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Insolvent Property Investor Looks To Sell Stake In Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building in New York

The administrator of the collapsed Austrian property company Signa said it was in talks to sell its stake in New York’s iconic Chrysler Building

At a meeting of creditors to Signa, which declared insolvency last month with debts of potentially $14B or more, administrator Christof Stapf said that the company needed to sell assets to pay for wind-down proceedings and specifically mentioned the Chrysler Building stake.

“Discussions are also being held regarding the investment in Signa RFR US Selection AG, whose US real estate projects include the Chrysler Building in New York,” he said in a statement, the Financial Times reported

The building is one of the most recognizable in the world. It was the tallest on earth when it was built in 1928 and sports a famous art deco apex. But its ownership structure is far from standard. 

Signa teamed up with Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding to buy the ground lease of the 1.2M SF building in a 50-50 joint venture in 2019 for $150M. The previous owner, the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, paid $800M for a 90% stake in the building in 2008. 

The ground lease structure means that Signa and RFR collect the rent from the building but pay an annual rent themselves to Cooper Union, which owns the land under the building.

At the time of the purchase, the ground rent payment was $32.5M, but it could rise as high as $67M by 2029, The Real Deal reported. It was reported in 2020 that Signa and RFR were trying to restructure the ground lease payments. The vacancy rate for the building was reported as 20% at the time of the sale. 

RFR declined to comment.

The stake in the Chrysler building is owned by Signa Holding, which went into administration, a European form of bankruptcy protraction, owing $5.5B. Overall, the web of Signa businesses could owe more than $14B, analysts at JPMorgan Chase said. 

Signa was founded by Austrian retail and real estate investor René Benko and grew rapidly over the last decade, snapping up famous assets including the Chrysler Building and a 50% stake in UK department store Selfridges

Following its administration, Signa’s partner in Selfridges, Thai department store chain Central, said it had taken control of the company through a debt-for-equity swap.