Chicago deal shows Tishman Speyer going back to basics

By Dow Jones Newswires
Posted Dec. 22, 2010 at 7:56 a.m.

Tishman Speyer Properties’ purchase of a new Chicago office tower is the latest sign that the firm is going back to the basics as it emerges from one of the most devastating commercial real-estate cycles in decades.

Its purchase of 353 N. Clark St. for $385 million, an estimated $55 million less than it cost to build, also exposes the fault lines as well as the opportunities for investors and owners as the market recovers.

Tishman Speyer built its reputation in the office market. But during the boom years it played a leading role in the ill-fated acquisitions of multifamily company Archstone-Smith Trust and Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village apartment complex.

Those deals and a few others collapsed, tarnishing the firm’s image. Now, as it puts its problems behind it, Tishman Speyer is cranking up its deal engine focusing on the types of acquisitions it knows best.

Besides 353 N. Clark, sold by Mesirow Financial, Tishman also announced this week that it bought a 327,000-square-foot office building along the Seine River in a suburb of Paris for about $131 million. It also said it is buying back a majority stake in and regaining sole ownership of a three-building Silicon Valley office complex in California where Juniper Networks has its headquarters.

These purchases make it clear that Tishman Speyer will continue to be a major player, despite its problems in recent years. Tishman Speyer, which has invested in more than $50 billion of property since 1978, owns more than 50 million square feet globally.

Also, any losses the firm suffered were shared among investors. Principals Jerry Speyer and son Rob Speyer also put some of their own money into deals. But, like most successful developers, they attracted numerous individuals and institutions eager to invest alongside them.

The Speyers, who declined to comment, have said in the past that their firm has made more than 20 percent annual returns on investments since its inception three decades ago.

Some of these investors and others are sticking with Tishman Speyer. The firm has more than $2 billion available from its prerecession fund-raising efforts. It also has succeeded in raising fresh money, particularly to shore up some of its troubled office-building deals, like its purchase in 2006 of the CarrAmerica portfolio in Washington, D.C., from private-equity firm Blackstone Group LP in a deal valued at $2.8 billion

“As long as investment managers are honest and upfront about what went wrong, their investors tend to be understanding,” said Greg MacKinnon, director of research for the Pension Real Estate Association.

The value of Tishman Speyer’s property acquisitions globally has risen from about $99 million in 2009 to about $1.06 billion this year. The dollar volume of its sales also has increased from $500 million last year to about $1.9 billion this year.

The Chicago deal shows that there is plenty of opportunity out there. The developer of the 1.2-million-square-foot tower, a venture led by Mesirow Financial, was under pressure from about $374 million in debt coming due last month, including a construction loan held by Hypo Real Estate Holding AG and a mezzanine loan of about $44 million, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Mesirow, which was represented by Jones Lang LaSalle in the deal, declined to comment.

Tishman Speyer also benefited from the return of the commercial mortgage-backed securities market as a debt financing source. It will provide about 50 percent to 60 percent of the purchase price in the 353 N. Clark deal, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

The building’s annual net income of about $21 million represents about a 5.5 percent return on the purchase price. Tishman Speyer can boost that return because the building is only 79 percent leased.

But there are market risks, too. Chicago’s office-vacancy rate rose to 16 percent in the third quarter from 15.5 percent in the year-earlier period, and average asking rents fell to $22.55 a square foot from $22.92, according to CoStar Group Inc.

The River North submarket where the building is located has seen its vacancy rate rise to 18.1 percent from 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 as it still is struggling to absorb new space, including some of the empty floors in 353 N. Clark.

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