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Genting Group Vying for Control of Miami's Financially Troubled Omni Center
Which Includes a 525-room Hilton Hotel

Their Vision is Big and They Are Here to Stay and Build

By Elaine Walker, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sept. 09, 2011--The Genting Group has its sights on controlling another major property in Miami's Omni neighborhood, likely looking to expand the footprint for its mixed-use resort complex.

The Asian conglomerate, which purchased The Miami Herald property in May, has acquired one of the two bank notes on the troubled Omni Center.

Genting's South Florida spokesman Tadd Schwartz confirmed the acquisition on Thursday but declined to offer details on the company's plans for the site.

The note has a principal balance of $45 million, representing about 28 percent of the total senior mortgage balance of $205 million for the property.

The Omni's other bank note was acquired in May by a partnership of Miami real estate investors, Jorge Perez, Jimmy Tate and Sergio Rok. They paid $100 million for the note with a principal balance of $161 million.

The loans both matured in June 2010.

Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he was told by Genting officials that the note acquisition puts them in position to control the future of the Omni. The complex, which opened in 1977, includes 1.5 million square feet of office and retail space, plus a 525-room Hilton hotel.

The Omni site sits just north of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and The Miami Herald's 13.9 acre-site, which Genting acquired for $236 million. Genting has said it plans to create a destination for tourists and locals with hotels, restaurants, residential condominiums, retail shops and -- if current laws are changed -- a casino. The Omni site would just give them more space for the project.

Genting also recently has acquired smaller parcels on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard.

"I think their vision is pretty big," Sarnoff said.

"They're here to stay and they're here to build."

But before Genting could build on the Omni site, they may have to wade through legal proceedings whose outcome is uncertain.

The current property owner, Argent Ventures, is fighting efforts by Capmark Finance Inc., the special servicer, to foreclose on the property. Capmark filed suit in June in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Argent is now arguing that it had an oral deal to purchase the note from Capmark Bank. Capmark Finance has demanded that the defendants pay more than $400,000 a month while the court process is ongoing.

"They can't litigate for months or years to drag things out without putting up any money," said attorney David B. Haber, who represents Capmark Finance.

Argent Chief Operating Officer Mark Teitelbaum declined Thursday to comment.

The other note holders say they are fine with whatever the outcome.

"If we get paid off, we're happy with the return on our investment," Tate said.

"If we had to take back the asset, we have enough political and real estate experience that we could certainly handle it."

The Omni property has languished since its 1980s heydey as a popular shopping mall.

Various plans for condos, offices, shops and a telecommunications hub have failed to materialize over the past decade.

Currently it houses the Miami International University of Art & Design, the federal government's General Services Administration Passport Control and Diplomatic Security Service offices, and thousands of square feet of empty retail and office space. The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has been a long-term tenant there.


(c)2011 The Miami Herald

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