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Grading the Comebacks of Michael Shvo and Yair Levy

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Nothing says Bubble 2.0 like the sudden return of discredited villains aiming to capture the spoils of the short-on-memory, long-on-cash real estate market. Here, we assess the attempted comebacks of two longtime Curbed favorites.

COMBATANTS

Michael Shvo: The hated (by his peers) and loved (by event planners) real estate broker who parlayed his dizzying 24/7 performance art act as a circa-1980s Wall Street yuppie into a lucrative gig as a new development marketing guru.

Yair Levy: A prolific developer who carved out a profitable niche turning dour post-war rental buildings into dour post-war condominiums for successful but sub-superrich New Yorkers like, huh, Augusten Borroughs!

DOWNFALL

Shvo: The walking, talking embodiment of the sexed-up condo craze of the mid-aughts didn't have much to shout into his cell phones once the real estate bubble burst in 2008, and branded cookies became a bit, shall we say, ostentatious. With buyers and builders frozen in their tracks, the oft-quoted Shvo vanished from the public eye, his website surviving like an Old West ghost town, a roadside curiosity reminding us of a forgotten way of life. His name occasionally popped up over the years, usually taking blame for all-sizzle-no-steak real estate marketing that others mocked throughout the downturn.

Levy: The credit crunch likewise did a number on Levy, and soon his overstretched portfolio was mostly lost to lenders. But our man didn't go down without a fight! He quite infamously clobbered a former partner with an ice bucket, and his use of one of his projects as a personal piggybank got him barred by the Attorney General from selling condos in New York State. Then rumors spread throughout the industry that Levy fled to Israel.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT

Shvo: Wow, tough one. The entire 20 Pine oeuvre, with its 24-hour sales office gimmick, John Legend launch party and twists and turns that included corrupt developers and an 80-apartments-in-1 offering, certainly should be in consideration. But when it comes down to it, we just have two words: Let's. Shvo.

Levy:

COMEBACK!

Shvo: In a surprise that ranks up there with the Portland Trailblazers' early season success and Pearl Harbor, New York City awoke on May 21 to the news that Shvo was back, baby! Only this time as a developer, aiming to capitalize on another overheated hype machine, the High Line. He has since acquired another site with partners near the Holland Tunnel.

Levy: Levy recently emerged as the unlikely buyer of one of the cradles of New York City's cultural heritage. What could go wrong?

PR CAMPAIGN

Shvo: Public relations is the most critical component of any comeback tale, and Shvo's return to the press is going exceptionally well. He chose the relative safety of the Wall Street Journal to break the news of his 10th Avenue gas station deal, and followed that up with the New York Times's version of watching paint dry, the 30-Minute Interview. A Times Big Deal column managed to sling a little bit of mud, but he still managed to come out pretty clean, maintaining that it was his decision to "retire" from real estate because he could tell the end was nigh. Shvo has also recently appeared on Bloomberg TV as a real estate talking head, picking up right where things left off in 2007.

Levy: Yair Levy re-announced himself to the New York City real estate industry in a Crain's cover story released two weeks ago. He probably fired his PR firm when he saw the cover, which had a huge headline that screamed "The Developer Who Hit Partner Kent Swig With an Ice Bucket Seeks a Second Chance--In The Real Estate Biz, That Is." The online version is far less harsh, though the photos don't do him any favors.

PERSONAL REBRANDING

Shvo: Given that he's been the industry's Bigfoot for years (Shvo sightings were traded like Pokémon), some explanation of what Shvo's been up to was a necessary component of his comeback. The story being told: art, duh. Any coverage of Shvo frames him as a serious collector who has been deep in the art world since stepping aside from real estate. His PR team may even send you a list of works in his personal collection, should you be writing about him. And of course he has turned his unsightly gas station into a pop-up exhibition featuring sculptures of sheep and a Hamptons-style hedgerow. Hey, no one ever accused the guy of being short on ideas! The installation has provided him with a torrent of art world press, which his PR team will also happily tell you about. So yeah! Art! Nothing else to see here, folks.

Levy: Instead of crafting a story to fill the gap in his resumé, Levy is pitching himself as a reformed man, ready to focus on modest projects that are a return to his roots. Reported Crain's, "Mr. Levy said he was humbled by his losses. No longer would he build high-rise luxury condominiums like the 58-story residential tower on West 57th Street called the Sheffield that was his undoing. Instead, he plans to focus on small fixer-uppers like the ones he bought when he worked in the garment business more than 30 years ago: commercial buildings that he can renovate and lease to big retail tenants."

NEW DOGS, OLD TRICKS

Shvo: "He hired two publicity firms and a social media company to create a Twitter feed"; "The vision for this property relies on the game-changing real-estate mind-set that I believed in and acted on previously"; "I created what is known as the marriage of fashion and real estate"; "On a recent weekday morning, Mr. Shvo was sitting in a bronze chair in his living room on the 68th floor of the Time Warner Center, his white collared shirt unbuttoned to reveal a patch of chest hair."

Levy: "But Mr. Levy also remained unapologetic and defiant. He disputed the facts surrounding the ban imposed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He even argued he could sell condos again—if he wanted—through his family trust."

GRADES

Shvo: A-. Much like the previous decade, he's coming on way too strong and seems to lack any notion of self-awareness (and really, who brags about paying the most for a piece of land?), but no one can dispute that the messaging surrounding Shvo's comeback has been incredibly positive so far. Though his name is still a punchline in many brokerage and development offices, Shvo is running his own projects now, and the prospect of his marketing stunts actually proving successful in the long run has to give his former rivals chills.

Levy: D+. Anyone else think that Crain's story was kind of a disaster? Cuz we do. But Levy is doing some deals, and Robert Knakal summed it up brilliantly: "Yair's money is green, and if he can find good deals, he'll be able to buy them just like anybody else and be successful." So welcome back, Yair! Ain't real estate grand?
· Yair Levy seeks a second chance in real estate [Crain's]
· Shvo Revs Up Pace, Again [WSJ]
· All Michael Shvo coverage [Curbed]
· All Yair Levy coverage [Curbed]