When Ken Fishel considers investing in another piece of Manhattan real estate, he considers much more than dollars. He wants to know the history of a building. Who created it, and why? When did it open its doors, and who walked its halls?
It is the result of being a lifelong resident of New York City, with a childhood experienced in Greenwich Village, looking up at thousands of buildings, each with a story to tell. As the owner of Renaissance Properties, Fishel has continued to keep those days and curiosities alive as his company focuses mainly on distressed commercial and retail properties to acquire, renovate, lease and manage.
“I love older buildings,” he says. “I love to know who the architect was, why it was designed in a certain way, and find a way to preserve the original glory and beauty during a renovation. People connect with the past.”
When preparing to modernize a building the company acquires, there is a focused effort to preserve intricate woodwork or wrought iron, often liberating these elements from thick layers of paint or from behind walls and giving them a new life.
“Many times, people paint over these incredible elements,” Fishel says. “But who wants a dropped ceiling when they can have a beautiful, ornate tin ceiling?”
Being in the Manhattan real estate game always has high stakes and is competitive. But, in 2021, as the city continues to fight back from the seismic changes in its economy and quality of life brought on by the COVID pandemic, Fishel, with his son Bradley at his side, is staying the course through the high seas facing their industries. And while many focus on the negative, Fishel believes in New York’s track record of surviving and thriving.
“New York City has gotten a lot better, and it keeps getting better,” says Fishel. “We have rented a considerable amount of space.”
Prices are down, he adds, and tenants have more choices. Renaissance Properties has also begun providing more fully furnished properties to its customers.
“When tenants have the choice, there will always be a flight to quality,” says Fishel. “We hired interior decorators and provided more choices to our tenants. Now they are looking for move-in ready spaces that call for minimal investment.”
One trend Fishel has seen in the industry is a desire for shorter leases.
“Before COVID, people wanted five to 10-year leases,” he says. “Now they are looking for leases that are three to five years in length.”
But Fishel thinks that is a mistake, given the lower rents in New York City right now.
“If I knew I could lock in at a great price, I would choose a longer lease,” he says.
The lure and mystique of living in New York City always call to people and always will.
“There is no place like New York, period,” he says. “People want to live in a cosmopolitan metropolis, especially young people.”
That fact is what Fishel believes is part of why New York always comes back from any challenge.
“New York always attracts the best and the brightest, and that is why so many young people choose to come here after college, to start their lives in this incredible city,” he says.
Fishel also believes that the mass exodus from the city caused by the COVID pandemic will leave many who sought out suburban life regretting their decisions.
“I could have written that book, man,” Fishel says with a laugh. “My family moved to the suburbs for a short time, but it wasn’t for us. The commute alone was too difficult.”
He understands the decision, however.
“During COVID, people were suddenly confined to their apartments, maybe with kids or a dog, and they needed a yard or open space, but it is not easy to go from urban professional to a suburban commuter,” he says.
While New York is still the family’s home base, in 2007, Fishel and his wife Maria purchased a 16-acre estate in Bridgehampton. During the lockdown, they were there full-time but have since returned to spend most weekends on the East End. They have also become well-known and respected philanthropists in the community. Each year they host a cocktail event before Polo Hamptons, attended by some of the most prominent names in Hamptons and New York City society.
Fishel and Maria are also committed supporters of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation and, since 2009, have raised millions to help fund the foundation’s focus on fighting cancer. When they enjoy their weekends on the East End, the Fishels like to dine at Tutto il Giorno, Pierre’s, T Bar Southampton or Sant Ambroeus.
“Mostly, we enjoy our friends and love the beauty and tranquility out east,” says Fishel.
But after the weekend, he and Maria head back west to his hometown city.
“I love New York City,” he adds. “It will always be my home.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.