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NEW YORK CITY-Having already acquired a controlling interest in the Flatiron Building, the Sorgente Group reportedly has its eye on another Manhattan landmark: the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that the Italian-based real estate investment firm is in discussions to buy a 51% stake in the 57-story property, which at one time was the world’s tallest building.

“We are in talks on two or three properties in New York, of which I can name only one: the Woolworth Building,” Sorgente CEO Valter Mainetti told Bloomberg. The 96-year-old office property is currently owned by a partnership including the Witkoff Group, which purchased it in 1998 for $137.5 million from the Venator Group, formerly the Woolworth Corp. The Witkoff Group did not respond to GlobeSt.com inquiries by deadline.

Mainetti told Bloomberg that the building’s lower floors could be kept as offices while the vacant upper floors could be turned into a hotel or apartments. The 935,000-square-foot office portion of 233 Broadway is currently 99% occupied, according to Bloomberg, with a tenant roster that includes New York University, the New York City Police Pension Fund and law firm Paul B. Weitz LLP. Sorgente, which has US operations based in Manhattan and also owns other properties here, reportedly plans to launch a US-based REIT by year’s end to take advantage of acquisition opportunities.

Sorgente’s possible buy of the Woolworth Building provides additional evidence that overseas investors have become active here again. Thus far in 2009, there have been the sale of AIG headquarters at 70 Pine St. and 72 Wall St., for a reported $140 million; to a partnership of locally-based Youngwoo and Korean-based Kumho; the acquisition of a 49.5% interest in 485 Lexington Ave. by Israeli-based Optibase and Gilmor USA LLC; and the $330-million sale-leaseback of HSBC’s US headquarters at 452 Fifth Ave., where the buyers were two companies controlled by Tel Aviv-based IDB Group, with Midtown Equities as the local partner.

Additionally, more entrepreneurial foreign buyers have gotten into the act lately, as a Spanish investor paid $1,716 per square foot for 901 Broadway in an all-cash deal worth $24.6 million. Robert Knakal, chairman of Massey Knakal Realty Services, which represented seller Thor Equities, told GlobeSt.com in September that the trend is “very reminiscent of what the market was like in the mid-1980s. Between 1985 and 1987, we were constantly meeting with high net worth individuals from overseas. This is the same kind of influx.”

To access the complete Bloomberg story, click here.

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