Zuccotti Park landlord’s shared interests with the city (and genial reputation) mean an ‘occupation’ decision is likely to be mutual

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Ric Clark and John Zuccotti. (dfait.maeci via flickr)
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New York City has more than its fair share of bare-knuckled, ball-busting caricatures for landlords. Luckily for the protesters camping out in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street (and, likely, the City) Brookfield Office Properties, the vast, publicly traded real-estate firm that controls the public-private park, doesn't fit the mold.

“Sheldon Solow would already be in four courts suing,” said one real-estate executive, referring to the notoriously litigious owner of the inward-sloping black-and-white skyscraper at 9 West 57th Street.

"Charles Cohen,” said the executive, referring to another landlord with a combative reputation, “would be putting up fences or something.”

Not so Brookfield, the New York-based, publicly traded real-estate arm of the Canadian firm Brookfield Asset Management that controls 78 million square feet of office towers in North America and Australia. Brookfield, unlike some of its more local competitors, embodies the growing professionalization and corporatization of the real estate industry, something that has evolved in lock-step with the development of real-estate investment trusts and the commercial-mortgage-backed securities market.

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“They’re generally straight, they’re certainly easy enough to deal with,” said David Schechtman, an investment sales broker at Eastern Consolidated. “I’m certain there are some New York developers who would have shut this down in its infancy. I can tell you I would have.”

“I’ve never heard people complaining about them as they do with some folks, that they’re sharpshooters or that they cut corners, or that they throw their weight around or they’re arrogant,” said Ken Fisher, a New York real-estate lawyer.

Over the last week, what in other circumstances might have been a hot potato has looked for all the world more like a friendly game of catch between the city and Brookfield, as each claims to be deferring to the others' judgment on how long the encampment of protesters at Zuccotti Park, the nerve center of the Occupy Wall Street events, will be allowed to remain there.

As we've reported extensively, Zuccotti Park is privately owned but by an agreement with the city must be open to the public 24 hours a day. As such, the New York Police Department has said it's up to Brookfield when the encampment should be broken up. Brookfield could try to get the protesters declared trespassers, which would then pretty much require the police to intervene and get the protesters out of the park.

That decision would likely fall on the shoulders of Brookfield Office Properties' uncommonly genial chief executive Ric Clark.

It's unlikely though, because of the many ties between the company and the city, that such a decision will be a one-sided one.

There's Brookfield's co-chairman John Zuccotti, who is himself a seasoned arbitrator, and former first deputy mayor.

"[M]y guess is that we basically look to the police leadership and mayor to decide what to do,” Zuccotti, a 74-year-old Brookyn resident married to a Holocaust historian, told The New York Times this week. 

There are other ties between the company and the city that might ensure continued comity between the two on the issue of when, if ever, it will be time to clear the park: The mayor's girlfriend Diana Taylor serves on Brookfield's board.

Brookfield has every reason to want to maintain a good relationship with the city where it is holds so much property, including 6.2 million square feet in Midtown and 12.8 million square feet in lower Manhattan, most of it in the World Financial Center.

And the company is also planning to expand.

Brookfield recently bought a majority stake in one of the city’s ugliest (and yet, well-tenanted) buildings, 450 West 33rd Street, and is moving forward with its plans to build up to three skyscrapers on a plot bounded by Ninth and Dyer avenues, 31st and 33rd streets.

The Bloomberg administration, meanwhile, appears inclined to let the protesters be, assuming the non-violent status quo remains. This even though Bloomberg is clearly not the protesters’ biggest fan.

"I would say they're a friendly real-estate company, I don't know if I've heard a bad word about them," said Cory Zelnik, a retail broker familiar with the organization. "I think there are a lot of people who would handle it differently."