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SEATTLE-The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s 49.9% stake in the 76-story Columbia Center here is on the market, according to local brokers. The remainder of Seattle’s tallest building is owned by Equity Office Properties Trust of Chicago, which may or may not sell its majority stake in the well-leased asset.

A spokesperson for the Common Retirement Fund tells GlobeSt.com “it is a transaction that has not yet closed, so there’s nothing I can confirm for you at this time.” EOP declined comment.

Two months ago, EOP said it would sell as much as $3.5 billion in assets over next 12 months. In addition to liquidating its Atlanta portfolio, the company said it intends to reduce holdings in Denver, Northern California, and Chicago, and may sell select buildings in other core markets. EOP owns 3.87 million sf in 10 office buildings in the Seattle CBD. Region wide, it owns 8.43 million sf in 50 buildings.

Completed in 1985, Columbia Center is said to be about 90% leased, with about 13% of the building is currently being marketed for lease on officespace.com. Major tenants include Amazon.com and the Heller Ehrman law firm. Asking lease rates range from $25 per sf on the second floor to $37 per sf for the 74th floor.

CRF acquired its stake in the building in 2000 for $210 million, or about $280 per sf. Given the improving market conditions in Downtown–vacancy is down to 10.4% as of the end of September and asking rates are rising quickly–local brokers have speculated that the CRF’s stake in the asset should re-trade for upward of $400 per sf.

In May, Market Place One & Two, a 125,000-sf, similarly aged Downtown Seattle office development with Puget Sound views, sold for $56 million, or $447 per sf. In April, Met Park North, a much younger 11-story Downtown Seattle office building that is substantially over-parked, sold for $88.5 million, or $475 per sf.

“Given the improving market conditions and the premier nature of [Columbia Center], I think it would be foolish for anyone to put a price on the asset,” Cushman & Wakefield broker Wendy Sauvage tells GlobeSt.com. “If anything holds back the price it would be that there are longer term leases in the building at below market rates.”

EOP has a $195-million mortgage on Columbia Center. The loan, which bears interest at 4.45%, matures on Jan. 1, 2010, at which point EOP will owe $185 million.

In April 2003, Fitch Ratings downgraded the debt due to decreasing occupancy at the property, which was 76% at the time and falling despite a market wide average of 84%. In December 2003, citing improved operating performance, Fitch upgraded the debt but expressed ongoing concern about the low occupancy, which had fallen to 72.3%. At that time, Fitch said that leases representing 68% of the building were scheduled to expire between 2004 and 2009.

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