M1 Real Estate Plans $800M Portfolio, NYC’s Argonaut Leasehold First U.S. Investment

M1 Real Estate, a Monaco-based real estate investment and development company that has acquired a 99-year leasehold on Manhattan’s Argonaut building, plans to invest over $800 million in commercial real estate in key markets around the world, the CEO said today.”The Argonaut was definitely a home run acquisition and it will reflect the portfolio that we will continue to grow in the New York area,” Moustapha El-Solh told CPN this morning. El Solh said the privately-owned firm, an affiliate of M1 Group, is “looking at two other transactions in the New York area.” The firm does not own any other assets at this time in North America but has a portfolio of properties in Europe and the Middle East. El Solh said M1 is looking to develop and acquire properties across emerging markets as well as in key cities like London, where it already has a large presence, Paris and Frankfurt.M1 Real Estate today officially announced the acquisition of the 99-year leasehold on the landmark building at 57th Street and Broadway from Hearst Publishing. The amount of the acquisition was not disclosed but El Solh said the firm planned a $45 million renovation of the vacant building that would last approximately 14 to 18 months. He said M1 hoped to have at least partial occupancy by the end of the year.CPN reported Dec. 4, 2007, that M1 and a consortium that also includes SAFKA Holdings L.L.C.’s Joseph Safdieh and various executives of real estate services firm GVA Williams are part of a partnership that plans to completely renovate and retenant the 175,000-square-foot building. The 10-story building will have approximately 40,000 square feet of retail space on the first three floors and 135,000 square feet of Class A office space on the upper floors. Designed by Francis H. Kimball and built in 1909, the Argonaut has a European-style, neo-Gothic exterior and was headquarters to General Motors until it was sold years later to the Hearst Corporation. Previously occupied by Hearst Publishing and a Duane Reed drug store on the ground floor, the building is now vacant which will speed the renovations, El Solh said. He noted that the firm will be working closely with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on the renovations. El Solh said the firm will also be seeking LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification for the project. El Solh described the bidding process on the landmark building at 224 W. 57th St. as a “fierce competition” that included at least six bidders at the onset. He said M1 was one of three bidders in the final rounds.”The key aspect of the Argonaut, which attracted us to make it our first acquisition in the New York area, of course is the location and that the building had never been on the market for leasing or to a third party,” El Solh said. GVA Williams in New York City is the leasing agent for the building. The firm is also providing asset management services and supervising the restoration program.”With new retailers appearing, luxury residential towers being built and exclusive restaurants and hotels vying for prime positions along the street, the location of the Argonaut makes it a highly coveted New York address,” Brian Given, vice-chairman of GVA Williams, said in a release. El Solh said “there has been some serious interest from overseas as well as from American companies that would like to engage in discussions” about leasing space in the building. He said it could either be marketed to a single office tenant or multiple companies, adding he expected three to four retailers would take space on the lower floors.