Struggling General Growth Changes CEO, Plans to Offload Assets

On the heels of suspension of dividend payments and the replacement of the company’s CFO at the beginning of October, Chicago-based REIT General Growth Properties Inc. has shaken up management and announced intentions to market certain Las Vegas properties. All of these efforts are designed to help the company survive billions of dollars in maturing debt coming due at a time when credit markets are frozen, according to an Oct. 22 CPN report. About $1.2 billion in debt will mature in November with another $1.3 billion following in December, according to the company’s second quarter financial report. All told, GGP’s debt totals about $27 billion. Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s cut the company’s rating after a round of moves made by GGP. Today, GGP said two independent directors of the company will assume senior management positions effective immediately. Adam Metz will serve as interim CEO, and Thomas Nolan Jr. will serve as interim president, positions previously held by John Bucksbaum and Robert Michaels, respectively. Bucksbaum will continue to serve as chairman and Michaels will serve as COO and a senior officer of the company. In order to maintain a majority of independent directors, Mr. Michaels has also given up his Board seat. GGP also announced that it learned that an affiliate of a Bucksbaum family trust advanced unsecured loans to Michaels and Bernard Freibaum, the company’s former director and CFO, for the purpose of repaying personal margin debt relating to company stock. The loan to Michaels, which totaled $10 million, has been repaid in full. The loan to Freibaum, whose employment was terminated prior to the board’s knowledge of these loans, totaled $90 million and has $80 million presently outstanding. A review by the company’s independent directors concluded that, while the failure to disclose the loans to the company’s board of directors did not follow internal company policy, no company assets or resources were involved in the loans and that no laws or Securities and Exchange Commission rules were violated as a result of the loans. The company’s board of directors and management team, along with its financial and legal advisors, continue to be fully engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of all financial and strategic alternatives for the company, including but not limited to, asset sales, joint ventures, corporate level capital infusions, and broader strategic business combinations, according to a GGP statement released today. Along with other assets currently being marketed, the company has added its portfolio of retail properties in Las Vegas, including Fashion Show Mall, Grand Canal Shoppes and The Palazzo. Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Eastdil Secured will be jointly responsible for the marketing effort, which is expected to begin immediately. In conjunction with the sale process, the company is working with its syndicate of lenders on Fashion Show Mall and The Palazzo to extend the Nov. 28 maturity date. The company is current on all of its debt obligations, according to GGP information. General Growth currently has ownership interest in, or management responsibility for, a portfolio of more than 200 regional shopping malls in 44 states, as well as ownership in master planned community developments and commercial office buildings. The REIT’s portfolio totals approximately 200 million square feet and includes more than 24,000 retail stores nationwide.