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NEW YORK CITY-The news that Developers Diversified Realty Corp. is selling $400 million of new CMBS through TALF is an encouraging sign that Washington’s efforts to jump-start the economy are bearing some fruit, an all-star panel agreed Tuesday afternoon. The fact that new CMBS is being issued for the first time in more than a year “is in itself a breath of fresh air,” said panelist Jeffrey DeBoer. However, DeBoer, president and CEO of the Real Estate Roundtable, said the federal government needs to get more serious in dealing with the issues facing commercial real estate.

“We know there’s a tsunami approaching,” said panelist William Rudin, referring to the hundreds of billions of dollars in commercial loans maturing in the next few years. “The question is, how do we deal with it?” DeBoer said that Washington needs to figure out solutions to these challenges–not in the sense of providing another government-sponsored bailout, but in the sense of resolving the issues and moving on. He noted that while he doesn’t anticipate another RTC-like model coming along, the federal government is at least aware of the magnitude of the problem of loans that can’t be salvaged.

DeBoer and Rudin, president of Rudin Management Co., shared the stage with Richard LeFrak, chairman and CEO of the LeFrak Organization, during the panel discussion presented by the Real Estate Board of New York at the New York Hilton. All three panelists spoke of the opportunities as well as hurdles in the current environment.

“I don’t think it will get any better than it will be in the [next] two couple of years,” said LeFrak. “There will never be a better time to strike.”

As an example of putting his money where his mouth is, LeFrak is partner in WLR LeFrak, one of the companies that last month bought a 40% stake in an LLC holding $4.5 billion of assets from failed construction lender Corus Bank. He said the FDIC-sponsored deal shows that Washington is smartening up when it comes to disposing of toxic assets, such as the busted Florida condominium loans that Corus originated.

“By giving us generous financial terms, they were saying, ‘we don’t want you to go into South Florida and drive prices down,’” said LeFrak. He added that he’d get involved in another Corus-like deal “in a heartbeat.” Earlier in the discussion, though, he warned, “The problem imbedded in these failed banks is that there are hundreds of billions in losses.”

The crushing weight of an avalanche of bad debt is not the only challenge where a more proactive effort by the federal government could lighten the load for the commercial real estate sector, panelists said. “Our industry is a derivative of the economy,” said DeBoer. “We need jobs.”

On a more upbeat note, LeFrak said the “digestive process” that banks are going through will allow them to write down losses and thus create distressed buying opportunities. DeBoer predicted a possible uptick in sales volume next year as would-be sellers move to avoid being taxed at a higher capital gains rate come 2011.

And while LeFrak jokingly described negotiating a lease with a commercial tenant in the current market as “like having a colonoscopy,” Rudin pointed out, “The good news is that we’re making deals again. We may not like the rents or the TIs, but we’re doing deals. At the beginning of the year, we weren’t doing any.” The hour-long discussion was moderated by Steve Liesman, senior economics reporter at CNBC.

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