VIENNA-A homegrown real estate investor has taken control of a 16-property, 1.5-million-sf commercial portfolio spread across three major Austrian markets. Signa Holding, founded by entrepreneur Rene Benko, is paying approximately $700 million for the package, which was divested by Bawag-PSK Real Estate, a subsidiary of Bawag-PSK Bank.

The former trade union bank was taken over this year by Cerberus Capital Management, which then determined the 16 properties to be expendable. NAI Otto Immobilen, a member of the NAI Global commercial real estate network, was tapped to market the assets in partnership with CB Richard Ellis. In a release, a Bawag spokesman calls the conclusion “fair for both sides,” and says the pricing was reflective of market conditions. The proceeds will be rolled back into the bank to assist in its growth platform and to help stabilize the nation’s fifth largest bank. The institution incurred heavy losses in the past two years through failed cross-border investment ventures, primarily in the Caribbean, and after losing money poured into a US financial services group, Refco, whose problems forced that company into bankruptcy.

The Bawag portfolio sale was “a huge success,” maintains Eugen Otto, head of NAI Otto, who notes that the process was completed within 90 days after his firm and CB Richard Ellis were awarded the high-profile assignment. Besides Vienna, the prime properties are situated in Graz and Innsbruck. The bank is now assembling a second portfolio that will be offered to the market in early 2008.

Based in Vienna, NAI Otto is a full-service commercial real estate firm with offices in Austria and Hungary. NAI Global is a network of 8,000 professionals operating from 375 offices in 55 countries and yielding $45 billion last year in annual transaction volume.

Signa Holding is one of Europe’s most active real estate investors, owning and developing a variety of commercial product types throughout the continent. According to industry observers, the buyer of the Bawag portfolio plans to spin off some of the assets to other investors, although specific properties to be harvested have not been identified.

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