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October 20, 2008



After four years of on-and-off negotiations, the ink is dry as FirstService Corporation completed its previously announced purchase of a 65% stake in the firm, rebranding as Williams Real Estate, a FirstService Company. We were at Williams' Madison Avenue offices last week to start practicing the new name.


Trying to look official (but you guys should look down to be sure you know what you're signing): Williams exec chairman Bob Freedman, FirstService CEO Doug Frye (who moonlights as Colliers International's chairman), Williams CEO Mark Jaccom, and Williams prez Michael Cohen. Scratching your head and asking, "Who is FirstService?" The fourth-largest commercial real estate services company in the world and the controlling interest in names like Colliers International, Cohen Financial, and PKF Hotel and Hospitality Consulting. Altogether, it's 186 company-owned offices in 36 countries, as well as more than $1B in annual revenue. They'll use Williams as their New York hub, which adds Connecticut and New Jersey to the office roster. Under the new ownership structure, senior executives at Williams retain operational control and 35% of the firm's equity.


We missed the original deal-sealing handshake, but Mark, Doug and Bob offered up a historic reenactment. Now that he can relax, Mark was already spotted fly fishing in Montauk recently with other members of the 19-person ownership team, Alex Jinishian, Harry Blair and Mark Friedman. He reports a blitz of striped bass, blues, and false albacore (which we assume means Bumble Bee tuna claiming to be Starkist). He's now looking for some real good catches, so polish up your r?sum?s—the execs report FirstService wants to jump from fourth-largest to first in five years and hiring new talent will be part of the expansion.

Team Building!

Grubb & Ellis beefed up its retail brokerage presence with a significant Madison Avenue acquisition, but it's not luxury ground-floor digs. It's the team of Pat Breslin, Andrew Connolly and Kenny Yip from GVA Williams (now Williams Real Estate, but you knew that). Pat, a 22-year industry vet, will head up the East Coast Retail Group, while Andrew and Kenny have settled in as managing director and financial analyst/associate. The additions extend the firm's reach north to the Canadian border and south to Puerto Rico. Although it looks daunting on paper, Pat says Grubb & Ellis can afford to be aggressive considering it's not holding the debt load of some competing brokerages. The agenda now is to travel to the new markets and get the expansion rolling.


And now, sage advice from Andrew: Make sure you understand your client's line of business before offering space. He admitted he once suggested exec-heavy Downtown and Midtown to a tenant, only to realize later they said "Thai," not "tie." As for Pat, he tells us NYC retail is holding strong. Even though certain tenants are exercising caution, there's competition for space, sometimes requiring three days of pounding pavement for a client. Leasing has slowed, but solid retailers are weathering the storm. By way of example: Victoria's Secret recently inked a $100M deal in SoHo. Though we'd argue they're more silk retailer than solid.


This week, the trio heads to Florida. No, they're not the world's youngest snowbirds. Kenny and Andrew are on a dragon boat racing team and will be competing in an event at Disney. Pat's skipping the House of Mouse for business in Miami but is contemplating driving up to Orlando afterwards. Bisnow words of advice, Pat: Unless you're a traffic masochist, find a puddle jumper plane. Then again, he probably doesn't need tips from us. He's leased over 5M SF and $2B worth of retail deals in his career, anywhere from 600 SF to 600,000.

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