NEW YORK - The skyscrapers are mostly empty, the tourists are home and talk of New York's decay is back. For the city's real-estate barons, it's time to put an end to it.A loose coalition of New York's top property owners and managers is busily working the phones, pressing many of the city's biggest employers - including powerhouses like Goldman Sachs, Blackstone and BlackRock - to speed up the return of workers. Their argument: It's safe, and the eateries and shops that make Manhattan special can't hold out much longer. Some are calling it the patriotic thing to do.
"I've been really pushing the CEOs to bring people back into the office," said Jeff Blau, the head of Related Cos., the developer behind the Hudson Yards project. "I've been using a little bit of guilt trip and a little bit of coaxing."
The reaction for now has been lukewarm.
Behind the desperation lies fear of a vicious spiral. The longer commuters stay home, the more local businesses will disappear, and the less reason there is for anyone to return. Executives and firms who've made a fortune developing and owning the city's towers are facing the prospect of a significant slump in demand and prices for offices and residential units. But the ramifications extend to all New Yorkers, Blau said.
"I am watching the city decay as nobody is here," he said. "Now is not the time to abandon the city and expect it to be in the same way you wanted it when you get back in a year from now."
Blau and his peers have been taking turns getting on the horn with chief executives and their lieutenants in charge of overseeing vast tracts of offices. The group includes RXR Realty's Scott Rechler, Rudin Management's William Rudin and Marc Holliday of SL Green Realty, New York's biggest office landlord.
"We're creating our own fate by not bringing people back and restarting the largest economic engine in the country," said Rechler, whose RXR Realty controls 25.5 million square feet of commercial real estate - roughly equivalent to 10 Empire State Buildings. "It's as much of a civic obligation as anything else."
Beyond the financial industry, the landlords are also calling on giant law firms and even the outposts of tech behemoths such as Microsoft and others. In many cases, they're promising to make any necessary changes to ensure buildings are safe. Others are urging city officials to address rising crime rates and homelessness. Members of the group have also targeted the governor's office and an influential coalition of top New York companies to start a "Get Back to Business" campaign.
Yet for large employers a return to the office can present unnecessary risk. They figured out months ago how to thrive even with most of their employees logging on from home while waiting for a vaccine. Many workers are reluctant to brave buses, subways and elevators, or they have few options for child care. Some New Yorkers even suggest a dip in property prices wouldn't be all bad.