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Playa Invest

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BRAD BERTON

Staff Reporter

The number of investment teams vying to finance development of the 1,000-plus-acre Playa Vista community near Marina del Rey has been whittled to a half-dozen, and a top candidate should be selected by the end of the month, according to Playa Vista managing partner Maguire Thomas Partners.

If subsequent final negotiations proceed according to schedule, long-delayed construction of the planned community’s first phase including a key 100-acre media campus anchored by the new DreamWorks SKG studio should get under way this fall, said Maguire Thomas spokeswoman Peggy Moretti.

Groundbreaking was supposed to occur last summer, but has been delayed because of the developer’s trouble obtaining financing.

Late last year, a team headed by Beverly Hills financier Gary Winnick’s Pacific Capital Group Inc. stepped forward with the endorsement of DreamWorks to help finance the project in return for an equity stake.

But Maguire Thomas has pursued other financing sources including a real estate investment fund managed by an affiliate of big Wall Street investment house Morgan Stanley & Co.

“We recently made a proposal to purchase the debt and recapitalize the equity for Playa Vista,” said Jeff Dritley, Century City-based director of the Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund.

Moretti refused to identify the other possible financiers.

Real estate finance experts said they would likely include major Wall Street-backed funds such as Goldman Sachs & Co.’s Whitehall Fund and big pension funds like the California Public Employee Retirement System and California State Teachers Retirement System.

The investors need real estate expertise and the size and patience to risk huge sums of capital on a long-term venture, experts note.

“Given Playa Vista’s sheer size and complexity, they’ll need someone with strong (analytical) resources, deep pockets and a reasonable amount of patience,” John Long, managing partner at El Segundo-based real estate investment firm Highridge Partners, said last week.

Playa Vista “is the best land development project in the county,” added Michael Van Konynenburg, president of West L.A.-based real estate investment banking firm Secured Capital Corp. “But it’s a long-term project with (substantial) development risk and that’s why the financing question has presented such a challenge.”

DreamWorks has endorsed a well-heeled investment team, including Winnick’s Pacific Capital Group, Union Labor Life Insurance Co. and real estate investment firm J.E. Robert Cos.

The Maguire Thomas-led partnership can’t begin work on Playa Vista’s infrastructure without a capital infusion necessary to retire $150 million in existing acquisition/mortgage debt and finance initial construction activities.

DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg and L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter have criticized Maguire Thomas Managing Partner Rob Maguire for impeding progress on the $8 billion Playa Vista planned community by refusing to relinquish control and equity ownership to prospective investors.

Maguire has blamed the delays largely on environmental lawsuits challenging the development’s entitlements.

But in response to the criticism, he has allowed former Maguire Thomas co-managing partner Jim Thomas to take the lead role in negotiating with prospective investors.

But at least one informed source remains skeptical of Maguire’s projected timetable and question whether Maguire is willing to cede sufficient control to secure the financial commitments he needs while also satisfying his current bankers.

“Rob is still holding out for a big piece” of equity in the development, “but every dollar he makes comes out of the banks’ pockets,” noted one executive of an investment group that has had discussions with both Maguire Thomas and the banking group holding Playa Vista’s big mortgages.

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