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Saturday, June 23, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.
Local Goldman Sachs portfolio faces receivership suit
By Eric Pryne
Seattle Times business reporter
Lenders who helped finance a Goldman Sachs affiliate's purchase of 11 Seattle-area office buildings just before the crash have asked a judge to appoint a receiver to take over the big, troubled portfolio, saying their investment is at imminent risk.
Whitehall Street Global Real Estate, a Goldman real-estate arm, defaulted in April on about $900 million in loans it took out in 2007 to buy the Seattle and Eastside properties, which total about 2.6 million square feet.
Whitehall and its lenders still are negotiating, according to a recent report from the servicer of the most-senior debt, CT Investment Management of New York.
But in a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court this week, the servicer said a receiver should take control now because the portfolio's value and financial performance are slipping, and Whitehall isn't doing much about it.
The buildings and complexes include downtown Seattle's 34-story 1111 Third Avenue, downtown Bellevue's 25-story Symetra Financial Center and 21-story One Bellevue Center, and the woodsy Bellefield Office Park in South Bellevue.
An appraisal earlier this year valued the 11 properties at $617 million, about two-thirds what Whitehall owes on them.
The portfolio, 96 percent leased when Whitehall bought it, now is nearly 40 percent vacant, according to commercial real-estate database Officespace.com
"Despite improving market conditions in the local office market, occupancy in [Whitehall's] buildings continues to decline," CT contends in its motion for a receiver.
Other landlords are moving aggressively to lure remaining tenants whose leases expire soon, CT adds, but Whitehall "either cannot or will not respond to these market pressures."
The buildings have "a negative public image" and Whitehall may "walk away" from them, exacerbating their problems, CT contends.
The servicer asked the court to appoint as receiver Bill Pollard, a former top office broker who now heads a Kirkland private-equity real-estate investment firm. A court hearing is scheduled July 2.
Whitehall's parent, Goldman Sachs, did not respond to a request for comment Friday. CT's Seattle lawyer and Pollard could not be reached.
In a court document, Pollard said he's been consulting for the past year for "one or more" of Whitehall's lenders, and so is familiar with the buildings.
Walton Street Capital, a Chicago real-estate investment firm, is likely to wind up controlling the buildings once Whitehall works things out with its lenders.
Real-estate sources say Pollard has been working with Walton Street and will oversee the portfolio for the firm.
Whitehall paid about $935 million for the 11 buildings near the market's peak, borrowing almost all of it. When the interest-only debt matured in April and all the principal came due, Whitehall didn't repay it.
The default was widely anticipated. Credit-rating agency Fitch predicted it two years ago.
Washington Mutual's collapse in 2008 hit the portfolio hard; the bank had leased big chunks of 1111 Third and the neighboring Second & Spring Building in downtown Seattle.
Both buildings still are more than 50 percent vacant, according to Officespace.com.
Walton Street emerged as Whitehall's likely successor last spring when it purchased several piece's of Whitehall's debt with a total face value of $311 million for about 60 cents on the dollar. Walton's pieces were in the middle of the "debt stack" — subordinate to $436 million in more-senior debt — but they included the first slice that likely won't be repaid in full, giving Walton a controlling position in the event of default.
Whitehall's larger tenants include insurance company Symetra, in its namesake tower; law firm Foster Pepper, in 1111 Third; and Coinstar, owner of the Redbox movie-rental business, in Bellefield Office Park.
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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