ATLANTA-Cousins Properties Inc. and an affiliate of Maryland-based Stonebridge Associates have closed a $200-million, two-building, 702,000-sf class A office building deal with New York-based TIAA-CREF that resulted in the highest per-sf-price ever recorded for a comparable metro area property.

TIAA-CREF, the nation’s largest institutional real estate investor, paid $145 million, or $342.78 per sf, for the six-year-old, 98%-leased, 423,000-sf Pinnacle in the Buckhead district and $55 million, or $197.13 per sf, for the adjacent 44-year-old, 88%-leased 279,000-sf Two Live Oak asset. TIAA-CREF has retained Cousins to lease and manage the properties.

At $342.78 per sf, the Pinnacle’s price far outdistances four recent big-number sales transactions, according to research. In June of this year, Wells Real Estate Investment Trust purchased the one-year-old, 14-story, 353,000-sf One Glenlake office building in suburban Sandy Ridge, GA from Atlanta-based Pope & Land Enterprises Inc. and Dallas-based Granite Properties Inc. for $82 million or $232.29 per sf.

In April, Parkway Properties Inc. of Jackson, MS paid Rubenstein Cos. of Philadelphia $78.6 million, or $192 per sf, for the 92%-leased, 410,000-sf Capital City Plaza on Peachtree Road in Buckhead. Those were the two largest office building sales this year until the Cousins-TIAA-CREF transaction.

The two largest sales in 2003 involved Koger Equity Inc. of Boca Raton, FL paying locally based Pope and Land Enterprises $116.5 million, or $232 per sf, for the 502,000-sf, 23-story, 86%-leased Atlantic Center Plaza at 14th and West Peachtree streets in Midtown; and Toronto-based Manulife Financial paying Trammell Crow Co. and Real Estate Capital Partners $118 million, or $224 per sf, for the 23-story, 527,000-sf Proscenium building at 1170 Peachtree St.

Cousins president and CEO Tom Bell says the Cousins-Stonebridge share of the GAAP gain in the two-building sale was $46.1 million. “Removing $19.7 million, attributable to accumulated depreciation and other adjustments, (the sale) resulted in value creation (or about a net gain) of $26.4 million.” Bell says the $200-million price for the two properties “generated a phenomenal return” for shareholders.

He says that “while the sales price is attention-grabbing, it is supported by the underlying financial strength of the leases in these buildings, along with the building’s one-of-a-kind location in the heart of Atlanta’s financial district.”

The two-building sale marks the third office disposition for Cousins this year. In July, the company sold the 20-story, 526,000-sf 101 Independence Center in Downtown Charlotte, NC to American Financial Realty Trust for $100 million or $190.11 per sf. In May, Cousins sold 333 John Carlyle and 1900 Duke St., both in Alexandria, VA, to Grosvenor USA Ltd. for $80 million.

The Atlanta office of CB Richard Ellis represented the Cousins-Stonebridge partnership in the transaction. TIAA-CREF in-house representatives negotiated for the company.

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