Upsilon Ventures is the New York development firm behind Citi Pond, an enormous outdoor space that during the winter becomes the centerpiece of Midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park. Using an extensive network of public-private partnerships, Upsilon helped turn the green space behind the New York Public Library into one of the premier attractions in Midtown. Here, Sar Inbar, Upsilon’s executive director of business development, talks about what it takes to makes Citi Pond — and all urban entrepreneurial projects — a success.
Q: What makes Upsilon’s business model of public-private partnerships work so well?
Sar Inbar: The idea of the utilization of public space for private-public partnerships allows us to create and develop diverse and extensive platforms for community engagement and public activation. Integrating real estate development and production with event driven marketing/media devices to create an activation “hub” allows us to unlock new sources of revenue potential.
We do not artificially “inject” a product/development into the environment or real estate we wish to activate without first gaining perspective into how the public views our product, and identifying the objectives that have to be met. The attention to detail on every level — from planning, design and build out to aesthetics, flawless integration of all of the project’s components and proper use of space — is a key factor in determining the success and the true balance of a public-private partnership.
Standing at the crossroad between various regulatory agencies, private sector partners and affiliates, and the community, we must be very sensitive and minded toward reaching that point of equilibrium where everyone’s objectives are met. Overall, standing on multiple shifting platforms, I believe we have found that point of equilibrium. The very essence of our existence is strictly measured, above all, by how we are able to contribute to our surrounding, our patrons and to the community.
Sar Inbar. Credit: Upsilon Ventures
Q: Can you tell us about the Citigroup-Sponsored Citi Pond at Bryant Park success story?
Inbar: Citi Pond at Bryant Park serves as our premiere winter destination. It is located at Bryant Park in New York City and active on a recurring basis for four months, from the last week of October through February. The development consists of a 17,000-square-foot ice skating rink, surrounded by multiple structures and facilities – more than 125 Holiday Shops and a 7,000 square foot, two story restaurant, bar and event space – and incorporates community activation, charity events and attractions.
Last season, Citi Pond brought more than 400 events to life, from venue-wide, free and open to the public community events, such as the annual Bryant Park Tree Lighting Ceremony, to private and corporate events. We are fortunate to have had Citi as our presenting and founding sponsor for seven years. Through Citi’s sponsorship and true partnership, along with our supporting sponsors and the project’s multiple revenue generators, we are able to provide free admission skating to the community and transform Bryant Park into a winter wonderland in the heart of Manhattan, constantly infusing programming, activation, content and life into the venue. The Citi Pond development alone adds more than 350 employees to the job force, every season.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
Inbar: Utilizing the Citi Pond model as a prototype, we have developed a sister project, Seaport Ice, at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. We intend to replicate our public-private partnership model (not necessarily using the exact same elements introduced in Bryant Park) into other locations in the Tri-State area, as well as into other cities to create new community destinations and hubs. Upsilon Ventures has established a relationship with Westfield, a global player in the retail and shopping center industry with properties around the world, and is currently working on launching a study and due diligence analysis primarily for the infusion of community platforms into key properties, to create themed destination hotspots.
Q: How have you helped Upsilon continue to grow during such a challenging economy?
Inbar: Our growth, even as we face challenging financial times, is a derivative of our financial model, which is powered by diversification. Each project is designed to incorporate multiple revenue drivers. Each revenue driver is an independent organ, yet serves the overall organism, which is the project.
For instance, the Citi Pond development generates revenue through sponsorship, partnership marketing, short-term leasing of retail outlets, food and beverage services, production and events, merchandising, among others. By closely monitoring and maximizing each one of the revenue generators, we are able to reach an aggregate growth, or alternatively, identify the weak link and aim to offset its negative contribution by an alternative positive revenue driver. Basically, we try to make sure that not all of our eggs are in one basket.
In addition, as entrepreneurs, we welcome change and always look ahead for the next creation. Being able to adapt to constantly change while staying true to our vision and direction is fundamental.
Q: As an entrepreneur, what do you see as the key to your success?
Inbar: Upsilon Ventures was fortunate enough to identify a niche market which requires implementing a very delicate and balanced combination of private sector practices and very specific knowledge base that pertains to public use of space. Needless to say, as a company that infuses development, marketing and production into one diverse vehicle, it is imperative that we know to identify target markets, anticipate new trends, comprehend what our clients are seeking in terms of the products we offer and the experience we strive to provide. There are always hurdles along the way. For every good idea, there are dozens of ideas and reasons detracting you from pursuing it.
We work in a very competitive market within an extremely competitive industry. It is a given that calculated risks must be assumed, but at the core it is our responsibility to constantly research our market on a macro and micro level, identify and indicate opportunities for successful innovation and have faith in our vision. We learn by doing and we keep refining our means and methods to adapt to an ever-changing market.
Q: For the future, what are your prospects for growing the firm and expanding to more cities?
Inbar: Our expansion plans include what we call horizontal growth as well as vertical growth. The former focuses on utilizing the Citi Pond development as a conceptual model for implementation in other cities. Each model (or development) is unique and must be synergistic with the community and the with the city or platform hosting it.
Currently, we are in the process of configuring three new “hubs” in cities that are interested in developing a themed community destination. In addition, we keep infusing new mediums, content and amenities into our existing projects in-house and via partnerships, by expanding our cultural, event and entertainment offerings as well as introducing new features and attraction areas for public engagement.
The world around us is in constant change. The technology of tomorrow looks nothing like the technology of today. Standing at the intersection of so many disciplines, we have an ethical, moral and professional obligation to evolve with our surrounding, as well as to maintain our inertia to keep dreaming, creating and to preserve the fruits of our creations.