Where’s Harry Macklowe?
Has the once mighty real estate titan taken a wind-powered voyage on his sailboat, Unfurled, to some mysterious locale still untouched by rumors of his catastrophic fall from the acme of Manhattan real estate?
More likely, he’s in a well-appointed office in one of his manifold trophy buildings, hammering out some sort of ingenious deal to save himself from his $7 billion worth of debt, and to retain some stake in his beloved of beloveds, the GM Building.
Filtering through the layers of speculation surrounding Mr. Macklowe is akin to finding Waldo in his red-and-white-striped cartoon universe. Especially since the developer has kept his dealings close beneath his (metaphorical) red-and-white-striped hat.
“No update,” said his spokesman, Steve Solomon.
Of course, that hasn’t kept real estate types from speculating. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.
“At every meeting I attend, we start the discussion by talking about Macklowe,” said Eric Michael Anton, the executive managing director of Eastern Consolidated. “Everyone’s talking about it all day long. But I’m amazed by how little is spilling out.”
Just remember, a mere four months ago, real estate types were fixated on the marketing of Mr. Macklowe’s prized GM Building—the striped marble trophy at 767 Fifth Avenue that he bought in 2003 for what was then an astonishing $1.4 billion. Last year, in what was at the time considered a brilliant move, Mr. Macklowe used the GM Building as collateral in his $7 billion purchase of the seven-tower Equity Office Portfolio, which includes Worldwide Plaza at 825 Eighth Avenue; 1301 Avenue of the Americas; Park Avenue Tower at 65 East 55th Street; 527 Madison Avenue; 1540 Broadway; 850 Third Avenue; and Tower 56 at 126 East 56th Street.
But then Mr. Macklowe got sideswiped by that cursed credit crisis. He wasn’t able to get an equity partner or refinancing to help repay his lenders.
A source familiar with the negotiations set the stage for us:
“In the face of a market that is crumbling, Macklowe is visibly under duress, because he’s in the papers all the time and the banks will wipe him out. There is blood in the water.”
So, he tried to sell the GM Building, but all the bids, including from Mort Zuckerman and Larry Silverstein, came up short, said the source.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to many, Mr. Macklowe was quietly marketing a stake in his other buildings. Not, mind you, the Equity Office portfolio, which, despite its name, does not have much equity in it, but rather his GM Building and his less leveraged (and more valuable) holdings, like 125 West 55th Street; 1330 Avenue of the Americas; 510 Madison Avenue, which he’s developing; 400 Madison Avenue; 540 Madison Avenue; and 610 Broadway.
In other words, Mr. Macklowe began marketing the opportunity to invest in his other portfolio of buildings, while still retaining a stake in them.
To whom would such a deal be attractive? Not the Larry Silversteins of the world, who’d rather own a building outright, said the source familiar with the negotiations.
“For a lot of the Canadians, because of the tax treaties between the two countries, it’s better for them to be in the minority positions. And the guy in the Middle East, what does he know about New York real estate? He can invest his money passively, and enjoy the benefits of having a local expert.”
The speculation that a structured deal is in the works was backed up by a separate source, also familiar with the negotiations.
“I’m told that they’re close to some structured deal that values the GM Building around $2.9 or $3 billion,” he said. “I think it will be sold. I don’t see how it cannot be, and be resolved in any shape and form.”
These sales matter, not just because of the sheer enormity of the portfolios on the market right now, but because they’ll provide a marker for the prices of future Manhattan investment sales.
“It will serve as a gauge for where the market is going,” said one commercial real estate bigwig. “It will certainly have an impact on sales prices.”
But in the absence of any concrete information, would-be buyers and would-be sellers sit tight. And wait. And gossip.
“If we’re selling a hotel, we start by talking about Macklowe; if we’re selling a development site, we start by talking about Macklowe,” said Mr. Anton. “You’ve got two of the biggest deals in history, plus you’ve got the Drake Hotel, arguably one of the best development sites in the city, in play. There’s so much in play, there’s so much to gossip about.”