Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 28, 2004 - Donald Trump has lined up three New York hedge funds, including money from billionaire George Soros, to invest $160 million in his Chicago skyscraper, a key piece in perhaps the largest construction financing in the city's history, according to real estate sources and public documents.
Despite reports about the project's record-breaking sales, most of them from Trump himself, many Chicago real estate developers and lenders have expressed doubts about whether the 90-story tower would ever be built.
"It is such a huge project, and the prices he said he was getting were so outside the norm," said Robert Glickman, president and chief executive of Chicago-based Corus Bank.
"It was reasonable to say, 'Is this real?'" he said.
Much of the skepticism springs from Trump's own hype. "Chicago developers are much less flamboyant," said Glickman.
The massive financing, which sources say also will include a $650 million construction loan from Deutsche Bank, should quell those doubts.
Trump flies to Chicago Thursday morning for a ceremonial demolition of the former home of the Chicago Sun-Times, 401 N. Wabash Ave., which will be replaced by his 2.5 million-square-foot tower. The demolition is expected to begin for real in January.
On Wednesday Trump declined to comment on the financing, emphasizing instead the luxury project's record-breaking sales.
The chief executive of New York-based Trump Organization said he has agreements to sell three-fourths of the 461 condominiums and 227 hotel-condo units for a combined $515 million.
"Nobody to my knowledge anywhere in the United States has ever sold more than $500 million worth of apartments prior to construction," he said. "It's a great tribute to Chicago, to the location and to a great design.
"And, I guess, to Trump, when you think of it," he added.
The investor trio is led by Fortress Investment Group LLC, according to a financing statement filed Oct. 19 with the Cook County recorder's office.
Fortress, which manages more than $10 billion in investments, is familiar with the downtown Chicago condominium market after providing a key $26 million loan on the River East mixed-use development last year.
The document does not identify the other participants, but a key member is Grove Capital LLP, according to sources familiar with the transaction.
The firm manages most of the multibillion-dollar real estate portfolio of the $13 billion Soros Fund Management, from which Grove Capital was spun off last month.
The third investor is Blackacre Institutional Capital Management LLC, the real estate arm of hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management LP, which manages assets totaling $14 billion.
Executives with the three hedge funds could not be reached for comment.
The $160 million investment is in the form of a mezzanine loan, a kind of second mortgage that typically charges a much higher interest rate than a first-mortgage construction loan.
Unlike the mezzanine loan, which has closed, terms of the $650 million construction loan have not yet been finalized, sources said.
Frankfurt, Germany-based Deutsche Bank, an active commercial real estate lender in the U.S., is expected to split up the loan with other banks.
Chicago developer Steven Fifield admits he was a "total skeptic" about the project, which initially included a large portion of office space.
But the elimination of the office space and the steadily climbing condo sales helped change Fifield's view about Trump's chances to get financing.
"I thought it was a given with the number of presales he had," said Fifield, president of Fifield Cos.
After 13 months of marketing, condo prices at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago have exceeded $900 a square foot, while hotel-condo units cost nearly $1,100 a square foot, according to an analysis of 53 units by Appraisal Research Counselors, a residential consulting firm.
Trump's marketing firm recently put those units, including six hotel-condo units, on the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois.
Almost two weeks ago Trump completed a buyout of his former joint venture partner in the project, Hollinger International Inc., the troubled parent of the Sun-Times.
Although lining up the financing was a big step for Trump, he still has hurdles to overcome, including avoiding construction delays and cost overruns.
Still, he expressed no concern about the doubts harbored by some local real estate executives.
"It's a very expensive building to build because of the quality we are putting into it," he said. "So people of course would say, 'Gee, that's a lot of money to raise.'
"But for me, it's not a lot of money. You understand," he said.
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