A discipline for the whole earth

What are the best available solutions today to the almost insurmountable challenges posed to all of us living on this planet due to climate change? The answers may surprise you: continued and accelerated urbanization, the shift to nuclear energy and widespread deployment of genetic engineering — particularly of our food supply.

The author proposing these solutions might also surprise you: It is Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, the publisher and editor of the CoEvolution Quarterly, and the co-founder of the Long Now Foundation.

In his latest book, Whole Earth Discipline (published in 2010), Brand lays out the massive and quite compelling body of scientific research findings that supports these controversial views, and the reasoning that ultimately swayed him from his earlier opinions that once were diametrically opposed to all three.

Just how Brand came to these conclusions over time is a fascinating story in and of itself, peppered with tons of data and research from a lifetime of grappling with the tough issues of a planet and a global civilization subjected to tremendous and unprecedented stress.

As Brand has matured and aged, he’s become increasingly concerned about the importance of taking the long view. For him, the implications of the actions we take today in the long run are what counts most — for the planet, and for the future generations who may (or may not) follow us, depending upon the choices we make today.

Brand was able to shift his thinking in part because he has come to see ideology as an impediment to meaningful and real change. Instead, he gradually has adopted the mindset of the engineer — one who views ecological issues as problems to be solved rather than positions to defend.

Brand’s message, however, is that time may be (not necessarily is, but may be) running out. We need to organize ourselves to make the changes we need to make now, before it’s too late, before the changes we’re undergoing become irreversible.

Brand also points out that the planet is not in danger. The planet, as Michael Crichton once observed, will purge itself of our mistakes. It is we, as a species, who are at risk.

The changes we need to make, Brand points out in his book, go far further than conserving energy, reducing carbon footprints and switching to alternative energy sources. But, he points out, it may not be too late if we’re willing to suspend our romantic notions and devotion to ideology, and dispassionately and impartially examine the evidence science has to offer as best we know it today.

Stewart Brand is one of those people who clearly has done what Steve Jobs liked to refer to as “making a dent in the universe.” In fact, Brand’s approach to design and communication was one of the noteworthy landmark influences that helped shape Job’s creative worldview.

What is amazing to me is the evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) message in Whole Earth Discipline, his latest book, hasn’t yet attracted the notoriety or had the same impact that his earlier work with the Whole Earth Catalog and the CoEvolution Quarterly have had. But the issues they address today have a lot more urgency and potential impact than the lifestyle changes promoted through the early editions of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Perhaps, as Brand points out in this book, it’s not too late for us. If you care about these issues — and you ought to care, even if you’ve never thought of yourself as an environmentalist — you owe it to yourself to read and digest the message in this book.

Geoffrey Dohrmann is president and CEO of Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

An Apple alumnus meets (and reinvents) the lowly thermostat

Tony FadellHow can you not feel like a stud if you’re Tony Fadell?

This is the man, after all, who led the team responsible for developing the iPod, the monster product that forever changed the music industry.

With his fortunes rising, Fadell decided to build a new home more suitable to his growing family, and he set out to create the greenest home that technology would allow. That included solar and geothermal energy systems, and other ecologically sensitive considerations.

Then he stumbled on the thermostat and was stunned find that thermostats, though devices of extremely dubious intellectual prowess, were very expensive — more expensive than an iPhone or iPad. Yet, they were all ugly devices and did nothing noteworthy to save energy. So Fadell decided to create a better thermostat for his new home.

Then came the eureka moment. Fadell discovered that thermostats were an amazing business, with 250 million of them in commercial and residential structures in the United States alone. Fadell, smelling another fabulously lucrative game-changing product within his grasp, launched a company named Nest to design and manufacture a next-generation thermostat of the same name.

The Nest is a “learning thermostat.” It uses artificial intelligence to achieve pattern recognition based on its user’s habits. So if you like your temperature set at a particular degree in the morning and a different setting in the evening, the Nest takes note of such patterns and self-programs, changing the settings automatically so the homeowner or building manager need not bother, as demonstrated in this Nest video. The Nest also recognizes and accounts for the different settings one uses on weekdays versus weekends, or even different weekdays.

And like any good Apple alumnus, Fadell has designed the Nest so it can be communicated with via your iPhone.

Mike Consol is editor of The Institutional Real Estate Letter – Americas.

A look at the housing market

“Prices are up. Inventories are down. The recovery in housing is firmly under way.”

Good news for the economy as a whole, according to the March 1, 2013, issue of The Kiplinger Letter. This is due to increased construction and sales putting more people to work and feeding an upward spiral of income, spending and employment.

The even better news? This isn’t just in the real estate and home building industries, but also for the makers and sellers of appliances, furniture and carpets, plus nurseries, landscapers and more.

According to the letter, there will be an approximate 0.6 percent boost to GDP in 2013 from the housing industry. And what better to look forward to than an approximate 1 percent boost forecast in 2014.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said in an interview with The Daily Ticker in December that he expects the hit to GDP from the fiscal cliff will be 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

Forbes reported in “Real Estate Forecast 2013: The Housing Market” that the normal housing vacancy rate for owned property (single-family houses and condos not in the rental market) is around 1.5 percent nationally. The U.S. high was 3 percent, but the market is now down to 2.1 percent.

Zandi also stated in his interview that the tough economic environment in the first half of 2013 will improve in the second six months of the year as the recovery in the housing market gains momentum.

With home sales racking up solid gains, nearly a million new homes being built and the average home price climbing, it is unfortunate that not all of the country will benefit equally.

The Kiplinger Letter states that in some areas sales are robust and prices are soaring. Homeowners in North Dakota, Colorado and Texas, for example, are seeing average prices that already top 2007 levels. Places where inventories of unsold homes are plunging will fly high, such as a dozen California metro areas, from Sacramento to San Diego, which saw inventories fall by 30 percent or more, up to 65 percent, in 12 months. Also, for the Washington, D.C., and Boston areas, which weren’t greatly overbuilt, declines in the 20 percent to 30 percent range.

Sadly, in other regions, it is a different story. Kiplinger predicts home values will remain depressed across much of Florida and in Nevada, for example, despite sharp declines in inventories and solid price gains. The supply overhang is just too big, and the decline in prices too steep to overcome quickly, particularly in Florida, where foreclosures can take years. Similarly, the New York City–New Jersey–Connecticut corridor still has a long way to climb back.

Forbes reported that home prices are forecast rise in 2013, but only modestly. The most recent data suggest that national average housing prices are rising by roughly five percent annual rate.

A joint in-house survey conducted by real estate engines Point2Homes and PropertyShark shows that 50 percent of respondents in California predicted home prices will go up in 2013, compared with 44 percent of New Yorkers.

In the same survey, 31 percent of respondents think the number one factor to drive the market in 2013 is mortgage rates due to a possible result of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s efforts to keep down borrowing rates.

With increased construction and sales putting more people to work, as mentioned above, Zandi stated in his Daily Ticker interview that he agrees with the Fed’s recent assessment on the labor market — that is, the national unemployment rate will not touch 6.5 percent until early 2015. Employers next year will add 2 million to 3 million new jobs — about the same level as 2012 — but just enough to nudge the unemployment rate down to 7.5 percent by next December.

Denise DeChaine is special projects editor with Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

Worst ideas ever

By now, anyone in the world who cares about the ramifications of sequestration in the United States knows what it is and is probably just as dumbfounded as most of us that President Obama and the U.S. Congress would opt to trigger across-the-board budget cuts over compromise and resolution to help move the country forward.

The idea that sequestration could actually take hold seemed so absurd that many citizens thought the self-imposed threat of sequestration would force the powers that be to act and “do their chores” to come up with an agreement in order to avoid it.

How many households in the United States operate that way? How does the dining room table conversation go? “If we can’t agree on what bills to pay, what groceries to buy and whether little Jessica can keep going to soccer practice, then we’re just going to have to cut something from everything.”

Last time the United States went through a showdown like this, over the debt ceiling, the country received a downgrade to its credit rating. More fitting would be a downgrade to the government’s common sense-worthiness rating.

And, if you thought sequestration — the manmade unthinkable — was bad, what about manmade “unsinkable”? That’s right. Australian billionaire Clive Palmer plans to build an exact replica of the most infamous cruise ship ever built and name it, of course, Titanic II. Its maiden voyage would travel the same route of its namesake from South Hampton, England, to — hopefully — New York City, even serving the same menus as the original in order to provide an authentic Titanic experience.

Now, reports say Titanic II’s lookout mast would be taller and that there would be enough lifeboats on board for everyone, but I’m still left feeling a “true Titanic experience” would require towing in an iceberg, and at what expense when so many countries are trying to make cuts because they can’t afford “the frills” anymore?

But there is one novel item that caught my attention recently for positive reasons: papal retirement. This is a good idea because it’s truly sensible; something seemingly much lacking in the above worst-in-show ideas. Popes get older, too, and their health declines just like everyone else’s. But unlike most individuals who can eventually retire, popes were expected to go on until the very end, even when they didn’t feel capable of performing their duties fully anymore.

The idea to take this into account for succession planning purposes and allow retirement for a pope simply makes sense — and the institutional real estate universe knows just how much a growing population of retirees the world over affects portfolio investment strategy and planning.

The College of Cardinals was impressive, too, as they were required to leave behind their smart phones and free themselves from external distractions as they gathered for the conclave to select a new pope. Behind closed doors, they held a series of votes over just a few days to give Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, a two-thirds majority to be chosen to run the Catholic Church.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea ever for President Obama and the U.S. Congress to meet privately, sans smart phones and other influence from the outside world, until the white smoke emerged from an agreed decision to undo the sinking ship of sequestration. The whole world is watching — and waiting — for what’s next.

Jennifer Molloy is the editor of The Institutional Real Estate Letter – Asia Pacific.

Uncle Sam doesn’t surf

Floods are the United States’ greatest natural disaster threat, and with sea levels estimated to rise up to four feet during the next 100 years, an increasing amount of the country’s infrastructure will be in the danger zone.

In February, the Hamilton Project published Reforming Federal Support for Risky Development, a report focused on how to reduce the cost of natural disasters. It estimates the federal government could save $40 billion during the next 10 years if the report’s suggested reforms were implemented. The political risks of several of the suggestions should interest infrastructure investors with investments in coastal areas.

The implications for infrastructure are clear — if roads, bridges and other infrastructure were not built to withstand rising tides and stronger storms, they are at risk. But perhaps an even greater risk is the prospect that development retreats from the coast altogether.

Reforming Federal Support notes:

“From 1989 to 2011, Congress provided a total of $292 billion (in 2010 dollars) in federal disaster assistance through 35 separate appropriations acts. Most of those funds were appropriated toward the end of that window: between 2005 and 2010, Congress appropriated $183 billion.”

In other words, natural disasters are increasing in frequency and strength, but that’s only half the story. The federal response is increasing the incentive to develop in areas at increasing risk of flooding. The report notes:

“This makes the development of these floodplain areas attractive from the perspective of local authorities, who are also charged with adopting and enforcing zoning and building codes in those hazardous locations. This means that poorly designed, engineered, constructed, and sited development continues on high flood-risk properties, especially in coastal areas and other flood-prone locations, and that the federal government is responsible for a sizable share of potential losses that result in the event of disaster.”

This is unsustainable, according to the Hamilton Project report, which suggests eight proposals to ease the costs of natural disasters, including ending subsidies for risky development, removing tax deductions for damaged property not in compliance with federal standards and tying federal relief to communities’ future disaster mitigation. Each would impact coastal infrastructure.

It is not the first time the federal government has acted to restrict development in high-risk areas but the danger zone is moving further inland. The report notes:

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982 (CBRA), for instance, eliminated federal subsidies, including federal flood insurance and infrastructure funding, for undeveloped areas within the nation’s approximately three hundred coastal barrier islands and nearby low-lying land areas along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, and around the Great Lakes. While such treatment has not halted new at-risk development on all barrier islands, such development has considerably slowed, especially where state and local cooperation exists. A Department of the Interior (2002) study conservatively estimated nearly $1.3 billion in federal budget savings from 1983 to 2000, largely through reduced infrastructure and disaster-assistance costs from the CBRA. Expanding the zones included in the CBRA domain — especially undeveloped areas and high-risk, developed areas that are likely to be permanently inundated by sea-level rise within just a few decades—would slow risky development in disaster-prone areas, resulting in greater future savings.”

With the federal spigot turned off, many state and local governments may not invite development in areas at increasing risk of storms and floods. The consequences very well could be that existing infrastructure in areas prone to natural disasters and flooding will not only receive less federal support after a disaster but also might have fewer users.

Drew Campbell is senior editor of Institutional Investing in Infrastructure.

Women are at a standstill

Private equity firms based in Asia have the highest proportion of women in senior roles, where an average of 12.8 percent of high-level roles are held by women, according to a recent report, Women in Private Equity, released by Preqin.

In private equity firms based in North America and Europe, the average proportion of senior positions held by women is 10.3 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. On average, 9.8 percent of senior roles are held by women in firms based in the rest of the world.

This number has gone up slightly since the beginning of 2012, when Nori Gerardo Lietz, longtime member of the institutional real estate consulting and advisory community and founder of her current firm Areté Capital, recently completed a study and white paper on the stark underrepresentation of women in investment and finance roles. According to a summary of the report, women comprise just 4 percent of senior investment professionals at private real estate investment firms. (See our coverage of the report last year.)

Also, according to Catalyst 2012 Census of Fortune 500: No Change for Women in Top Leadership, a study by Catalyst, a New York City–based nonprofit that advocates for better opportunities for women in business, women’s share of board director and executive officer positions nationally increased by only half a percentage point or less during 2012.

Also in 2012, we reported in the IREI Insights article “From Geeks to the Board Room” that numerous studies that have shown the merits of diversity and the value it brings to corporate decision making as well as to the bottom line. It seems companies still haven’t gotten the message.

When it comes to firm size, according to Preqin, women account for an average of 8.7 percent of the team at private equity firms with five or fewer senior employees, a decrease compared with the 9.2 percent women accounted for at these firms in the previous year.

When it comes to strategy, the numbers are on a teeter-totter. The primary investment strategy with the highest proportion of women employed in senior roles is real estate, with an average of 11.3 percent, closely followed by an average of 11.2 percent in venture capital firms. Women account for an average of 10.5 percent and 8.7 percent of senior roles at infrastructure and buyout firms, respectively. Infrastructure and real estate firms saw a decrease in the proportion of women employed in senior roles, but buyout and venture capital firms saw an increase; in 2012, women only accounted for an average of 6.9 percent and 9.7 percent of senior roles at buyout and venture capital firms, respectively.

It looks as if the female senior employees as proportion of total by number of senior employees numbers are going up in 2013, but we’ll have to sit and wait to see if the rest of the numbers go up by the end of the year. What we have to remember is diversity is key.

Denise DeChaine is special projects editor at Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

Something you can’t get at home

I’ve just finished writing the cover story for the next issue of The Letter – Europe, on capital flows between Europe and Asia. It went on a bit, but Europe and Asia are big places and there’s plenty happening. Asian real estate allocations to Europe are up as investors are released to diversify out of their home markets, and European allocations to Asia are up once more (they fell during the global financial crisis, and some investors burned their fingers) as investors resume their search for growth opportunity and outperformance, but sticking this time largely with core and core-plus. In both cases, investors are seeking — and finding — something they can’t get at home.

It wasn’t part of the story, so I didn’t cover it, but Asian shoppers are also diversifying out of their home markets. The recent Emerging Trends in Real Estate Europe 2013 report from the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers highlights the key role of Asian consumers in shaping the European retail and leisure sectors. According to the London School of Oriental and African Studies, the Asia-to-Europe tourist market is expected to grow to 8.6 million visitors per year by 2020.

If Asian real estate investors are helping to keep the London office market ticking over nicely by buying trophy assets at good prices, then so too are wealthy Asian tourists helping the London retail market — which could otherwise be suffering severely from local consumer reaction to the continuing economic downturn — by embarking on a shopping spree, particularly in the luxury goods segment.

A recent report from Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) revealed that heavy international consumer demand, primarily from high-spending Chinese tourists, was helping to push demand from international retailers for prime space in London’s West End shopping streets to unprecedented levels. With London long regarded as a global luxury goods shopping destination and with 10 international brands reportedly competing for each store that becomes available, rents on Bond Street and Sloane Street are expected to hit record levels this year.

As an example, zone A rents, the industry measure for rent calculated by the most valuable part of the store, in central Bond Street have increased from £600 per square foot to £800 per square foot (from $900 to $1,200 per square foot/€7,400 to €9,850 per square meter). C&W suggests that rent could go up to £1,000 per square foot ($1,500 per square foot/€12,300 per square meter) in the southern section of Bond Street; “perhaps even more where a landlord can secure vacant possession and offer a shop on an open market rent.”

Peter Mace, head of central London retail at C&W, comments: “The appetite for British, and international, luxury brands from Chinese, Russians and other overseas consumers in London has never been higher, as prices can be considerably cheaper than back home. International retailers are acutely aware of the relentless demand from consumers for luxury goods in the West End and are constantly vying for prime positions on London’s top shopping destinations — I haven’t seen this level of demand for many years. For every one store that becomes available on Bond Street or Sloane Street, we are seeing around 10 international brands fighting for it.”

This competition for retail space is bringing innovation. Mace explains: “First-floor office space on Bond Street and Sloane Street is around £55–£60 per square foot [$80–$90 per square foot/€675–€740 per square meter] compared to the street-level shop floor area zone A rents of around £650–£750 per square foot [$970–$1,110 per square foot/€8,000–€9,235 per square meter] on Sloane Street and £800–£1,000 [$1,200–$1,500 per square foot/€9,850–€12,300 per square meter] on Bond Street. Retailers are increasingly looking to expand upwards into first-floor space on these streets in order to secure valuable additional trading space,” says Mace, “but at around 10 percent of street-level zone A rents — which is a ‘win-win’ solution for both landlord and tenant.”

Mace’s colleague, Clive Bull, in Cushman & Wakefield’s capital markets team, adds: “Strong rental performance of the prime West End thoroughfares continues to attract global investors seeking to benefit from not only the rental growth but also the very attractive wealth preservation characteristics of these assets that so many people are seeking in what is still a volatile world economy.”

“2012 probably saw the last investments being traded by debt-driven buyers, some of whom needed to release equity,” Bull continues. “The new breed of investor, however, is using equity to purchase these investments, and many of them are unlikely to come back to the market for many generations, if at all.”

When all is said and done about diversification, and assuming that capital is free to flow around the world, people will do what they like with their money. Real estate investors can spend it on buildings and live off the income. Retail tenants can spend it on renting space in expensive locations and persuading us to buy their products. Shopping therapists and tourists can spend it on consumables and nice-to-haves. Everyone’s happy. The trick is to keep everyone happy at the same time. It’s just like being at home.

Richard Fleming is editor of The Institutional Real Estate Letter – Europe.

Bubbling up

China’s real estate bubble is often brushed off as a nonexistent issue by asset managers and investors alike at conferences I often attend in Asia. The easy conclusion many real estate professionals arrive at is that, in an economy that grew in the double digits for at least two decades, there will be excesses and prices may get out of control. They say the growing income of the middle class and a strong, multi-decade urbanization trend creates enough support to absorb whatever number of residential projects local developer will put on the market.

Another factor often mentioned is the nationwide propensity toward ownership of property, where the savings of several generations would be invested in apartments and houses, thus supporting prices and absorbing new inventories. So far, it has been working with minor hiccups, and prices started recovering in late 2012 after dipping for several months this past year.

Although the Chinese government has taken a property bubble seriously and has initiated several measures to curb prices, it has been with limited success. For instance, a Hong Kong newspaper recently ran a story saying that, on average, real estate prices in China grew 145 percent between 2003 and 2012. This is not out of the ordinary and something to the tune of what the United States experienced during its recent property boom and bust cycle.

However, according to the article, prices rose 365 percent in Beijing and 341 percent in Shanghai during the same period. Another shocking statistic is that the average price of a condo or an apartment amounts to 45 years of an average salary in China.

More importantly, the measures the central government has been trying to implement are in conflict with local governments, for whom 30 percent to 40 percent of revenue comes from land sales. There is no easier way for local governments to achieve growth targets than to complete infrastructure or property projects, never mind real demand.

While there is not enough space to discuss here all facets of this problem, certain factors indicate a “no-bubble view” has many flaws. First of all, the heavily relied upon urbanization theory has serious holes in it. People moving from rural areas to cities are at the bottom of the pay scale in China. They make too little to afford expensive condos and houses that local developers bring to the market in cities. Clearly, somebody else is scooping up these properties, not migrant workers trying to relocate from villages to cities.

So who buys them? Apparently, most of it is not genuine demand for housing. Just consider the situation in Ordos city in Inner Mongolia. It is mostly empty, but all apartments and houses in this ghost city have been sold to local folks who expect to resell them at a higher price to new residents. The absence of viable investment products has a lot to do with it, but a similar situation exists in Zhengzhou, Dantu, Kangbashi and several other cities. According to some sources, there are more than 65 million empty apartments in China.

In a report from a major media network, I heard a story about a migrant taxi driver from Guangzhou who, together with his family, put all of their savings in four apartments that they purchased in his native rural area. Again, the goal here is to resell them at a higher price. The mitigating circumstance is that most of these properties are bought with no or little debt, thus giving the owner staying power. But what happens when the music stops? How long can one sit on unsold properties waiting for a “bigger fool”?

Alex Eidlin is managing director – Asia Pacific with Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

Canadian pension fund checks out of hotels

Sorry, but this just isn’t working out.

Last week, Daniel Fournier, CEO of the $172 billion Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, announced the Canadian pension fund’s real estate unit, Ivanhoé Cambridge, would sell off its $2.2 billion of hotel properties and exit the hotel sector.

Somewhat of a curious decision considering the sector’s recent positive operating fundamentals and projected outlook.

CBRE Hotels Canada painted a rosy picture in its 2013 National Hotel Outlook, as did a recent report by PKF Consulting.

PKF reported Canada’s average national occupancy rate improved 1 percentage point to 62 percent in 2012, fueling a $2 improvement in average daily rate (ADR) and a 3 percent jump in revenue per available room (RevPAR). The consulting firm expects occupancy to improve to 63 percent in 2013, while ADR and RevPAR are projected to increase by 2.5 percent and about 4 percent, respectively.

Bill Stone, executive vice president of CBRE Hotels Canada, says:

As expected, 2012 ended up being a very strong year for the Canadian hotel market. Strong hotel fundamentals, favorable financing, and the safety of the Canadian hotel operating environment have been the key factors driving demand. These factors are likely to stay in place and produce another solid year for Canadian hotels in 2013.

But I’m sure Fournier had his reasons for dumping the hotel sector.

Maybe it was the lumpy mattress at that hotel in Vancouver or the incessantly noisy toilet in that suite in Toronto. Perhaps the last straw was the early morning construction at that hotel in Montreal, waking up to the nerve-rattling rat-tat-tat of a jackhammer on the floor above.

Or, more than likely, it was the return of about –14 percent posted by the pension fund’s hotel properties in 2012 … especially considering the overall real estate portfolio produced a healthy 12 percent return last year.

Whether it’s an investment or a relationship, sometimes it takes awhile to realize it’s not a good match. But when that realization comes, the best thing to do is suck it up, take your losses and move on.

In this case, although Caisse de dépôt initiated the breakup, maybe the blame shouldn’t be placed on hotels. This breakup looks like a classic case of “Really, it’s not you, it’s me.”

Larry Gray is editorial director of Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

In loving memory of our friend and colleague Peter Lewis

As many of you already know, we lost a gem in our industry recently, our dear friend Peter Lewis. I’ve known Peter for most of my 34 years in the business, and for all of the 25 years we’ve been bringing you our flagship publication, The Institutional Real Estate Letter. For many, many years, Peter also has been a fixture at our editorial advisory board meetings, representing MIT, Liberty Mutual and most recently, Towers Watson. But much more than that, Peter was a personal friend to me, and a great supporter of the work that we’re doing here at Institutional Real Estate, Inc.

Now, Peter wasn’t your ordinary soul. In fact, I’m sure he was born on an entirely different planet. He always seemed to me to be what a friend of mine used to refer to as being “a half a bubble off plumb.” (My favorite kind of people, because they tend to look at the world through an entirely different set of lenses than most of us use.)

Peter also had a lyrical way of expressing himself, as most of you well know. A simple “yes” or “no” was rarely in his repertoire (unless he was responding to an investment proposal).  At more than one of our board meetings, his closing comments almost always were presented in the form of a poem. One time, he perfectly summarized just about everything we had been talking about during the prior two and half days, regarding the recent global financial crisis, in a poem he had crafted. But rather than just read it, he literally sang it to the tune of Don McLean’s classic, American Pie. He even brought a tape recorder to play the background licks.

Peter was always there for you. If you were going through hard times, he was always willing to listen, and most of the time, just sit and empathize. His presence was always soothing, and almost always uplifting.  He had a warm, kind smile that made you feel everything would be all right.

Peter was very warm and engaging and most of us knew that he had a wife — Monica, the love of his life.  And most of us knew he had a family, and that he was very devoted to and absolutely crazy about his kids. He was trained as an architect, and in his early career, worked as a project manager for Leona Helmsley on several projects, including the redevelopment of what is now the New York Palace Hotel. (Peter once told me that he was repeatedly fired — almost nightly — by Leona, only to inevitably be hired back by her the following morning.) In mid career while he was with MIT’s real estate investment team, he was recognized and won awards for his development work. He loved people, and he treated everyone with whom he came in contact with the utmost of respect.

What else can I tell you about Peter that we recently learned from Monica? He was 61 years old when he died. He had two adult children: Mandy, 26, and Jeremy, 29.

As for his interests, throughout Peter’s life he was a big supporter of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  And he was passionate about a number of things — his family, cycling, real estate, punning (as those of us who knew him best can well attest), Broadway musicals, the opera, listening to classical music, and playing the piano. He also had a passion for cats, but in deference to Monica’s severe allergies to the feline species, they never actually owned one during their long marriage.

And now, in what seems like an instant, he’s gone. He died unexpectedly on March 2.  What Monica and his kids would like most now, is that Peter be remembered as the man he was.  A twinkle in his eye, a knowing smile, and occasionally, as Monica might note, just the tiny hint of a giggle.

To truly honor his memory, we now need to focus our attention on the magic that his interactions with each of us brought to each of our lives while he was still with us.

Toward that end, l invite you to commemorate Peter’s life on this blog post. The purpose of which will be to enable all those who loved Peter to post their favorite “Peter” stories. This way we can all celebrate what made this extraordinary human being so important to us all, and we can share with Monica and his family and friends the funny and poignant moments he shared with so many of us over so many years. So, please take a few minutes and share with us.

Check back to this site over the next couple of days to read what others have written and share more memories.  Please join us in honoring Peter Lewis and celebrating the truly extraordinary impact he had on each of the lives he touched.

Meanwhile, you can help Peter continue to make a difference by contributing in his name to a charity he loved, the Pan-Mass Challenge (an annual cycling event benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute).

 Donations can be made online or by mail:

Online at www.pmc.org <http://www.pmc.org>
Click Donate / Donate to Riders / and enter Peter Lewis in the box and his name and ID should pop up. Message notes to accompany the donations can be posted as well.

By mail: Checks made out to the Pan-Mass Challenge can be sent to:

Pan-Mass Challenge
77 Fourth Avenue
Needham, MA 02494

Geoffrey Dohrmann is president and CEO of Institutional Real Estate, Inc.