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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023


What does it take to be a major player in L.A. real estate?

Tenacity helps as does being well-connected, inheriting a well-established business from your family and getting a solid education (law degree and MBA preferred).

But it’s more than all that. Being a major real estate player in this town inevitably involves making the right investment at the right time and getting the financing from the right people.

“You certainly have to be knowledgable and tenacious, but more importantly, you have to be able to do whatever it takes to get deals done, and that means different things with different deals,” said Bob Safai, a principal at Madison Partners and one of L.A.’s highest-producing commercial brokers. “It could mean working 20 hours a day, or staying up all night X-raying a building (for seismic inspection).”

Going to those lengths is nothing new to the L.A. real estate veterans saavy enough to have survived the most severe downturn in recent history.

The local recession caused prices to tumble, but more than that, resulted in a negative view of Southern California that only recently has been lifted.

“The last six months have seen some dramatic changes here; things are happening so fast it’s hard to keep up with it all,” said Jerry Snyder, a veteran commercial developer who appears poised to become L.A.’s most active builder, after years of relative idleness.

Snyder is preparing to break ground on major office complexes in Santa Monica and Burbank and has a handful of retail developments in the works.

Developers like Snyder, while influential, are ultimately reliant on those who hold the purse strings. And many of those decisions are being made by suddenly active Wall Street-backed buyers, primarily the real estate investment trusts now taking the town by storm.

Two such new faces are Jeremy Fletcher and Jeff Nickell.

Fletcher was hired last month to oversee a buying spree of L.A.-area office properties that is being conducted by Boston-based Beacon Properties Corp. The REIT has already bought 1 million square feet of L.A.-area buildings, and Fletcher is looking to buy another 2 million square feet locally.

Nickell just moved into the new Pasadena office of Menlo Park-based Spieker Properties Inc., which has been pouring hundreds of millions of Wall Street dollars into local commercial realty. Among Spieker’s recent acquisitions are three Pasadena office buildings.

A number of REIT executives are featured in this year’s Who’s Who, including John Kilroy, Alexander Haagen III and Arthur Coppola.

Kilroy’s company, Kilroy Realty Corp., is the latest of the REITS to go public, garnering a $200 million investment war chest. Haagen is vice chairman at shopping center REIT Alexander Haagen Properties, which just announced a $235 million capital infusion by Lazard Freres Real Estate Investors LLC. And Coppola is president of Macerich Co., which has bought a slew of regional malls since it went public two years ago.

The emergence of REITs also illustrates an evolution among the people managing the money being invested a transition from contrarian entrepreneurs to more-herd-oriented institutions.

The key players in the marketplace today are responding to “a period with lots of opportunity, activity and change” after the recessionary times during which a well-heeled group of “predatory capital players” dominated the local scene, said Edward “Ned” Fox, principal in the new CommonWealth Partners diversified real estate firm.

Many of those contrarian players are now teaming up with or recruiting real estate pros who possess operating expertise. That’s because aggressive investments by the REITs and other institutional buyers have bid up property prices, prompting the more entrepreneurial parties to seek profits through expert hands-on management.

Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund executive Jeff Dritley reflects this trend. Morgan Stanley’s opportunity fund has gone beyond buying portfolios of distressed real estate assets and is now teaming up with local developers in what will likely be the first speculative highrise office tower built in the L.A. area in the 1990s, Glendale Plaza.

The Morgan Stanley fund has also teamed up with a Goldman Sachs & Co.-managed fund and Beverly Hills financier Gary Winnick to purchase what is likely to become a controlling stake in L.A.’s highest-profile project, Playa Vista.

Which brings up developer Rob Maguire of Maguire Partners. Though far less powerful today than he was even a year ago, Maguire remains, at this writing, at the helm of the Playa Vista project. He is joined by Winnick, Dritley and others as the principal characters in a high-stakes battle to restructure and recapitalize the Playa Vista development team.

Looking over the roster of L.A.’s most powerful real estate people, one characteristic comes up over and over: family ties.

Allen Kohl grew up in a family that owned a chain of retail stores in Milwaukee. John Cushman comes from five generations of real estate prominence. John Kilroy Jr. and Alexander Haagen III both head locally based public real estate investment trusts from foundations laid by their fathers. Edward Roski Jr. and Robert Ruth also enjoyed a substantial boost to their respective careers by building on the accomplishments of their fathers.

True to their privileged backgrounds, many of the Who’s Who were educated at Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T. and other top-notch universities. Many played collegiate sports, displaying their competitive natures early on.

But merely riding daddy’s coattails is not sufficient to survive, much less thrive, in L.A.’s fast-evolving commercial real estate industry.

Roski, who heads one of L.A. County’s most active and successful development companies, is making plans to develop a downtown sports arena to house the Los Angeles Kings (of which he is co-owner) and Los Angeles Lakers. Roski and his partner, Philip Anschutz, are also proposing to overhaul the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to accommodate the needs of a new NFL franchise.

“Tradition here is that successful real esate companies have been very entrepreneurial, and have typically also passed on successes (to the next family generation),” said Fox. “But today the movement is toward a form of ownership that has become much more institutional. So the (family orientation) may become less common in the future. Hopefully, we won’t lose all of the colorful personalities, although we will probably lose some.”

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