WeWork woes may mean drop in US coworking leases, says landlord

[NEW YORK] The surge in coworking leases that accompanied the rise of WeWork will take a pause in the aftermath of the startup's abandoned IPO, a prominent New York developer said on Thursday.

In recent quarters, as much as 25 per cent of office leases in New York have gone towards flexible workspace. But a "precipitous drop" may come over the next six to nine months, said Scott Rechler, chief executive officer of RXR Realty, which owns buildings including 75 Rockefeller Plaza.

"WeWork, all their peers and landlords and users of flexible workspace, are all taking a pause to let the dust settle," he said on Thursday at a real estate conference in New York.

RXR has invested in Convene, a WeWork competitor that provides flexible work and meeting space. For Mr Rechler, a key issue is what will happen when tenants' short-term leases with WeWork and its rivals expire in coming years.

"Pricing may need to be adjusted, and the question when it adjusts is, does it adjust to a level where a user is willing to pay that higher price for the flexibility," he said. "I'm not sure if we know where that market is."

Mr Rechler, echoing others in the real estate industry, argued that the concept of coworking is here to stay, despite the problems at WeWork. He said that companies will continue to want flexible, curated space that can be procured quickly.

But not everyone is convinced. Stephen Ross, the billionaire founder and chairman of Related Cos, said coworking could struggle in an economic downtown.

"We're going to have a recession at some point," he said at the conference, which was hosted by the NYU School of Professional Studies. "We'll see if these companies, that are in these short-term spaces, that are not very highly capitalised, to say the least, are able to survive and what will happen to that short-term space."

Other comments on WeWork from Thursday's conference:

William Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Co, which has developed a WeWork project at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, said the New York market would survive if WeWork were to "evaporate overnight". He estimated the startup controls a little over 1 per cent of the city's office market.

"Are they going to pull back, are they going to slow their growth, are they going to give some space back? Probably," he said. "I'm not worried."

Marty Burger, CEO of Silverstein Properties, which owns office towers at the World Trade Center site, said the first question from prospective tenants is whether or not there's coworking space in a building. That includes companies from law firms to advertising agencies looking for so-called swing space that's temporary and close to their permanent offices.

"We never saw that three years ago," he said.