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Lenders withdraw case in latest Stuy Town suit

By Sabina Mollot

It was the biggest bust of the last real estate boom, but lawyers battling over Stuyvesant Town money claim everybody won.

“Listen, everybody connected with this property is making a lot of money,” said Greg Cross, attorney for the propertyʼs special servicer, CW Capital.

Cross was in court earlier this month defending his client’s right to a half-billion-dollar payment for services rendered during the five-year period when CW Capital ran the 11,000-unit complex and serviced the debt on the original $3 billion mortgage rung up by Tishman Speyer and BlackRock Realty, which was sold to investors in five securitized tranches.

Photo by Marianne O'Leary/ Flickr
Photo by Marianne O’Leary/ Flickr

In October, investment giants Blackstone and Ivahoe Cambridge agreed to buy the East Side development for $5.3 billion and signed a deal with the city to preserve 5,000 affordable apartments.

Ahead of the sale closing, the latest in a long line of lawsuits surrounding the complicated financing deals negotiated for the property drew to an end with the plaintiffs withdrawing their complaint

The lawsuit had been filed by funds controlled by the hedge fund, Appaloosa Management. They were bondholders for the first $3 billion mortgage. In it, they claimed CW Capital’s acceptance of $566 million in sale-related and service fees would cause the lenders irreparable harm. The suit cited figures from industry analysts that said the sale of Stuyvesant Town to Blackstone Group for $5.3 billion would result in a gain on sale proceeds on the senior loan in excess of $1.1 billion.

“The recovery of these amounts is critical to the Stuy Town CMBS (commercial mortgage backed securities) trusts,” said the investors in their lawsuit.

They argued that CW would still be compensated for its services by a “special servicing fee” of $7.5 million per year for the nearly six years the company has controlled the property, and a $15 million “liquidation fee” for the sale. On December 1, the plaintiff filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss and discontinue the legal action, which also named Wells Fargo as a defendant.

When asked for comment later, Cross, partner in charge of Venable’s bankruptcy group, said he wasn’t authorized to discuss the suit other than to confirm that it was dismissed, and that there wasn’t a settlement.

On the same day, Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner-Kornreich denied a preliminary injunction by the lenders after hearing arguments from the attorneys for both sides.

“I’m looking at this and the major issue here is lack of standing,” Werner-Kornreich told Appaloosa’s attorney, according to a court transcript. “I think that as a result, the likelihood of success on this, in my view, is slim.”

Werner-Kornreich also disagreed with the lenders’ argument that CW’s acceptance of the full amount of fees would cause the lenders irreparable harm.

“We’re talking about money and I don’t see the irreparable harm,” she said.

It was during his chance to argue CW’s case that Cross dismissed the plaintiffs claims they had dragged their heels in selling the complex, explaining litigation had to first be settled, among other reasons.

“We found a way to manage the property. We had to settle a J-51 suit. It took us like three years to do that,” said Cross.

He also mentioned litigation in federal court, which “took another two years. So there was no protracted delay where someone was sitting on their hands.”

He also blasted Appaloosa for its “rogue actions,” saying previously the funds had fought them in court “telling us to hold on to the property, work with the property.”

On the disputed hundreds of millions, Cross argued that CW earned it after waiting six years. “Listen, everybody connected with this property is making a lot of money,” said Cross, “and most of them — the only person who worked for that money to earn it for them is CWCapital.”

There were several big losers on the historic deal.

Anthony La Malfa, partner – Real Estate and Hospitality Services at accounting firm BDO, noted, “ The $5.3 billion sales price far exceeds the $3.0 billion in principal balance owed to the trusts for the first mortgage, but the original acquisition price in 2006 was $5.4 billion.

“That leaves $2.4 billion in losses for the original equity and mezzanine investors.ˮ

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