Mitchell C. Hochberg will become president of the Lightstone Group as of Jan. 1, 2013. He most recently served as the company’s CIO.

Hochberg will succeed Peyton “Chip” Owen Jr., who retires at the end of 2012. Owen, who joined Lightstone in 2007, will remain as president of two non-traded REITs sponsored by Lightstone: Lightstone Value Plus Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. and Lightstone Value Plus Real Estate Investment Trust - II Inc.

Hochberg has more than 30 years of experience in real estate industry investment, development and operations for residential, hospitality, commercial, gaming and mixed-use properties. He was a principal at Madden Real Estate Ventures, which was combined with Lightstone as Hochberg joined the company. He was also the founder of Spectrum Communities and served as its president and CEO for more than 20 years. Under his leadership, Spectrum recorded $2 billion in residential sales and won numerous awards from the National Association of Homebuilders.

Hochberg currently serves on the board of directors of Orient-Express Hotels LTD., which owns and manages 50 hotels in 24 countries. He also serves as chairman of the board of directors of Orleans Homebuilders Inc., which develops, builds and sells single-family and townhouse products. The 90-year-old company operates 79 active communities in 11 markets across eight states.

NREI talked to Hochberg about the fiscal cliff and the company’s relatively new foray in the New York City area. An edited version of that interview follows.

NREI: You’ve said Lightstone is currently aggressively acquiring select service hotels. Why is that a particularly ripe market now?

Mitchell Hochberg: We like select service hotels because the operating model today ends to have lower operating costs than full service hotels and frequently can deliver a similar service without the higher cost. Full service hotels have ballrooms, health clubs, banquet facilities, meeting rooms and, as a result, their cost structure and the number of personnel needed is much higher.

In this post-recession time business travelers in particular are much more cost conscious. If you can stay in a Marriott Courtyard for 50 percent less than a Ritz Carlton and have a nice clean room, you’ll do it. The bathroom may be tile instead of marble, but the experience is similar.

We think those assets are very attractive right now and today they are also throwing off very good current cash, particularly for our owners but also for our REITs we own. We think it’s a good time to buy them because it’s still expensive to build. You can buy them today below replacement cost.

NREI: In terms of that post-recession mindset, how long do you think that will continue?

Mitchell Hochberg: I think there have been some fundamental changes as a result of the financial crisis with regard to how people spend their money and I think that is going to be a long term change. As the economy improves, people may be looser with their wallets but people are going to be much more cost conscious about how they spend and where they spend it. It’s all about value, value, value.

NREI: Earlier this year Lightstone unveiled plans for three projects in New York City, including a 200,000-sq.-ft. apartment tower in Long Island City. Why was the time right now to get deeper into the NYC market?

Mitchell Hochberg: We’ve been in the market for a number of years. One of the projects we are working on is almost completed and the others are going through predevelopment phases. The initial entry was partially as a result of the financial crisis. We saw that the for-sale market was very soft and we felt that people were looking for more rentals so they didn’t have to put down a large amount of money and had more flexibility. The New York City economy is continuing to grow and the population is growing along with it and people want more flexibility in their lifestyle, particularly younger and older people.

NREI: One of those projects, the planned 700-unit apartment complex near the Gowanas Canal, has come under some criticism because the area flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Why go forward with it?

Mitchell Hochberg: There really was no real impact on that site as a result of Sandy and it really was a tempest in a teapot because of a small group of local people that were always against the project. The local community board supports the project. The residential part of the project sits above the 100-year flood zone. FEMA is about to publish new 100-year flood data and the preliminary finding is that it will continue to sit above the 100-year flood area. There really is no issue there.

NREI: What do you think is going to happen with the fiscal cliff and how are investors feeling about that?

Mitchell Hochberg: We think there is no choice but for them to make a deal. There is obviously a lot of brinkmanship going on, but at the end of the day they are going to cut a deal. You can see to a certain extent where it is headed now and it’s not going to be great in terms of tax increases, including those for the wealthy, but the ultimate issue is to make sure we don’t go over the cliff and that’s not going to happen.

NREI: Whatever deal they reach, what do you think the fallout will be?

Mitchell Hochberg: In terms of our business we don’t see a significant impact on anything we are doing. As a result of increased taxes, people will have a little less money and the government will have a little more. It may help support our multifamily platform because people may have less to put down to buy. Also, our select service hotel platform might receive some benefit. Those value conscious people might have less disposable income or may have their purse strings tightened on corporate travel.

Baum Realty Group Welcomes New COO

Mike Demetriou took the reins as COO at Chicago-based Baum Realty Group LLC. He was previously a senior real estate associate at both Sidley Austin and SNR Denton in Chicago, where he focused on the financing, acquisition, disposition and leasing of commercial real estate throughout the country.

Significant representations included KeyBank, JPMorgan Chase, Metro Storage, Royal Bank of Scotland, Starwood and Wells Fargo. His practice also included zoning and land use matters for businesses and universities as well as nonprofits. On a pro-bono basis, Demetriou represented the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and also served as general counsel to the Cara Foundation.

CT Promotes Five Pros in D.C.

Cassidy Turley promoted William Collins and Paul Collins, leaders of the Washington, D.C. capital markets team, to vice chairmen. The firm also promoted Drew Flood, James Cassidy and Jud Ryan to executive managing directors.

The investment sales team won the Greater Washington Commercial Association of Realtor’s 2011 D.C. sales transaction of the year for the $356 million sale of 1100 and 1101 4th Street at Waterfront Station. They also won the 2011 Maryland and Virginia Sales Transaction of the Year for the $350 million sale of Washington REIT’s D.C. Metro Portfolio.

Snyder Joins Max Spann

Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co. hired Greg Snyder as managing director of business development. Snyder brings more than 30 years of experience in residential housing and commercial land development to helm the firm’s interaction with financial institutions, professional organizations and major land owners with housing and land portfolios they seek to divest.

Previously, Snyder managed the home building and land development operations in New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New York of a major national home builder.

IBC Holdings Welcomes New Construction Management Division Exec

Brian Heinze came to IBC Holdings LLC to manage the company’s newly formed construction management division.

Heinze will be responsible for managing teams of architects, engineers and contractors during the design, development and through all phases of each construction project. Heinze comes to IBC from G4S Technology Inc., where he was architecture, engineering and permitting manager for national wireless operations.

Eastern Consolidated Hires New Associate Director

Eastern Consolidated welcomed a new associate director, Michele Nicoletta, who specializes in the sale and acquisition of investment property, including office, multifamily, hotels, development sites and retail properties throughout the New York City area. Additionally, she is part of Eastern Consolidated’s loan sales and turnaround services group, which is primarily focused on the sale of non-performing commercial real estate debt.

She comes to Eastern Consolidated from Standard Chartered Bank, where she served as managing director and head of credit trading. There, she was responsible for the end-to-end build out of the firm’s Latin America credit trading franchise and managed all credit risk in the New York time zone.

Rush to Lead West Coast for Mountain

Mountain Real Estate Group hired Phil Rush to lead its West Coast asset management operations. Rush joins the company after leading a private San Diego-based homebuilder, Brehm Residential, as its president/COO. Over the course of his career Rush has been involved in the development, construction and sales of more than 30,000 homes and lots throughout the U.S. with sellout values exceeding $4 billion.

In his new position, Rush will manage Mountain’s investments in large master-planned communities and home building projects in California and the Western U.S. The California projects include infill projects located in Los Angeles as well as traditional single-family housing in San Diego and Riverside. In addition, Rush will be managing subdivisions recently acquired by Mountain from Forest City located in Arizona and Washington.

Hotel Finance Company Launched

A new hotel finance company, db Capital Ventures, has launched. The company will provide hoteliers with a full-range of loans, from CMBS to construction loans with financing up to 80 percent loan to value. Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., the new company will be led by Chris Clark, principal and founder.

db Capital Ventures will provide a broad range of loans, including CMBS conforming, CMBS/mezzanine combinations, non-CMBS conforming loans, non-CMBS high leverage loans. In addition, debt is available for construction loans for experienced developers who plan to build under premium brands.

Clark began his hotel lending career with Lexington Mortgage Co., which, along with Lehman Brothers, created the first CMBS hospitality loans. Lexington became the Hospitality Lending Group for GMAC Commercial Mortgage Co. before being acquired by KKR and Goldman Sachs Partners and renamed Capmark Financial Inc.

Sembler Promotes Harker to Property Management Director

Sembler Co. promoted Sue Harker to director of property management. She will oversee the full-service management of more than 12.5 million sq. ft. of retail centers across Florida and the Southeastern United States. Harker brings more than 24 years of commercial property management experience to this position, 16 of those years with Sembler.

New Dallas Office for Cassin & Cassin

Cassin & Cassin LLP opened an office in Dallas, naming Partner John Tucker to head the new location.

Tucker serves as a partner in the real estate group and will focus on the representation of institutional clients in regard to the origination of commercial mortgage loans intended for sale in the secondary mortgage market, commercial loan workouts and restructurings and whole loan sale and syndications.

L.A. Lawyer Joins Pircher, Nichols & Meeks

Daniel W. Finley joined Pircher, Nichols & Meeks as an associate the Los Angeles office. He is an addition to the firm’s real estate practice.

Prior to joining the firm, Finley worked as a real estate associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in New York. While there, he represented landlords, tenants, purchasers, sellers, lenders and borrowers in connection with the leasing of office and retail space, the acquisition and disposition of office, retail, residential and hotel properties and the origination of commercial mortgage and mezzanine financings.

Douglas Elliman Returns to Its Roots

New York real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman unveiled a new brand identity and returned to its original name, switching from Prudential Douglas Elliman.

The Douglas Elliman name will be adopted by all of the company’s businesses, including residential and commercial real estate, title services, relocation services, property management, as well as the firm’s development marketing division.

Gov. Bill Richardson Joins Car Charging Group Board

Bill Richardson, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, Ambassador to the United Nations and Governor of New Mexico, joined Car Charging Group Inc. as the chairman of the company’s board of directors. The company provides electric vehicle charging services nationwide.

As governor, Richardson required utilities to meet 20 percent of New Mexico’s electrical demand from renewable sources, and established a Renewable Energy Transmission Authority to deliver the state’s renewable resources to market.

N.J. Senate Recognizes Levin’s 60 years in Business

The New Jersey State Senate recognized Levin Management with a resolution marking the North Plainfield, N.J.-based company’s diamond anniversary.

Levin Management is an outgrowth of Levin Properties, a development firm founded by the late Philip J. Levin in 1952, which created an extensive portfolio of retail properties, including New Jersey's first open-air shopping center. The company evolved to deliver a full range of third-party services—including leasing, property management, accounting, construction management, and marketing—to other retail property owners. Today, Levin’s management and leasing portfolio includes more than 90 diverse retail properties totaling more than 12.5 million sq. ft. in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.

TX Sales Manager Joins Datawatch Systems

Commercial office building access control system provider Datawatch Systems welcomed Russell Austin Gates to the Houston office as regional sales manager. An expert in product design, new business development, profits optimization and vendor management, Gates will provide sales experience and market expertise on building security systems to owners and managers in the Houston area.

Prior to joining Datawatch Systems, Gates spent 11 years as a national account manager for Dallas, Texas-based Sensormatic Electronics/Tyco, where he sold asset control and loss prevention products to the leading retail, hospitality, quick serve, education and commercial sectors. Most recently, he served as a senior account executive for Tech Systems Inc., Security Design & Integration, where he specialized in selling solutions, service and maintenance contracts in the Southwest region’s growing healthcare and medical office market.