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NEW YORK CITY-Savills LLC, the locally based real estate investment banking arm of Savills PLC, has launched an advisory unit that will zero in on hospitality, leisure, gaming and timeshare properties. David Gutstadt, formerly of Goldman Sachs, will head the new unit, joining Savills as SVP.

Gutstadt and his team will focus on owners of hotels, casinos, timeshare developments and golf courses, advising on property sales, debt restructuring and mergers and acquisitions. In his 10 years at Goldman, Gutstadt was responsible for making hotel, gaming and leisure investments on behalf of the Whitehall Funds. He sourced and executed transactions including the acquisition of American Casino & Entertainment Properties and an equity stake in Hilton Hotels. His former clients include Global Hyatt, Marriott International, Host Hotels & Resorts and KKR.

Another key player in the new Savills unit is Kenneth Spears, who has also just joined the company as SVP. Spears will focus on brokering debt, equity and note sales in addition to advising on restructurings and distressed situations. He worked for more than two decades at Citi Markets & Banking, the successor company to Salomon Brothers. His career has encompassed a variety of positions within the commercial real estate finance industry since he began it at First National Bank of Chicago, where he focused on construction lending.

“These are extremely trying times for the hospitality, leisure and gaming segments of the commercial real estate market,” says John D. Lyons, president and CEO of Savills LLC, in a release. “But it’s also an opportunistic moment for Savills to recruit the most talented industry executives like David Gutstadt and Kenneth Spears. Our clients will immediately benefit from their presence, and we expect to expand our team even more over the next few months.”

According to the release, Savills LLC was among the first US-based real estate firms to formalize a distressed/restructuring division as government bailout efforts were beginning to ripple through the commercial real estate sector. The firm has since advised on numerous high-profile restructurings and workouts, the release states.

Savills LLC was founded in 1996 as Granite Partners, and was acquired in August 2007 by Savills PLC for $54 million. The London-based parent company had 2008 worldwide revenues of $805 million, according to financial results released last week.

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