When Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2015, Elie Hirschfeld switched parties.
The Manhattan developer known for building the Crowne Plaza Hotel and residential towers Grand Sutton and Park Avenue Court had given sporadically to candidates in both parties in the past, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and members of the Bush clan, and considered himself a Democrat.
But Hirschfeld has known Trump personally for decades. When Hirschfeld had an opportunity to develop the site that would become Riverside South on Manhattan’s Far West Side, he brought Trump into the deal. And he once rented office space in one of Trump Tower’s lower floors in the early 1980s.
“We became one of his first tenants in his office portion,” Hirschfeld told CO. “He built offices because he didn’t want to be alone. The apartments sold well, but the offices were slow.”
Trump behaved more like a real estate mogul than a political power broker back then, writing checks for politicians in both parties who could loosen regulations and advance zoning applications. He has sprinkled approximately $1.5 million in contributions to national candidates and party committees since 1979, according to federal election records. Many were Democratic officeholders in New York and New Jersey.
“I’ve given to everybody because that was my job,” Trump explained while campaigning in Iowa in 2016. “I’ve got to give to them because when I want something, I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass.”
But Trump’s own thirst for the White House grew after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, and an array of political consultants he met with, including David Bossie, head of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United, suggested Trump shower Republican officeholders with his cash to boost his profile.
Trump began tilting the majority of his spending toward Republicans in 2010, before he cut off Democrats entirely in 2011. By the following year, he had become a reliable Republican contributor, giving $325,000 to national candidates and party committees.
Trump always expected something in return. He had targeted his spending to lay the groundwork for a future presidential run. Yet when Republican leaders solicited him in late 2012, after Mitt Romney’s loss, Trump chastised them over Romney’s campaign strategies and refusal to deploy him as a surrogate in the final weeks of the race.
Trump’s experiences demanding favors and dispensing advice led him to eschew sizable contributions when he launched his bid in June 2015, claiming other candidates were “puppets” of their benefactors. Yet his allies quickly registered a super PAC named “Make America Great Again.” And Trump publicly revised his views, telling CBS’ John Dickerson in August 2015, “I would even take big contributors, as long as they don’t expect anything.”
One of his first significant donations was from the family of a New York-area developer. Seryl Kushner, executive administrator and spouse of the founder of Kushner Companies, who also happened to be the mother of Trump’s son-in-law, gave $100,000 to Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC in July 2015. (Disclosure: Seryl Kushner is also the mother-in-law of Observer Media chairman, Joseph Meyer.)
Elie Hirschfeld wrote a $2,700 check in February 2016, but the campaign’s fundraising arm was so disorganized he had to call Trump’s secretary Rhona Graff for instructions about how to send Trump the money.
“I did it because he was a friend,” said Hirschfeld, who is not currently working with the Trump Organization. “I didn’t think he had a chance to win at the time. The sense I had was it was a promotional effort, but it took awhile for me to realize it was his intent to win. When Donald puts his mind toward something, he usually gets it done.”
The Latest Round
Trump has hauled in a massive sum for his re-election this cycle, including from New York’s real estate community, after Hillary Clinton outraised him nearly 2 to 1 in 2016.
Eager to avoid being an underdog as a sitting president, Trump filed for re-election hours after his inauguration. And, after campaigning as a political outsider against the Republican Party establishment in 2016, his campaign merged with the Republican National Committee to form a joint fundraising committee. The move allows Trump to share office space and staff with the party, coordinate events, and control which candidates receive money from the party.
That early planning was critical, and the Trump campaign collected $572 million through the first half of 2020, 32 percent higher than the $433 million it brought in four years ago, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of federal campaign records.
Commercial real estate poured $15.9 million into Trump’s campaign coffers so far this cycle, the second-most of any business sector. That mark so far is 42 percent higher than the $11.2 million Trump coaxed from developers in 2016. Only finance has given more, though neither has had anything on what the Center for Responsive Politics describes as “retirees,” who have raised $89 million, and Republican officials, who have brought in $65 million.
But Trump once again trails a formidable Democrat despite having an early fundraising advantage. After prevailing in a 29-candidate field, former Vice President Joe Biden has led Trump in polls with a boost of support from suburban whites, the elderly and college-educated voters. Biden’s fundraising exploded once the primary finished, with the candidate raking in $702 million so far.
It hasn’t been difficult for Biden to raise money from developers either this year. In fact, he’s brought in $17 million from the real estate industry nationally — roughly $1 million more than Trump.
This Biden motherlode includes treasure from some of the biggest names in or connected to New York real estate. Four M Investments’ Dennis Mehiel forked over $202,815 to pro-Biden groups (with his firm kicking in $5,000 more), followed by executives at BCG Partners, who distributed $100,000 to pro-Biden groups and $85,310 directly to the candidate, and at the Blackstone Group, who gave $100,000 to pro-Biden committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Other top real estate-related donors this election cycle include executives and principals at Fisher Brothers ($50,000 to outside groups and $6,705 to Biden), Cushman & Wakefield ($20,763 to Biden), Royal Realty, which is part of the Durst Organization ($20,000 to outside pro-Biden groups), and GFP Real Estate ($16,800 to Biden), whose chairman, Jeff Gural, co-hosted a $2,800-ticket party for Biden with Newmark Knight Frank CEO Barry Gosin in January.
Biden might not enjoy the same ties with real estate developers and investors as Hillary Clinton, a former senator from New York and currently a Westchester County resident. But Gural is a longtime Biden friend who held fundraisers for his Delaware Senate campaigns. The people in Gural’s social circle are mostly Biden supporters too.
“It’s hard to be friendly with Trump supporters to tell you the truth,” Gural told CO. “Biden’s a decent guy, and maybe that’s what the country needs right now.”
Property owners, investors and brokers are exactly the kind of professionals with whom Trump should be succeeding, though. The industry remains predominantly white and male and the president’s base in 2016 largely consisted of white males over the age of 50, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. Trump also received more support than Clinton from whites who earned more than $50,000, a Data for Progress analysis showed.
There is enthusiasm for Trump in the industry — stemming in large part from his tax policy, his approach to Israel and the stock markets’ performance during his presidency — and that energy has translated into larger donations from it than in 2016. Trump’s top real estate donors so far this year have been Greystone & Co. managing director Abraham Spria, who donated $100,000 to a pro-Trump group and $5,600 to the Trump campaign, and Landmark Abstract Agency president Jacob Rekant, who gave $37,000 to a pro-Trump group. Other top donors include individuals at Compass and Walker & Dunlop, who each gave about $25,000 to pro-Trump groups, while executives at Meridian Properties ($19,966), the Witkoff Group ($17,200), Hirschfeld Properties ($16,800), and the Lefrak Organization ($16,200) all gave directly to the Trump campaign. Four years ago, H.J. Kalikow & Co. president Peter Kalikow was the only developer who gave Trump more than $10,000.
“Trump brings out both extremes, but he has a lot who support him in the middle,” Hirschfeld, who serves as finance chair of the state Republican Party, said. “On financial issues, people in the real estate world believe Donald Trump is doing better than would be the case if we had a progressive-leaning president.”
But the president’s immigration policies, refusal to fund New York infrastructure projects, the cap he supported on state and local tax deductions, and abject mismanagement of the pandemic galvanized others to thwart him.
“I’ve never seen a level of disgust and anger on Donald Trump’s weakness on so many issues,” Jennifer Bayer Michaels, a longtime fundraiser for Sen. Charles Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo who leads theNew York office of the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country, told CO. “People are frankly disgusted. I’ve had a lot to work with. New Yorkers in particular are distrustful of Donald Trump. They don’t like what they see.”
Why They Give
Real estate leaders from both parties see a connection between Trump’s surprise win in 2016 and the leftward reaction in New York politics that followed. Dozens of progressives won seats in the City Council and state Legislature beginning in 2017. Democrats, in fact, took complete control of the state government for the first time since 2010. Lawmakers then passed tenant-friendly rent regulations, while developers seethed, and are pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy to close city and state budget deficits.
“The best thing that could happen to the real estate industry in New York is for Trump to lose,” one real estate executive who is backing Biden but preferred to stay anonymous told CO. “Other than a tax cut that has benefited some real estate owners personally, the last three and a half years have been a disaster politically for real estate and in a lot of people’s minds the first step to recovery is Trump getting out.”
Trump’s policies and personality have cleaved the real estate industry in unexpected ways too. One Trump fundraiser has found a bevy of support from individual property owners who own a handful of buildings and from smaller family-owned real estate firms in the New York area. Those at larger real estate investment trusts, however, favor Biden but have been open to a Trump-friendly pitch, the fundraiser said.
“I am more willing to cold call somebody in real estate who has given money to both sides but to less progressive-type Democrats like Gov. Cuomo,” the Trump fundraiser said. “I’d be more willing to call them than an attorney. The real estate industry’s been demonized a bit in New York, and I think is open to at least listening, especially over the last few years.”
But a Biden supporter noted that it may all come down to a donor’s ideology, culture, and whether they live in New York City or the suburbs.
“The higher-level guys who in a good year make $1.5 million and live in Greenwich, that’s the Trump folks,” the Biden supporter said. “It’s not really cool to be a Republican in the city. How do you be a Trump Republican and not like gay people and be bigoted in New York City? That’s not the way we operate here. Do you think they’re going to let you on the board of the Museum of Natural History if you don’t believe in science or the board of MoMA if you want to deport people?”
Some real estate firms have deep divisions within their own ranks, with senior executives raising gobs of cash for both parties while managing to keep politics out of their Slack channels. Executives at Blackstone, for instance, a major player in real estate financing and investing, have raised $100,000 for Biden, while its CEO, Steve Schwarzman, has doled out $27.3 million to Republican candidates and PACs over the past two years, records show.
And Stephen Ross, chairman and CEO of the Related Cos., one of New York’s busiest developers and owners, hosted a swanky Hamptons fete for Trump last summer while its employees largely gave to Democratic congressional candidates. Ross in a later New York Times interview expressed regret for hosting the Trump event, but he wouldn’t tell the paper for whom he planned to vote.
With fewer than six weeks to go before the end of the race, the money will continue to flow and donors will vie for the ear of their candidate much like Trump did in 2012. Elie Hirschfeld hopes Trump provides aid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other public facilities in New York and tax relief by reinstating the SALT deduction. Jeff Gural wants Biden to continue condemning violence and outside agitators causing confrontations at protests.
“I think deep down people would like to see the country united,” Gural said. “I don’t think they’re happy the country is so divided. I can’t wait for the election to see what people really think behind closed doors.”
A plan by Hudson Bay Company (HBC) to unlock the real estate values of its vast property holdings could run into dramatic price differences among its holdings in Western Canada.
On October 19, the venerable retailer, founded in Canada in 1670, announced it had formed HBC Properties and Investments (HBCPI), a dedicated real estate and investments business to “manage, maximize and enhance” the 40 million square feet of gross leasable space that HBC owns across North America.
Richard Baker, HBC’s executive chairman and CEO said, “This is an exciting phase of our company’s transformation and provides us with a significant opportunity to unleash the full potential of our real estate and investments business. Under this new organization, we will build upon our strong foundation of valuable real estate assets in key demographic areas. We will also continue our strong track record of maximizing our portfolio and generating value from these assets, as we did through the sales of the Lord + Taylor flagship building and our interest in European real estate assets,” He added, “HBCPI is well-equipped to further elevate and increase the value of our portfolio.”
HBCPI sold HBC’s Lord + Taylor building in New York City last year for $1.1 billion. It unloaded the company’s share of European assets for a reported $1.5 billion.
The plan to monetize real estate could include downtown locations in Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg.
The 168,000-square-foot Edmonton store is slated to close this fall. The Winnipeg downtown store, once the HBC flagship outlet in Canada, is scheduled to close February 2021 after more than 125 years in business.
In Vancouver, HBC had a conditional agreement in 2018 to sell its downtown store at 674 Granville Street to RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust for $675 million, but the transaction failed to go through.
The site, which includes 767,000 square feet of land at the corner of West Georgia Street, is currently assessed at $251.6 million by BC Assessment.
As a comparison, the 650,000-square-foot Winnipeg downtown building was valued at zero in a January 2020 appraisal done by Cushman & Wakefield.
According to the appraisal, the building is worthless, but the site would likely be developed with retail and other commercial uses, such as offices or multi-residential development.
This would likely be the fate of other HBC downtown locations in Canada.
HBCPI now owns New York-based Streetworks Development, a large-scale property development division that specializes in mixed-use redevelopments.
“This new division focuses on creating multi-use spaces that feature a variety of services and experiences across the workplace, retail, residential and entertainment categories,” according to a HBCPI statement October 19.
The COVID-19 public health crisis has altered consumer trends and home-buying patterns. From social distancing to Zoom teleconferencing, more people are working from home and performing their daily duties from the comfort of their kitchen or dining room. This has allowed a lot of homebuyers to vacate the big cities and re-plant their roots within rural and suburban communities. Based on the numbers, it looks like many of these home seekers are looking to the Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick real estate markets.
Despite the economic challenges in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many major urban centres are witnessing record-breaking growth, whether it is in sales activity or prices. If too many Canadians were priced out of these cities before the outbreak, their dreams of living in the downtown core of Toronto and Vancouver are becoming even harder to realize. These trends have facilitated tremendous growth in Atlantic Canada real estate.
Atlantic Canada housing markets have witnesses record-breaking activity since the height of the pandemic. Below, we take a closer look at just how well New Brunswick’s hottest housing markets have fared over the course of this unprecedented public health crisis.
New Brunswick Real Estate: Hot Markets, Province-wide
Fredericton was one of the many Atlantic Canada markets to endure the “pandemic pause,” but the city has since recuperated and now it is on track to close out 2020 with strong numbers that are projected to boost the local market into next year.
According to the Real Estate Board of the Fredericton Area, residential sales surged a record high 34.4 per cent in September 2020 compared to the same time last year. The average price of homes sold in September climbed an impressive 22.6 per cent year-over-year, to $210,015.
Although 312 new residential listings were added to the housing market in September, overall inventory continues to decline to its lowest level in 17 years. Active residential listings were down more than 40 per cent compared to the end of September 2019.
The RE/MAX Fall Market Outlook Report forecasts that Fredericton home prices will maintain their current values, rising 2.5 per cent to finish 2020. However, as a direct result of dwindling supply and pent-up demand, Fredericton is witnessing a new trend that has largely been confined to Canada’s largest real estate markets, such as Toronto and Vancouver: bidding wars.
Like Fredericton, Saint John is another city in the New Brunswick real estate market to enjoy record-setting activity, particularly in the second half of 2020.
According to the Saint John Real Estate Board, residential sales advanced by 27.1 per cent year-over-year, setting a new sales record for the month of September. The average price of homes sold in September increased by 14 per cent from a year ago to a record-breaking $205,247.
Despite 320 new residential listings, active listings fell 38.1 per cent at the end of September 2020. Overall supply levels are trending downward, standing at 12-year lows.
“Our local real estate market has continued to outperform expectations in September,” said Corey Breau, President of the Saint John Real Estate Board and broker at RE/MAX Professionals Saint John. “New listings also posted strong gains this past month but are struggling to stay ahead of the brisk pace of sales. Much like other parts of New Brunswick, Saint John’s usually busy fall market is experiencing significantly increased demand. When you combine that with the lowest inventory numbers that we have seen in over a decade, it creates sustained upward pressure on prices.”
While Saint John was not immune to the coronavirus-induced drop in housing activity earlier this year, the market has recovered. The RE/MAX Fall Market Outlook Report suggests that sales and prices will continue to be strong in the final quarter of 2020. Due to a lack of inventory, the high cost of building materials, and pent-up demand, Saint John prices are expected to surge seven per cent through the remainder of 2020.
The Broader New Brunswick Real Estate Market
CBC News recently reported that many New Brunswick households are better off financially than before the pandemic. Why? Federal COVID-19 relief spending in New Brunswick increased household incomes in the province to all-time highs, despite the economy slumping and thousands of people losing their jobs. When more consumers have money, a renewed confidence trickles down through the entire market, including real estate.
With demand outpacing supply in markets across the province, the competition for New Brunswick homes is ballooning, particularly with more real estate agents enabling the facilitation of online transactions. Remote markets are more accessible than ever before, and accordingly, people are snatching up New Brunswick real estate from across the country. In many cases, purchases are being made without the buyers even seeing the house in person.
The New Brunswick economy is on the rebound, thanks to successful containment of the coronavirus and interest rates at historical lows. For now, the province is enjoying stable growth, and the strong activity within its largest real estate markets will not only contribute to New Brunswick’s economic rebound, but also a possible population spike!
Following months of uncertainty in the retail sector brought on by COVID-19, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is looking to capitalize on its assets with the launch of a real estate and investment arm.
The 350-year-old retailer announced the new venture on Monday, called HBC Properties and Investments (HBCPI), which will look to convert some of Hudson’s Bay’s real estate into mixed-use developments.
The company currently owns or controls — either entirely or with joint venture partners — about 40 million square feet of gross leasable area across North America.
Among its portfolio of companies are three distinguished retailers: Saks Fifth Avenue, a premier luxury retailer, Hudson’s Bay, Canada’s preeminent multi-category retailer, and Saks OFF 5TH, a leading off-price retailer.
As part of the HBCPI initiative, the company is utilizing the 40-year-old large-scale US-based property development company Streetworks Development, which HBC acquired last year, to create “transformative multi-use environments” that marks the latest milestone in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s shift to a holding company structure with distinct portfolio businesses that operate “at the intersection of retail and real estate.”
“This is an exciting phase of our company’s transformation and provides us with a significant opportunity to unleash the full potential of our real estate and investments business,” Richard Baker, HBC’s Executive Chairman and CEO said in a statement.
“Under this new organization, we will build upon our strong foundation of valuable real estate assets in key demographic areas. We will also continue our strong track record of maximizing our portfolio and generating value from these assets, as we did through the sales of the Lord + Taylor flagship building and our interest in European real estate assets. With the team’s deep expertise and forward-thinking approach to capitalizing on the intersection of retail and real estate, HBCPI is well-equipped to further elevate and increase the value of our portfolio.”
Ian Putnam has been appointed as President and CEO of HBC Properties and Investments — he previously served as President, Real Estate and Chief Corporate Development Officer of HBC. Putnam will lead the real estate portfolio and investments including Streetworks Developments.
Real estate veteran, Kenneth Narva, Chairman and Chief Development Officer at HBC, will direct the Streetworks Development team in the planning and execution of projects that modernize properties to “unlock value-enhancing opportunities across the company’s real estate assets”.
The new real estate division will focus on creating multi-use spaces that feature a range of services and experiences across the workplace, retail, residential and entertainment categories.
Putnam said, “With HBC’s valuable portfolio of real estate and investments, including marquee flagship properties in prime metropolitan markets, coupled with Streetworks Development expertise, HBC Properties and Investments is well-positioned to succeed in today’s landscape.”
“As consumers continue to change the way they live, shop, and work, we are committed to capitalizing on these shifts while maximizing the productivity of our properties, including the physical locations of HBC’s retail operating companies,” added Putnam.
This comes at a time when the retail sector has been facing unprecedented losses due to COVID-19, with Hudson’s Bay as no exception. The coronavirus pandemic contributed to HBC’s decisions earlier this year to close their stores in downtown Edmonton and in downtown Winnipeg.
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