Flush From Outer Borough Market Binge, Joe Berko Makes a Bet on the West Side

Joe Berko, the founder and president of commercial real estate advisory firm Berko and Associates, is making a huge bet on the Far West Side.

Berko, who has been watching the moves of firms such as Moinian, Durst and Brookfield in the area, said that he is in the process of marketing a one million square feet property in the neighborhood for a joint venture. “All those guys are doing great projects over there. I believe this corridor between 10th avenue and 11th avenue is eminently going to change over the course of five to seven years. It’s going to be a whole different blend of apartment buildings, with hopefully some interesting retail,” he said.

Berko, whose firm recently worked on large deals such as the $182 million conversion of an office building to the Marriott Hotel near Times Square, did not provide specifics on the project. However, he said that it is still in its early stages, and is still awaiting approval from the city.

“It’s (in) pre-uniformed land use review process. So the zoning still has to go through that change,” he said.
The Far West Side, which covers parts of SoHo all the way through to the West Village, has been a prime target for the city’s biggest developers.

One of the largest projects in the area is Brookfield’s 1 Manhattan West, a 67-story building on 33rd Street and Ninth Avenue. Related Companies, meanwhile, is building Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States and the largest development in New York City since Rockefeller Center.
That development will bring more than 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space, more than 100 shops, a collection of restaurants, approximately 5,000 residences, a cultural space, 14 acres of public open space, a 750-seat public school and a 200-room Equinox branded luxury hotel — all offering unparalleled amenities for residents, employees and guests.

Berko does not consider any of those initiatives as competition, but he is concerned about their shared difficulties in the area. “I just think that the major challenge right now is the zoning… There has to be a quasi-intervention between the private sector, which wants to build, and the demand of the public for housing and the affordable component, which is needed,” he said.

While Berko’s immediate future hangs on Manhattan’s new prime real estate destination, his reliable targets remain in the outer boroughs, particularly in Queens.

“I’m very bullish on development sites in northern Queens. I’m very bullish on conversion of industrial lofts into office. I think both of those areas are ahead of the curve and those areas still present a certain amount of return in arbitrage since it’s not yet a proven market. We’re finding it increasingly difficult to find (something) comparable. The competition is fairly low at the moment,” he said.

He’s also long targeted Brooklyn. Earlier this year, his company worked on the $33.7 million sale of the former Schiltz Brewery location in Bushwick. His firm also worked on a deal to convert a Gowanus loft building into offices.

Berko founded his firm in 2005, ten years after starting out in commercial real estate investment banking and financing where he quickly emerged as a top producer in his field, arranging competitive debt yields for his clients.

Born and raised in Israel, he’d had an ongoing fascination with the city of New York since his first visit in the early 1980’s. In 1994, after completing his service in the IDF, he moved to New York, graduating from Baruch College with a degree in The Science of Real Estate and Metropolitan Development.
His distinctive approach and creative methodologies in securing complex transactions have earned him a reputation as an industry leader and his firm has grown to be a low-key, yet prolific player in the tri-state area’s investment sales and financing landscape, evidenced by his recent distinction as a CoStar Power Broker of the Year Award Winner.

Over the course of nearly twenty years, Berko has structured, raised, syndicated, sold, and financed several billions dollars in commercial real estate deals. Such transactions range from office buildings, mixed-use properties, hotels, shopping centers, and industrial parks. He has arranged for joint ventures, equity participation and mezzanine debt, as well as dispositions of distressed and performing notes for national and regional portfolio lenders.

In 2009, New York State Governor David Paterson nominated Berko as an advisor to the State’s Real Estate Board, an honor bestowed upon a select group of only five real estate professionals.
Then, in 2011, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed him to serve as the secretary of the Board.