What a difference three and a half years have made for Robert Maguire.

Suddenly, the 65-year-old developer, who had been written off as something of a has-been when Playa Vista talks turned ugly, has become the toast of the town.

The Downtown Breakfast Club honored him and his Library Tower at their 20th annual Roses and Lemons Awards breakfast. Days later, he helped pull off a settlement of the three-week janitors' strike. Basking in his newfound popularity, Maguire seemed like a Hollywood celebrity or rock star signing strikers' T-shirts and receiving wild cheers when he appeared in the union lot after the contract vote.

Lifting Maguire's boat higher still has been his spate of recent real estate deals. Among other things, his MaguirePartners will soon score a windfall of close to $160 million from the sale of MGM Plaza in Santa Monica and property in the Dallas-Forth Worth area.

It's all a world away from November 1996, when the Business Journal ran the headline: "DreamWorks: Maguire's nightmare; Playa Vista project just one of the developer's woes; once mighty empire is sinking."

"They're chasing the ends of rainbows and genuinely have no sense of reality or practicality," DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg said of MaguirePartners at the time.

Along with being publicly scolded for delays at Playa Vista, where DreamWorks had planned to build a studio campus, Maguire was weathering the departure of several partners and financial problems with high-profile projects, including MGM Plaza.

These days, Maguire remains involved with Playa Vista, where he plans to develop a 3.2 million-square-foot commercial campus, while DreamWorks is long gone, having abandoned its plans last summer.

"He has more than nine lives. You don't want to bet against the guy," said David Thurman, senior vice president at Grubb & Ellis Co. "Just when you think he's down and out and his enemies have him trapped, he finds a way out, turns a project around and makes a lot of money."

Others agree that Maguire has always been adept at bouncing back, but in the process, he's ruffled a lot of feathers, tying up properties in bankruptcy or litigation. Some even scoff at his role in the janitors' contract talks.

"He rides in on a white horse and says, 'I solved it,'" said one real estate source who asked not to be named. "He's a bizarre guy, but a brilliant guy."

For his part, Maguire said he agreed to act as a catalyst to resolve the standoff between the contractors and janitors' union. And he did put in a lot of hours.

"I wanted to have a voice. I thought there was an inequity that needed to be addressed," Maguire said. "I wanted to broker it and see if we could get it put to bed. I'm not terribly patient. This takes an awful long time to get a dime negotiated."

Triana Silton, coordinator of the Justice for Janitors campaign, said Maguire played a leadership role. "He understood the plight of the workers," she said. "He was looking for a way to bring the contractors and union together."

Maguire's next big move will certainly be at Playa Vista. Currently, Maguire and Playa Capital are at a stalemate over infrastructure improvements for the commercial portion of the site. Maguire says infrastructure should be installed even without any pre-leasing commitments.

Some predict he will buy out the consortium of investment banking firms that assumed ownership of the project after banks initiated foreclosure because Maguire wouldn't cede control of the troubled project.

"We have lots going on and more to come. What we're doing is executing the plan I set up three and a half years ago. It's been clicking right on schedule," Maguire said. "I certainly had some points where I (went through some) intelligent questioning, but basically I'm pretty optimistic and resilient."

From Horses to Luxury Homes

El Segundo-based Pacific Coast Capital Partners has closed on its purchase of a 73-acre site off Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills, where a dozen luxury homes will soon rise.

The property was being developed by multimillionaire David Saperstein as a horse stable for his wife's 21 horses, along with a 12,000-square-foot home but those plans didn't go over well with neighbors, who had concerns about the potential stench and horseflies.

Instead, an entity formed by Pacific Coast and L.A.-based McGregor Co. purchased the land for an undisclosed amount and is finishing the grading, installation of infrastructure and lush landscaping. It then plans to sell the lots, which will range in size from about 1.5 acres to 22.5 acres.

"It's one-of-a-kind real estate," said Nicholas Colonna, partner at Pacific Coast. "There's not a lot of this kind of product. Every lot will be different and very private."

The total retail value (aggregate sale prices of the completed homes) he estimates at $30 million.

No Sale After All

The Japanese owners of MCI Center in downtown L.A. have decided not to sell the complex after all.

Unilev Capital Corp. for several months had been under contract to buy the property. The proposed $120 million transaction, which included the 33-story office tower, retail space and a Hyatt hotel, was supposed to close last month.

But the ownership pulled it off the market because of the improving economic outlook both in Japan and in downtown L.A. Also complicating matters was the fact that ownership consists of an entity affiliated with a bank that is merging with another bank.

"We're extremely disappointed that after reaching an agreement, the Japanese pulled out," said Danny Levy, president of Unilev, which spent more than $1 million on the deal. "Our record is 100 percent performance. We were ready to close the deal."

News & Notes

Kearny Real Estate Co. has purchased Warnerview, a 62,000-square-foot office building in Woodland Hills, for $8.5 million.

The seller of the three-story building at 5959 Topanga Canyon Blvd. is Calpac Enterprises, which was represented by John Sabourin of Lee & Associates. Lynwood Fields of Madison Partners represented Kearny. The multi-tenant building is almost fully occupied.

ISuppi has leased two floors at Kearny's E-tech Center at 1700 E. Walnut Ave. in El Segundo. The five-year deal, which includes 45,000 square feet and signage rights, is valued at $5.9 million. The Internet startup had first exhausted all possibilities on the Westside, said Roy Longman of Cresa Partners. He and Jerry Porter represented iSuppli, while Craig Meyer of Seeley Co. represented Kearny.

Elizabeth Hayes can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 229, or at ehayes@labusinessjournal.com.

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