Llenrock banker starts real estate think tank for Philadelphia

Andrew Benioff, an investment banker with a real estate focus at Llenrock Group, is a relative newcomer to Philadelphia. Six years after moving here after obtaining his MBA from Cornell University, he said he has fallen in love with the city. But he sensed that a lot of natives do not share the same passion and that neighboring cities New York and Washington look down on Philadelphia.

“I felt that shouldn’t be the case,” Benioff said. “And as a region, there is no organization that is more than a networking opportunity for the real estate community. I was looking for a place where real estate could be discussed on a higher level and then act on that discussion.”

So Benioff contacted Llenrock’s law firm, Blank Rome, and was connected with real estate practice group leader Phil Rosenfeldt. Llenrock and Blank Rome founded the Philadelphia Real Estate Council (PREC) early last year — a real estate think tank and networking group formed of senior executives in all aspects of the Philadelphia regional commercial real estate industry.

Benioff said membership is limited to senior executives who work at either real estate owners or developers or who support real estate deals. In addition to Llenrock and Blank Rome, the four other primary sponsors are Hersha Hospitality Trust, First American Title Co., Integra Realty Resources and Cornell University.

The group meets quarterly and in less than a year now has more than 60 members from southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware — with about 60 percent being real estate professionals and the remainder being real estate support professionals at lenders, law and accounting firms, insurance companies and investment banks.

Benioff said the organization focuses on the nuts and bolts of transactions with Benioff or Rosenfeldt usually moderating a discussion about hot-button transactional topics. PREC has a confidentiality policy so that what is discussed does not leave the room, to encourage executives to speak freely.

The group’s reputation has grown quickly as Philadelphia officials have consulted with PREC about rewriting the city’s zoning code. Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Philadelphia Zoning Commission, requested a meeting with PREC members at a recent special meeting where 25 members who do business in the city limits offered their input. Benioff said a handful of members offered to provide followup information and are now part of the process of rewriting the zoning code.

“I thought it was great that the city came to us to see how it could facilitate development,” Rosenfeldt said. “They wanted to know what was going to work.”

Both Benioff and Rosenfeldt said there are business opportunities that can emerge from the setting. But Benioff hopes members get something more from the experience.

“When you put senior people from Brandywine Realty Trust and Liberty Property Trust in the same room, they know each other and then you have people who don’t know each other but have always wanted to meet,” Benioff said. “It’s a closed environment of your peers so there are opportunities to discuss potential deals. But it’s not just about what you are getting, it’s about what you can give to the region.

It costs $395 to become a PREC member. More information, including a list of members and how to become one, can be found here.

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Philadelphia Business Journal – January 2010