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Chicago : Construction loan on hold for Waterview Tower


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Construction loan on hold for Waterview Tower

 

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By Alby Gallun, Nov. 05, 2008

 

(Crain) — About seven months after agreeing to finance the 90-story Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel, the Export-Import Bank of China has gotten cold feet over the stalled Wacker Drive development.

 

The Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel at 111 W. Wacker Drive remains unfinished.

 

The bank’s refusal to approve a $400-million construction loan for the condominium-and-hotel high-rise reduces the already slim chances that the building’s current developer, a group led by Teng & Associates Inc. President and CEO Ivan Dvorak, will be able to finish the luxury project. And it increases the odds that Bank of America Corp. will move to foreclose on the property at 111 W. Wacker Drive.

 

The Export-Import Bank has put the financing on hold until the U.S. economy improves and it sees “signs that there is a market for the condominiums,” says Zac Henson, CEO of the U.S. subsidiary of Beijing Construction Engineering Group Ltd., which was arranging the loan.

 

While that could be a very long time, he stopped short of saying the loan had been denied.

 

“We’re not pushing rewind, we’re not pushing eject, we’re just pushing pause,” Mr. Henson says. “I certainly think that the for-sale condo market in the U.S. needs to rebound” for the bank to reconsider the loan.

 

The bank’s decision leaves Mr. Dvorak in a tough spot. He has been courting equity partners for the $500-million project for some time, and more recently has been trying to sell off its hotel, condo and parking components separately, according to people familiar with the development.

 

Under one scenario, the developer would finish the hotel and sell the rights to build the condos later, when the condo market recovers. But running a luxury hotel while construction is under way on the building’s upper floors would be extremely disruptive and a potential deal-killer. Another option: Convert the current structure, a 26-story concrete shell, into apartments.

 

“They’re looking for anything, any option for a transaction,” says one person aware of Mr. Dvorak’s plans.

 

Mr. Dvorak and Teng executive Sean McMahon did not return phone calls for comment.

 

Unlike most developers, who don’t break ground until they get a construction loan, Mr. Dvorak and his partners financed the early construction of the Waterview project with their own money, betting that they could secure a loan later. They took out a $20-million bridge loan from Chicago-based LaSalle Bank N.A. in February 2007, but financing sources started to dry up several months later as the credit markets froze.

 

With U.S. banks halting most construction lending, Mr. Dvorak looked overseas for a savior and seemed to have found one in April, when the Export-Import Bank said it would finance the project. But as the loan approval process dragged on and panic gripped the financial markets this fall, the financing looked increasingly shaky.

 

LaSalle has already extended its loan once, but the bank’s new owner, Bank of America, probably won’t be as patient given the project’s dimming prospects. The loan has yet to be transferred to Bank of America’s workout group, but it may be only a matter of time before the bank files a foreclosure suit, say the people familiar with the project. A bank spokesman declines to comment.

 

Construction firms walked off the job several months ago, and liens for unpaid bills from them have been piling up. The list of firms that are owed money include Teng, a Chicago-based architecture and engineering firm, and its affiliates, which together have filed liens on the project for more than $32 million.

 

Buyers have signed contracts for 156, or 67%, of the residential condos in the building, according to Chicago-based consulting firm Appraisal Research Counselors. With an average price of more than $800 a square foot, the condos are among the most expensive in new buildings in the city.

 

The tower’s 200 hotel units are also being sold off individually as condos; buyers have signed contracts for 80 of the condo-hotel units, or 40%, according to Appraisal Research.

 

Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel chain that would run the hotel, remains committed to the development, according to an executive.

 

The developer “has fulfilled its obligations to us,” says Shangri-La Regional Vice-president Stephen Darling. “We’re excited about the project and we hope that everything will materialize as it should.”

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