Published on December 16, 2013 by Bethany Firnhaber in the LA Business Journal

A deal struck earlier this month by Hines Real Estate Investment Trust Inc. to purchase the expansive Howard Hughes Center for an estimated $506 million, or about $384 a square foot, might reaffirm L.A.’s reputation as an attractive market for national real estate investors.

The Houston REIT disclosed the pending transaction in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, outlining its intent to purchase the 1.32 million-square-foot office campus from New York’s Blackstone Group. Hines has paid Blackstone a $30 million nonrefundable deposit for the property and expects the sale to close on or before Jan. 15.

Bob Safai, a founding partner of West LA real estate services firm Madison Partners who is familiar with the property but was not involved in the deal, said the sale bodes well for the L.A. market generally.

“This just continues to prove that Los Angeles is a very strong market for institutional investors who are looking to place money in strong assets,” he said.

The Howard Hughes Center consists of five Class A office buildings and an athletic club on about 13 acres just west of the 405 freeway in Westchester. It is adjacent to the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, a nearly 250,000-square-foot outdoor mall at 6081 Center Drive anchored by an 18-screen cinema.

The Promenade, owned by Irvine real estate investment firm Passco Co., has been on the market for about three months.

Arty Maharajh, vice president of research in the downtown L.A. office of Cassidy Turley Inc., said the big-ticket purchase will actually be a relative bargain for Hines, which has lately made more expensive purchases on a per-square-foot basis in other major U.S. markets. Just last week, for example, the firm acquired a nine-story building in Washington for nearly $142 million, or about $532 a square foot.

“Los Angeles continues to be a bargain for firms that want to buy classy core buildings,” he said. “At $384 a square foot and a low 5.5 percent capitalization rate, this sale will be one of the best bargains to be had in Los Angeles. You can’t buy at those rates in other major markets.”

Familiar turf

Hines owns more than a dozen properties countywide, so it is no stranger to the L.A. commercial real estate market. The most prominent of those are downtown L.A.’s 48-story Citigroup Center at 444 S. Flower St., acquired for $275 million in 2008, and a 19-story tower at 12100 Wilshire Blvd. in West Los Angeles, picked up for $225 million in 2007.

This year, it seems, the company has concentrated its L.A. efforts on the southern end of Silicon Beach. In addition to the pending deal with Blackstone, Hines in May bought a four-building Class A office campus in Playa Vista. According to CoStar Group Inc., the firm paid $218 million, or $643 a square foot, for the Tishman-Speyer project at 12015-12045 Waterfront Drive, dubbed Campus at Playa Vista. Construction of the 325,000-square-foot project was completed in 2009.

A spokeswoman for Hines declined to comment on the company’s most recent activity in Los Angeles, but in a statement the company released in the spring after the purchase of the Playa Vista property, Chief Executive Sherri Schugart said the company had pinpointed the southern coastal markets in Los Angeles for investment.
“We were attracted to this property due to its strong tenancy, recent construction, excellent access and long-term prospects for this emerging west L.A. submarket,” she said.

Hines has also been working to push through a development plan it has for a site at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica to build a 737,000-square-foot mixed-use project that would include 472 apartments, nearly 375,000 square feet of creative office and 29,000 square feet for retail and restaurants.The Howard Hughes Center shares many of the qualities Hines found attractive about the Playa Vista campus. Constructed between 1987 and 2002, the property was about 88 percent leased to 93 tenants at the time of the agreement.

Major tenants include Univision Communications Inc., Sony Corp. and Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management and Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Blackstone, one of the largest office landlords in the nation by square footage, acquired the complex in 2006 when, in a joint acquisition with Brookfield Office Properties Inc., it bought Trizec Properties Inc. and its 42-property portfolio for $7.2 billion.

Maharajh said Blackstone’s sale of the Howard Hughes Center was a continuation of an ongoing divestment.

Earlier this year, the firm sold seven other properties it acquired in the Trizec deal – three in Pasadena and four in San Diego – to Prudential Financial Inc. for about $400 million.

“Blackstone has been a seller in recent quarters, so this disposition is kind of par for the course for them,” he said.

Blackstone did not return requests for comment.

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