Vivian Marino reports in the NY Times: Mr. Rosen, 50, whose given name is pronounced ABE-ee, is a principal of RFR Holding, a development and property management company with offices in Frankfurt and New York.
RFR’s real estate holdings include the Seagrams Building and Lever House in Manhattan; current projects include the redevelopment of the Gramercy Hotel and 530 Park Avenue.
Q How do your duties differ from those of Michael Fuchs, your business partner and friend since kindergarten?
A Michael deals with the banking and taxation issues; he runs our German office. I run the day-to-day business of this company; I deal with all the projects here.
Q And how does New York compare with the rest of the world?
A It’s doing better. New York as an industry is the best city for real estate. You’re in a very transparent market. If you need to liquidate, you make three phone calls and you could sell something, even in the worst market. It is also less forgiving; if you make a mistake you can lose money.
Q You encountered some rough patches in the downturn.
A In the last cycle we bought a lot of inventory. Sometimes we overpaid for something, but we believe time will catch up.
We have reshuffled all of our debt – we bought some back, refinanced it, and pushed up maturity dates to 2015, 2016 – and there’s not one piece of debt that went back to the lenders. We bought back and reshuffled over $3.5 billion worth of notes.
Ninety-nine percent of our headaches are gone.
Q Was this an arduous task?
A We’ve been working on this for the last three years. We always work on our debt, but what we’re not used to dealing with is an overleveraged asset. If you believe in the asset, you deleverage and put in more equity.
Q What is your average debt level as measured by loan to value?
A We are luckily back up to the 50 percent level. The market has rebounded. We usually never went up to 80 percent over all.
Q Let’s talk about some of your current projects.
A We bought 530 Park Avenue, on 61st Street, next to the Regency. We’re converting it from a rental to a high-end condo. We should be going to market in about 12 to 14 months. There’s One Jackson Square, a condo downtown where we are just finishing up the construction and we are about 80 percent sold. We’re selling the retail off there. On the West Side, on 81st Street, we have a prewar building called the Avanova. We bought it from the developer.
Q You recently ended a partnership with the hotelier Ian Schrager at the Gramercy Park Hotel.
A We came to a very fair arrangement – the number is confidential – and I will continue doing this hotel by myself. We’re adding two new restaurants and a whole bunch of new services, and we’re changing the aesthetics. We had owned three hotels with him. Ian is pursuing a different career right now – he’s doing a lot of work for Marriott.
Q Some say the split was the result of two big egos colliding.
A Definitely the case. We made a lot of money together, but we had differences.
Q Are you still friends?
A We’re very much friends. I just had lunch with him.
Q What’s going on with 610 Lexington, proposed site for the Shangri-La Hotel, which got caught in the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the original lender?
A We’re still building a hotel there. We own the building next door, Seagrams. When the Lehman dust settles, this will settle.
Q And how about your plans for a luxury hotel in Jaffa, Israel, on what was determined to be an ancient burial site? That project has generated protests here.
A They’re basically radical Jews; it’s an isolated sect. They actually cursed me and the site, but had to revoke the curse because it was non-Jewish bones.
Q Are you disappointed that your town house on East 94th Street sold for $6 million below asking?
A Yes, because I put so much into it. I own a few town houses. It’s like buying a good piece of art.
Q How big is your art collection?
A I have at least 700 pieces.
Q And your favorites?
A I like ’50s and ’60s American art. I have 85 or 90 Warhols.
Q Did you know Andy Warhol?
A I met him a long time ago. He was very shy. Everybody bugged him, because he was such a known guy. It’s not like you and me, who can disappear in a crowd.
Q Yes, but you’ve also frequented the society pages, no?
A I could go out to five parties a day if I wanted to. I don’t. I have attachments to my wife and kids – and about 20 pieces of art.