Saturday, January 30, 2010

Downtown Los Angeles 2010: Banks, Mezzanine Lenders and Developers Tussle at the Negotiating Table

Since the Great Depression, bankruptcy -- both personal and corporate -- has cast a long shadow over the American psyche. Whether it was the titans of 20th century commerce canonized in Monopoly -- or the wizards of Wall Street canonized in the last decade -- the greatest financial parties of all time terminate in one brief acronym - BK, or its adoring sibling, foreclosure.

Now, as some mega-projects go under, foreclosure of real estate projects is reaching a new apotheosis. This week, the owners of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village -- a haven for the middle class on the East Side of Manhattan -- handed back the keys to its creditors. Four years ago, Tishman Speyer Properties purchased the 11,227 apartment complex for $5.4 billion dollars -- the largest real estate deal in US history. Their projections of a 13.5% return on capital never came to pass.

Because real estate relies on a large measure debt for its financing, when values drop the equity portion of a deal can very quickly evaporate. CALPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) wrote off its entire $500 million investment in the project (a 26.5% stake). Even the Church of England got punished, losing its $64 million investment in the project. Gross miscalculations based on bubble-era projections turned good money into naught.

The Flat, Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles has its fair share of projects in bankruptcy, and they are shaping the city. The dual-headed Hydra of BK and foreclosure is impacting at least five projects Downtown, according to reports from the Los Angeles Downtown News.
  1. LA Central (South Park, 11th and Figueroa) Wells Fargo is in the process of foreclosing on NY developer the Moinian Group for failure to make payment on its $45.6 million note. The developer is in negotiations with the lender and hopes to keep the land, set to become a $1 billion mega-project near Staples Center.
  2. The Flat (Downtown West, 750 Garland Avenue) China Trust Bank foreclosed on owner 750 Garland LLC after they defaulted on a $23 million construction loan, and later sold the project to private equity fund SA Properties for $20 million. The rental building's cash flows were likely attracted the new investors.
  3. EVO South (South Park, 11th and Grand) The mezzanine lender, Westport Capital Partners, took over the project after Portland-based South Group stepped away from its loan on this 311-unit condo project. The building continues to sell units, uninterrupted by this transfer in ownership.
  4. Santee Village (Fashion District, 716 S Los Angeles Street) Bank of America now owns the four condominium building project after investor Patriot Group and developer MJW investments defaulted on its $47 million loan. One of the buildings never opened and probably will not any time soon.
  5. Brockman Building (Jewelry District, 7th and Grand) Developer West Millenium Group defaulted on its $35 million loan for this 12-story condominium projects, but has not yet been foreclosed upon by lender Bank of America.
In the best of times, developers and investors project mighty cash flows and dramatic increases in the value of their assets. When times don't prove so flush, they run for cover -- and in the process may lose a building or two.

Who will benefit from this financial churn? Buyers and renters. There is a lot of discounting going on, and others' losses will prove to be their gains.