Jacob Garlick appeared to tear up as he went down to one knee on the steps of the New York County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon.
The investor was a total stranger to most of the Manhattan real estate players gathered around him, but not for long: Garlick had just won an auction for a bonafide New York City icon, the Flatiron Building, beating out the property’s former owner, a baffled-looking Jeffrey Gural, with a $190 million bid.
After a round of celebration and a brief appearance on local news, everyone in the New York real estate world had one question: Who the hell is Jacob Garlick?
Gural said he didn’t know him. Others at the auction had no clue. Call after call with developers, real estate attorneys and brokers led to the same dead end: Nobody had heard of Garlick.
Some speculated he was a straw buyer for a family office or a wealthy investor, since the building, at 175 Fifth Avenue, is completely vacant and requires a major renovation that will be unlikely to produce any returns for several years.
“It was a lot of money. You still have to spend $100 million to renovate the building,” Gural said. “When you are all done, you are going to own a building that is $1,500 per foot.”
But in his lone television interview with NY1, Garlick, a beefy, bearded 30-something, said owning the Flatiron Building has been his dream since he was 14 years old.
Here’s what we know
Garlick’s firm, Abraham Trust, is headquartered in Northern Virginia and invests in private equity buyouts, mergers and acquisitions and venture capital, according to its website. It claims to have advised, reviewed and syndicated over $30 billion worth of M&A since its inception in 2014.
“We typically are providing liquidity for the founders of the business or the executives who run the company or shareholders, but are also hoping to spend the next five to 10 years working with you to grow the business,” Garlick said in an interview about investing uploaded to YouTube in November.
But outside of a bare-bones website that lists no phone number, little additional information about Abraham Trust exists on the internet. Venture-capital tracker Crunchbase lists just one investment made by the firm: It participated in a $2.5 million funding round raised last June by a startup called FitFighter, which sells an oddly shaped free weight that was once featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Efforts to reach Garlick and Abraham Trust’s other executives, including through LinkedIn and the firm’s website, were unsuccessful.
Garlick started his career in 2009, working on M&A for a South Florida-based multifamily office called Abraham Commercial Investments, which according to its website held a $5 billion portfolio in real estate, private equity and venture equities. State corporate records show that Garlick was the registered agent of Abraham Commercial Investments, based in Boca Raton.
His big break came in his early 20s, when he joined mHelpDesk, a company that developed office management software for service and repair businesses. In the YouTube interview, Garlick said mHelpDesk led clients to replace “their clipboards with iPads.”
Garlick was not a founder of mHelpDesk, but he came in as a partner, he said in the interview, where he appears seated in front of a framed black-and-white photo of the Flatiron Building.
“It was a pretty wild ride at 23 at mHelpDesk that really put us in a position where we are today a decade later,” Garlick said.
A majority stake in the business was sold in 2014 to IAC’s HomeAdvisor, one of the largest marketplaces connecting homeowners with local service professionals, for an undisclosed amount.
Now comes the closing
Garlick’s journey to buying the Flatiron Building started because of a partnership spat between its former ownership group. Sorgente Group, Gural’s GFP Real Estate and ABS Real Estate Partners, who together controlled a 75 percent stake, could not see eye-to-eye with the remaining 25 percent owner, Nathan Silverstein, about the landmarked property’s future.
The majority owners sued, claiming they simply could not go on co-owning the property with Silverstein, who they said had proposed physically splitting up the building. Gural called that idea “preposterous,” according to court filings.
“It boggles the mind to suggest that we could nevertheless agree on a plan to physically divide this building into five smaller, independent properties, none of which would be marketable — and then agree on a plan as to how that work would be financed,” Gural said.
The building’s tenancy-in-common ownership structure, which gave each of the stakeholders veto power over any major decision at the property, led to a stalemate.
By that point, the building’s longtime anchor tenant, MacMillan Publishers, which occupied all 21 floors, had announced plans to move out.
In 2019, co-working operator Knotel was in talks to lease the entire property, but a deal never materialized. The startup filed for bankruptcy in 2021 and was bought by one of its early investors, Newmark, the commercial real estate giant that Gural’s GFP Real Estate had split off from only four years earlier. Silverstein blamed Newmark for failing to market the building and said Gural was negotiating to lease it to Knotel at an “exceptionally low cost.” The property’s conversion to a hotel was also floated.
The majority owners eventually sought a partition sale, which would put the building up for auction but provide them an advantage by allowing them to buy it back using their existing ownership interests as part of a bid.
Garlick, who wanted the property no matter what, price be damned, spoiled those plans.
At Wednesday’s auction, he stood directly in front of the auctioneer, Matthew Mannion of Mannion Auctions, wearing a charcoal suit with a patterned tie and pocket square. Each time Gural placed a bid, Garlick countered, looking the auctioneer square in the eyes.
“I was hoping that we would be able to buy [Silverstein’s] interest at a lot lower price,” Gural said.
But Garlick still has some hurdles to jump before he takes possession. If he fails to put down a $19 million deposit by Friday, Gural’s group will have the right to purchase the property again. If they refuse, it could head back to the auction block, according to a filing known as interlocutory judgment.
If Garlick puts down the deposit, he has another 10 days after a court order confirming the sale to come up with the remaining balance.
Gural said he is sad to let go of an iconic trophy property, but also sees an upside.
“It’s not a simple project,” he said. “In a sense [the sale] made my life a lot easier. I am 80 years old.”
Rich Bockmann contributed reporting.