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PORTLAND, OR-Locally headquartered Ashforth Pacific and GE Asset Management have jointly acquired one of the top class A buildings in Downtown Portland, Pacwest Center, for $161.5 million. Ashforth Pacific president Scott Langley tells GlobeSt.com the sale recorded this morning.

The aluminum-skinned, 525,000-sf structure with underground parking at Sixth Avenue and Jefferson St. was developed in the mid-1980s by the majority owner, Mitsubishi Estate Co. of Japan. The building is 96% leased. The largest tenants are Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, Key Bank, Merrill Lynch, Oracle and Aon Corp. The building was designed by Hugh Asher Stubbins of Cambridge, MA, in collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Architects LLP of New York.

“In the late 1990s the Wall Street Journal named it the best building in Portland and we think it is still one of the top three buildings in the city given its stature, tenant roster, demand, quality, etc.,” Langley says. “This is a core deal for us, a long-term hold.”

It may be a long-term hold, but the deal itself was wired to a very short fuse. “We didn’t get notified that the asset was for sale until the middle of October,” Langley says. “It has been a 24-7, full-court press for us since we were selected 30 days ago.”

Gary Griff, a senior director of Cushman & Wakefield’s Capital Markets Group had the disposition assignment for Mitsubishi. Langley described the disposition as “a rifle-shot marketing approach with a requirement to close by the end of the year,” saying C&W broadly marketed the building to “likely suspects” but “didn’t paper the world.”

“We had to compete on price but we also had to get the deal done in what is a very uncertain market,” Langley says. “We’re in transition from a sellers’ market to something other than a sellers’ market; that pendulum is swinging and being out there in this chaos has helped us have a better understanding of what’s going on in the market.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find plenty of capital that’s well priced for quality buildings and borrowers,” says Langley, who used Sonnenblick Goldman (recently acquired by C&W)to find the best debt, which ended up coming from Northwestern Mutual, a direct lender.

Ashforth’s purchase price works out to approximately $310 per sf, which is approximately what Ashforth paid two years ago for the 24-story, 400,000-sf ODS Tower, one of the newest class A office buildings in Downtown. Current replacement cost is estimated at $400 per sf.

“The sale (of Pacwest Center) definitely demonstrates the market is shifting (away from sellers),” he says. “The return indicated on a cap rate and IRR basis is blips (basis points) above where it would have been pre-credit crunch.”

Neither Langley nor Griff would discuss the cap rate or the IRR in detail, but many pre-credit crunch deals for high-quality assets were coming in at or below a 5% cap rate. Given that and Langley’s comments, it is believed that this deal came in above that.

C&W brokered the deal and arranged the financing but will lose the management assignment in the deal because Ashforth Pacific manages its properties in-house. The C&W team that handled the property management has been hired by Ashforth Pacific. Ashforth also has hired the City Center Parking team that previous managed the parking, Langley says.

Vacancy in Downtown Portland’s class A office market is in the mid single digits. Asking rates for space in Pacwest Center are in the low $30s pr sf, which is near the top of the market. While there are plans for new Downtown office buildings in the works, starting rents likely would have to be in the mid- to upper $30s given current development costs.

Langley says there are not any significant leases coming due in the building in the near term. And when they do come due, recent history says they are more likely to be renewed than not. “Our occupancy portfolio wide is 98% and in the last five years our retention has been above 90%,” he says.

Ashforth Pacific started in Portland with a huge chunk of the Lloyd District, a CBD office submarket the sits across the Willamette River from Downtown. In the last few years, with the help of GE, the company has expanded its scope to include buildings in Downtown Portland, Seattle and San Francisco.

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