By Vivian Marino
Mr. Futterman, 51, is the founder and chief executive of Robert K. Futterman and Associates, an independent brokerage and consulting firm specializing in urban retail markets. RKF, as the company is known, was responsible for leasing the retail space in the Time Warner Center, and it currently serves as an adviser to the Port Authority for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
Q What’s your role in the World Trade Center project?
A Our role is really to keep our hand on the pulse of the market for the Port Authority: Would the merchandise mix benefit from an anchor tenant? Are projected rents and sales consistent with the type of retail growth we’ve seen? Are we still convinced that it’s a viable project?
Q Any retailers committed yet?
Q Who have you been talking to?
A We’re working under confidentiality in terms of names. But you can imagine, if it’s a half-a-million-square-foot regional shopping center, it’s all the household names. You’ll probably have something hipper than any shopping mall, maybe a mix of local and international operators.
Q You’re also the broker for the retail space at the vacant 11 Times Square. What’s happening there?
A At this point we have several proposals out for review, but we’re not close to closing any deals. The landlord held the retail space off the market until he completed the first large office deal, which he did with the law firm Proskauer Rose.
We have 55,000 square feet on the ground, basement and second floor, but the retail could go up to the sixth floor. Most of the interest is from fast-fashion retailers like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Old Navy. Consumer electronics are also interested, and restaurants. And there may be gated attractions, sort of like Madame Tussauds down the block. An aquarium or something.
Q The aquarium idea has been bandied about. Could that really happen?
A I think an aquarium in a scaled-down version could. A group did come to us — I can’t tell you the name — for a 25,000-square-foot aquarium. Hopefully, they could operate out of the basement, because it would be easier to support the type of tonnage shark tanks need to hold.
Q What other projects are you working on?
A We just leased Fairway Market, at 86th Street between Second and Third, about 40,000 square feet formerly occupied by Barnes and Noble and Circuit City.
We’re marketing 980 Madison Avenue, which is 49,000 square feet. We’re marketing 2 Cooper Square, 23,000 feet. We just completed a deal for a Whole Foods at 57th Street and Second, one of World-Wide’s developments. We’re busy in other parts of the country, too.
Q How is New York in comparison with the rest of the country?
A If there is a recovery, it’s most noticeable in New York and Los Angeles. We really feel the velocity here.
Q What are retail rental rates like these days?
A On Fifth Avenue in the 50s the rents are $1,000 a foot, or more; in SoHo, $400 to $500 a foot on Broadway; on Madison Avenue between 59th and 72nd, $600 to $700, and they’re less as you go north. I’d say post-Lehman Brothers collapse, rents dropped as much as 40 percent, now I think they’ve come back about 20 percent. But it’s nice to see fashion retailers and international tenants be able to afford to expand.
Q And lease lengths?
A In a down economy, landlords like to see shorter leases, like five years. Tenants like 10- to 15-year leases with two or three 5-year renewal options. However, the nice thing about New York is that every landlord’s different. And sometimes longer leases are better for financing purposes.
Q Let’s talk neighborhoods.
A The two streets that have not been affected at all by any recent lapse are Broadway in SoHo and Fifth Avenue in the high 40s and 50s; they’ve been the most insulated from the downturn.
I also like Broadway and 57th Street and Eighth at Columbus Circle. I’m very bullish on the West Side as you track the High Line; I think that downtown now starts at 31st Street and down. It’s sort of hip and cool to be over there, so I do think that’s going to be a real wave of development over the next few years. It’s really going to be a thriving neighborhood. Residential development pulls retail into the mix.
Q What’s it like seeing your initials up on all these storefronts?
A To see my name up there, it’s great. However, when people say, we see your sign everywhere, well, that’s not necessarily a good sign. We want to get the space rented so I can collect my commissions.