Sources: A&B eyeing Ward Centers


POSTED: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Alexander & Baldwin Inc. is interested in acquiring Ward Centers from distressed General Growth Properties Inc., according to sources familiar with the situation.

Honolulu-based A&B sought to acquire the collection of retail centers in Kakaako in 2002, but lost its bid to the Chicago-based retail giant, which purchased Victoria Ward Ltd.'s more than 60 acres for $250 million.

At the time, A&B was the second-highest bidder next to General Growth, the nation's second-largest shopping center owner with more than 200 malls in 44 states. Representatives of General Growth and A&B declined comment.

General Growth put Ward Centers up for sale this month in an attempt to bring down billions of dollars in debt and stave off bankruptcy.

The troubled company, which also owns Ala Moana Center, is considering the sale of properties throughout its nationwide portfolio, including any of its Hawaii assets, according to Jim Graham, company spokesman.

Meanwhile, it failed to negotiate an extension over the weekend on $900 million in loans that were due this past Friday, but is still in discussions with lenders.

A&B, which came under fire in 2006 after controversy erupted on its proposed residential towers project makai of Ala Moana Boulevard, would be an ideal and logical buyer since the firm is an established, long-term player and is familiar with development in Hawaii, according to local real estate experts.

“;Ideally, the purchaser would be very comfortable with investment and development of commercial properties in Hawaii, given the characteristics of the site,”; said Mike Hamasu, director of consulting & research at Colliers Monroe Friedlander Inc.

Ward Centers, which opened in 1972 and is now comprised of six open-air specialty centers along Auahi Street, has significantly increased in value over the years due to additional development and appreciation.

If the state approves General Growth's Ward Neighborhood Master Plan—a proposed overhaul of the area to include public improvements and up to 4,300 residential units over more than 20 years—the value of the site will skyrocket even further.

“;We would welcome and work with appropriately any developer who sought to contribute to that vision and those objectives,”; said Anthony Ching, executive director of Hawaii Community Development Authority, which is scheduled to make a decision on the master plan permit application on Jan. 14.