Hudson Yards pioneer Romel Canete: ‘Never thought I’d see this in my lifetime’

With first grandchild 2-month-old Charles Patrick.

With first grandchild 2-month-old Charles Patrick.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Romel Canete could not believe that Hudson Yards, an ambitious real estate project on Manhattan’s West Side, is nearing completion and currently almost 80 percent leased.

He was part of the project from Day One. In 2004, the Cebu-born Canete, then a consultant at real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank, represented the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board in evaluating bids from various developers in this massive 28-acre location. Once the site of a rail yard, the project covered a swath of the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods, spanning30th to 42nd streets between 8th and 11th Avenue.

The project was put on hold following New York’s failed bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics in 2004 but was resurrected in 2007 when the redevelopment was up for another bid. This time, Newmark reviewed the development bids on behalf of the Hudson Yards Development Corp., a city agency overseeing the project.

“I have been personally involved in the first and second bidding process,” said Canete, 60, speaking before the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Series on June 21. “I thought, at the time, I may not see in my lifetime that what’s happening now is going to happen because it was so expensive.”

“Close to 2008 nobody was thinking of developing. The economy was falling apart,” he told The FilAm in a phone interview.

Eventually, the market turned around. Construction resumed, and before he knew it most of the buildings were already leased. He said the original estimated cost in 2004 to build a platform to cover the railyard was $1 billion. “Imagine the cost overruns (over the years).”

Today, Hudson Yards, a series of skyscrapers housing upscale apartments, retail shops, restaurants, and offices, is touted as leading the “construction boom” in NYC. According to The Real Deal website, Black Rock and Time Warner are among the prized tenants. Canete said other tenants include KKR, big accounting financial services, such as Ernst & Young and Accenture, retailers Coach and L’Oreal, and the law firm Skadden Arps, among other notable tenants.

“I headed the group that evaluated the bids. Imagine 48 hours of no sleep,” he said.

Top photo, Hudson Yards as envisioned in a marketing material in 2004. Today, a cluster of skyscrapers towering over 28 acres of Manhattan’s West Side.

Top photo, Hudson Yards as envisioned in a marketing material in 2004. Today (below), a cluster of skyscrapers towering over 28 acres of Manhattan’s West Side.


Currently the executive managing director at Newmark Knight Frank, a leading commercial real estate advisory firm, Canete is one of very few Filipinos involved in the upper echelon of the Hudson Yards project that started during the time of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At the time in 2004, he already had 15 years of experience as a consultant with Newmark and counted among his diverse clients the likes of Morgan Stanley, Nokia Siemens Network, PWC, EY, and the United Nations, assisting them with relocations and expansions, and other lease-related negotiations. In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious NY real estate industry’s “Most Ingenious Deal of the Year” award.

Canete’s background has roots in Ferdinand Marcos-era youth politics.

He was a young student at UP Cebu when he became chairman of Imee Marcos’s Kabataang Barangay, and later became its national president holding office in Manila. For four years, he was shuttling back and forth from Cebu to Manila to carry out his two duties. He was studying to be a doctor (B.S. Biology) then, but because of the demands of his organizing work, he shifted course to Business Management.

“I cannot be traveling and studying on the plane all the time,” he said. “It’s mentally challenging.”

Concededly, politics took over his early life.

He became a city councilor in Cebu, part of his mandate as a KB leader. In the 1984 national elections, Canete was voted among peers and appointed by President Marcos to the Batasang Pambansa parliament representing the youth sector.

“I did not intend to stay in politics forever,” he told The FilAm. “Politics was not an end game to me, just a stepping stone.”

His pivot however came during a rough period in the market. He went to the U.S. to get his MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“I graduated in 1988, which was a most difficult moment because 1987 was the October market crash, which was similar to the 2008 financial crisis. There were massive lay-offs, and jobs were extremely difficult to find. I wanted to go home,” he said.

Eventually, he found work in a small firm before joining Newmark in 1989 as a financial analyst.

Canete lives in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with his wife Ruby Ann. They have three children. Their recently married eldest Mikel, 35, was operations manager of the company that launched Uber in the Philippines. He and his wife Christine welcomed their first child, Charles Patrick, this past May. Daughters Rubie, 27, works as a financial analyst for Newmark in Houston, and Dylan, 25, is a Business Development Manager at Criteo in New York.

Canete is the third child in a family of nine siblings. Big family is nothing new; his mother has 10 other siblings. He hastened to add, “My grandmother is turning 105 this September.”

Canete has accepted the invitation to join the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He said, “My first time to be part a FilAm community organization.”

© The FilAm 2018

The Canete family, from left: daughter Dylan, Romel, wife Ruby Ann, daughter Rubie, daughter-in-law Christine, and son Mikel

The Canete family, from left: daughter Dylan, Romel, wife Ruby Ann, daughter Rubie, daughter-in-law Christine, and son Mikel

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