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October 20, 2011 3:36 PM

Real Estate Wrap: Firms Grab Roles on Property Deals

Posted by Brian Baxter

In one of a spate of recent real estate deals generating work for Am Law 100 lawyers, New York–based private retirement provider TIAA-CREF said this week that it has signed up Dutch pension fund APG as its partner in investments totaling roughly $1.5 billion in five U.S. shopping malls.

TIAA-CREF holds a 50 percent share in each of those malls, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that APG is paying about $375 million for a 49 percent stake in TIAA-CREF's interests in the malls. Both funds are contributing capital to the joint venture and are considering buying additional malls, according to industry publication Pensions & Investments.

TIAA-CREF took its half-share in four of the malls via a joint venture with CBL & Associates Properties that was announced earlier this month, the Journal reported. The pension provider bought a 50 percent stake in the fifth mall in a separate deal with the Sydney, Australia–based Westfield Group in January.

Ropes & Gray real estate partners Jason Dunn and Peter Alpert and tax partner Daniel Kolb are advising APG on its agreement with TIAA-CREF. The firm advised APG's parent company, Dutch pension fund Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP, two years ago when its Imagem unit acquired the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog of songs and shows.

Allen Parker, senior counsel for APG Asset Management in New York, a U.S. affiliate of APG, and Leo Palmen, general counsel of ABP Investments, another APG unit, are providing in-house counsel to APG on the joint venture.

Seyfarth Shaw senior real estate counsel Lester Bliwise in New York is advising TIAA-CREF, along with real estate partner Eric Sidman and tax partner Steven Crainer. Brandon Becker, a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner, serves as TIAA-CREF's chief legal officer. The organization's general counsel is Jonathan Feigelson; Harvard Law School professor Howell Jackson sits on its board of trustees.

Yaacov Gross, cochair of the real estate capital markets practice at Goulston & Storrs in New York, is advising Chattanooga, Tennessee–based CBL on its joint venture with TIAA-CREF. CBL's general counsel is Victoria Berghel.

Four World Financial Center Changes Hands

Toronto-based Brookfield Office Properties, owner of Zuccotti Park—the home base of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests—added to its lower Manhattan holdings this week by increasing its stake in Four World Financial Center, the former headquarters of Merrill Lynch.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Brookfield has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to acquire the 49 percent of the building it does not already own from Bank of America, which acquired Merrill in 2008. The 34-story office tower is part of the four-building World Financial Center complex that sits about a half-dozen blocks from Zuccotti Park. The WSJ put the value of Bank of America's WFC stake at between $225 million and $250 million.

While Merrill's Four World Financial Center lease expires in 2013, BofA has agreed to keep more than a quarter of the office space it inherited in the building, according to the WSJ.

Brookfield general counsel Brett Fox, a former associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and assistant general counsel Michelle Campbell, a former associate at Canadian firm Torys, did not respond to requests for comment on whether the company relied on outside legal advisers for the transaction. A Brookfield spokeswoman did not respond to a similar request.

J. Philip Rosen, cochair of the real estate practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether his firm is advising Brookfield on the deal. Rosen and Weil have previously handled transactional work for Brookfield, as has Willkie Farr & Gallagher, which said that it is not playing a role in this matter.

Weil has another key Brookfield connection: senior real estate counsel John Zuccotti, a former New York City deputy mayor, onetime chairman of the city's planning commission, and current cochairman of Brookfield's board.

Zuccotti, for whom Zuccotti Park is named, once served as president and CEO of Olympia & York Companies, which owned three of the four buildings that make up the World Financial Center before filing for bankruptcy in the mid-1990s. (Brookfield subsequently acquired Olympia's stake in several Manhattan properties.)

A BofA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the company's outside legal advisers on the transaction. The Charlotte-based banking giant posted a $6.23 billion quarterly profit this week, according to SEC filings and news reports, thanks in part to the sale of some strategic assets. Bank of America's general counsel is Edward O'Keefe, who moved into the post two years ago.

Times Change for NYC's Clock Tower Building

Africa Israel Investments, also known as AFI Group, announced this week that it plans to sell the Clock Tower Building, which overlooks New York's Madison Square Park, to an undisclosed buyer for $165 million. Tel Aviv, Israel–based AFI bought the 41-story building, located at 5 Madison Avenue, for $200 million in 2007, according to sibling publication GlobeSt.com.

Built in 1889, the landmark skyscraper was known as the MetLife Tower prior to being sold to SL Green Realty, a New York-based Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in 2005. The building has been vacant since then, with various plans to convert it to luxury condominiums, a hotel, and retail space all collapsing, according to news reports.

Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman real estate associates Douglas Heitner and Ashley Lostritto are advising AFI on the sale, according to GlobeSt. Laurie Golub serves as AFI's general counsel and managing director of business affairs. Reuters reports that the sale is expected to close in December.

Stake Sold in Singapore's Ocean Financial Centre

Singapore-based property developer Keppel Land announced this week that it will sell its 87.5 percent stake in the Ocean Financial Centre, a 43-story office tower in Singapore's financial district, to K-REIT Asia Management for nearly $1.6 billion.

The deal calls for Keppel Land, which owns a 46.4 percent stake in K-REIT, to sell its stake in the building to K-REIT for 99 years, at the end of which Keppel Land has the option to buy the property back for $1. At a time when rental rates in Singapore remain steady despite the global financial crisis, about 80 percent of the building is leased, according to a joint press release issued by K-REIT and Keppel Land.

The transaction is expected to close in November. A K-REIT spokeswoman tells The Am Law Daily that Clifford Chance and Singapore firms Allen & Gledhill and WongPartnership are advising K-REIT and Keppel Land on the transaction.

Khirn Hai Yeo, a senior partner at WongPartnership, is a member of Singapore's parliament and serves on the board of directors for Keppel Land's parent company Keppel Corporation. Lee Ai Ming, a senior partner and head of the intellectual property and technology practice at Singapore firm Rodyk & Davidson, serves on Keppel Land's board.

Bloomberg reports that the price of K-REIT shares tumbled following the company's announcement that it planned to sell shares at a discount to existing shareholders in order to raise money to finance the Ocean Financial Centre acquisition. 

Ocean Financial Centre, which opened on August 31, is home to top Singapore law firms Drew & Napier and Stamford Law, according to the statement by K-REIT and Keppel Land.

British Retailer Finds New Home as London Market Stays Hot

Debenhams, a leading department store chain in the United Kingdom, unveiled plans last month to lease 145,000 square feet of space for a new West London headquarters scheduled be completed in 2013.

Debenhams, which operates more than 150 stores in the U.K. and Ireland, plans to occupy four floors—roughly 40 percent—of a mixed-use site at 10 Brock Street called Regent's Place, according to U.K. publication Legal Week.

British firm SJ Berwin is advising British Land, a London-based REIT and one of the largest property owners in the U.K., which is leasing the space to Debenhams for 25 years. Legal Week reports that British Land is a longtime client of SJ Berwin. LG, another British firm, has taken the lead advising Debenhams on the lease.

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