When he read the news one morning in early September, Ofer Cohen picked up the phone and called key players in Brooklyn real estate.
Cohen, 46, the founder and president of TerraCRG, a Brooklyn-focused real estate advisory and brokerage firm, knew immediately that the borough could make a strong case for Amazon’s second headquarters. Over the last decade, Cohen’s business had boomed in tandem with the Brooklyn market and he had come to be renowned as an expert in its intricacies and opportunities. Now, he saw a chance to make a play for what he and others in the Brooklyn real estate community see as the borough’s logical next step: landing a big company who wants to call Brooklyn “home”.
“I mean the ink was barely dry,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, president and C.E.O. of real estate firm Forest City New York, who received a phone call. “And I think that is when Ofer is at his best. He is one step ahead of the pack, he is thinking big, he’s putting the right people in the conversation and he is relentless, and I think that is the story of his success.”
Amazon’s request for proposals for a second headquarters location set off a frenzy across the nation, with more than 100 cities promising to bid by Oct. 19. In New York, over two dozen sites across the five boroughs were submitted to the city’s Economic Development Corp., including an organized series of sites along Brooklyn’s waterfront, which the organizers have dubbed the “innovation coast”. Four locations were highlighted in the final proposal: Lower Manhattan, Midtown West, Long Island City and Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle.
Cohen, who is also on the board of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has been cheerleading and organizing for Brooklyn from behind the scenes. So far, the process has brought Brooklyn’s foremost developers together to work and strategize — an exercise that may lay the groundwork for luring companies in the future, should Amazon pass.
“Staying involved and really making sure that Brooklyn, as a whole, goes in the right direction in terms of development is really important to us and really important to me personally,” said Cohen. “That is a component of my role that I truly like.”
Cohen grew up in Jerusalem and served in the Israeli Defense Forces. In his twenties, he decided to leave Israel for New York in search of new career opportunities. He worked at tech start-ups, making the leap to real estate after the dot com bubble. In 2008, he started TerraCRG as the great recession took hold across the nation. The slowdown allowed Cohen and his team to develop strong relationships in the borough and study the emerging market.
“I think the timing was not accidental,” said Adam Hess, a long-time colleague of Cohen, who now works as a partner at TerraCRG. “I think Ofer saw the opportunity and a low barrier to entry in the Brooklyn market and you know, hindsight is 20/20 and it worked out.”
By 2011, Brooklyn had shifted from a “value buy”, in comparison to Manhattan, to a desirable global brand. People wanted to live in Brooklyn and the real estate market boomed. Cohen and his team advised and brokered deals all over the borough, starting in areas like Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Park Slope and then moving into central and south Brooklyn. During that time the average investment sale transaction in Brooklyn doubled from 2.5 million in 2010 to just over 5 million in 2016.
TerraCRG now has a team of 27 and handles over half a billion dollars in total volume of sales per year, which included brokering investment sales and transactions, and leasing commercial properties. Their airy downtown Brooklyn office on Dean Street overlooks the massive Atlantic Yards development and is just down the street from Barclay’s Center, a poignant symbol of Brooklyn’s journey thus far.
From where Cohen sits, Brooklyn’s next chapter starts with office space — and developers and governmental leaders working together to sell companies on the fact that the borough has the human capital, office space and “cool factor” they need to succeed.
“Brooklyn has a healthy office market but it’s really just emerging and going to the next level now,” said Cohen. “These projects need to developed, tenants need to come and then it is going to be a fully viable operating market.”
The Amazon bidding process has been a good exercise for Brooklyn real estate, according to Cohen, because it has helped key players imagine what is possible — and the work that needs to be done to attract a big name. Even if this bid fails, the blueprint is there, as is the enthusiasm.
Gilmartin agrees. “The center of gravity is Brooklyn and what we are missing on this continuum, on this spectrum, is really a major headquarter play for a company like Amazon, who represents the 21st century digital era of business, the innovation economy, and all of the types of goods, services and talent that go along with it.”
Feature image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.