Tuesday, October 27, 2009

8 Bankrupt Projects Shaping Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles High-Rise ViewThere's plenty of good news to celebrate in Downtown Los Angeles residential real estate. A few major, recent, high-profile projects are more than 2/3 sold (Ritz Carlton at LA Live, EVO South, Rowan Lofts, Barker Block). Prices are off 20% or (significantly) more from their 2005 - 2006 highs. Downtown LA, ironically, is among the most affordable and most dynamic residential neighborhoods in the city.

However, what was conceived, purchased, and designed in the exuberant mid-2000s is now coming to market in maundering 2009. Developer equity has evaporated, bank loans are underwater, and some of these projects and their owners are facing Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The Los Angeles Downtown News summarized the projects:

  1. Concerto – 900 S Figueroa Street – All eyes are on South Park’s mega-project, Concerto. On August 29, a much-promoted auction attracted broad buyer interest and all 77 lofts units “sold” at the event – which was intended to fund construction of the uncompleted 271-unit tower. A few weeks later, developer Astani filed Chapter 11 after its major funder Corus Bank was taken over by the FDIC. The FDIC wants to get out of the auction contracts believing the sale prices were too low. A court ruling today makes it seem that the units may indeed get released to buyers.
  2. The Roosevelt – 727 W Seventh Street -- The 222-unit Roosevelt, which was designed as a condo building, is now being leased. The website still advertises.”Have It All. Luxury condominium loft residencies from the mid-$500,000s to over $1,000,000. Planned Move-ins First Quarter 2009.”
  3. The Flat – 750 S Garland Avenue – a former Holiday Inn was transformed into a 206-unit apartment building that also houses trendy dining spot Blue Velvet. Although the project is 90% occupied, the developer defaulted on its $23 million loan and filed for Chapter 11 protection. Ultimately, a judge allowed the bank to repossess the property.
  4. 705 W 9th Street – Developer Meruelo Maddux, Downtown’s largest landlord, declared Chapter 11 in March and is going through reorganization. Despite the project’s woes, they are currently proceeding with leasing.
  5. Title Guarantee Building – 411 W Fifth Street. This building opened two years ago as a rental and went into Chapter 11 this February.
  6. Brockman Building – 530 W Seventh Street. Many may know this building as the home to Downtown hotspot Bottega Louie. The cost of updating the 80-unit office building rose from $16 million to $35 million early on, portending ill for the project. The developer filed Chapter 7 after defaulting on a $35 million loan.
  7. Santee Village – 716 S Los Angeles Street. At the edge of the Fashion District, Santee Village, a hugely ambitious 780,000 sq ft, seven building development failed to achieve its sales goals. In April, the developer declared bankruptcy, exited the project, and its assets were sold off. The project has about 300 condo units and 150 rental units. One of the seven buildings is not occupied, and two are only 30% occupied.
  8. Blossom Plaza Project – Broadway & College Street. Blossom Plaza was planned at the site of Little Joe’s restaurant, which had operated for 101 years at this site in Old Chinatown (but closed in 1998 because the owner’s couldn’t afford to retrofit the building). This transit-oriented project which received more than $9 million in public investment, was to include 262 apartments. The developer filed Chapter 11 and the project is now in the hands of original equity partner Morgan Stanley.
Although the failure of these projects has brought great distress to equity partners, banks and developers, the public that will benefit from the BKs through lower condo prices and a softer, more affordable rental market.