July 09, 2008

New York's Chrysler Building Bought by Abu Dhabi Fund

New York's Chrysler Building, the Art Deco icon that helps define the New York skyline, was bought by an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, the second purchase of a Manhattan landmark by Middle Eastern investors in as many months.
Rick Maiman
The skyscraper at 405 Lexington Ave., the world's tallest building until 1931, was acquired tuesday by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council for an undisclosed price. Last month a Dubai fund, Boston Properties Inc., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. paid $2.8 billion for the General Motors Building.
Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and other Persian Gulf countries flush with oil revenue have taken advantage of falling prices to invest in real estate and financial companies around the world. Middle Eastern investors have spent $1.8 billion this year on commercial property in America, more than other international buyers, according to Real Capital Analytics Inc., a New York-based property research firm.

"We're sending our money their way" to purchase oil, "and that money is coming back and buying our assets," a market analysis director at Real Capital, Dan Fasulo, said.

Abu Dhabi Investment Council acquired the Chrysler Building from a fund managed by Prudential Financial Inc., a spokeswoman for the Newark, N.J.-based insurer, Theresa Miller, said. A spokesman for Tishman Speyer Properties LP, Rick Matthews, which owns a minority stake in the tower, declined to comment. Abu Dhabi Investment Council is prohibited by law from discussing its investments, an official said when contacted by telephone yesterday.

The Abu Dhabi fund was set to pay about $800 million for the Chrysler Building, said a person with knowledge of the transaction on June 11. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates.

The 77-story tower, designed by William Van Alen, was completed in 1930 on behalf of then-owner Chrysler Corp. and its founder Walter Chrysler. At 1,046 feet, the Chrysler Building was the world's tallest skyscraper before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building a year later.
Much of the Chrysler Building's fa├žade is made of metal and its tower has a tapered stainless-steel crown that supports a 185-foot spire. The building is decorated with silver-colored hood ornaments that jut out from its setbacks.
TMW Real Estate Group, an Atlanta-based investment company acquired by Prudential, bought the Chrysler Building stake in 2001 for $300 million. It was the final property sold by Prudential from a series of funds managed for German investors, mainly insurance companies, Ms. Miller said.
Prudential has been selling New York buildings it owned with Tishman to take advantage of gains in property values. Last year it sold 666 Fifth Ave., a 1.5 million square-foot skyscraper for $1.8 billion. It also divested the Lipstick Building, an elliptical East Side tower designed by Philip Johnson, for about $649 million.
While New York office building prices have dropped between 10% and 15% from last year's market peak, Ms. Miller said Prudential's clients are pleased with the price. "Our clients got annual returns of about 20% after taxes," she said.
Japanese investors spent $78 billion on American properties between the late 1980s and 1995. Many of these transactions, including Mitsubishi Estate's 1989 purchase of Manhattan's Rockefeller Center for $895 million, came just before an American recession sent real estate values plummeting. As a result, the Japanese investors lost an estimated 50% to 80% of their money during the period.

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