August 1, 2014 – As Silverstein Properties Inc. and other downtown business boosters strive to shift the center of gravity for New York’s media and technology industries southward, they can only hope more companies undergo an evolution in thinking as radical as MediaMath’s.
The venture-backed ad-tech company inked a lease in July to become 4 World Trade Center’s first private-sector tenant, but the decision to leave Midtown didn’t come easily. Executives had to overcome deeply held norms and assumptions about business geography, and they polled their entire Manhattan workforce before pulling the trigger, CEO Joe Zawadzki told me.
Heading into the search, Zawadzki figured they’d just consolidate their three crowded offices near Bryant Park into a single location in Midtown South. The roughly 300 local employees had been congregating in that neighborhood for years, and Zawadzki himself loves his short commute from the Upper West Side. But MediaMath, which develops software that helps advertisers manage their own computerized buying of online ads, had to keep an open mind.
“And then we looked downtown as well, because you have to,” he told me. “It’s a beautiful office space, lots of incentives, so let’s take a look and compare. And we went down there, and it’s apples and fish, [comparing] the stuff we were seeing in Midtown compared to [4 World Trade Center.]”
After seeing the brand-new World Trade Center and the result of the massive redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhoods, the real estate team was sold right away. But they were still hesitant. The Midtown option had a lot going for it, including a rooftop and an offer to put their company logo on the building exterior. Initially, sentiment throughout the company was running strongly against going downtown, about 3 to 1.
“We can’t force people, for lots of reasons, to go downtown,” Zawadzki said. “Some people have negative associations with the World Trade Center, with 9/11, especially if they lost somebody. Some people just from a commute perspective, said, this is going to make my life more miserable.”
But, they thought employees might think differently if they took the tour themselves. About 180 workers, or about 60 percent, toured both finalist sites and cast votes. The turnaround was dramatic.
Some responses from the survey: “While it was close – the advent of outdoor space attached to the office is really enticing- my final vote ultimately goes to 4 WTC. The state-of-the-art building, the views, and the burgeoning development of the downtown New York area are the factors that swayed my decision.”
Another one in favor of the World Trade Center:
“I choose 4WTC. I think in the long view this is the best decision for the company. The facility is more impressive and the infrastructure is state of the art, but neither of those are the reason I would choose 4WTC,” one employee said. “In the end, it boils down to something intangible that we all experience but is difficult to quantify – gut feeling. Being in that lobby and seeing the views from the space carries both a greatness and a history to it that no midtown location will ever present to our (future) employees or our clients. It’s a space that speaks to MediaMath’s success without us having to say anything at all.”
Here’s one who still preferred Midtown: “I like the Midtown space because of the big open space on the roof. The company could do a lot of things with that space like host events. I feel like the WTC4 would be nice, but it will be hard to get there and walk around with all the tourists.”
Of course, MediaMath isn’t the first to make this move. Conde Nast and numerous other media companies have already announced moves downtown.
MediaMath needed government incentives to make the finances of the two options “comparable,” and it’s never easy to leave a workplace within blocks of 14 subway lines. But ultimately, the quality of the office space and the message they’re sending to customers, competitors and the city at large is worth it — that they’re pioneers in both their own industry and in the revitalization of downtown, Zawadzki says.
MediaMath will move in early next year. It’s taking 106,000 square feet on three floors.