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Thor’s Joseph Sitt, Sitting High

The ceo of Thor Equities and advisor to upscale retailers chats with WWD about what it takes to go international.

NEW YORK — You’d think that managing a $5 billion portfolio of retail, office, hotel and residential properties would be enough to keep most people busy. Joseph Sitt, chief executive officer of Thor Equities, isn’t most people. The international real estate development company, which specializes in value-added investments in shopping centers and mixed-use urban developments, has been advising upscale retailers looking to grow in the international market on leasing, strategic planning and investment sales.

This story first appeared in the December 20, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We’re one of the only companies that’s signed over 6,000 leases as tenants,” Sitt said. “We’ve been doing it forever under the Thor Equity name. We recently created a separate division, Thor High Street Advisory Group. We think it will create better branding.” High Street joins another advisory group in the company, Town Residential. The two divisions have about 300 employees. “In manpower they’re bigger than Thor Equities,” Sitt said.

High Street Advisors has offices in New York, London, Paris and Mexico City and plans to open offices in South America and China. “We’ve been traveling to Asia and are now setting up an Asia office,” Sitt said. “That gives us a big strategic advantage. This is the part of the business that’s a labor of love. We enjoy traveling, communicating and working with the tenants.”

Sitt said his background as a retailer gives High Street cachet. In 1991 he founded Ashley Stewart, a chain selling plus-size clothing geared toward African-American women. After that, he opened Rainbow Shops and partially owned or managed Marianne Stores, Body and Soul, The Children’s Place and Rave Girl. “Many years ago, when I left retailing, other retailers were always asking me for advice on strategies for high streets in the U.S. and around the world,” he said. “Nobody has the depth we have in terms of the U.S. and the world. There’s always local knowledge, but nobody has the full global experience.”

High Street has represented AllSaints, L’Occitane and Pronovias in the U.S., while in Europe, it’s advised Camper, Penhaligon’s, Seven For All Mankind and Louis Vuitton. Sitt said 40 percent of the business is done in Europe, 30 percent in the U.S., 15 percent in Latin America and 15 in percent Asia.

“We’re seeing the most demand from tenants for Shanghai,” Sitt said. “It’s a developing market and so much is happening there. Poland is one of the few markets that’s performing well. Another popular market is Munich. So much of Europe has become so unstable, the exception is Germany.” In the U.S., New York City and San Francisco are at the top of the list.

In Mexico City, High Street Advisors is representing four tenants that all want to open stores on Avenida Presidente Masaryk in Polanco. The trendiest shopping thoroughfare in the city, it’s often compared with Fifth Avenue. “There are American and European brands, but not nearly as many as the Latin American brands,” Sitt said. “The street runs about 20 blocks” so there’s plenty of opportunity.

In Manhattan, the company is giving retailers alternatives to the costly prime part of Fifth Avenue between 50th Street and 59th Street and Madison Avenue. “We’re focusing on Fifth Avenue in the Forties where the rents are a little bit cheaper,” Sitt said. “A lot of tenants want to be in the Meatpacking District, where rents are 60 percent less than on Madison Avenue. We just took over a high-profile site across from the Apple store at 400 West 14th Street.”