Legendary real estate investor Harry Helmsley took special pride in finding what he termed the “romance” in a property: the parts of it that could be run more efficiently, thereby cutting expenses and boosting profits.
Stephanie Blake, too, searches for the romance. But her quest lies less in spotting leaky boilers and more in identifying the elements of a building that could stir the blood of some of the world’s most iconic brands.
Her firm, Skylight Studios, is some combination of historian, consensus-builder, urban anthropologist and glitzy, celebrity-studded event management firm. It works with some of the country’s biggest landlords and developers, including Vornado Realty Trust, Brookfield, L&L Holding and Atlas Capital Group, taking their unused or underused real estate and offering it up to brands and content studios for events, installations and immersive experiences.
Skylight’s projects include Moynihan Station and St. John’s Terminal, both of which hosted events for New York Fashion Week; 23 Wall Street, where Nike held an event for designer Virgil Abloh; and ROW DTLA, where the firm brought in Netflix to create a “Stranger Things” drive-into production.
Blake sat down with The Real Deal to discuss how uncovering a building’s history and personality can maximize its commercial appeal, the role that placemaking can play in revitalizing real estate and how cities can get creative with their built environments.
What is creative placemaking and how does it apply to real estate?
It comes out of making a place special, creating identity. We were founded during the recession to energize properties and identify revenue streams. If it’s vacant, waiting for lease-up, waiting for redevelopment, waiting for capital. It’s untraditional venue development — you take underutilized warehouses on the West Side of Manhattan before that was the hotspot and bring Ralph Lauren down there from Bryant Park to make a private studio for Steven Meisel to shoot his Louis Vuitton campaign.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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