding parking and in some cases expanding by leasing a storefront next door to an existing space.
“We are making sure those stores are ready for the future adult use market,” he said.
“Not being able to have a flexible deal was making the business unsustainable,” Mr. Perillo said.
The landlord of his best store, Premier Equities, declined to comment on its dealings with Dr Smood. But property records show that Premier had amassed a big debt on the building that housed the store, which may have factored into its decision.
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In 2014, Premier Equities paid $11.25 million for the building, financing the purchase with a $9 million mortgage. In 2017, Premier borrowed another $5 million against the building, the records show. Premier also declined to comment on the debt.
Some property owners have deeper pockets than others, and in big office buildings where retail income makes up a small fraction of overall rent, landlords are not hurting as badly because corporations, law firms and other tenants are still paying rent. These landlords can offer rent deals for longer to keep their properties looking lively.
Mark Strausman, a noted chef, went ahead last fall with plans for a new restaurant, Mark’s Off Madison. He could do so in part because his landlord, Rudin Management, is not charging him rent, except for the first month’s payment.
Nonetheless, the restaurant is losing money. But, Mr. Strausman said, “I don’t believe that after all of this, people want to stay home and cook.”
William C. Rudin, Rudin’s chief executive, said he wanted the restaurant to stay open in part so that employees in the offices above might feel better about returning. Mr. Rudin said he believed in Mr. Strausman’s vision but had not decided how long to keep waiving the rent. “Luckily, this is a small percentage of our portfolio, so it hasn’t impacted us, but for small owners, these are very difficult decisions to make,” Mr. Rudin said.
Before, businesses had little interest in spending on such services, according to Rebecca Humphrey, an executive vice president at Savills and head of the Workplace Practice Group. “A client would say ‘I don’t want to pay for that, I just want this deal done,’” she said. “The pandemic has shifted that.”
Her Savills colleague, Mr. Lipson, said he saw possible changes for even some of the staunchest traditionalists, like white-shoe law firms in Washington. “Senior partners went home last March thinking ‘my paper, I can’t do without my paper, and I can’t do without my assistant right outside my office,’” he said. “Then they billed the same amount of hours the next week and thought, ‘huh, that went better than I thought?’”
With companies anticipating changes, and reactions to them, one new role the real estate firms may be playing is that of the scapegoat.
For businesses with employees reluctant to return to the office, the consultants’ stamp of approval can provide credibility — and a reason to make office workers come back.
“We’re very helpful to play the bad guy,” Ms. Humphrey said, noting a fair amount of business had related to auditing office plans and helping companies communicate changes or bring people back. “It helps in messaging to say ‘we brought the outside guys in’.”
What Is an Office For?
Sixteen floors up in a quiet Midtown Manhattan high-rise, Joseph J. Sitt leapt to his feet and pointed to a television headline that heartened him: Remote work would soon end for New York City government employees. He had been agitating for a signal like this. “If he’s not going to have workers back in the office,” he said, “who is?”
Mr. Sitt, chief executive of Thor Equities, reopened his own workplace last July, unveiling what he called a “Covid conference room,” with chairs spaced a shade more generously. (“I guess I should call it the socially distanced conference room,” he corrected himself.) He was counting on a “violent reopening.”