CHICAGO-General Growth Properties Inc.’s recent hire of Sidley Austin, which has headquarters here and in New York City, for bankruptcy consideration may be the logical next step for a firm that has more than $1 billion in loans coming due and a stock price now in the less-than-$1 basement. However, some bankruptcy experts say that while a Chapter 11 filing may be the best tool to deal with its massive leveraging, the action may not save the powerful retail REIT, which has more than 200 malls in the US.

Officials at GGP released a statement this morning that confirmed the company has hired Sidley in an advisory role, and has not filed for bankruptcy. “As we’ve stated all along, we are looking at multiple options to address our current financial situation, among them being continuing to work with our syndicate of lenders on loan extensions,” according to the statement. “The hiring of such a law firm is standard for any company faced with financial challenges and should not be interpreted any other way.” A trust spokesman refused further comment, and a spokeswoman for Sidley said her client could not confirm or deny any information regarding GGP.

The mall REIT has warned it may be forced to declare bankruptcy. “Our potential inability to address our 2008 or 2009 debt maturities in a satisfactory fashion raises substantial doubts as to our ability to continue as a going concern,” the firm said in a recent quarterly report. The company has more than $900 million in debt scheduled to mature in December, and another $3 billion in debt scheduled to mature in 2009. It’s rumored that the lenders will extend the $900 million payment.

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