Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Real Estate Board of New York honors 7 stars of the industry

Meet the seven real estate professionals who will be honored at Thursday night’s REBNY gala.

The Harry B. Helmsley Distinguished New Yorker Award

  • David R. Greenbaum, Vice Chairman of Vornado Realty Trust

This is Greenbaum’s 39th REBNY dinner — initially becoming involved while a tax attorney at Weil Gotshal & Manges. At that time, he was invited to speak to a luncheon by the late Bernard “Bernie” Mendik, who he calls “a true champion for our industry.”

Joining the Mendik Company in 1982, he became its president in 1990. In 1997, the Mendik Company merged into a new real estate investment trust, Vornado Realty Trust, where Greenbaum is now a vice chairman.

He is a member of REBNY’s Executive Committee of the Board of Governors as well as its Economic Development and Tax Policy committees. In honor of his accomplishments, Greenbaum received REBNY’s 2010 Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Achievement Award.

At Vornado, Greenbaum oversees all aspects of the NYC portfolio encompassing over 80 buildings with 30 million square feet plus Chicago and San Francisco projects.
In New York, Greenbaum is spearheading the Penn Station district redevelopment of the former Farley Post Office into offices for tech companies, plus new retail and entrances for the Moynihan Train Hall in the building’s base, as well as the redevelopment of towers that surround Madison Square Garden.

Greenbaum is active in the 34th Street Partnership, the Grand Central Partnership and the Times Square Alliance. He is a member of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate Advisory Board, while the New York City Partnership selected him to participate in the David Rockefeller Fellows Program.

A first-generation American whose parents escaped Germany in 1939, he and his wife support the Center for Jewish Life at his alma mater, the University of Rochester, and are funding an AgriFood Tech campus in Israel through the Jewish National Fund, where he serves on the board. He sits on the boards of the Lighthouse Guild and the Jeffrey Modell Foundation.

For any young person entering the field of real estate, Greenbaum says to “work hard, work harder.”

“It is also critical to be part of organizations like REBNY to meet as many people as you can in the industry and to find mentors,” Greenbaum adds. REBNY effectively promotes the city’s economy and “emphasizes the importance of investing in infrastructure to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers.”

The Kenneth R. Gerrety Humanitarian Award

  • Héctor Figueroa, Former President of the 32BJ Service Employees International Union

Figueroa served as union president for seven years until his untimely death at the age of 57 in July 2019.

During his tenure at 32BJ, Figueroa built and led the research and political departments, and later served as leader for the tri-state and New York metro areas. A tireless fighter for immigrant and worker rights, Figueroa established the American Dream Fund, the union’s voluntary political action fund.

As director of the 32BJ New York metro district, Figueroa led operations and negotiated strong contracts for 70,000 members in the New York area, which includes those working in both commercial and residential buildings.

Born in Puerto Rico, he moved to the Bronx and received a degree in economics from New York University before joining the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union as a researcher.

In 1995, he began working with SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, followed by work in Puerto Rico as SEIU Director for the island. In February 1999, he was asked to serve as deputy trustee for 32BJ and was elected as its Secretary-Treasurer in 2000. He was elected president in 2012.

Championing racial, social and economic justice, the union and its 175,000 members have been at the forefront of national campaigns to defend and expand voting rights and to fight the causes and effects of climate change.

Young Real Estate Professional of the Year Award

  • Robin Fisher, Senior Managing Director at Newmark Knight Frank and founder of Blace

“New York City is a very complicated place to do business,” says Fisher. “Everyone here lives to work, as opposed to work to live.”

Fisher joined Newmark Knight Frank in 2004. Along with office tenant representation, she advises retailers and corporate portfolio operators on asset optimization and site selection. As a tenant broker, she says, “You have a big impact on the work and lives of your clients.”

Her outstanding work at NKF led to her receiving REBNY’s Most Promising Commercial Salesperson of the Year Award in 2008. “The first three to five years are a game of survival,” she advises those interested in the profession. “But if you survive, the benefit of being a real estate professional is unique, and, money aside, it’s very fulfilling.”

Recognizing that finding sites to hold events was difficult, Fisher recently founded Blace, an online platform where high-end corporations and entertaining firms can book spaces and manage events.

From the beginning of her career, Fisher has been very active in the Young Men’s/Women’s Real Estate Association (YM/WREA) which chose her for this award. The organization hosts monthly luncheons, a kayaking excursion and numerous charitable events, from building homes with Habitat for Humanity to feeding the homeless around Thanksgiving. Fisher notes these events are great opportunities to meet others in the business: “I got to know senior brokers and later ended up doing deals with them.”

The secretary of YM/WREA in 2009, Fisher served on YM/WREA’s 2010 Board of Governors as vice chairman. That same year she received NKF’s Rising Star Award and is a member of NKF’s Young Leadership Council. She was also involved in merging the Association of Real Estate Women (AREW) with Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) New York. “As women, we are most powerful together,” she says.

Bernard H. Mendik Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Jodi Pulice, Founder & CEO of JRT Realty Group

“What is greater than that being recognized by your peers?” says Pulice, a leasing professional for three decades who founded JRT Realty Group 24 years ago. “I think the world is changing; I hope for women and minorities it’s changing for the better.”

Her strategic alliance with Cushman & Wakefield allows Pulice to be at the forefront of that change.

She is responsible for a leasing and management portfolio of 13 million square feet on behalf of TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America). She has also racked up leasing and sales transactions totaling over $3 billion, including the sale of the Seagram Building and representing the FDIC’s national field offices at 92 locations. Pulice was previously honored as one of the Association of Real Estate Women’s Top 50 Women in Real Estate.

Along with New York, she has an office in California and would like to see its law requiring women on boards come to the Big Apple. “We’ve always been breaking through the glass ceiling, and now we need to be on boards,” she says.

Pulice sits on REBNY’s new Diversity Committee as well as the Leasing Brokers Committee. “Chairman Bill Rudin has done an unbelievable job so women and minorities have a fair shot at the table,” she says.

She also serves on the boards of three non-profits: the Long Island YMCA, the UNFCU Foundation for Women and the Jeffrey Modell Foundation. “I know how to make money and I am trying to give back,” she says.

As for newcomers, she advises: “Never take ‘no’ for an answer because if you don’t ask, you never are going to get — and every ‘no’ has to mean ‘yes’ in your mind.”

The George M. Brooker Management Executive of the Year Award

  • Henry M. Celestino, Vice Chairman of L&L Holding Company

From nuclear power plant sites to offshore oil rigs to wastewater treatment plants, Hank Celestino has seen it all.

Now, as Vice Chairman at L&L Holding, he is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day construction, engineering, building operations and management throughout the company’s nearly 10 million-square-foot portfolio.

He has also played an integral role in the redevelopment and commissioning of such landmark L&L projects as 200 Fifth Ave., 195 Broadway, 390 Madison Ave. and 425 Park Ave. He has also guided the engineering, planning and installation process for several large mechanical and architectural capital infrastructure projects.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University grad with a degree in civil engineering, he worked at Burns & Roe Engineering on a nuclear reactor and evaluated offshore drilling rigs, wastewater plants and oil refineries.

In New York, at Schulman Realty Group, Celestino focused on the ground-up construction of commercial buildings. He joined the Building Owner and Manager’s Association (BOMA) and serves on BOMA committees.

He transitioned to Newmark Real Estate, eventually overseeing its 25 million-square-foot third-party institutional portfolio. As his career moved to the owner/developer side of the business, he found REBNY membership invaluable. “The organization and its members are similarly focused on the local rules, codes and guidelines that affect property development and operations,” he says.

The John E. Zuccotti Public Service Award

  • Jay Kriegel

With his signature white scarf — and, in his later years, a matching mane — the late Jay Kriegel was a classic political operative. Cutting a dapper figure across the aisles for over five decades, he shaped New York City’s public policy — and its skyline.

Prior to his passing in December, Kriegel was thrilled that he would receive this award for his exceptional accomplishments and public service.

He was most recently a senior advisor at Related Companies focused on business strategy and project development, including the spearheading of the Hudson Yards project.

At 25, Kriegel was a Harvard Law student when he was tapped to work with John Lindsay on the Voting Rights Act, Lindsay’s successful mayoral campaign and within his administration.

Kriegel left his mark across industries. He worked for Loews Corp., founded American Lawyer magazine and lobbied Congress to require cable companies be paid by broadcasters and ensured city and state residents could still get tax deductions.

He helped shape the New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics. He later worked on Barclays Center, the extension of the 7 subway line to Hudson Yards and Citi Field, the Mets’ home base.

“We will miss his wit, humor and tireless dedication,” REBNY Chairman Bill Rudin says.

The Louis Smadbeck Memorial Broker Recognition Award

  • Kevin R. Wang, KRW Realty Advisors

The real estate business remains all about people. “It is still about relationships,” Kevin Wang explains. “It still takes human interaction to do leases, loans, sales and building.”

Over his 40-year career, Wang has experienced all sides of the industry, from brokerage to management to the repositioning of assets including 501 Madison Ave.

He is currently working on the development of The Hive, a two-building 140,000-square-foot office and retail project along Eighth Avenue near Times Square. “It’s a great contribution to the area and one of the last pieces to be renovated,” he says.

Wang joined Cross & Brown right after graduating from Cornell University. His boss and mentor, Richard “Dick” Seeler, was the first recipient of the same Louis Smadbeck Award that Wang is receiving. Seeler was REBNY’s chairman and brought Wang in as a member.

Wang now sits on the REBNY Board of Governors, is the Chairman of the General Meetings Committee and a member of the REBNY Arbitration Committee. He served as REBNY’s Co-Chairman of the International Seminar Committee from 1990-1995.

Wang was the YM/WREA chairman and received both its Young Man and Senior Man of the Year awards. He also teaches at the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate.

Wang joined the Mendik Company in 1985 and moved REBNY’s offices to its current 570 Lexington headquarters. “We did a lot of renovation at Mendik, so I cut my chops on that,” Wang says. “These are still skills I use today.”

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