Meet the broker who brought Industry City and Chelsea Market to life
He left law to work as a stockbroker at Cushman and was walking through the Meatpacking District in 1997 with the woman he would later marry when he noticed the building that would become Chelsea Market.
The building was originally the site of a Nabisco factory where the Oreo was invented. It was purchased in the 1990s by Irwin Cohen, who planned to turn it into a food market.
“That’s when I said, ‘I know what I want to be when I grow up,'” Somoza said.
In 2002, he represented a partnership that acquired 85 10th Ave., now part of Chelsea Market. Cohen, the mastermind behind the concept, then asked him to join his Chelsea Market team.
“Irwin taught me everything I know,” Somoza said. “He was the godfather of a lot of this stuff.”
Several years ago, real estate investment firms Belvedere Capital and Jamestown took a look at Industry City and asked Somoza to join them in creating the city’s next large-scale indoor market.
What’s your secret sauce for finding tenants?
I think I’m a good conversationalist. I think people like to have a beer with me. I genuinely care about them. I will show up at their restaurant and buy things from their store, follow them on Instagram.
I try not to sound like a broker, because I’m not.
Why do tenants choose Industry City?
We have created a really interesting place. It’s such a good mix of retailers. We have a food hall, a blacksmith, a local Thai. I work at a cobbler right now. I always wanted a cobbler in Industry City. It’s a lost art, and few people do it anymore.
When we bring people in to see the space, I think there’s an 80% chance of closing the deal.
How did you celebrate your first big deal?
Concluding a deal is quite anticlimactic. I love the process, the struggle and doing it. I always had the impression that afterwards, I moved on to something else. I’ve had a million steak dinners, and they all mix.
In 2003, at Cushman & Wakefield, we consolidated the Thompson Financial office. It was the first big case I worked on. Closing involved steaks, and that was really fun, but it was a three-year process to get that deal done. He died twice and there were many disappointments. I used the money to go on a trip and buy a BMW.
What is the most complicated transaction you have worked on?
Japan Village in Industry City. I used to travel a lot in Japan with Youngwoo & Associates for business, and I always liked Japanese food. When I got involved in Industry City, I came to my first meeting with a list of things I wanted, which included a Japanese grocery store.
We called various places, like Tony Yashida’s Sunrise Mart, who we ended up negotiating with.
The complication of the project was bringing all of these companies together in a cohesive way. You had to feel like you were in Japan.
This case [with Yashida] That’s what really made Industry City famous, because it was immediately the biggest traffic driver for us. The entrance to Japan Village is the busiest entrance to Industry City.
It now has various components, like a grocery store, a section of ramen, udon, sushi, and soba food stalls that look a lot like those in Tokyo. Next to it is a izakaya, a Japanese bar and liquor store. On the second floor are all the durable goods, like pottery, anime, and cosmetics, from Japan.
We took about a year to make the lease. Two and a half years to build and open it. There were times when Tony and I almost thought it was too risky. He died and returned several times during this period.
Why did you choose to join Industry City?
In a way, he chose me. I had worked with a lot of partners, and that’s what I do: adapt old and historic buildings past their prime. Recreating locations is just super fun.
Watching it the first time was a big challenge. I love buildings; I was driven by them for years as a kid and always wondered what was going on with them.
There will always be something to watch next.
These projects have a bow to them. When it stabilizes and works on its own, it’s less interesting and fun for me. I’m not interested in being the custodian of a project. I want to develop.
Which tenant is your favorite?
Japan Village is my favorite concept, but there are a lot of great people here in Industry City. They are more than just ground floor tenants.
This project really needs someone who wants to be part of the community, values it, is a true partner, and is in the trenches with you every day.