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Crisis, Scarcity, and What’s in a Name

Q: You started your real estate career leading the branding and marketing efforts for high-profile projects, like Trump Tower. When you started your own firm, The Sunshine Group, in 1986, you were the exclusive marketing and sales agent for iconic properties such as Time Warner Center, One Beacon Court, Trump International Hotel, Tower NY and 40 Bond. You became the Chairman Emeritus when your firm merged with the Corcoran Group, and now you’re the strategic adviser for Fort Partner, advising on the development and sales of projects such as Surf Club Four Seasons hotel and Private Residences in Miami Beach, where you achieved over $1 billion in sales and sold for record price per square foot. In your long career, spanning several decades, you’ve seen the intersection of architecture and branding change – what have you noticed about this evolution?

A: I think branding and architecture usually go hand-in-hand. They’re co-created.
When buildings go to market without having a strong brand they often don’t succeed. 

And you’re right, I’m associated currently with the developers for all the Four Seasons Hotels and Residences on the Atlantic coastline of Florida. Now Four Seasons is an amazing brand in itself, and doesn’t need to be “developed” – it’s a brand that everyone immediately recognizes and associates with quality. 

However, as far as the rest of the market is concerned and how it evolved over time – I’ve seen it become more difficult, because so many people have adopted different brands and have overused them. 

It’s difficult to identify a brand that’s not already overused. There is now a scarcity of brands that are still meaningful. 

Q: While working on the development of One Columbus Circle at Time Warner you led The Architectural Design Showcase where you invited top renowned designers to participate in this project – each furnished and put their signature on different units within the property. This became a showcase of the artistic potential of the residences, which attracted a great deal of media and public attention. The building was branded as one-of-a-kind, a hot conversation topic. It was a tremendous success – one that will go down in the history of branding. What are your thoughts on this ingenious implementation of branding? 

A: The showcase was photographed and published in two editions of Architectural Digest and also featured on live television and live news shows, like Good Morning America and Goodnight America. It had a tremendous amount of live notice. 

It attracted an extraordinary number of people who either heard about it or read about it in Architectural Digest Magazine and wanted to visit the showcase while it was live on site. There were lines and lines of people wanting to get in. The most interesting thing was the number of eyeballs that viewed it! 

Not only did we get great publicity for the project, but this helped accelerate sales and absorption, and also allowed us to increase prices over time. 

Q: One Columbus Circle is an interesting example of the intersection of branding and architecture because there are two towers within the property – the North Tower and the South Tower. Over the years, there has been much discussion about how to name the project and each of the towers. What impact do you think the branding decision, the name of the tower, made on the building?  

A: I have a very distinct point of view about it because I remember when 9/11 happened – right in the middle of the marketing and sales of this development. Sales of high-rises virtually stopped. It was at that point when I finally convinced the developers to make it the Mandarin Residences. And the Mandarin Residences succeeded in spite of 9/11, when the South Tower continued to be almost stagnant. It was a crisis, a very severe crisis. Today, the Mandarin Residences command a much higher price than the South Tower. Because of the brand. 

Q: What other projects have you worked on that are interesting examples of the intersection between branding and architecture? 

A: One Beacon Court in Manhattan is a good example because it began with a brand we wanted – a prestigious address – and the architecture had to change in order to realize that brand. Before we could get to the conclusion of calling it One Beacon Court, I had to convince Stephen Ross [Chairman and Founder of Related Companies] to create the entrance of the building through the courtyard because originally it was conceived with an entrance on Lexington Avenue. We couldn’t call it One Beacon Court if the entrance was on Lexington Avenue. So we had to create the courtyard, and that was what convinced high-end buyers to buy there. It was then associated with Beacon Court and not Lexington Avenue. With the Bloomberg Tower near there and the residential buildings nearby, that was an important decision.

Q: For One Beacon Court, what impact did the decision to start with branding and then tailor the architecture make on the project?

A: For the developer that was a major decision. For years we were thinking about the court and designing it out of cardboard and making sure it was the right proportions, the right size, the right court. It was an expensive addition to the architecture but a very meaningful one – and it had to be perfect. It adds probably a thousand dollars per square foot to the residences. 

Q: What impact does working on teams and across fields of expertise make for branded architectural projects? 

A: On these projects, you have the brokers sitting at the table next to the developer, next to the architects, branders, and graphic designers. Sixteen or twenty people working together can be very interesting,  and it can be beneficial to have so many brains come together for this sort of vision. 

However, even with all the people coming to work together, you still need people at the top to funnel the input, to make sure it is correct and makes sense.

Q: You were Executive Vice President for the Trump Organization. How did that experience impact your understanding of the intersection between branding and architecture?

A: Working with Donald I learned to use marketing to create value in developments. The most significant thing we did was prove that Trump Residencies were worth $1,000 per square foot more than the residences down the block or down any block of any city, or any resort, or any place. 

We accomplished that by developing value in the name brand. 

This had to be developed through different methodologies, which included architecture, design, services, amenities, and management. Trump always retained the management of his own buildings, which made a huge difference.

Q: Trump’s brand is well known internationally and has been successfully exported to different places in the world. How did the architectural design impact the Trump brand and its ability to go abroad?

A: Trump design was intended for foreign markets, since Trump devotees are international people. And his design was meant for international buyers who loved it.