Editors' Choice: The Very Best Bisnow Stories Of 2019
On any given day, Bisnow might produce 50 stories. Multiply that by the 261 business days of the year that we publish and even the most zealous commercial real estate reader is drowning in a riptide of words — about 3 million words, according to my cocktail napkin math. And while I might momentarily feel sorry for our overworked copy editor, I also wonder if that means you might have missed out on some of our most penetrating work.
As ever, the Bisnow newsroom is committed to deeply reported journalism, investigations and feature writing that shines a light on commercial real estate. We do this work not because we seek clicks or accolades, but because we believe that truth and accurate information — no matter the feathers it might ruffle — matter a great deal to your business.
Our reporters and editors span North America and the United Kingdom, producing their work from places near and far-flung: New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, London, Dallas and Houston, to name a few.
From our editors, here is a collection of our very best from 2019 — the stories that really mattered, the ones you might have missed and the ones we hope will enhance your perspective of the world you help to shape.
Mark F. Bonner, Editor-In-Chief
CATIE DIXON, MANAGING EDITOR
Special Report: Ethnic Diversity In UK Real Estate
By Mike Phillips, UK editor
Mike delved deep into the world of overt racism, systemic inequality and unconscious bias in his three-part series about ethnic minorities in UK real estate.
Racism, Bias And Self-Doubt: Being BAME In Real Estate In 2019 surveyed 400 members of the BAME In Property organization, getting their insight into what it is like being a minority in real estate today and what direction they see the industry heading. The responses are at times heartbreaking and at times inspiring, and about 70% of respondents said they have experienced racism at work.
Meet The Woman Who Used A Racist Remark As A Spur To Create Her Own Property Network talked to Priya Shah, who created the BAME In Property networking organization. She is working to break down barriers on both sides of the fence — the broader real estate industry not granting equal respect to minorities, and minority communities often not seeing property as a legitimate career.
In Put Your Hands Up In The Air: How Ethnic Diversity Flourishes At Commercial Property Auctions, Mike highlighted one part of real estate that is more racially diverse: property auctions. By eliminating the relationship aspect of real estate, which can limit minorities in overt or unintentional ways, auctions are not about who you know, but what you know and how much you bid.
San Francisco Retail Has Been Booming. So Why Is It Considering Heavy Vacancy Fees?
By Dean Boerner, San Francisco reporter
Dean parsed through a great deal of nuance in his story about San Francisco considering vacancy taxes, or fines on retail landlords that leave empty storefronts for extended periods of time. On the one hand, retail’s struggles are well-known, and people walking through San Francisco can see empty storefronts in prime locations; it is easy to say landlords must be doing something wrong. On the other hand, San Francisco has one of the lowest retail vacancy rates in the nation, and landlords say they are doing all they can to keep storefronts full and rents coming in. Dean delved into the tension, the complications and the data behind the health of retail in the Bay Area and whether a vacancy tax could be beneficial. The proposal seems dramatic, but it is moving forward — residents will vote on implementation in 2020.
Deadly Dallas Construction Crane Collapse Highlights CRE Liability Issues
By Kerri Panchuk, Dallas-Fort Worth reporter
When a construction crane fell into an apartment tower in Dallas, killing one person and injuring others, Kerri headed to the scene. Her resulting story had a bit of everything — an emotional anecdote by a resident who experienced the crash, interviews with safety experts about what may have led to the accident, and analysis of the legal ramifications of incidents like these. By connecting breaking news to a larger trend of legal liability, her story resonated beyond Dallas and this one tragedy.
ETHAN ROTHSTEIN, EAST COAST EDITOR
Stuck In The Dirt: After Years Of Promises, Atlanta's Fabled Luxury Skyscraper Clouded In Mystery
By Jarred Schenke, Atlanta reporter
When Jarred smells a story, we let him follow his nose. This deeply reported tale of No2 Opus Place, the project that would become the tallest residential building in Georgia, if only it could ever get built, is a perfect example of that. The backer behind the development, Jarred found, is Shaya Boymelgreen, a New York developer who lost big in the Great Recession, then lost the right to build anything else in the Big Apple after the state attorney general found him guilty of defrauding his buyers. Jarred went to the site multiple times over the course of weeks, toured the model unit and even found a prospective buyer.
The general theme of his conversations: the developer has said for years it was close to building Midtown Atlanta’s most opulent condo building — it has even sent trucks to the site to move dirt around, posting marketing videos of “construction” — but it still hasn’t begun. Few in the city expect it to happen anytime soon. That buyer, Jarred recently found out, pulled his deposit.
'Devastating, Irresponsible': CRE Industry Reacts To The NYC Rent Reform Deal
By Miriam Hall, New York City reporter
Amazon might have been the first shot fired in the new political war raging in New York between the entrenched business community and new progressive legislators, but it was a glancing blow. The real first blood drawn happened in June, when the state legislature passed a set of reforms that cripple landlords’ ability to perform major improvements and raise rents on rent-stabilized units.
While in other markets, such a rule might cause some grumbles and chill investment, nobody does full-on panic like New York. In this story, the day after the new bills passed and when Gov. Andrew Cuomo — long a benefactor of real estate industry donations — signaled he’d sign them, Miriam took the pulse of the industry, and it was racing.
Some owners are “screwed,” one landlord told her. Another said he was being “penalized” for making “good faith investments.” Robert Nelson, who owns more than 7,000 apartments in New York, told Miriam “loans are going to fall into default. I think that it’s going to be devastating.”
It took Miriam mere hours to pull the story together, with emotions running high. Six months later, it’s remarkable to read how surprised some of the biggest names in real estate were by the new regulations and what they meant for real estate. These days, their eyes are wide open heading into what is sure to be a heated election battle in 2020.
‘Keep Going. The Sheikh Orders It’: Inside The Upside-Down World Of Developing In Dubai
By Cameron Sperance, Boston/National reporter
This story may have come out last week, but recency bias be damned, this was Bisnow’s first Dubai dateline and that’s pretty cool. Cameron spent a week on the ground in Dubai, talking with locals in the real estate community, taking photos and absorbing what it’s like to be in a market where vacancy is skyrocketing, rents and values are plummeting and developers are building just as rapidly as ever. Most of Cameron’s sources were too wary of what Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s government would do if they were quoted questioning his development strategy.
RILEY MCDERMID, WEST COAST EDITOR
Silence vs. Success: Why Women In CRE Still Don’t Say #MeToo
By Cameron Sperance, Kerri Panchuk and Miriam Hall
First-class writing and reporting from a reporting team that already have full-time beats, and masterfully shepherded by their editor. The writing itself was concise and authoritative, while keeping a consistent narrative threading all the salient points and people quoted. Excellent headline and clear commitment to writing fairly and impartially without pulling any punches was evident throughout. The tone and style were strong and eloquent.
Took every editing step necessary, and the time it needed to grow and thrive, in order to make it the best, bulletproof story possible. It also struck a chord with our readership community and opened new doors for sourcing and investigation.
Can You Get Through Brexit Without Breaking Real Estate? A Bisnow Choose Your Own Adventure Game
By Mike Phillips
An exceedingly creative look at an international issue that seemed like it had already received all the attention it could hold. Beautifully written and linked throughout, with a world-class flair for keeping readers interested, and importantly, able to follow along.
Jewish Real Estate Leaders React To Trump's 'Brutal Killers' Comments
By Miriam Hall
Excellent example of localizing national news with a beat-specific hook. Executed quickly and cleanly and attracted solid traction.
MIKE PHILLIPS, UK EDITOR
Modular Housing: The Future, Or A Bundle Of Trouble?
By David Thame, Birmingham/Manchester reporter
Modular housing is regularly touted as a major pillar in how cities can build affordable housing more quickly and cheaply. But if done badly, it can evoke the ghosts of the loathed prefab blocks of the 1960s and '70s. By speaking to people who actually live in some of the UK’s new modular blocks, David Thame shone a light on what it is like when it does go wrong, in-depth reporting which can ultimately help the sector improve.
EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Real Estate Head Holly Sullivan Has No Regrets About The HQ2 Search
By Ethan Rothstein, East Coast editor, and Jon Banister, D.C. reporter
This is a shout-out to what happens when Bisnow’s events and editorial teams work together to land the biggest names in the industry. Amazon HQ2 was one of the biggest stories of 2018, and the company gave almost no insight into its decision-making process or plans once it had chosen its location. But Bisnow secured Amazon’s global head of economic development, Holly Sullivan, to talk about why the company chose Crystal City and what it planned to do there. Jon and Ethan grilled Sullivan ahead of an event where, in the wake of its decision not to head to New York, she spoke to a room of 1,000 attendees who booed, cheered and hung on her every word.
TOM RUSSO, COPY EDITOR
Dicing With Death: Can Manchester’s Skyscraper Climber Be Stopped
By David Thame
There’s often a fine line between brave and stupid. David introduces us to one notorious thrill-seeker without ever passing judgement on him. A compelling description of the building climber’s adventure and the danger he puts himself in follows, moving on to how his actions affect the landlords, developers and contractors whose buildings the daredevil and others like him literally risk their lives on. We’re then taken on a journey from Manchester to London and New York, before the methods being used to end this potentially deadly “game” are outlined. David ends with why such methods can seem so ineffective, and why landlords often hold out only cautious optimism (at best) that the problem will be solved anytime soon.
At The Breaking Point: Inside The Global Clamor For Rent Control
By Mike Phillips and Miriam Hall
You’d be hard-pressed to call 2019 the Year of Anything when there were so many subjects reverberating throughout it. But if you were forced to pick just one, the “Year of Rent Control” would be as good as any. Here, Mike and Miriam look at efforts to keep housing affordable — using a method some see as a panacea, others as the worst idea imaginable — in several iconic cities. As they write: “It is overly simplistic to argue, as the real estate industry has, that rent control doesn’t work.” The story is a thorough and balanced overview of what effect rent control appears to have, and outlines the nuanced positions of those on both sides of the argument.
JAY RICKEY, DIRECTOR OF NEWSLETTERS
Chick-fil-A To Stop Donations To Charities With Anti-LGBT Views
By Cameron Sperance
This was the most-read story ever in the history of Bisnow, and it was excellent work by Boston reporter Cameron Sperance. Cam had previously reported on the chain’s struggle to open new restaurants in airports across the country due to the CEO's stance against marriage equality and the chain's donations to organizations not supportive of the LGBTQ community. Bisnow also had a story in October on a new Chick-fil-A in London that lost its lease after only eight days for the same reasons. Chick-fil-A has now started making moves to repair its image, and Cameron got that scoop.
JLL Forgoes ‘Millions’ In Fees By Severing Ties With Anti-LGBT Hotel Group
By Mike Phillips
We reported in April that a real estate events company would pull its business from the Dorchester Hotel chain after the royal family that owns it passed laws that would stone gay people to death in their country of Brunei. A month later, U.K. editor Mike Phillips followed up with a report that JLL would also sever ties with the Brunei Investment Authority, which is controlled by the Sultan of Brunei and his family. JLL's move to pull its services from the management of the Dorchester Collection of Hotels, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, meant forgoing millions in management fees. Brunei has since announced a moratorium on the laws that made homosexuality punishable by death, keeping them on the books but saying they would not be enforced.
Howard Hughes Rolls Out Massive Corporate Realignment: New CEO, HQ Relocation, Sale Of $2B In Assets
By Kerri Panchuk
Kerri Panchuck started her Monday, Oct. 21, driving around to see the impact from a tornado that ripped through her market of Dallas the night before, which included the leveling of a Home Depot. Shortly after she filed that story, REIT Howard Hughes Corp. announced it was divesting $2B in assets, replacing its CEO and moving its headquarters to Dallas. With some help from an SEC filing, Kerri was able to write about specific properties the REIT was planning to sell. It was a remarkable day of reporting.
CoStar Awarded Record $500M Settlement From Xceligent In Copyright Suit
By Jon Banister
Many thought CoStar Group's legal battle with Xceligent had faded, but CoStar won another major victory against its former competitor when the parties reached a $10.7M settlement agreement on a $500M judgment against Xceligent for copyright infringement. CoStar CEO Andy Florance told D.C. reporter Jon Banister that his company had deployed a team of 80 people to execute searches and seizures in what he called "largely a lawless area of the Philippines" to find proof of widespread theft. Florance also told Jon the $10.7M settlement wouldn’t cover half the costs his company deployed proving the theft, but said it would be "a pretty big deterrent" against future actions by another potential competitor.
BEN PALTIEL, CUSTOM CONTENT EDITOR
There’s No Hiding From The China Trade War With These New Tariffs
By Matthew Rothstein, Philadelphia/national reporter
Matt did an incredible job making this a piece with mainstream relevance without losing sight of the fact that we’re a real estate publication. Chock full of statistics in a way that is juicy, not dry, and has a lovely flow from paragraph to paragraph.
What You Need To Know About Amazon’s Stunning Rejection Of New York City
By Miriam Hall
Miriam wrote probably my favorite lede of any story this year. Gives a great feel for the emotionality of the whole scenario, heavy on quotes but without losing the news.