Embattled real estate magnate Kent Swig has a hand in just about every sector of the real estate market as a commercial landlord, residential landlord, developer, broker and manager. He's the co-chair of Terra Holdings, which owns brokerages like Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Properties, a principal at his family's Swig Investment Company, and the chief of Swig Equities.
Kent is the scion of a prominent San Francisco real estate family: It was his grandfather, Benjamin Swig, who established the family fortune, buying retail outlets in the Midwest in the 1930s before teaming up with real estate investor Jack Weiler in the '40s to launch the Fairmont Hotel chain. During the 1970s and '80s, the firm was managed by Kent's father and uncle, Melvin and Richard, and grew to encompass some 10 million square feet of commercial and residential space, including a portfolio of office buildings in San Francisco as well as Manhattan properties like the Grace Building and the World Apparel Center at 1411 Broadway.
Like so many real estate scions, Kent claims he didn't initially plan to go into the business. After graduating Brown, he attended law school at Berkeley with a view to pursuing a legal career. But when his father developed cancer and needed a hand running the family real estate business, Kent stepped in to help, later going to work for developer Harry Macklowe. Swig spent seven years working at Macklowe Properties before teaming up with colleague David Burris to found Swig Burris Equities (now Swig Equities). Burris and Swig later teamed up with Arthur and Will Zeckendorf to buy Brown Harris Stevens from Harry Helmsley. The company, now called Terra Holdings, controls brokerages like Brown Harris Stevens, Halstead Property, and Feathered Nest, as well as the financial services firm Vanderbilt Holdings.
Swig is one of the most prominent landlords in Manhattan and beyond: In New York, his Swig Equities owns commercial buildings like 5 and 7 Hanover Square, 110 William Street, 44 and 48 Wall Street, 90 Broad Street, 110 William Street and 770 Lexington Avenue-and he also owns a number of residential properties in town such as 25 Broad Street and the Sheffield57. Through the Swigs' family-owned firm, the Swig Investment Company, he also co-owns 11 million square feet of office space-much of it in his hometown of San Francisco-as well as an outpost of the Fairmont in San Jose, the only Fairmont the Swigs have yet to sell off. (Until 1999, Kent operated the company in partnership with his twin brother Robert. He died of cancer at the age of 39 in 2000.) Most recently, Swig added Helmsley-Spear to his portfolio, which provides building management and commercial and retail leasing services.
Although Swig has kept a low profile compared to his brasher peers in the biz, he generated plenty of negative attention when he and several partners paid $418 million for the 50-story Sheffield on West 57th Street. The building was converted into luxury condos and renamed Sheffield57, but Swig found himself up against two dozen rent-stabilized residents who insisted they had the right to stay put.
He ended up prevailing in court, but the situation turned nasty: Tenants staged public protests over claims that the building was contaminated with asbestos. (Swig countered by hiring a marching band to play for four hours and drown out the protest.) More rancor followed in April 2007 when he tried to construct a nine-story condo development atop two prewar tenements on the Upper West Side. A court order in April 2007 halted work on the project and Swig sold off the property in 2008.
The blond California native (who, fittingly, says he's a surfer) married Elizabeth Swig, the daughter of Harry Macklowe, in 1987. (Kent and Liz met when Swig worked for Macklowe, and he set them up on a blind date.) They have two sons, Simon and Oliver. After more than two decades of marriage, the couple filed for divorce in early 2010. Since then, Liz has reportedly booted Kent from their massive apartment at 740 Park-which happens to be one of the residential buildings his Terra Holdings manages-and put their home in Bridgehampton on the market for $6.9 million.