Metropolitan Life to Sell BP Plaza, One of City's Tallest Towers

By DANNY KING
Staff Reporter

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. is putting up for sale BP Plaza, the fifth-tallest building in downtown Los Angeles.

"This is part of a diversification of our equity portfolio," said MetLife spokeswoman Toni Griffin. "MetLife harvests some properties each year and this just happens to be one."

Griffin declined to comment on either the reason for the sale or the asking price for the 55-story office building at 333 S. Hope St.

Downtown real estate sources, however, pegged the value of the 1.4 million-square-foot building, which is 87 percent leased, at between $250 million and $300 million.

Officials of Cushman & Wakefield Inc., which has the listing on the property, declined to comment.

MetLife purchased the building in 1984 for $310 million. One real estate investment source said the value of the property had been written down to $198 million in the early 1990s, although Griffin would not address the purchase price or any subsequent price adjustments.

The insurer reported a net loss of $296 million for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, compared to net income of $591 million (74 cents) in the like year-earlier. One investment source said that even for a company like MetLife booking $100 million "is a fair amount of money."

"It's one of the older buildings, yet it competes head-to-head with newer product," CB Richard Ellis Senior Vice President Tom Bohlinger, said of the building, which was built as Security Pacific Bank's headquarters in 1974.

Major tenants include Capital Group Inc., with 233,000 square feet and law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, with 170,000.

The average rent for the building is $2.13 a foot, 20 cents below the average class-A asking rent for downtown space in the fourth quarter 2001, according to Grubb & Ellis Co. "It's what made Bunker Hill what it is today," said Joe Faulkner, executive vice president at Grubb & Ellis.

Bohlinger said potential buyers would include "all of the folks who have some presence who would like more downtown." He mentioned Equity Office Properties, TrizecHahn Corp., Tishman Speyer Properties and Maguire Partners as potential buyers.

MetLife also owns the 953,000-square-foot One California Plaza at 300 S. Grand Ave.

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