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Why Madison Is Boldly Investing in NYC Retail

Ronald Dickerman Madison founder and president, Ronald Dickerman, explains a new retail narrative.

NEW YORK CITY—Madison International Realty bought out its partner, acquiring the 51% interest of the Cleveland, Ohio-headquartered real estate company, Forest City Realty Trust, in a 2.1-million-square-foot retail portfolio. With the transaction scheduled to close at the end of 2017, Madison will take full ownership of the portfolio, comprising 13 retail centers. The gross asset value of the entire portfolio is approximately $1.3 billion, according to Madison founder and president, Ronald Dickerman.

In a GlobeSt.com interview, Dickerman characterized the typical, retail narrative now being told, as the baby getting thrown out with the bathwater. “Not all retail is bad,” he says. “We have confidence in our decisions. We think we are right, and if we are, it will give us the chance to rewrite the retail narrative.”

The CRE community is engaging in lively conversations on retail such as the one at a Real Estate Board of New York meeting last month. The talk titled, “What’s in Store for NYC Retail” provided sobering facts about the challenges of brick-and-mortar retail.

The 13 retail properties in the Madison portfolio are located in the five boroughs of New York City, and one in Northern New Jersey. According to Dickerman, all enjoy the benefit of being located in highly trafficked areas. He contrasted this with a retail center in Cleveland which must persuade people to get into their cars and make a trip to the mall.

Dickerman acknowledges the retail portfolio is heterogeneous with the top five assets accounting for 80% of its value. The largest property is the Madame Tussauds wax museum retail complex in Times Square on 42nd Street. It benefits from Times Square’s being the number one tourist destination in the US. This property is nearly 100% tenant occupied.

The second and third largest portfolio assets are the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal, which are across the street from Barclays Center, a venue which draws 2.8 million visitors per year. With the Long Island Railroad and Metropolitan Transit Authority subways, the Atlantic Terminal is the third most heavily trafficked subway stop in New York City, next to Grand Central Station and Times Square, according to Dickerman.

These demand drivers and the demographics differentiate the Madison retail narrative. The top performing properties are 98% tenant occupied and even in the depths of the global financial crisis were 96% occupied.

“There is nothing broken and yet we think we still have a very interesting opportunity to bring them into the 21st century,” says Dickerman.

Forest City’s exit will allow Madison to create something different including new tenant mixes and modern technologies. The need for this strategic creation of experiential retail is an essential common denominator for all retail throughout the country.

Even with this unique bonanza of foot traffic, Madison will capitalize upon and develop the assets to offer a more holistic experience. Dickerson points to the underutilization of attendance at Barclays Center, which currently provides limited options of Appleby’s and chicken wings. Dickerman succinctly puts it, “Those are the food offerings.”

“Think of the Brooklyn food experience or the restaurants we could offer with street side seating, directly across from Barclays,” he says. People could meet to get something to eat and drink, and then walk across the street to attend a game.

“We already have some options to move some tenants around. We have one particular vacancy which used to be an Office Max. Why would there be an Office Max directly across from Barclays Center?” asks Dickerman. “It was just a relic of yesteryear.”

Madison is considering the fit of tenants for ground, second, and third floor retail, with a variety of food and beverage options, entertainment such as blues performances, and venues with multiple large screen TVs to host sporting events that complement the activity at Barclays Center.

“The sky’s the limit,” he says, adding they are looking into synergies with Barclays Center and the neighborhood. Forest City plans to build a 6,000-unit residential complex at Barclays, which will further enhance retail opportunities.

Dickerman emphasizes there are more discretionary purchases in physical stores compared to on the Internet, where shoppers typically zero in on and purchase a specific item. Instead of using the Internet for simply direct purchases, Dickerman says retailers could offer amenities and services to visitors who log onto a mall’s Wi-Fi.

They may receive coupons or targeted emails to lure them to come to the store, based on their geographical locations, read from their personal devices. “It’s all about data analytics, big data and purchasing patterns,” says Dickerman. “It’s definitely part of what’s going on in retail today.”

As Madison is also an investor in Hudson Bay Global Services, owning a joint venture with HBC in about 80 Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor Stores, Dickerman is quite familiar with the WeWorks transaction. The company’s purchase of the Lord & Taylor flagship building on Fifth Avenue crystallized the theme of the collision of the old, traditional department store and the new economy.

Getting millennials into the department stores is another aspect of strategic planning, according to Dickerman. With this portfolio acquisition, Madison will create edgier retail destinations, leasing to tenants who go beyond some of the solid, even best performing anchor stores that are more associated with the 1990s than the current era.

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