Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Sonnenblick Development Chairman Bob Sonnenblick

August 26, 2019 Joseph Pimentel, Bisnow Los Angeles

Growing up as a scion from a highly regarded real estate family, Bob Sonnenblick had no interest in working in the family business.

Sonnenblick’s great-grandfather, Alexander Sonnenblick, founded Sonnenblick Goldman Corp. in New York in 1893. The company specialized in providing financing for real estate projects. 

His grandfather, Nathan Sonnenblick, was the chairman of Sonnenblick Goldman, and was described by The New York Times as one of the nation’s foremost mortgage brokers.

His father, Jack Sonnenblick, succeeded his father as chairman of Sonnenblick Goldman, served as a trustee of the New York Bank for Savings, and founded North American Mortgage Investors.

His uncle, Arthur Sonnenblick, is the senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield Equity, Debt & Structured Finance — formerly Cushman & Wakefield Sonnenblick Goldman. He sits on the board of trustees of Vornado. 

Sonnenblick said growing up, his father never pushed him to go into real estate.

“He told me, ‘Go to business school and just learn about business,’” Sonnenblick told Bisnow. “He never forced me.”

It wasn’t until his senior year at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania when a real estate mogul gave a presentation in front of his class that his interest in commercial real estate arose.

“Donald Trump Sr. walked into our class and started telling us about all of these wild and crazy deals he was doing,” Sonnenblick said. “It really got me very interested in the real estate business. Once I graduated, my dad welcomed me into the business.”

In his 35-year career, Sonnenblick has completed more than $1.5B of commercial real estate transactions and has developed several big office and hotel projects on the East Coast, in Florida and in California. 

When asked if his kids will eventually follow in his footsteps and keep the family legacy going, Sonnenblick leaves it up to them. 

“My dad never forced me,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing with my kids as well. I think that’s the right way to do things.”

Bisnow: What is your favorite part of your job? 

Sonnenblick: My favorite part of my job, which is developing big office buildings, is taking a vacant piece of land and designing and master planning the entire project. It’s very creative. I sit down with the architects. I love the creative part of designing a beautiful new building from a vacant piece of dirt.

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?

Sonnenblick: To be honest with you, this is the only job I’ve really ever had. But as a kid in high school, I used to clean swimming pools in Beverly Hills. It was horrible. The pools were large and the customers were very finicky and difficult to work with.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do? 

Sonneblick: A farmer. At my house in Los Angeles, I have about 150 fruit trees, all different kinds — oranges, lemons, blueberries, raspberries. When I get home from work, all weekend long, I spend most of time in my backyard. I get a lot of pleasure from it. So I would be a fruit tree farmer.

Bisnow: What deal are you proudest of? 

Sonnenblick: Easy one for me. I own the LA headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. It’s a 500K SF office building in Norwalk. Of all the deals I’ve done in my career, that was clearly the most difficult. Yet in spite of all the obstacles, we got it done. It will forever be my favorite and proudest project in my entire career.

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?

Sonnenblick: My biggest failure was a hotel project that we were working on on the campus of the USC Medical Center. It exploded at the eleventh hour because USC was so difficult to deal with. I learned a lesson that I will never deal with an institution like USC again. They are just too difficult to work with and that deal was a failure as a result. 

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?

Sonnenblick: The morals and business ethics of our industry have dropped precipitously the last couple of years. I don’t know if that’s the function of our president or just a general comment about our society today. That is absolutely my biggest pet peeve. In the old days, we used to be able to do business with a handshake. That is no longer the case in today’s world.

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?

Sonnenblick: My polo ponies and playing polo in general. It’s a very expensive sport but it’s a game and a passion that I truly love. But it’s very much an extravagance. But I can’t help it. I’m addicted to it. 

Bisnow: What motivates you? 

Sonnenblick: Previously, it was money and creation of wealth. But that is no longer the case. Now I build these buildings to create a portfolio and a legacy. It’s not the financial benefit anymore. It’s just to create a legacy and to grow the portfolio. 

Bisnow: What advice do you wish you got when you started in CRE? 

Sonnenblick: I wish instead of building office buildings and hotels that someone would have told me 30 years ago to get into the apartment development business. Because that business is much easier than the road I took. 

Bisnow: What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?

Sonnenblick: I am very risk-averse. But if I had to think of one thing, it probably would have been that crazy USC hotel deal. That was the biggest risk and it was an absolute failure as a result of our poor relationship.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?

Sonnenblick: Right now, the main thing that keeps me up at night and my biggest worry is that we are absolutely in the peak of the economy and the real estate market. The last time I felt this way was in 2008. There was a six-year downturn that followed. We were at the peak then and that downturn was an ugly period for almost everybody in our entire industry.

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit?

Sonnenblick: I love St. Bart’s in the Caribbean. It’s just a fabulous place to get away, turn off the phone and the internet, and just enjoy life on the beach. 

Bisnow: Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?

Sonnenblick: Family. I have gotten very lucky. I have been married for almost 30 years. I have a great wife and great kids. I am spending more and more time with family as a result. 

Bisnow: What CRE trend do you think will have the most impact over the next few years?

Sonnenblick: I think the biggest current trend that will have the most impact on CRE is the upcoming disappearance of the Chinese investors in commercial real estate. A lot of the Chinese money is being called back to China by the Chinese government. As a result, all the EB-5 deals and Chinese-backed funded deals are going to implode. I think that will have a huge negative impact on real estate prices very soon.  

Bisnow: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Sonnenblick: I’m a very open person so I don’t know. All of my friends and business associates know my story. There really [aren’t] a lot of surprises. 

Bisnow: What do you want your legacy to be?

Sonnenblick: I’m the fourth generation of a family in real estate that began in 1893. This is our 126th year in the commercial real estate business. If I want to be known for anything, I want people to know that I was always a very honest and straightforward businessman. I’m very open. I didn’t have any hidden agendas.

I’m unfortunately a dying breed. I’m very old school. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of old school, honest businessmen in the future in our industry, unfortunately.

I just want to be known as a very honest, straightforward guy who people enjoyed dealing with.

LA architecture “disappointing” compared to San Francisco, Seattle: Robert Sonnenblick

LA architecture “disappointing” compared to San Francisco, Seattle: Robert Sonnenblick

by Rahul Venkit | Jul 21, 2019 | Experts

“Limited and select service hotels is where the real profitability and future of the hospitality industry is, says LA real estate veteran Robert Sonnenblick of Sonnenblick Development

Robert Sonnenblick lives and breathes LA. This Wharton graduate has more than 30 years of experience in various aspects of real estate and real estate finance in the region.

Prior to forming Sonnenblick Development, he was the senior partner in a Los Angeles-based real estate development firm (Sonnenblick Del Rio Development) which specialized in public-private partnerships throughout the LA basin.

On the sidelines of TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Los Angeles, Sonnenblick spoke to TOPHOTELNEWS on the influx of foreign-funded construction in LA, how mass transit from LAX airport is poised to boost tourism, and how limited-service hotels is where the most profitability is.

“Dramatic” influx of foreign capital in LA

Sonnenblick: The change has been dramatic especially in the last four or five years. And it’s interesting: it’s all been foreign capital, largely from China and a little bit from India as well. Whereas historically, everything that you see built has been locals doing it. That’s totally changed in the last four years.

LA skyline deserves awesome architecture like San Francisco & Seattle

Sonnenblick: I am a huge fan of Los Angeles, you know that, but I must tell you very honestly: I’m disappointed in our architecture. If you look at the skyline, you mentioned San Francisco, for example, San Francisco, the city mandates that you must — you must — do something interesting with your building. No more regular rectangles, that just doesn’t work. They won’t approve your project if you do that.

Here, we just do regular, everyday, blase – unfortunately – buildings and when you look at the skyline, although it’s a large and successful skyline, architecturally, very honestly, compared to cities like Seattle, like San Francisco, we are trailing very badly. And that’s very unfortunate because we’ve got an opportunity to really make a difference — and we’re not.

LAX mass transit will further boost tourism

Sonnenblick: At LAX, there’s $8 billion worth of new construction going on between the rental car facility and the monorail and things like that. But there’s one other key thing that leads me to be very optimistic about the future.

For the first time in a hundred years, they are tying LAX in to mass transit. So that instead of somebody having to take a taxi or Uber down there, you can now, or you will be soon, able to just get on mass transit and go to anywhere else in the city. I think the lack of that has really been holding us back for many decades so this is good news. LAX is one of the really, or the future of LAX, is one of the really good points of this city.

Limited-service hotels is where the most profitability is

Sonnenblick: For the first 25 years of my career in the hospitality business, all we focused on were high-end, four-star luxury hotels. My partners and I built the Loews Hotel at the beach here in Santa Monica, a four-star hotel. But to be honest with you, the real money in our business, and again, I discovered this very late, better late than never, but I discovered it late, when you build select service and limited service, that’s where the real profitability of the industry is.

And as a result, if you look at the last 10 years, probably 95% of the new hotels that have been built across the United States, are limited service and select service. And again, being honest, I discovered that too late. We’re into it now, I wish I had discovered this 15 years ago. But that’s where the real profitability, and future of the industry is.


Sonnenblick: Oh, I think this is fantastic. It gives everybody a chance to really network. And it’s not like it’s all developers — it’s developers and architects and brokers and contractors and things like that. It’s a great opportunity for everybody to get together and just talk. And not just people from L.A., even though this conference is L.A.-based, it’s people from all over the country and even the world. It’s fun to meet people and I enjoy that very much.

Robert Sonnenblick was a delegate at TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Los Angeles 2019. To attend, address or sponsor our boutique hospitality networking events around the world, contact TOPHOTELPROJECTS Head of Global Events & Conferences

Kayley van der Velde.

RENTV’s Greater Los Angeles Development Summit

RENTV's Greater Los Angeles Development Summit

Please join RENTV for our 4th annual Greater Los Angeles Development Summit on Thursday June 13, 2019. At this conference, experts involved with major commercial real estate projects in the Greater LA area – developers, investors, brokers, architects, contractors and capital sources – will discuss:

  • What is being built
  • Where it is being built
  • How it is being built
  • How much it is costing to build
  • How it is being financed

Headline Speakers including:
RenTV 2019 headline speakers
Date: Thursday June 13th at 9am
Location: Doubletree Hilton Hotel-Westside, (Culver City)

RENTV’s Orange County State of the Market Conference Jan 24th 2019

RENTV’s Orange County State of the Market Conference Jan 24th 2019

Save the Date! 

Orange County
State of the Market Conference    

Thursday, January 24, 2019
Find out why the RENTV Conferences are  
highly praised by attendees and speakers!!
Please join RENTV for our 4th Annual Orange County State of the Market Conference on Thursday, January 24, 2019. The conference will feature an expert line-up of speakers providing in-depth analysis of the office, retail, industrial and multifamily markets throughout Orange County. 
The event will kick-off with a networking breakfast at 7:15 AM and wrap up around noon.
The event is being held at:
Hilton Irvine/Orange County Airport Hotel
18800 MacArthur Blvd.
Irvine, CA  92612
7:15 AM until 12:00 Noon.


  • William A. Shopoff
  • President & CEO
  • Shopoff Realty Investments, L.P.


  • George Thomson
  • Senior Managing Director
  • Newmark Knight Frank
  • Anthony DeLorenzo
  • Senior Vice President
  • CBRE
  • Russ Parker
  • Managing Member
  • Parker Properties
  • John Blanchard
  • Partner, Acquisition and Asset Management
  • Greenlaw Partners


  • Rick Putnam
  • Senior Vice President
  • Kidder Mathews
  • CoeSen NgWun
  • Senior Manager of Acquisitions
  • Rexford Industrial
  • Jon Marchiorlatti
  • Vice President, Industrial Development and Acquisitions
  • Shea Properties


  • Stenn Parton
  • Chief Retail Officer
  • DJM Capital Partners
  • Glenn Rudy
  • Senior Managing Director, Capital Markets / Retail Investments
  • Newmark Knight Frank
  • Bob Sonnenblick
  • Chairman
  • Sonnenblick Development, LLC
  • John Read
  • First Vice President
  • CBRE NRP-West


Steven Bloom


  • Paul Julian
  • Principal
  • Advanced Real Estate Services
  • Brent Stoll
  • Acquisitions Director
  • Rose Equities
  • Dan Blackwell, CCIM
  • Senior Vice President
  • CBRE
  • Rob Morgan
  • Senior Vice President, Regional Development Partner
  • JPI Companies
  • Larry Perry
  • Vice President Loan Originations
  • Parkview Financial


Bob Sonnenblick

BobMr. Robert Sonnenblick, Principal of Sonnenblick, LLC, is a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance of the University of Pennsylvania with more than 30 years of experience in various aspects of real estate and real estate finance. From 1981 to 1991 Mr. Sonnenblick was the driving force and power behind Sonnenblick-Goldman Corporation of California. Mr. Sonnenblick completed over $1.5 Billion of commercial real estate transactions on the West Coast and as a result is regarded as one of the West Coast’s leaders in the field of commercial real estate. Among the more notable projects for which Mr. Sonnenblick personally structured the financing for are The Beaudry Center, Los Angeles, California ($197 million), the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Pasadena, California ($97 million), One Waterfront Plaza, Honolulu, Hawaii ($100 million), and the Los Angeles World Trade Center, Los Angeles, California ($55 million).

In 1991 Mr. Sonnenblick was appointed Director of Development for the New Jersey and L.A. MetroMalls, with the responsibility for oversight and direction of the design, financing and leasing programs for two proposed $250 million enclosed regional malls totaling 1.2 million Sq. Ft. each. Mr. Sonnenblick personally oversaw more than 1 million Sq. Ft. of leases in connection with this position as well as arranging the necessary debt and equity financing. The New Jersey project opened to one of the strongest starts in the history of the United States mall industry. In addition, Mr. Sonnenblick was an original development partner of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. This 360-room, $90 million hotel was recently sold for $125 million.

Prior to forming Sonnenblick Development, LLC, Mr. Sonnenblick was the senior partner in a Los Angeles-based real estate development firm (Sonnenblick Del Rio Development) which specialized in public-private partnerships, specifically the development of four major government-leased office buildings throughout the Los Angeles basin. During this tenure, Mr. Sonnenblick successfully developed nearly 1 million square feet of government leased buildings, occupied by such tenants as U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services and Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

Mr. Sonnenblick is a frequent speaker at various real estate-related functions, such as those hosted by Deloitte Touche, ICSC, Value Retail News, Crittenden, USC, UCLA Real Estate Program, IMN Real Estate Conferences and the Institute for International Research, The Opal Group, iGlobal Forum Group, Globe Street/Realshare Conferences and Bloomberg Conferences.

Mr. Sonnenblick is a member of the Advisory Board of the Golf Development Institute, a member of the Board of Real Estate Council of the Century City Chamber of Commerce and is a published author on subjects ranging from architecture to general real estate market conditions. In addition to Mr. Sonnenblick’s expertise in development, finance, joint ventures and equity structuring, Mr. Sonnenblick has also been certified as an expert in the area of real estate bankruptcy/foreclosure. Mr. Sonnenblick is a qualified expert witness in the area of Commercial Real Estate Finance and Interest Rates for the United States Federal Court System in numerous jurisdictions.

1976 to 1980     Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, B.S. in Economics and Finance
1980 to 1982   Real estate financier, Sonnenblick-Goldman Corp., New York NY
1983 to 1992   Real estate financier,  Sonnenblick-Goldman Corp., Los Angeles CA
1993 to 1998  Co-developer and Director of Leasing and Finance, NJ Metromall (now “Jersey Gardens”) a 1.2 million square foot factory outlet mall located on the NJ Turnpike in Elizabeth NJ
1986 to 1998  Development Partner and Director of Finance, The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, a 360 room luxury oceanfront 4-star hotel
1987 to 1997  Equity Partner, The Boca Raton Resort Hotel, a luxury 4- star, 1000 room resort hotel
1999 to 2001  Developed DPSS El Monte #1 (a $39 million class-A office building 100% leased to the County of Los Angeles)
2001 to 2003 Developed DPSS West LA (a $36 million class-A office building 100% leased to the County of Los Angeles)
2003 to 2005  Developed DPSS – El Monte #2 (a $46 million Class-A office building 100% leased to the County of Los Angeles)
2006 to 2007  Developed Flair Plaza Shopping Center in Los Angeles on the I-10 freeway at the Rosemead Blvd. off-ramp
2007 to present   Redeveloped Norwalk Government Center, a 500,000 sq. ft. Class-A office building on Imperial Highway, anchor tenants are State of California (Board of Equalization, Small Business Administration), the County of Los Angeles (Dept. of Public Social Services, Dept. of Children & Family Services, Mental Health Dept., Sheriffs’ Dept.), and the Federal Government (the FBI, Social Security Administration, and Dept. of Homeland Security – Los Angeles County Headquarters)
2011 to present Established Sonnenblick Development LLC, a multi-faceted real estate development company specializing in 4-star oceanfront resort hotel developments across the United States, with a particular focus on high-end golf resorts.  The company also has a secondary focus on development of airport on-property limited service hotels. Bob Sonnenblick is a featured speaker at many global development, hospitality and funding conferences. [Click for upcoming events]