PODCAST: MaryAnne Gilmartin On Gridlock, Entrepreneurship And Why Baltimore ‘Deserves A Future’
By: Miriam Hall
Bisnow’s audio series, Bisnow Reports, examines every facet of the international commercial real estate industry — from the murky future of retail and office to real estate’s reckoning with diversity to the effects of climate change on the built world, and so much more. You can subscribe on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon Music, or scroll down to listen in your browser.
On this episode, MaryAnne Gilmartin, the founder and CEO of MAG Partners, sits down with Bisnow.
Her company is just over 2 years old, but Gilmartin has been a fixture on the New York City real estate scene for decades. Once the president and CEO of Forest City Ratner, her developments include Barclays Center and the New York Times Building on Eighth Avenue.
MAG Partners now has a roughly $1B development pipeline, including three residential projects spanning 1,000 units and a ground-up office development in Manhattan. Last month, the company announced it is taking over the Port Covington megaproject in South Baltimore, along with San Francisco’s MacFarlane Partners. The firms are joining the plan to build a mini-city launched by Sagamore Ventures, the development firm founded by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.
“There’s no way to do anything big and bold without expecting some friction,” she says on the podcast. “It’s just getting harder and harder. There’s really more divisiveness in the country and city than I’ve ever seen … Maybe when gridlock occurs and nothing’s happening and the city is falling apart and people still want to be here and they love our city, then something will give, because something has to give.”
N.Y. developer MAG Partners co-leads team pitching for Diamond District project
By: Jonathan Spiers
An East Coast developer and a West Coast peer are teaming up in a bid to score Richmond’s Diamond District project.
New York-based MAG Partners and Seattle-based MacFarlane Partners are driving one of the six teams that remain in contention for the mixed-use redevelopment of city-owned land that would include a replacement of The Diamond baseball stadium.
MAG is led by MaryAnne Gilmartin, whose development credits include Brooklyn’s Barclays Center arena and surrounding Pacific Park Brooklyn mixed-use development. Other projects include the New York Times headquarters building and the 76-story New York by Gehry skyscraper.
Gilmartin, who founded MAG in 2020, helped drive those efforts during her years as an executive with Forest City Ratner Cos., the last five as its CEO. (Forest City worked on Barclays with David Carlock of Machete Group, a venue advisory firm that’s leading a separate Diamond District contender team).
MacFarlane Partners – not to be confused with the similarly named Richmond firm led by local developer Charles Macfarlane – is a 35-year-old company whose development work includes a 54-story hotel and condo high-rise at L.A. Live, an entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.
Led by Victor MacFarlane, the company is one of the largest black-owned development firms in the country, according to Gilmartin, who said they’ve collaborated on other projects.
Also on the team is Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners, a D.C.-based development firm that was one of the 15 respondents to the Diamond District’s initial request-for-interest solicitation. Gilmartin said Jair Lynch joined their team in recent weeks after its RFI response didn’t make the latest cut. The company has a focus in multifamily residential development.
Another recent addition is MSquared, a real estate development and investment firm led by Alicia Glen, a former New York City deputy mayor under the Bill de Blasio administration.
Rounding out the team are architecture firms AtelierTek and Woods Bagot; engineering firm Kimley-Horn, which has an office in Richmond; sports venue developer CAA Icon, whose stadium-related work includes Chicago’s 1060 Project and Guaranteed Rate Field; placemaking and workforce firm C Space; and structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti.
With its team, Gilmartin said in an interview this week, “I would submit that we have to have among the most diverse group of talent in the mix for this RFP response, just because I know how hard it is to put a team like this together.
“We really like what the government’s done by way of organizing this RFP. It’s ambitious, it’s got scale, and as a result, we put together a team that goes far beyond just the resumes and credentials of MAG Partners,” she said.
Gilmartin said her firm had identified Richmond as an emerging market it wanted to do business in when the Diamond District RFI showed up on its radar, leading to discussions with MacFarlane and Jair Lynch. She said Richmond’s culture, food scene and evolving demographics make it ripe to become one of the country’s next hot spots.
“We have a lot still to learn, but what we do know about Richmond is super-exciting to us. We think it’s a city to watch, for sure,” she said.
“As my team particularly was part of the renaissance of Brooklyn – we spent a lot of time helping to create a place in Brooklyn at a time when it really didn’t have the halo effect that it has today – we learned a lot along the way, and what we see in Richmond really lines up with what we are doing in our careers.”
While different in market and scale, Gilmartin said the 67-acre Diamond District project is similar to the 8-acre Pacific Park Brooklyn development that’s anchored by Barclays Center, home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and WNBA’s New York Liberty.
“It really was the cornerstone to kick off the overall large-scale development, because it’s got public purpose and delivers a ton for the community. We see the Richmond RFP in a very similar way,” she said.
“It was a controversial project in its inception. One of the reasons why I think it’s been widely accepted by people in Brooklyn is that it is a very good neighbor, in terms of the way it’s been planned, the way it was constructed, the way that it operates. All of that was due to the work we put in for years and years.”
Gilmartin said her team would take a similar approach to the Diamond District, bringing with it lessons they learned from over a decade working on Barclays and Pacific Park Brooklyn.
“The only way to really know how to do it is to have done it,” she said. “All of that experience will be brought to bear in Richmond. The public trust that underlies that commitment needs to be honored, and that’s something that I think we are uniquely capable of doing.”
MAG’s team is one of six that the city is considering for the next stage in the process: an invitation for development proposals. After getting picked among the initial 15 RFI respondents, the teams were asked to provide additional information about themselves and how they would approach the project. The deadline for those details is this Monday, April 25.
An evaluation panel would then select a shortlist of finalists, who would be invited to submit proposals by early June. A final selection is targeted later that month.
In addition to a new, 10,000-capacity stadium to replace the 37-year-old Diamond, which has been deemed unfeasible for renovation, the Diamond District project calls for a mix of development including office, residential, retail and a hotel, as well as upgrades to infrastructure such as water, sewer and roads. The residential component would consist of rental and for-sale homes that would include some units targeted to lower-income households.
While local efforts to position the site for redevelopment have ebbed and flowed for over a decade, Gilmartin said the project’s history gives her team confidence that this latest attempt will be seen through – as does Major League Baseball’s deadline for the Richmond Flying Squirrels to find a facility that meets new pro baseball standards by the start of the 2025 season.
“I have a joke that sometimes things have to die three times before they live,” Gilmartin said. “Part of what I like about this is the process has been super-thoughtful, and because it has certain built-in timelines, there’s a certain amount of commitment around this RFP, because of the needs of the Squirrels and some of the other requirements that make us pretty sure something’s going to happen here.”
She added, “It feels right, it feels ready, and it feels highly credentialed on the part of the government.”
Declining to discuss her team’s vision for the project in detail, Gilmartin said they’ve shared more with the city than just their qualifications, and are open to potentially expanding or modifying the team’s makeup as needed for the project. City administrators have said the final selection for the project could be one or more developers or teams for all of parts of the development.
“While I can’t talk about the details, I can tell you that this submission that we’re doing is so much more than introductory,” Gilmartin said. “The level of work and the level of thinking that’s being asked of us is significant, and in my mind, while it’s a ton of work, it also speaks to the legitimacy of the planning organizations, the seriousness of the government to actually do something.”
Regarding arguments over whether the project should be awarded to primarily local or out-of-town teams, Gilmartin added, “We should be always thinking local, but there’s a certain amount of ideas and excitement that can come from opening the team up from beyond just the borders of Richmond and Virginia. It should be inclusive, and it should also have a local lineup.
“If our lineup is not local enough, because we need to bring in more local expertise, we’re completely open to that, and we’ve made that very clear,” she said. “But I also think, having run a company that had 26 offices around the country, we can all learn from each other.
“Obviously Richmond is not Brooklyn,” Gilmartin added, “but at the same time, we think we can contribute in a way that is highly beneficial to the process, and the ideas are probably going to be new. There has been a local effort on this district for quite some time now, and I think that there’s a desire for some new ideas and new thinking. But that doesn’t have to come at the expense of local expertise.”
The other five teams that remain in contention are:
• Diamond District Gateway Partners, consisting of local real estate investment firm Capital Square, D.C.-based developers Dantes Partners and Hoffman & Associates, Maryland-based real estate firm The Velocity Cos., local architecture firm Baskervill and Missouri-based architecture firm Pendulum.
• Richmond Community Development Partners, led by Houston-based Machete Group and consisting of developers JMA Ventures and Sterling Project Development, construction firm Gilbane, hotel management and advisory firm Retro Hospitality, architecture firm Hanbury, engineering firm VHB and planning nonprofit Storefront for Community Design.
• RVA Diamond Partners, team members unknown.
• Vision300 Partners LLC, includes developers Freehold Communities, Greenstone Properties, KDC and Spy Rock Real Estate Group; local building firm Hourigan; housing nonprofit Better Housing Coalition, construction firm Canterbury Enterprises, Shamin Hotels, YMCA of Greater Richmond, Brookfield Asset Management, and Richmond-based Sports United Ltd.
• Weller Development Co. and LMXD, consisting of Weller, a Baltimore-based developer, and LMXD, affiliated with New York-based L+M Development Partners.
Andrew Staniforth and MaryAnne Gilmartin Plotting a Modular Empire with Assembly OSM
By: Cathy Cunningham
Andrew Staniforth and MaryAnne Gilmartin first saw the potential for modular construction in Brooklyn years ago. Now, Staniforth, as CEO of Assembly OSM, is taking it to new heights coast to coast.
Assembly (n): A group gathered together in one place for a common purpose.
If there’s one thing the past two years have taught us, it’s that just because things were done in a certain way for a long time, it doesn’t necessarily mean the old way was the right way.
The commercial real estate industry has been a sometimes reluctant beneficiary of change and innovation. But, one firm is pushing the boundaries when it comes to an age-old process that was previously, quite literally, set in stone.
Modular construction startup Assembly OSM was founded by Chris Sharples and Bill Sharples, two of the founders of SHoP Architects, in 2019. While the Sharples brothers continue to oversee the company’s strategic direction, Andrew Staniforth took the reins as CEO late last year.
Its mission is clear: Assembly aims to turn the preconceived notion of modular construction on its head through the delivery of architecturally beautiful, high-rise buildings that are greener, cheaper and faster to construct.
The new modular
Think of modular construction and what comes to mind may be stock Lego pieces, put together in an impersonal manner. Right?
Wrong. Just ask MaryAnne Gilmartin, who serves as an adviser to Assembly.
“We don’t want to make people think about prisons and dormitories when we think modular,” Gilmartin, the founder and CEO of MAG Partners, said. “We want to go back to [architect, inventor and futurist] Buckminster Fuller, and recognize that when you have controlled environments, you can deliver unbelievable beauty.
Utilizing the technical know-how of former engineers from the automotive and aeronautics industries, Assembly utilizes cutting-edge technology in every step of its building delivery process, from digital twin manufacturing models — or, real-time virtual representations of the physical construction process — through to eventual on-site installation
Sustainability is a crucial part of its business plan. On the construction front, its buildings have 30 to 40 percent less embodied carbon and a reduction of 60 to 70 percent of on-site emissions. Assembly has also designed its properties to be upgradable and disassembled as markets change, or at the end of their useful life. Further, drawing from a preapproved supply chain allows developers to track the sustainability of each product.
“We feel that attacking this problem from all angles is the only way we will be successful at moving the industry forward,” Staniforth said.
In addition to its eco-friendly approach, Gilmartin said the key void Assembly is filling today centers around innovation.
“It’s a connect-the-dots void,” she said. “As developers, we accept the fact that the way we do things is inherently inefficient, and there has to be a better way. What Assembly is doing is pushing the bounds of that conversation to a place of saying, ‘We can do it better, we can deliver it cheaper, and we can make it beautiful.’ I don’t think that trifecta has been demystified by the development and building community, and I actually don’t think there are many competitors trying to solve that same problem.”
As this article was going to press, Staniforth was focused on getting Assembly’s first deal locked down, a 130,000-square-foot multifamily building in Manhattan. Details on the property are still under wraps but — to give eager eyes a taste of what automated architecture can look like — the company put a prototype of a completed one-bedroom unit on display in Harrison, N.J., in late October 2021.
“We’re at a point where what Bill and Chris have built over the last three years at Assembly is now ready to release into the world,” Staniforth said. “Over the last few weeks, we’ve had people come out to our facility in Harrison and see our first units being built. MaryAnne was one of them, and I jokingly said we need one of those roller-coaster flashes that go off when you walk into the unit because everyone’s reaction is, ‘This is amazing,’ because the preconceived notions of modular and prefab just aren’t applicable to that first unit — at all.”
Gilmartin described the apartment as “stunningly beautiful.” She added: “What hit me was the absolute upgrade in every way to the original thought of a ‘modular unit.’ It has evolved significantly in its application to high-end, luxury condominiums, and you can now produce that luxury look and feel at a price point that allows renters at all price points to experience a level of luxury. That’s very, very difficult to achieve presently in construction.”
Assembly buildings are delivered in about half the time and allow developers to reduce both interest and carrying costs, and hold less contingencies, all of which result in an overall less expensive building. Thanks to the cutting-edge technology utilized in their prefabrication, Assembly buildings are also higher quality and more sustainable, making it a win-win for both the developer and the end user.
Technology is the backbone of Assembly, and the company has added engineers from Boeing, SpaceX and Tesla to its team, including Boeing’s former chief technology officer, John Tracy.
Those engineers know how the advanced manufacturing industry has operated most efficiently within the aeronautics and automotive industries, and have helped Assembly implement two fundamental concepts applicable to real estate construction: a single source of product information (or digital twin) and a widely distributed supply chain, where subcomponents — for example bathrooms and kitchens — are manufactured by different suppliers across the country and are ready to roll without delays when it comes time to deliver the building.
Bringing all of these capabilities together, Assembly has also built its own software and combined it with products like Catia, used for computer-aided engineering, and 3D technology so that custom-made buildings can be digitally modeled and manufactured like cars and airplanes have been for decades.
As a developer, “My end of the business is never really going to be on the forefront of innovation,” Gilmartin said. “I think that in some ways this discussion around modular and process innovation and delivering quality in a more efficient way is like a war cry for intelligence in real estate.”
And those who understand the true benefits of that intelligence are the ones who’ve been watching the construction space for a very long time, Gilmartin said.
It started deep in the Forest
Modular construction isn’t a new concept to Gilmartin or Staniforth. In fact, the construction of Brooklyn’s Pacific Park, which included Barclays Center as well as the erection of a high-rise modular tower, was a bonding moment for the two at Forest City when the young Staniforth joined the firm as an intern in 2011, his first job out of the University of Pennsylvania.
On Staniforth’s very first day, Gilmartin handed him a set of plans for Tower B2, now known as 461 Dean Street, the first modular tower next to the arena, and said, “We’re trying to figure this out. Can you take a look at it?” He’d never received a set of plans, let alone looked at anything like it.
“I think that the baptism by fire that we had at Forest City really allowed me to be involved in things that most 20 year olds wouldn’t have exposure to,” he said.
Staniforth wasn’t the only one thrown into the deep end when it came to the project, though.
“None of us had ever built an arena before,” Gilmartin said. “It was about getting the best and the brightest people around the table, including the architects, and figuring out how to do this in a way that was different and lasting. Andrew was a big part of that. The arena process confirmed that he’s a superstar, and then he just needed additional time and exposure.”
Gilmartin described herself as an “episodic mentor” in Staniforth’s career since then, available for counsel when big moments or career opportunities have come his way. Or, from Staniforth’s perspective, “at every pivotal moment.”
A pull toward technology and innovation during his time at Forest City presaged his next move — to urban infrastructure, planning and innovation firm Sidewalk Labs (a subsidiary of Google) — and, after Gilmartin created L&L Mag in 2017, she brought Staniforth over there, where he began working on Terminal Warehouse, the firm’s reimagined former shipping warehouse in West Chelsea. (It should be noted that while Staniforth was working on that project, Commercial Observer named him to its Top Young Professionals in commercial real estate list.)
Staniforth credited Gilmartin with steering him to the places that held learning opportunities. “Sidewalk was a big shift,” he said. “But MaryAnne has always been this force of, ‘Find things that challenge you professionally, and find where you can add value to the industry, to the company, to the ecosystem,’ and for the past 10 years, that’s the way I’ve approached everything.”
Looking back in the context of what Staniforth is now doing at Assembly, Gilmartin described their Forest City modular accomplishments as “important, but not enough. We demonstrated that a building could stand up if 60-plus percent of it was built in a factory — and that’s not an insignificant contribution. What’s now been taken to a much more sophisticated level, is that you can build modules and not sacrifice aesthetics and architecture.
It’s a new dawn
Staniforth’s new role requires many problem-solving skills in an industry resistant to change.
“Understanding the benefits that stem from changing the way that we build buildings — for more affordable housing, and all of the benefits of having a much broader, inclusive workforce who participate in construction — and then being able to keep those benefits at the forefront as you do something that changes the way that stuff has happened for generations is a very clarifying process in terms of what I have to focus on,” he said.
As CEO, his first task was setting a very clear and concrete internal mission at the company. “Once you establish that North Star of values, everything centers around that,” he said.
One of his core leadership philosophies is being transparent with both his team and the broader real estate community to drive home the things for which Assembly stands. Cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce at every stage of the construction process is one prime example.
“Transparency empowers people to make decisions, and I’m transparent about needing to have a more inclusive workforce and pull different pockets of populations into the construction field, because they’ve been traditionally cut out,” he said. “It’s really important to codify that internally, and then everyone, as they analyze the decisions in their own day, consent around that, and my leadership team doesn’t have to be involved in those decisions. Everyone knows what we’re optimizing for. And that’s part of what I’ve been doing over the past six weeks — getting those concepts just on the table and talking about them very openly.”
One of the big exercises as Assembly grows the team is hiring people that match its values and its mission, and can help it continue to achieve those goals.
Time is money
Developers may take some convincing along the way, but Gilmartin is confident the argument for modular is ready to be made.
“It’s a case of trust and verify in doing these early projects and taking a group of doubting Thomases and converting them,” she said. “You don’t have to be on the higher plane in the world of developers, you can actually be a bit of a lunkhead — and I say that affectionately. As developers we want to get the job done, and make money.”
The benefits should be easy enough for the lunkheads to grasp: Assembly’s building delivery methodology eliminates the potential for human error, shortens project timelines and removes the guesswork from construction costs, thanks to the prefabricated advance pipeline of materials involved.
“We all know that there’s a dire need for housing, and the market is there for it. But as a developer, you don’t know what it’s going to cost,” Gilmartin said. “The innovation that Andrew is working on is going to allow us to be much more certain about cost and time. Time is money and there are so many things that can go wrong when there’s a bigger human factor involved. And I think that this idea that Andrew is going to use the automotive industry and the aeronautics industry to do a better job of delivering for the built environment is something that’s just next level, and beyond anything we were thinking about when we built B2 as a modular building.”
What’s also key — perhaps especially in New York, where buildings’ outward appearances’ are judged like dogs at Crufts — is that design aesthetics won’t be sacrificed along the way.
“The ethos of our company comes from ShoP. And design is so important,” Staniforth said. “At the end of the day, people want to live in places that are beautiful and safe and healthy. When you put that at the forefront of how you approach a manufactured product, you get around some of the preconceived challenges of modular and prefabricated work.”
Breaking down those walls — no pun intended — the company is already in conversations with several of the industry’s starchitects.
“COOKFOX or Norman Foster will be able to design an Assembly building,” Staniforth said, adding that beauty will be one thing that differentiates his firm from others in the modular space. “You don’t have to pick out a building from an assembly line. On the back end, we’ll make it super efficient to execute. But on the front end, it’s going to look beautiful and custom-made with your architect’s stamp on it.”
Staniforth expects Assembly to complete three deals in the next year, likely in New York City and California, where the company has already completed a lot of the pre-approval processes and is ready to rock.
“We started at Forest City with an idea, and it was a hairy, crazy idea that was a jumpstart on this whole idea of doing things better, faster and more progressively in the built environment,” Gilmartin said. “For me, it’s deeply gratifying to see that very early idea turned into something as sophisticated and as promising as what Assembly has put together today.”
MAG Partners Rings in 2022 With New Hires, Including Rob Willis From Mack-Cali
By: Andrew Coen
MaryAnne Gilmartin’s MAG Partners rang in 2022 with the addition of construction industry veteran Rob Willis, Commercial Observer can first report.
The hiring serves as a reunion for the two commercial real estate executives. Willis was most recently senior vice president of construction at Veris Residential (formerly Mack-Cali Realty Corporation), and first became acquainted with Gilmartin while working alongside her at Forest City Ratner Companies 19 years ago. The two also intersected briefly at Mack-Cali.
Gilmartin tapped Willis for the head of construction role at MAG as the developer gears up to tackle large-scale multifamily and office properties throughout Manhattan.
“When MaryAnne gave me the call I thought about it for about one second,” said Willis, who was vice president at Forest City Ratner from 1998 to 2004 and became senior vice president of construction at Mack-Cali in September 2020. “I admire her so much as she is so talented and has so much experience, and the rest of the team is really good at what they do.”
Gilmartin rose through the ranks at Forest City Ratner Companies to become president and CEO, before forming L&L MAG in 2018 with L&L Holding Company’s David Levinson and Robert Lapidus. She founded MAG in July 2020 while simultaneously spending nine months as an interim CEO at Mack-Cali on the heels of a leadership shakeup at the real estate investment trust, where she had served on its board.
During his time at Mack-Cali — which was rebranded as Veris Residential in late 2021 — Willis oversaw a construction department that was responsible for the $100 million repositioning of Harborside 1 in Jersey City, N.J., a 4.3 million-square-foot office campus. He previously led the design and construction team at HEI Hotels & Resorts and was managing director of the John Hardy Group’s New York City office.
“When we started the company we knew that we were going to have to grow and grow strategically and lean on the life cycle of a ground-up development company where the construction piece is back ended and it takes sometimes years to put buildings together,” Gilmartin said. “Now that we are several years in, we are building things and because of that we can get a great talent to help us deliver the construction part of our business.”
A year and a half after completing the buyout of her L&L partners and launching MAG Partners, the firm is tackling four development projects in Manhattan including a 480-unit residential development at 241 West 28th Street slated for completion in late 2022. Another rental project with an affordable component that Willis will help spearhead is 335 Eighth Avenue, scheduled to break ground this spring, and a new boutique office development also slated to launch this year at 122 Varick Street.
In addition to the hire of Willis, Gilmartin added Lizzy Zevallos as assistant vice president of development. Zevallos arrives at MAG after serving as vice president of portfolio management at Maverick Real Estate Partners, where she helped underwrite more than $3 billion of CRE loans. Zevallos, who is also a professional dancer and choreographer, also interned under Gilmartin at L&L MAG from January 2020 to June 2020.
Gilmartin also hired Arion Alku as an accounting manager, bringing MAG’s staff up to 10. Alku previously worked as a senior accountant at Marx Realty, where he conducted audits and internal controls for some of the largest real estate owners in the New York City metropolitan area.
MAG’s expanded 10-person team now consists of six women and four men. Boosting diversity has been a core focus of Gilmartin since launching MAG in addition to constructing projects that intersect well with their neighborhoods.
“We’re building a different company where we’re creating a new model for development and we’re focusing on diversity,” Gilmartin said. “We want to bring the community into our process and do that while delivering the highest-quality buildings.”
IMPACTGilmartin is chairwoman emeritus of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, an executive committee member of BAM, a board member of New York Public Radio and an executive committee and board member of the Real Estate Board of New York.
ONCE, TWICE, four times a CEO.
At 56, MaryAnne Gilmartin has already been at the helm of four high-profile development firms in the city. She bought out her partners at L+L MAG to start MAG Partners in 2019. The company now controls a pipeline of three residential ground-up developments, as well as one commercial, in New York City.
While working on the new company, she was tapped to serve as the interim chief executive of New Jersey–based real estate investment trust Mack-Cali after investment group Bow Street partners ousted its previous leader, Michael DeMarco. Gilmartin has since relinquished the role and is back at her firm.
When she served as chief executive of Forest City Ratner Cos., she was a driving force behind some of the city’s most important developments including the Barclays Center and Pacific Park, which transformed Brooklyn, as well as the New York Times Building.
MaryAnne Gilmartin is no stranger to Power 100. Not too long ago, she had been running Forest City Ratner Companies as CEO and president, where she developed The New York Times Building, the Frank Gehry-designed Spruce Street apartment tower, and Barclays Center, among other city gems. She left to start a development company with Rob Lapidus and David Levinson, and then decided that she could get all the funding that she needed on her own, so she bought out her partners.
Hence, MAG Partners.
It could have been very, very unfortunately timed, but Gilmartin wowed. Yes, at the beginning of 2020, one of her construction lenders pulled back from a loan, but she deftly managed to secure foreign investors. At the same time, Mack-Cali, where she was on the board, asked her to take over as interim CEO after the real estate investment trust pushed out the full-time one.
She trimmed the REIT’s fat, revamped its leasing strategy, and brought in new people, restoring confidence at the New Jersey-based company.
That’s the kind of year that’s worth a major jump in the ranks, so Gilmartin slid up 22 spaces — our second-biggest jump of 2021. (The biggest was the leaders of Taconic, who went from 54 to 25, thanks to huge investments in life sciences.)
Unlike in previous years, there were very few shakeups. A lot of the Power 100s moved up or down a little (and a significant number were left off the list entirely).
As we do every year, a lot of attention is devoted to the smaller, but significant shifts.
JLL’s Peter Riguardi has always been one of the very best brokers in the city. … And we always felt that his ranking (last year, he was 22) indicated that. But, given the hustle and the 2.5 million square feet he leased during the pandemic, not to mention his work with clients in finding real estate around the country, it was worth moving him into the teens.
Tommy Craig was likewise a very respectable number 26 last year. But given that Hines, the New York-area operations of which Craig leads, had invested in One Vanderbilt and One Madison, was building luxury senior housing on the Upper East Side, and had taken on 5.5 million square feet of Ivanhoé Cambridge’s portfolio — which is not even mentioning their work in the Hudson Valley, and industrial development in Pennsylvania, and Hudson Square and … well, you get the idea. Craig broke into the top 10.
Last year, Rob Speyer was a highly respectable number 12. But given Tishman Speyer’s sudden hunger for SPACs (call it a “SPAC attack”?) and how much of the real estate world seems to be following suit, we felt that he should go even higher. How does number five feel, Mr. Speyer?
After leading the efforts to build the Barclay’s Center, MaryAnne Gilmartin is now running her own firm. Gilmartin is the founder and chief executive officer of MAG Partners, which she spun off from L&L MAG last year. MAG Partners is creating a 480-unit residential building in Chelsea. Gilmartin was previously the president and chief executive officer of Forest City Ratner Companies, where she oversaw a period of game-changing development. In addition to the Barclay’s Center project, at the center of the $4.9 billion, 22-acre mixed-use Pacific Park development, Gilmartin was in charge of the construction of the New York Times Building, designed by architect Renzo Piano, and the Tata Innovation Center at Cornell Tech, among other projects.
Big Mack Attack: How MaryAnne Gilmartin Is Working to Turn Around Mack-Cali
By: Nick Rizzi
There’s nothing like an uprising from investors to oust a company’s chief executive to spice up a global pandemic.
After a proxy battle last year shook up the Mack-Cali Realty Corporation’s board of directors, one of New Jersey’s largest landlords faced another clash in mid-March when an activist investor called for the resignation of CEO Michael DeMarco.
The investors got their wish in July when DeMarco left his post after nearly five years as the pandemic waned on. In his wake, the company named real estate titan MaryAnne Gilmartin, who cut her teeth at Forest City Ratner, to serve as interim CEO for six months. (DeMarco couldn’t be reached for comment.)
“I think it’s an outstanding choice given her background both on the public and private side and her expertise in large, complex developments and working through complex structures,” Thomas Catherwood, an analyst at BTIG who covers Mack-Cali, said. “I think she’s uniquely suited for the task of taking over what is a complex company.”
CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe said Gilmartin has a “persuasive ability” to get people to get on board with her plans — convincing the legendary Manhattan broker to help out on a Jersey City project, for instance — who has “outperformed” her entire career. Tighe first met Gilmartin when Forest City Ratner was pitching, and eventually won, the chance to build the New York Times Building at 620 Eighth Avenue.
“Nobody thought they were a serious contender for the job,” Tighe said. “Bruce Ratner did a great job, but I can tell you MaryAnne carried the day. All the New York developers were stunned and it was because she had a vision for The New York Times — as did Bruce clearly — and they were able to execute that.”
And it’s not just outsiders pleased with the choice. Ronald Dickerman, founder and president of Madison International Realty, which acquired a 5 percent stake in Mack-Cali last year, also heaped praise on Gilmartin.
“She’s very, very bright, very capable and I think that she will do well,” Dickerman said. “We certainly agree that the company needs to continue its evolution.”
Gilmartin, who is splitting her time with running her own firm, MAG Partners, said she’s “hit the ground running” in her nearly two months at the helm of Mack-Cali in order to bring about the change investors have been clamoring for at “warp speed.”
“I’ve done a couple of big moves in a little bit of time,” Gilmartin said. “This is an interim position, but we’re not going to wait to make strategic changes to move the company forward and to deliver better value to the shareholders.”
Banking on the ‘burbs So far Gilmartin has quickened the pace of Mack-Cali’s strategy to sell off suburban office holdings to shore up its balance sheet and focus on multifamily and office properties in higher-density waterfront spots like Jersey City.
In July, Mack-Cali sold off its Madison, N.J., office property at 3 Giralda Farms for $7.8 million and in mid-September its Florham Park property at 325 Columbia Turnpike for an undisclosed amount, CoStar Group reported. On Sept. 17, Mack-Cali closed on a $160 million sale of a 10-building office portfolio in Morris County, N.J., to Onyx Equities, Taconic Capital Advisors, Axonic Capital and Machine Investment Group. Gilmartin said Mack-Cali expects to get rid of more in the next quarter.
“It gives us the opportunity to pay down corporate debt and also invest in the waterfront assets of Jersey City,” Gilmartin said.
Gilmartin has also shaken up Mack-Cali’s staff. She brought in new people to fill key roles at the company, including a new head of leasing she can’t announce yet as well as former Forest City Ratner and MAG Partners vets Rob Willis, Adam Greene and Ashley Cotton. And, in August, the company tapped Basis Investment Group CEO Tammy Jones to serve as lead independent director of its board.
The new hires haven’t come without some pain. In early September, Mack-Cali laid off about 20 people on its nearly 300-person staff. Gilmartin couldn’t give the details on the divisions targeted in the cuts but said some were related to the disposition of certain assets, while, for others, Mack-Cali outsourced the roles.
“Obviously, that’s always as a CEO one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but as a public company, a bloated [general and administrative expense] is never a good thing, particularly in challenging times,” Gilmartin said.
Aside from staffing shakeups, Gilmartin has turned her focus strongly on the 4.5 million-square-foot Harborside office campus on Jersey City’s waterfront. The site has faced plenty of vacancies after the company started a $75 million renovation in 2018.
“I think it’s probably the most underrated piece of commercial real estate in the region,” Gilmartin said. “Repositioning Harborside as a campus on the Jersey City waterfront when we all go back to the office is a major, major priority of mine.”
To help those efforts, Gilmartin tapped CBRE’s Tighe to come across the Hudson River and help build a New Jersey-based team to lease up the property while pitching the property to Manhattan tenants.
“This isn’t one of these cases where you go and say ‘It needs everything,’” Tighe said. “You don’t have that reaction at all. You have the reaction that this is a very under-appreciated asset and MaryAnne has a very clear vision of what to do.”
Tighe will continue to market the property to the traditional tenants that filled it — financial institutions and law firms — but also wants to appeal to tech companies that might be attracted by the vibrant neighborhoods nearby.
“I think what New York City companies and brokers — because you’re always marketing to the brokers — haven’t seen is the evolution of Jersey City itself,” Tighe said. “Now you got this cool residential neighborhood that is all over.”
Plus, the area might save companies significant sums. CBRE marketing materials show tenants could pay nearly 32 percent less than the average rent in Downtown Manhattan and nearly 50 percent less than Midtown renting at Harborside.
Even with all the changes in a short time, there’s still a lot to overcome before Mack-Cali can shake off the past missteps and come out on the other side. The company has millions of square feet of its suburban portfolio to sell off and the pandemic likely cut the costs it could fetch for it.
“It’s probably going to be a little more challenging in the COVID environment,” Gilmartin said about the selloffs. “Everybody’s talking about the suburbs having a second coming. It’s hard for me to know if that’s true, but I can assure you we’re going to market into that story because there are definitely buyers out there who believe that.”
Mack-Cali’s stock price has dropped by nearly 9 percent since January; and, in July, before Gilmartin took the helm, Fitch Ratings downgraded the REIT to a negative outlook of BB-. Fitch cited the company’s “high leverage, weak liquidity coverage, active development program, limited unsecured debt and equity capital access and moderate complexity from joint venture (JV) investments” as reasons for the drop.
BTIG’s Catherwood said that while the company has some amazing land holdings in Jersey City and Weehawken, its huge debt load — it’s carrying a debt to equity ratio of 1.38 — makes it hard to capitalize on it.
“I don’t think they have the time horizon to fully build out their land bank in the company’s current structure,” Catherwood said. “Something is going to need to happen: whether it’s a different type of partnership, whether it’s some sort of recapitalization, whether it’s an outright sale. The problem it faces right now is it’s a company going through growing pains.”
The weight A lot of Mack-Cali’s debt came from the company’s huge push into the multifamily market nearly a decade ago.
Mack-Cali started in 1969 as Cali Associates when John Cali built his first office property in Cranford, N.J., The New York Times reported. He kept going and developed office buildings all around New Jersey, including the International Financial Tower in Jersey City.
The company went public in 1994, and became Mack-Cali when it merged with fellow New Jersey firm the Mack Company in 1997, The Wall Street Journal reported. Things started to take a turn for the worse when former Mack Company head William Mack left in 1999, and Mitchell Hersh became CEO.
Hersh started a huge push into the multifamily market in 2011, which kicked into high gear in 2012 when Mack-Cali acquired residential developer Roseland Partners for $134.6 million, the Journal reported. Since then, the company has built huge luxury developments like Urby and the Soho Lofts, both in Jersey City.
However, Hersh faced criticism for his brash management style. The company, too, kept underperforming in the early 2010s while the rest of the real estate sector improved. Hersh left in 2015, with Mitchell Rudin taking over as CEO and DeMarco as president. DeMarco was later bumped to CEO and Rudin became a vice chairman. Rudin eventually left for Savills in 2018.
DeMarco and Rudin faced the task of dealing with Mack-Cali’s high vacancy rate throughout its nearly 25 million-square-foot suburban office portfolio while it carried one of the highest levels of debt for any office REIT, the Journal reported.
That high debt level sprang from the company’s controversial push into multifamily, but DeMarco had no other choice but to go all-in on the strategy, Catherwood said.
“The previous management was stuck with a very challenging situation,” Catherwood said. “Really, the only strategy left for them, short of selling the company, was to sell their suburban offices to use that capital to develop more residential assets.”
The company started to aggressively sell off its suburban portfolio to put the money into its waterfront holdings, with it dispossessing $528 million worth of properties in 2017 alone and nearly $400 million in 2018, as Commercial Observer previously reported. It was around this time that Ronald Dickerman saw potential in Mack-Cali, and Madison International bought 4.5 million shares in February 2019.
“It’s a listed property company trading at a large discount to [net asset value] which is executing a transition that, if successful, will leave them with a major concentration of Class A residential and office directly on the Jersey side of the Hudson River across from Hudson Yards, Manhattan West and Brookfield Place,” Dickerman said. “If the company continues executing on the plan, in our view the company will either be much more attractive to REIT shareholders or is likely to sell themselves.”
In DeMarco’s own words, there was no better person to lead the company’s change than himself. In a 2017 interview with NJ.com, DeMarco called himself a “turnaround expert” and a “stone-cold killer.” He had similarly high praise for himself in a 2018 interview with CO.
“I only have one speed; it’s just the way I am,” he said. “If I do something, I do it very well.”
After the battle But not everybody was as confident in DeMarco as he was in himself. Investment firm Bow Street, which owns a 4.5 percent stake in Mack-Cali, started a proxy battle in 2019 to install more members on the board after Mack-Cali turned down a $2.4 billion takeover bid that would’ve spun its office portfolio into a separate REIT, The Real Deal reported.
After a very public back-and-forth, Bow Street eventually succeeded and got four members added to Mack-Cali’s board, including Gilmartin. It was then that Gilmartin realized the problems with the company couldn’t be fixed with a simple board shakeup.
“It turned out to be a lot harder to make a difference just because of the way the board was structured,” Gilmartin said. “Once you’re inside, while you’re not under the hood inside the company, you start to appreciate how governance works, the board dynamic; the level of engagement on the part of the board members and all that, to me was, was deeply disappointing and there was lots of room for improvement.”
In March, Bow Street started a push to replace DeMarco, writing in an open letter that, “It is now clear that the rot at Mack-Cali goes far deeper than any of us knew and that more comprehensive action is required to protect shareholders’ investment.”
“Having lost two proxy battles in successive years, I haven’t come across that in any other REIT,” Catherwood said. “To completely overhaul the board, to completely overhaul the corporate governing structure and then the change in the C-suite is really indicative of a sea change at the company.”
Gilmartin took over either for six months or until the company finds a permanent CEO. Mack-Cali will in turn pay MAG Partners a monthly fee of $150,000, a sign-on bonus of $300,000 and a $200,000 completion bonus, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Gilmartin said she’s up for the task of changing the company while continuing to run MAG Partners — which she said is having its staff step up to help run it — and searching for a permanent CEO. She’s confident in Mack-Cali because she said it already has most of what it needs to turn around.
“It’s been really intense, but really, really great,” she said. “You need great assets and you need great people. Mack-Cali has both.”
Rent-a-CEO: Inside Gilmartin’s short-term gig at Mack-Cali
By: Kathryn Brenzel
After a massive shakeup of Mack-Cali’s board, MaryAnne Gilmartin is temporarily stepping in as the New Jersey-based real estate investment trust’s CEO.
Gilmartin, through an agreement between Mack-Cali and her company MAG Partners, will serve as CEO for six months or until the company finds a replacement, whichever happens first, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mack-Cali, in turn, will pay MAG Partners a monthly fee of $150,000 and offer a one-time cash sign-on bonus of $300,000 and a completion bonus of $200,000 at the end of Gilmartin’s term, according to filings. An activist investor had pushed for the resignation of Mack-Cali CEO Michael DeMarco since earlier this year.
MAG Partners has also been offered a fully vested stock option to purchase up to 230,000 shares of common stock at $14.39 per share, and up to 100,000 shares of common stock at $20 per share. Gilmartin is still serving as chair of Mack-Cali’s board, which will lead the search for a permanent CEO.
“I think this is going to be an awesome gig. There are many many people who have been sidelined for lots of reasons. Or have just been looking for something new, given that the world order has shifted,” Gilmartin said in an interview Monday. “I’m wildly confident that we will have a great selection of talent.”
Gilmartin said she’s not “stepping away in any significant way” from MAG Partners, the development firm she launched last year as a spinoff from the partnership she formed with L&L Holding nearly two years prior. Her team — largely made of Forest City alums — will continue to handle day-to-day operations. MAG Partners is one of several firms looking to develop part of the former Amazon site in Long Island City. Most recently, the company signed letter of intent for a ground lease with Trinity Real Estate to develop a 150,000-square-foot boutique office at 122 Varick Street.
Mack-Cali, meanwhile, has been shifting its strategy from operating suburban offices to acquiring multifamily and office properties on the Hudson County waterfront. In December, the REIT agreed to sell its entire suburban office portfolio to a joint venture led by Onyx Equities in a deal valued at $288.5 million. Last March, it unloaded a 56-building portfolio in Westchester and Fairfield for $487.5 million.
Gilmartin was one of four board directors who had criticized Mack-Cali’s leadership in May, amid the REIT’s proxy fight with investor Bow Street. Gilmartin — along with three other board directors backed by Bow Street — said other members of the board put a “rubber stamp” on decisions favored by ousted CEO DeMarco, Bloomberg reported at the time. Bow Street, which owns a 4.9 percent stake in Mack-Cali, ultimately won eight of the nine board of director seats last month. Gilmartin was named chair.
In a March letter to shareholders, Bow Street had called for DeMarco to resign, accusing him of various missteps, including ignoring viable bids from companies interested in acquiring Mack-Cali. A representative for Bow Street declined to comment. DeMarco, who replaced Mitch Rudin as CEO in 2017, couldn’t immediately be reached.
Daniel Ismail, an analyst at Green Street Advisors who covers Mack-Cali, said the CEO switch was expected by investors, given the recent shakeup of the board. He expects activist investors to continue pushing for a sale or merger of the company. He noted that Gilmartin has experience working for a public REIT, Forest City, which was also sold shortly after she left the company.
“There’s probably a lot that can be reconfigured,” he said. “But in this environment — in the middle of a pandemic — many of these large strategic things are going to be difficult, as is looking for a permanent CEO.”
When asked about her goals as interim CEO, given her criticism of previous leadership, Gilmartin pointed to the reconfigured board, which aims to create an “independent transparent board that focuses on governance and strategy.” She sees herself as an intermediary between management and the board and says she is focused on company culture.
“There is no direction yet as to the board’s thinking on strategy because the board has really just been reconstituted,” she said. “There’s no great reveal yet because the work has really yet to be done.”
MaryAnne Gilmartin Appointed Interim CEO of Mack-Cali
By: Max Gross
Real estate titan MaryAnne Gilmartin, who cut her teeth at Forest City Ratner and went on to form a partnership with David Levinson and Rob Lapidus before leaving to start MAG Partners last year, has been appointed interim Chief Executive Officer at Mack-Cali, according to a release from the real estate investment trust.
In addition, Tammy K. Jones, Co-Founder and CEO of Basis Investment Group, was named Lead Independent Director of the REIT.
Prior to today’s announcement, both Gilmartin and Jones had been serving on Mack-Cali’s board. The release said that Gilmartin will continue to also operate MAG Partners. There was little said about where the previous CEO, Michael DeMarco, is going, other than a statement of thanks from Gilmartin.
“On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Michael for his service to Mack-Cali,” Gilmartin said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the talented Mack-Cali team and all of our stakeholders to ensure that the Company operates at the highest level.”
However, there had been a concerted push for DeMarco’s removal from Bow Street LLC, a New York-based investment firm that owned 4.5 percent of Mack-Cali’s stock. Bow Street called for just such action in an open letter published in March. “It is now clear that the rot at Mack-Cali goes far deeper than any of us knew,” the letter said, “and that more comprehensive action is required to protect shareholders’ investment.”