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HOUSTON-One day after real estate investor Edward Okun was sentenced to 100 years for fraud conviction, his sole Houston property, the one-million-square-foot West Oaks Mall–put into bankruptcy in 2007–is officially on the sales block. The estimated current value of the mall is in the range of $20 million, far below the $110 million Okun’s company Investment Properties of America LLC paid for it in 2005.

In addition to being IPA’s sole Houston holding, West Oaks Mall at 14700 Westheimer Rd. is one of only a handful of distressed properties currently being brought to market in the Bayou City.

Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP’s Robert Williamson, who is marketing the property with HFF colleague Rusty Tamlyn on behalf of special servicer LNR Partners Inc., tells GlobeSt.com that, as a result, the asset is attracting a lot of interest from potential buyers.

“Everyone is looking for distressed assets, and in Houston, this is the only large distressed property on the market right now,” Williamson remarks. The mall’s anchors include Dillard’s and Macy’s, which own their own space, and Sears, which is on a lease. Williamson says the Sears lease is up in 2010, but negotiations are underway to keep the retailer in place.

When Okun bought the mall from Somera Capital and CoastWood Capital a little less than four years ago, the asset was 95% leased, and sported $10 million worth of exterior and interior improvements. IPA had even larger plans for even more renovations on the 33-acre site, Williamson says.

Less than a year later, the owner was able to secure $86 million of permanent financing for the mall. Yet by late 2007, IPA had filed for bankruptcy protection to stave off foreclosure. Okun’s troubles and a failing economy dropped the mall’s occupancy to a little less than 70%.

“For over two years, the property has been drifting, rudderless,” Williamson comments. “While Okun was having his issues, several national retailers’ leases came up for renewal. But no one was in place to make a decision, so they just shut down their stores.” Another hit to the mall was the year-end closure of Linens ‘n Things.

But the 1980s mall still remains a viable asset. Williamson says the remaining tenant roll is a mix of local, regional and national retailers. Furthermore, with Simon Properties having abandoned its plan to build another regional mall nearby at Interstate 10 and Grand Parkway, West Oaks is the only game in town. There are other malls on the west side, Williamson says, but all are outside the 10-mile radius that West Oaks serves.

“This is a huge trade area and West Oaks is a great mall,” he adds. “It just needs someone with a focused leasing plan to help put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

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