City Hall’s surprise move to relocate hundreds of government office workers to a largely vacant Brooklyn warehouse came in tandem with an aggressive lobbying push by the property owner that targeted close aides to Mayor Eric Adams, city records show.
A principal of the Sunset Park landlord, Salmar Properties, also made a maximum donation to Adams’ 2025 mayoral campaign — exceeding a strict cap on contributions from people doing business with city government.
Salmar Properties hired the lobbying firm Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates late last December with the goal of “seeking leasing arrangements with City Agencies,” lobbying records show.
Since then, Salmar Properties spent $28,000 to target several senior members of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, including Daniel Garodnick at the Department of City Planning (DCP), Jennifer Montalvo at the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and former state senator Jesse Hamilton, who now is in the deputy commissioner for real estate services at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS).
The lobbying efforts also targeted Senior Advisor Diane Savino and Deputy Chief of Staff Menashe Shapiro in the mayor’s office, filings show.
By May 11, the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) filed paperwork seeking approval to lease out 158,000 square feet of space inside Liberty BKLYN, a 1.3 million square foot warehouse at 850 Third Avenue, the site of an Amazon distribution Center, an outpost of Saks on Fifth, and a now shuttered Bed Bath & Beyond.
Representatives of the City Planning Commission, EDC and Mayor Eric Adams did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Anessa Hodgson, a spokesperson for DCAS, said the current lease process was first initiated in 2020, before Hamilton was appointed to the agency by Adams, and shortly after the building’s deed was changed, with permission from the city’s Economic Development Corporation, to allow office tenants for the first time.
A spokesperson for the developer said the city’s Department of Finance has been a tenant in the building since 2021 and added that HRA’s plan to move to the building was finalized in 2022, ahead of the latest lobbying efforts.
In addition to 158,000 square feet of office space HRA is seeking at Liberty BKLYN, the city’s Department of Finance and the city’s Administration of Children’s Services are also eyeing another 56,900 square feet in the building, according to city records and a spokesperson for the property.
At a Wednesday meeting of the City’s Planning Commission to review HRA’s proposed lease, several commission members asked skeptical questions of HRA and DCAS officials about the city’s request.
“How [should] any of us think about anyone locating city offices here as opposed to anywhere else?” wondered Garodnick, who was appointed by Adams as the commission’s chair and head of the Department of City Planning.
Presenting the proposal, Rizwana Saikh, an assistant deputy commissioner at HRA, said the agency had outgrown its downtown Brooklyn facility at 15 MetroTech Center and had been looking to consolidate around 700 from seven other offices into one single location. The agency’s MetroTech lease expires in July 2024.
George Donohue, a representative of DCAS, told the commission HRA needed a large enough space for all its IT workers in a location close to multiple public transit options, all at a rate the city could afford.
The presentation did not indicate how much of a rent hike the agency was facing, or how much Salmar Properties intends to charge them at the new location.
“We did look at quite a few sites, approximately 10 different sites,” Donohue said. “This was our best solution.”
Commissioner Gail Benjamin expressed concern about the city moving out of existing office space at a time of significant vacancies.
“The city poured lots of money into the MetroTech development and it appears that part of the reason HRA would like to leave is because the rents have escalated to a point that they find it undesirable or not cost effective,” Benjamin said.
She asked for more information about the circumstances prompting HRA to seek to move — and what the consequences might be for business districts that city workers would be leaving. “I can’t imagine people would be charging top dollar when they don’t have other tenants,” she said.
Salmar Properties, which owns Liberty BKLN, is a joint real estate enterprise of developers Sal Rusi and Marvin Schein. The duo purchased 850 Third Avenue in 2011 from the city for far below market rate, with the promise that 85% of the property would be opened up for manufacturing businesses.
The deal also eliminated Salmar’s property taxes; instead, it makes discounted payments in lieu of taxes to EDC.
The building sat mostly empty for eight years. By 2019, Salmar Properties had asked EDC to walk back the terms of the deed and allow them to reduce the amount of manufacturing space it would set aside so it could open the building up to office tenants. That request was granted in 2020, and new investment partners put up $300 million for the venture.
That generosity appears to have extended to Adams’ campaign.
Father and son duo Sal Russi and Selim Russi each donated $2,100, the maximum amount allowed, to Adams’ 2025 mayoral campaign on the same date in November last fall. Rusi senior is on the city’s Doing Business Database, and thus barred from donating more than $400 to any mayoral campaign.
Evan Thies, a spokesperson for Adams’ campaign, said their compliance team caught the donation in February 2023 and subsequently refunded it. Timothy Hunter, a spokesperson for the city’s Campaign Finance Board, said any donation would not be reflected in public records until the current reporting period concludes in July.
Russi Jr., who runs Allran Electric, donated an additional $1,500 to Adams’ 2021 mayoral campaign, records show. Though Allran is listed “major supplier” to the 850 Third Avenue venture in EDC records, Russi Jr. is not on the city’s doing business database.
Beyond the father-and-son duo, several other Rusi family members associated with companies tied to Salmar Properties donated at least another $12,800 to Adams’ campaigns dating back to 2017, campaign finance records show.
A spokesperson for Salmar Properties didn’t return a request for comment.
Reached on his cell phone, Rusi Jr. confirmed he’d donated Adams’ campaign and deferred comment to his father.