Liberty Center and Westin hotel up for sale

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A Greenwich, Conn.-based global investment firm appears to be a front-runner to acquire the Liberty Center office complex and accompanying Westin Convention Center hotel in Downtown.

Starwood Capital Group, with $22 billion in assets under management, has made inquiries about buying the property, which was recently being marketed for sale by Cleveland developer Forest City Enterprises.

Earlier this month, Starwood announced it had acquired 2000 Park Lane, a seven-story North Fayette office building, as part of a $260.5 million deal with Wells Real Estate Investment Trust II for nine properties in the United States.

With that transaction under its belt, it's not surprising that Starwood would be in the market for other properties in the Pittsburgh region, some local real estate experts said.

"Generally, a company doesn't come in to buy one property. It likes to have more than one," said Gerry McLaughlin, executive managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, an international commercial real estate firm with an office in Pittsburgh.

A deal on Liberty Center isn't done yet. While there has been talk that Starwood has a deal to buy the 27-story office complex and the 618-room Westin, the property is not under agreement, said Jeffrey Ackerman, incoming managing director of the Pittsburgh office of real estate firm CBRE, which is marketing the building.

He had no comment when asked whether Starwood had expressed interest in the real estate. Likewise, Tom Johnson, a spokesman for Starwood, had no comment. Forest City spokesman Jeff Linton said interest in the property has been "fairly brisk" but he would not identify those making inquiries.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., a company created by Starwood Capital, currently manages the Westin and the Sheraton Station Square, which also is owned by Forest City. Starwood also is affiliated with the Four Points by Sheraton near Pittsburgh International Airport.

Barry Sternlicht, chairman, CEO and founder of Starwood Capital, also served as chairman and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, another company he founded, from 1995 to 2005. Starwood Capital sold its investment in Starwood Hotels in 2000.

Peter Sukernek, vice president and general manager of Howard Hanna Commercial Real Estate Services, said Liberty Center and the Westin would be a "natural fit" for Starwood Capital.

"Certainly they would be excellent buyers for the office building and hotel. They own and operate major hotels and office buildings around the world," he said. "The whole transaction would seem to be a very logical one for them to expand on their holdings in our great city and be able to acquire two types of properties, office and hotel, which is their expertise."

Liberty Center, which was built in 1987, also makes for an attractive investment, given that it has a strong tenant in Federated Investors, is close to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and has parking and a hotel attached, Mr. McLaughlin said.

According to its website, Starwood Capital had completed more than 490 transactions representing $36 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, 2012. It has 11 offices in six countries, including the United States.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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