Kent Swig Is Bullish on NYC and Happy to Be Back in the Office
(Bloomberg) -- Kent Swig knows what it’s like to go through rough patches and come out just fine at the other end. New York City will be the same, he said.
The real estate magnate, who experienced one of the steepest climbs and a hardest falls during the downturn a decade ago, said business is good, al fresco dining on New York’s streets is wonderful and that he doesn’t mind paying a bit more in taxes -- as long as the money is spent wisely.
And while the New York mayoral election still is more than a year out, Swig has already determined that Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and former police officer who backed Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary, is the guy who can get the city back on its feet.
Swig, 59, is the grandson of Benjamin Swig, who began building a real estate dynasty during the Great Depression. He leads a handful of real estate businesses that do everything from construction to building management, and owns properties throughout the U.S.
He spoke recently with Bloomberg about the state of the city, the likelihood of tax hikes and the drawbacks of working remotely. His comments have been edited and condensed.
Where have you been in the past six months?
I’ve been in New York. I moved out to eastern Long Island in March, but I’m commuting into New York as of Labor Day and it’s a pleasure to be back, no matter what anyone’s telling you.
Are you and your staff back in the office yet?
Yes. There’s no efficiency, no creativity with people working from home. Work isn’t done efficiently and properly. They’re not working their normal days. We’ve been at this long enough, and I’ve got enough companies to look at. It doesn’t work.
You’re only allowed to have 50% occupancy, so we stagger the week by day. We tell people they can come later and leave a little earlier so they don’t have to go during rush hour. The health and safety of our staff is the most important thing. Nothing replaces being together.
What are you upbeat about these days?
We have a spirit in New York that’s unique to the world. In the middle of the pandemic, Facebook, which had previously leased 1.5 million square feet in Hudson Yards, took out another 700,000 square feet, because they recognize that the entire focus of their business is interconnectivity of people.
The outdoor restaurants are great. I stood in line the other night 45 minutes to get a table. Forget the parking, we need to keep all these outdoor areas. It’s emptier right now, there’s not as many people right now. But the shops are open, restaurants are open, compared to other cities there’s a good camaraderie and feeling. It’s not crime all over.
And what worries you?
No. 1, there’s got to be health safety. New York is the densest city in America. We have about 28,000 people per square mile. Nobody’s going into a dense city unless there’s health safety.
No. 2, you need your physical safety. That means the police force has to become a bit more sensitive to the civilian population that it serves, and civilians need to be more attuned to police putting their lives on the line.
No. 3 is great transportation. And we have that now, but the MTA is short $12 billion because of Covid. The federal government, which can borrow money at no cost, needs to support New York.
I’m very confident the first thing will happen, and I think working with the police force will happen if we have the right leadership, and we need federal help. But the person we have in the White House right now is not looking at this stuff.
How long have you had your eye on Eric Adams?
Since he’s been in politics. We need somebody who is from New York, who deeply cares about New York. And I believe we need an African-American mayor. Not because of the color of their skin, but because of who they are on the inside.
Do you favor a tax increase for you and your peers?
Does New York city need more revenue? Yes. Would I rather pay a little more taxes and live in a safer, better and more efficient city? Yes.
New York got hammered by Trump with the cap on the state and local tax deduction. That did more damage than any mayor. We’re paying less tax now under Trump and it’s a disaster. If there’s a mayor who’s intelligent, thoughtful and living it, I don’t mind paying more taxes.
Are any of your peers planning to move to avoid higher taxes?
Nobody wants to leave. People are going to keep being here. Their kids are gonna want to stay here. They might leave temporarily and live in the countryside. That’s got nothing to do with money, it’s got to do with safety.
Will the city boom immediately? No. Will we have declining occupancy in retail? Yes. Will we have fewer restaurants? Yes. Once Covid is over, will we regain this? Yes.
What have you been watching while stuck at home?
Other than the news, which I watch constantly, I have watched a few documentaries such as “Fear City.” Also Snoop Dogg interviewing Mike Tyson.
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