From the Wall Street Journal:
About six years ago, Newark, N.J., seemed to be winning its long struggle to emerge from decades of urban decay, and one of the symbols of that was the opening of Eleven80, a market-rate rental property in a converted Art Deco office building.
The developer, Cogswell Realty, spent about $110 million to develop the 317-unit apartment tower with luxury finishes and a bowling alley in the building that originally opened in 1929. Most significantly, Cogswell was charging market rates of more than $2,000 a month for some units, prices unheard of in downtown Newark.
But now the project has also taken on new symbolism as its defaulted mortgage has been sold. While sales of distressed real-estate debt are commonplace these days, this deal was significant because the seller was the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The Fed wound up owning the debt on Eleven80, along with about $6.4 billion in commercial real-estate loans, when it made a $28.8 billion loan to bail out Bear Stearns Cos. in 2008.
Since then, the Fed has been slowly and quietly reducing that stockpile, partly through loan sales. As of Dec. 31, the value of the commercial real-estate loan portfolio had been whittled down to $2.9 billion, according to public documents.
What is less clear is how well taxpayers have made out from the Fed’s efforts to sell off commercial real-estate loans. A spokeswoman for the Fed declined to comment on the disposal of toxic real-estate loans by Maiden Lane LLC, the Fed-controlled company that was established in 2008 to handle all of the Bear Stearns assets taken over by the Fed.
In the case of Eleven80, taxpayers didn’t make out well. Bear Stearns originally made a $54 million loan on the project, which Maiden Lane inherited. In the recent deal, Maiden Lane sold the debt for $35 million to KBS Strategic Opportunity REIT, a nontraded real-estate investment trust managed by KBS Capital Advisors LLC, of Newport Beach, Calif.
The Fed also moved slowly. A trustee began foreclosure proceedings in 2009, but three years later Cogswell still owns the asset. The foreclosure has been complicated in part by litigation related to a construction company seeking payments.
The Fed’s loss could have been worse. Investors’ demand for distressed commercial real-estate loans is rising, and buyers are now paying an average of 50 cents on the dollar, topping the 25 cents on the dollar that soured commercial real-estate debt was selling for when real-estate values hit their troughs, according to Harris Trifon, global head of commercial real-estate research at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.