September 17, 2019

Willis Tower sold for $1.3 billion to Blackstone Group

Blackstone Group, a private equity real estate investor with about $81 billion under management, has reached an agreement to buy Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, the company announced Monday.

The purchase price is $1.3 billion, according to a source.

The deal for the formerly named Sears Tower, said to have been reached over the weekend, would be the highest price ever paid for a U.S. office tower outside of New York. It would also shatter the Chicago record, $850 million, set by last year’s sale of 300 N. LaSalle.

“We are bullish on Chicago as companies expand within and move into the city and look for first-class office space,” Jacob Werner, a managing director in Blackstone’s real estate group, said in a statement. “Moreover, we see great potential in further improving both the building’s retail operations and the tourist experience for one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Chicago.”

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the agreement on MarketWatch, said Blackstone plans to invest heavily in the retail portion of the nation’s second-tallest building and in upgrading its 103rd-floor Skydeck, in hopes the deck will become a cash cow like those of other skyscrapers.

Jonathan Gray, Blackstone’s head of real estate, told MarketWatch that the company hopes “to really make this more of a comprehensive tourist attraction” as well as an office building.

The Skydeck is among the tower’s regular revenue streams. It reaped about $25 million in admissions revenue in 2014, an amount that has been climbing annually. Its broadcast antennas brought in more than $13 million in the 12 months ended in November.


The Tribune reported Friday that Blackstone was in talks to buy Willis Tower and has previously reported that commercial real estate broker Eastdil Secured, which is handling the Willis Tower sale, was not marketing the property because of ongoing negotiations with a potential buyer.

Blackstone is best known in Chicago for buying a portfolio of properties assembled by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell. Blackstone’s purchase of Equity Office Properties Trust for $39 billion in 2007 was the largest private equity deal in history, according to The New York Times.

Real estate magnate Joseph Chetrit, developer Joseph Moinian and Skokie-based American Landmark Properties bought the tower for $840 million in 2004, a record then. Last year, 300 N. LaSalle sold for $850 million.

Eastdil had advertised untapped revenue streams for Willis’ new owners, including selling naming rights to the Skydeck and building a hotel on the property’s southwest corner at South Wacker Drive and West Jackson Boulevard.

The tower, completed in 1973 as the Sears Tower, is 84 percent leased, down 1 percentage point from March 2009, when Willis announced it had acquired naming rights.

Blackstone’s real estate business was formed in 1991. Among its holdings is the Hilton hotel chain. The firm’s seventh real estate fund will own Willis Tower.


Twitter @chiconfidential

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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Willis Tower sold for $1.3 billion to Blackstone Group

Mayor announces new businesses coming to Woonsocket

October 29, 2014

WOONSOCKET – Six businesses – four of them from out of state – are relocating their operations into vacant commercial buildings in the city, including the cavernous shell of Walmart, whose 2011 exit is often blamed for dragging down the city’s retail strip. The 1919 Diamond Hill Road building is to be purchased by Ardent Displays & Packaging of East Hartford, Conn. The company employs about 50 people who manufacture in-store retail displays for some of the biggest names in merchandising, including Walgreen’s, CVS Health, Nokia, Family Dollar and Rockport.
The other newcomers include:
n Ross Matthews & Atlas Products of Fall River. The manufacturer of bungee cords and other braided textile products is relocating its entire operation to 333 River St., which used to house Grossman’s Bargain Outlet. The company will employ 10 people.
n Jeweled Cross Company LLC of North Attleboro is moving to a 20,000-square-foot building at 811 Park East Drive, formerly home of LSI Graphics. Jeweled Cross, which employs 25 people, makes crucifixes and other spiritual jewelry.
n A new venture, Iron Rock Mills, will purchase and retrofit the old Woonsocket Sponging Co. on Ricard Street, a small brick mill behind Woonsocket High School and one of the last textile finishing companies in the city. Iron Rock’s lead entrepreneur is Michael Dubois, who will use the building to manufacture and distribute restaurant furniture, including fixtures to support the seven-restaurant Doherty-Sullivan group. The company expects to hire 6-10 people.
The good economic news was announced amid much fanfare by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt during a press briefing in Harris Hall yesterday morning. Among those on hand in the packed hall were principals of the new companies. None spoke publicly, but in private interviews, they gave most of the credit to the mayor for luring them to the city.
“The mayor made it a little easier for us to get the permitting process in place, which isn’t an easy task,” said Donald Budnick, president of Ardent Displays.
Budnick said his company is purchasing the 122,000-square-foot Walmart building and expects to sink another half-million dollars into retrofitting it for manufacturing. If all goes according to plan, he said the East Woonsocket facility will be up and running by January.
Similarly, David Angelo, CEO of Atlas Products and a resident of Lincoln, couldn’t say enough about how hard Baldelli-Hunt worked to clear a path for the company to relocate to the old Bargain Outlet.
“She extended herself beyond the call of duty,” said Angelo. “She said she would do whatever it takes, and she did.”
The mayor was clearly flattered to hear what the CEOs were saying about her role, since “I know how much effort I’ve been putting into it.” She said Special Projects Manager Joel Mathews and Planning Director N. David Bouley all deserve credit, too, since “We work as a team.”
Upon taking office, the mayor abolished the position of economic development director, pledging to fulfill the duties of the position herself. Some questioned the move, but yesterday she sounded like the business-booster on the 2013 campaign trail. She talked about Woonsocket’s strategic geography inside the golden triangle of Worcester, Boston and Providence, and even proclaimed purple the city’s official hue, saying it evokes the energy and stability that should be the hallmarks of her administration.
Of course, the mayor and members of her staff were bedecked in various shades of purple, and Harris Hall was festooned with balloons the color of grape soda.
“Woonsocket is open for business,” the mayor said, addressing a packed Harris Hall. “Welcome.”
The mayor said she was particularly pleased that she was able to persuade multiple businesses from other states to set up shop in Woonsocket. She said she was also heartened by the prospect of bringing new life to the Walmart building, a lynchpin of the city’s once-thriving retail strip. Walmart’s demise at the site has been blamed for triggering a domino-effect among other big-box merchandisers on Diamond Hill Road, but Baldelli-Hunt said she hopes that restoring the building to active use will bring back some economic vitality to the area.
Scott Gibbs, president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island – developer of Highland Corporate Park – said the transformation of Walmart from retail to manufacturing space may offer a clue about the future of Diamond Hill Road. The shift jibes with “a new vision” for rejuvenating the tired retail zone that’s supported by prevailing trends in real estate, including an oversupply of retail space.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he said. “There are good opportunities here to reposition big box retail stores into mixed uses.”
Baldelli-Hunt said she was also happy to see the long-idle Bargain Outlet restored to productive use, because River Street is an area of the city marked by underutilized and empty buildings. One big change in the area was the recent relocation of The Plastics Group to 84 Fairmount St., an old textile mill that had lain vacant for years. Now, with the arrival of Atlas Products, she said, it’s increasingly likely that other companies will look more favorably upon the neighborhood as an opportunity for investment.
Though the four new arrivals represent a combined workforce of roughly 100, it appears the relocations will result in the creation of perhaps 30 new positions in all. Budnick, for example, says many of his workers can operate from dual locations, but he still anticipates creating about 10 new jobs. Angelo, on the other hand, says Atlas is shutting down completely in Fall River and doesn’t expect the existing workforce will look upon the commute to Woonsocket as feasible, so he’ll need to replace about 10 people.
Most of Jeweled Cross’s workers are expected to stay with the company, which is moving just a few miles from its existing location.
In addition to the four companies, the mayor announced that two smaller ventures will commence operations soon in other buildings.
In a partnership with NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, Eric and Bethany Marsland will resurrect the 1920s Champ’s Diner. The Woonsocket couple currently operates Gourmet Pizza & Grill in Milford, which they’re shutting down to jump-start Champ’s, according to NeighborWorks.
The dining car, long a fixture on Park Avenue, was uprooted to make way for new construction in the 1980s and appeared to have been lost to the ages.
A few years ago, however, Joseph Garlick, executive director of NeighborWorks, discovered the dining car sitting in a Providence junkyard and eventually managed to take possession of it.
When NeighborWorks built a new mixed-use plaza at 719 Front St., the dining car was affixed to it as a sort of anchor store. NeighborWorks had been searching for one or more individuals to operate the dining car as a going business ever since.
Also, the mayor said a vacant building at 480 Diamond Hill Road, previously occupied by Traveling Gourmet, will be taken over by a new heating and ventilation company, Modern Mechanical.
The announcement marked the first of two press briefings the mayor scheduled this week to call attention to progress on the economic development front.
Another is scheduled for tomorrow to call attention to four other businesses that have embarked on new construction projects.
“I would like to personally thank the principals of the entities who have chosen to locate their businesses in Woonsocket,” the mayor said. “My team and I look forward to continuing our work in attracting additional businesses both small and large to Woonsocket. We will continue to encourage development and promote a positive business environment.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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Mayor announces new businesses coming to Woonsocket

Alligator rescued, in good hands now

October 6, 2011

Trevor Bowman, of Woonsocket, who rescued this alligator from the Blackstone River Wednesday night, holds it for one last time at the Allen Street Lofts Thursday before turning it over to a representative from House of Reptiles, who promised to find a good home for it.

WOONSOCKET – Trevor Bowman loves animals, but he never thought he’d turn into a pushover for a predator.
When a city animal control officer told him that the abandoned alligator he had seen in the Blackstone River would probably die in the chilly water, Bowman was determined to save the scaly swimmer.
Using a snare made from an old broomstick and length of cord from a computer jack, Bowman captured the juvenile alligator behind his apartment in the Allen Street Lofts Wednesday. Bowman yanked the critter from the river about 9 p.m., after staking out the riverbank for hours with his girlfriend, Katelyn Howle, waiting for alligator to crawl up on dry land.
“I felt like I had to do it after the guy was saying the alligator was going to die,” said Bowman. “It’s so cold he probably hasn’t even been able to eat.”
Since Sunday, residents of the Allen Street Lofts had been catching glimpses of the alligator along the banks of the Blackstone, which runs behind the onetime factory complex. Usually, the animal was seen in the same spot, wriggling out the water and sunning itself on a small outcropping of rocks sandwiched between the river and a retaining wall.
After the alligator spent the night in a picnic cooler with a hunk of cooked chicken, Bowman turned over his leathery friend to personnel from the House of Reptiles in Providence, an exchange arranged by the state wildlife officials at the Department of Environmental Management.
A worker from the reptile sanctuary who took custody of the alligator did not want to be identified, but he said the animal would probably be donated to a college or private collector. With increasingly tough regulations in effect for keeping alligators, finding safe, responsible caretakers for the exotic pets isn’t as easy as it used to be, he said
He also said Bowman and Howle deserve praise for plucking the alligator from the river in the nick of time as temperatures headed for the freezing mark last night – just too cold for a baby alligator to survive in these parts.
“I think they literally saved it,” he said. “If they hadn’t gotten it out of the river before yesterday I think it would have died.”
Animal Control Officer Doris Kay said she learned about the alligator for the first time Wednesday from an anonymous caller to the animal shelter. Kay said she once rescued a bigger alligator in Woonsocket before – but not from the river. Firefighters called her to remove it from an apartment where they were putting out a fire.
So far as Kay knows, the river gator, blue-black with yellow markings and about 30 inches long, is the first that’s ever turned up in the Blackstone.
“I’m sure it was a pet that someone abandoned or it got loose and the owner was afraid to tell us,” she said.
A similarly errant alligator was rescued from Providence’s Woonasquatucket River earlier this year.
After learning about the alligator, she and Assistant ACO Glen Thuot went down to the river to try to catch it.
Thuot climbed onto the river bank with a noose-like snare and saw the alligator climb up on the rocks, but the webfoot wiggler was a little too slippery for him.
“As soon as Glen got close to him the alligator got spooked and he jumped back in the river,” said Kay.
Bowman had been watching as Thuot tried to capture the animal and struck up a conversation. That’s when Thuot told him of the alligator’s likely fate if it wasn’t pulled from the river soon.
When Bowman asked if it was okay for him to try catching the alligator, Thuot told him, “Go for it.” Bowman and Howle took turns staking out the riverbank for hours after the animal control personnel left the area. They watched as the alligator regularly vanished beneath the swift-moving river for 15 minutes or so at a time before resurfacing, almost always in the very same spot.
Bowman tossed a few bits of bacon on the rocks to lure the animal out of the water.
With the lizard’s landing zone illuminated by flashlight, Bowman finally succeeded in slipping the makeshift noose over the alligator’s snout.
At first, the animal seemed sluggish from the cold and didn’t put up much of a fight, but it quickly came around.
“He was flailing around pretty crazy but I was able to get him the cooler and shut it pretty quickly,” said Bowman. “I gave him a piece of chicken. I heard they like chicken.”
Ironically, Bowman grew up in St. Augustine, Fla., close to an alligator farm, but the 26-year-old videographer was never as close to an alligator – or felt closer to one – than his threatened river neighbor in Woonsocket.
“I love animals but I never thought I’d have a soft spot for something that can kill you,” he says.

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Alligator rescued, in good hands now