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For Sale

Price on former Enron tower could reach $125 million

September 12, 2003


It stood as an example of incredible success, vast wealth, corporate hubris and ultimately -- shame, greed and ruin.

Wanna buy it?

Enron Corp.'s 50-story corporate headquarters in downtown Houston up for sale. The once high-flying Texas-based energy conglomerate that became the symbol of corporate wrongdoing is now trying to survive in bankruptcy.

Granite Partners LLC, a New York investment banking firm, is handling the sale of the 1.27 million square-foot building now known as 1400 Smith Street.

"The property is an icon of the CBD skyline and benefits from a surrounding system of green belts, landscaped plazas, reflection pools and fountains, all features which cannot be replaced elsewhere within competing Skyline Corridor office buildings," Granite Partners said in a written statement.

John S. Dailey, senior vice president and director of investment services for PM Realty Group in Houston, called it a "fantastic building."

Tenants looking for a deal on leased space may be able to find one in the Enron building.

"The downtown (Houston) market was the hardest hit by the Enron collapse," Dailey said in an email response to questions posed by MortgageDaily.com. "Because of the abundance of Class A (office) space available in downtown, rates have plummeted as well. A tenant of significant square footage can probably make a deal in the mid-high teens 'gross' now where they would have paid mid-20s gross pre-Enron collapse."

According to a tracking report done by CB Richard Ellis Houston's Class "A" office vacancy rate was 18% in the second quarter of 2003, compared to 17.1% in the first quarter and 9.2% in the second quarter of last year.

Will Penland, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis' Houston office, described the building as "very great." It could might wet the appetite of institutional investors -- pension funds, insurance companies, REITs -- looking to increase holdings in a real estate portfolio, he said.

"The market in Houston for investment properties has been outstanding," Penland said in a phone interview. "There 's no question, the recession is over in Houston."

The energy sector, which drives the Houston economy, is starting to rebound, Penland said. Oil companies are hiring for repair work in Iraq and higher fuel prices are increasing the demand for drilling.

"The market is good, and as a result, I think it will sell," he said.

How about price?

Dailey said he has heard wide ranges from $50 to $100 per square foot. "My opinion is $50-$60," he said.

Penland goes higher, in the upper range of $50 to $100.

Sanford Criner, a principal with the tenant representation firm of Trione & Gordon in Houston, agreed with Penland's estimation.

"The downtown office market is very soft across the country, demand is very soft," Criner said in a phone interview. "It's a good building, but it's simply a difficult time to be selling buildings."

Whatever the final price it will be "a lot less than if we were in a stronger market," Criner said.

Experts don't predict interest to wane because the building was developed by such an infamous company.

"When you're talking about an asset of this size, with this much money involved, people are very dispassionate," Criner said.

Using the upper-end range of $100, the ticket on 1.27 million square feet could reach $127 million.

Potential buyers can receive documents describing the sale, tour the building and review other pertinent material through Sept. 19, the day when formal bids are due. Granite said a purchase agreement is expected to be finalized by Nov. 7 with the sale slated to close no later than Dec. 5. U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston must approve the sale.

The building is actually owned by Brazos Holdings, but most of the money will go to creditors. The building is assessed for tax purposes at $92.5 million but has a mortgage of $270 million. JP Morgan Chase is the primary lender on the building.

Patrick Crowley is a political reporter and columnist and former business writer for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Email Patrick at: [email protected]

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