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CHICAGO: Sam Zell Strikes Again

National Office

He’s not called the Grave Dancer for nothing. Sam Zell’s in the headlines (as usual) for a very public power move back into the highly competitive office market. But his takeover of troubled CommonWealth REIT has even larger implications. No diva (ok, maybe Beyonce) could have made a flashier exit from office than Zell in the frenzied market of ’07, when Equity Office Properties Trust sold out for $39B. He’s back after shareholders voted in a new board for CommonWealth REIT, with Zell as chairman, last week. Many feel it will set a precedent in terms of transparency and shareholder rights, and Green Street Advisors managing director Jim Sullivan tells us CommonWealth’s outlook is far brighter for it.


“The portfolio will be run by an experienced office team whose financial interests are fully aligned with shareholders,” Jim says, including David Helfand, co-president of Equity Group Investments, as president, CEO, and acting CFO and treasurer. Zell will move the company’s HQ to his Equity kingdom in Chicago, and Jim predicts Commonwealth’s 37M SF portfolio will look quite different in three to five years. (Like Chicago's 233 N Michigan, above.) Many assets are in markets where owners have little pricing power, Jim says, meaning new management will likely sell out of those metros and reinvest in others. Going forward, we expect REITs could encounter a much more vocal shareholder base, for better or worse, when returns sour.