Things are very different Thursday as the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) celebrates 125 years as an organization — two years longer than the pact that brought together the five boroughs.
For the first time, the annual black-tie banquet — where the organization showers industry movers and shakers with awards (see this year’s honorees below) — will be conducted virtually and held in June rather than in January.
“The banquet is a pivot point, and we will reflect back on the past year and how the city managed the crisis and prepared for the recovery,” said James Whelan, REBNY’s president. “New York City has been knocked down before and always comes back bigger and better.”
The city’s oldest and most influential trade association represents a who’s who of city landowners, building investors, real estate executives and service professionals who work to provide housing for residents of all incomes and nationalities, along with spaces for retailers, hotels and companies of all shapes and sizes.
REBNY members also serve those from all over the world seeking to live, invest or park their dollars in the safest spot on the globe.
To put it in perspective, according to the Department of Finance, for fiscal year 2022, the city’s 1.086 million tax lots are worth $3 trillion — half of which are not even fully taxable — and hold over 3.04 million apartments and 432 million square feet of offices served by 195 million square feet of stores.
In fiscal year 2019 alone, 52.8 percent of all city taxes — $31.9 billion of the total $60.4 billion in taxes — were real estate-related and easily covered the $29 billion needed for the salaries of the city’s 300,731 full-time employees.
But real estate’s contribution to the city’s coffers has also doubled since 2008 while other city taxes have risen by about one-third.
The rise in both taxing and spending has created challenges as roughly 50,850 small homes were late in paying $155.7 million in property taxes 2020.
Along with larger property owners, REBNY members include smaller minority apartment building owners, residential and commercial brokers and managers, financial companies, title companies, lawyers, accountants, architects, bankers, utilities and even media companies like the New York Post.
Led by Whelan, its 15,000 members are intimately involved in crucial city matters including the formulation of tax policy, city planning and zoning, land use policy, landmarking, the preservation of affordable housing and other structures, regulations governing the condition of rentals and conversions, building codes and other legislation that make our city socially and equitably responsible, safer and greener.
The organization also publishes several reports providing indicators of market pricing in the residential, retail and commercial sectors.
Smart politicians listen because the organization provides thoughtful and well-crafted advice on policies that affect all of the city’s residents.
“We will take on the challenges and work with elected offices to get to a place of policy making,” Whelan said.
REBNY’s chairman Douglas Durst will preside over the organization’s first virtual celebration, which will differ markedly from the usual raucous event in a hotel ballroom when nearly 3,000 attendees mingle more than they sit.
But REBNY will again honor individuals who have demonstrated continued commitment to both the city and the industry.
“Some prominent public officials will be participating, and we will honor industry leaders and the role their companies played in helping the city navigate our way through the pandemic,” Whelan said.
In the past, guests included REBNY’s board of governors and the evening’s honorees along with, very often, the governor, the mayor, deputies, commissioners and staffers, the city council speaker, council members, state senators and assembly representatives, US congressional representatives and senators.
Not to mention other appointed and elected officials who create photo-op gridlock as the real estate press buzzes with cameras and questions.
Over the years, those presiding on the dais have resorted to cymbals, megaphones and other devices to quiet the crowd during the award ceremony while former REBNY President Steve Spinola was teased for his 30 years of shushing.
This time around, however, the handy “mute” feature will prevail.