Kathe Chase has been at the forefront of industrial conversions in New York City for 30 years. She was involved in the refurbishment of a former Nabisco factory into Chelsea Market in the 1990s and the conversion of the Falchi building in Long Island City, Queens, to offices and retail before that.
In recent years, however, she’s spent her time renting Industry City, a sprawling turn-of-the-century manufacturing complex along the waterfront in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, owned by Jamestown, Belvedere Capital, and Angelo, Gordon. During his tenure in Industry City, the 16-building, 6-million-square-foot campus slowly evolved from an abandoned former warehouse district to an active development of offices and retail including landscaped courtyards with seating. , shops and a dining room.
Chase stepped down as Director of Rentals for Industry City at the end of 2021 after seven years and became a Development Consultant. She phoned Commercial Observer towards the end of her tenure to talk about the transition and what she learned from decades of working on industrial reuse projects in the five boroughs.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Business Observer: You have been the leasing director of Industry City for a long time. What will your role be as an external consultant?
Kathe Chase: It is not at all a formal consultation. When we decided, or I decided, that it was time for me to take a lesser role here, it was really a conversation with the partners, who are now my family. We’ve been doing this for seven years and I’ve worked with them. I also worked with them at the Chelsea Market several moons ago. So we have a very long history here. And it was a lot more of a conversation about stepping back, as it was time for me to take a deep breath and think about other things while still staying very close to the partnership and helping with low-key projects and doing things. keeping a helping hand, in one form or another. . But we’ve been so busy since making the announcement that we haven’t actually materialized exactly what these projects are. We have reflected on many projects that we think are important and that we have not yet tackled. And we haven’t defined exactly what that looks like.
So what was the impetus to leave?
In fact, before the pandemic, I thought we had really come to a place where we are stable. It is never done. It’s so big. And we’ll always keep reinventing, modifying, and iterating, but we were in a place where it felt done, and our occupancy rate was up and rental was up. And a lot of projects and infrastructure had been completed. And it was amazing 24/7 work, but it was 24/7. I figured it was really time for me to take a step back, take a deep breath and relax a bit and do less here.
And then the pandemic struck. So I thought now was not the right time. The tenants were in difficulty and needed to restructure the transactions. On campus, we pivoted a million ways in terms of new rules and regulations around everything.
So we were making deals, but lots and lots of short term deals, which took a lot of time and work with the tenants, and we were there to help them overcome that hurdle and make sure they could stay. in business. There was too much to do. So I stayed during the pandemic, to make sure we got out on the other side. A few months ago, I realized that we had done at least half a million square feet in 2020, and we are trying to do more this year. And I felt it was really time to do it again.
Have you found who replaces you?
We are currently looking. And again figure out if it’s just a reorganization and adding a few people and not necessarily replacing me, or if it’s replacing me.
To what extent is Industry City currently leased?
I think it’s 78 percent rented. I haven’t watched lately. And, like I said, we’ve done a lot of leasing. And the other thing I can provide to you is what we did in different phases. The rental figure for the first phase, I think, is much higher, maybe even 90 percent. But then there were phases that started renting more recently, so they aren’t as rented.
Are there any offers from 2021 that you want to highlight?
I think Union Square Hospitality, which is 70,000 square feet, was signed during the pandemic. Cowtan & Tout, which is a fabric house in Manhattan, signed approximately 25,000 square feet.
What non-Industry City projects do you plan to work on?
I have proactively spoken to different people on different projects. There are a few things that look exciting and real, and some are small and really interesting, and some are big. And I wonder if I really want to get on board or not. I did my big thing, you know, so I’m really figuring it out. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that when we first talked about my lesser role here, we all agreed that I had to stay in the same role for months to help figure out what that is. looks like without me or with me in a different role. So I know this is a really unsatisfactory answer, but it would be premature for me to talk about it because I haven’t decided; I haven’t finished the conversations.
Are you looking for projects outside of New York?
No, no, no, I actually am not. Not that I wouldn’t. But I feel like a lot of what I know and understand, the people I know and the connections I have, are in New York City. And, to be honest, I love New York. This is where I have always been. I started in Long Island City, I moved to Chelsea. I am now doing Industry City. And I would really like to see the city get back on its feet, and I really hope I get this opportunity.
Tell us about your work at Chelsea Market.
My story is that I started in Long Island City. At the end of the 1980s, it was really an industrial market, there was no residential market. A restaurant, you know, no restaurants, nothing there, no retail. We had about a million and a half square feet of old warehouses and converted them into creative offices. And then I moved to Chelsea and we bought what is now known as Chelsea Market. It was actually bigger than the current Chelsea Market. And, of course, Belvedere and Jamestown played a major role in the redevelopment of the whole of Chelsea. They bought a lot of buildings there. And we were certainly the pioneers in the conversion of this neighborhood.
Then we did the same at Sunset Park. We walked in and made a big enough statement to say that the whole neighborhood really started to change in terms of employment with so many more people that were there and having so many more businesses there and a lot of people. night and weekend activities. So I hope I can do more of the same in New York, especially now.
When you were in Long Island City, who did you work for?
Irwin Cohen, who – you look very young – do you know who Irwin is?
The name sounds vaguely familiar.
He really grandfathered into this whole idea of ââadaptive reuse, taking those turn-of-the-century warehouse buildings into real industrial estates and converting them into creative office buildings. It would have a mission statement: “What will bring businesses here?” This is a half a million square foot warehouse that Bloomingdale uses and has 10 people working throughout the space; and there are no restaurants and there is no residential area, and it’s a 10 minute walk to the metro. What would make this interesting? Why would a business move here? “
He was the person who really started this line of thinking. He bought what was originally built as a Nabisco cookie factory. This is what later became the Chelsea Market. And it was he who designed the dining room; it was the first dining hall. This may sound funny to you, because now there are a lot of them. So that was the idea – not to duplicate what had been done before, but to think about the future of real estate and set a trend.
What buildings have you worked on in Long Island City?
I don’t know if you know them. One was a Bloomingdale factory. One was a Macy’s warehouse. Do you know Long Island City? Do you know the Factory? The Falchi building? Does all of this sound familiar to you?
I visited the Falchi building.
Yeah. So it was Irwin who took them from a real warehouse to a design office. There was another building, which is no longer there. There was a row of buildings along 47th Avenue – one was called Redstone Rocket, the other was Falchi, the other was Factory. We also had one on Northern Boulevard. He also felt that the conversion of a building did not make a neighborhood. It was therefore also a matter of having a density of buildings and then of creating energy and a neighborhood, ultimately.
What do you feel like you learned at Industry City? What is there to take away from spending seven years helping to redevelop this huge and imposing industrial campus?
The first thing for me was to make sure we were very clear in our mission statements. Belvedere and Jamestown came up with a concept of what it meant to take those 35 acres and 16 buildings in an outlying neighborhood – and what it would take to make it a true destination, a place where businesses wanted to come, employees wanted. to come. ; but it also integrated it into the neighborhood so that it was part of the neighborhood and also a place that people knew as Industry City. And the challenge and what I think we’ve all learned is how to stay true to that mission – so that you have a message and everyone understands the message and what you’re doing there – but at the same time don’t. confuse anyone because you teach yourself as you go along? So it was about making sure we kept moving forward and doing what we said we would do, but also learning as we went.
I also think I learned how important it is as a real estate agent to partner. And I think I knew it, but, in fact, that’s what we did every day. It wasn’t just about renting space, it was really about partnering with the companies that were in Jersey City and understanding the synergies that existed between us; then between the companies and the other companies present; and learn how to create a community that was truly a partnership of companies where they leveraged each other.
I had a meeting yesterday with a biotech company that was in Industry City growing up in IC, and was running away because they were meeting four other biotech companies in IC, to think about how they could share. lab space and bring a few other companies here. And I think that’s what we’ve been so successful at doing, creating this community of businesses that have really learned to leverage each other and partner up, and bring us other tenants.
Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at [email protected]