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Originally published March 24, 2010 at 7:05 PM | Page modified March 25, 2010 at 6:48 AM

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Columbia Center misses mortgage payment

The owner of the Northwest's tallest building, the 76-story Columbia Center, missed a mortgage payment this month, providing fresh evidence of the troubles facing downtown Seattle office landlords.

Seattle Times business reporter

Mortgage trouble at the top

Region's tallest office tower misses a payment

Building: 76-story Columbia Center was acquired for $621 million in 2007.

Owner: Beacon Capital Partners, Boston.

Debt: $480 million borrowed in 2007

Missed payment: $1.65 million due earlier this month on the senior loan of $380 million.

Source: King County records, Wells Fargo Bank


The owner of the Northwest's tallest building, the 76-story Columbia Center, missed a mortgage payment this month, providing fresh evidence of the troubles facing downtown Seattle office landlords.

Boston-based Beacon Capital Partners failed to make a scheduled payment of $1.65 million on a $380 million loan it took out when it bought the tower three years ago, according to a recent report by Wells Fargo Bank, which administers the debt.

The loan faces "imminent default due to cash flow issues,"says a note in the report.

A spokesman for Beacon, the Seattle area's largest office landlord, declined comment.

The 1.5-million-square-foot Columbia Center appears to have been especially hard-hit by the recession, which has pushed rents down and vacancies up all over downtown.

Downtown's overall vacancy rate is at or above 20 percent, according to brokerage reports. At the Columbia Center, however, almost 600,000 square feet — nearly 40 percent of the building — is listed as "available" on online commercial real-estate database

That includes space that is vacant now and space expected to be emptied in the next year or so, including 177,000 square feet leased by, which is moving to a new headquarters complex now under construction in South Lake Union.

When Beacon bought the Columbia Center in April 2007 it was 89 percent leased. The firm paid $621 million, according to county records, and borrowed a total of $480 million to help pay for the tower.

Its assessed value now is $380 million.

"There are many buildings in a similar position where the loan is greater than the value of the building," said Craig Kinzer of Seattle-based Kinzer Real Estate Services.

At some point, he said, those disparities will need to be resolved — either by foreclosure, renegotiation of the debt, or a "short sale" in which a building is sold for less than the owner owes the lenders.

Kinzer called Beacon's missed payment on the Columbia Center "the first salvo by the owner in negotiations with the bank."

He and James Keating, a senior vice president with brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle, said the missed payment should have no immediate impact on tenants or the building's day-to-day operations. Beacon has a reputation as a good landlord, both said.

"Beacon's a pretty substantial company, and I have a feeling they'll pull out of this," said Keating.

The real-estate investment company purchased the Columbia Center and 13 other Seattle-area office buildings in one of the region's biggest deals ever, close to the peak of the commercial real-estate boom.

Observers speculated at the time that Beacon intended to hold most of the buildings for only three to five years, selling them at a profit after jacking up rents and securing new tenants.

The five-year, interest-only $380 million loan was bundled with other real-estate loans by Morgan Stanley Capital and sold as commercial mortgage-backed securities. A 2007 offering statement for the issue projected the Columbia Center would generate 32 percent more income than was needed to make the loan payments.

But the recent Wells Fargo report indicates the building now produces only 78 percent of the income needed to cover that debt.

The report also indicates Beacon was making its loan payments through February.

The $1.9 billion package of loans includes a dozen other loans, with a face value of about $120 million, that have missed at least one payment, according to the report. They are secured by real estate in California, New York, Missouri, Alabama, Florida, Idaho and Arizona.

The Columbia Center lost a major tenant in 2008 when law firm Heller Ehrman disbanded. The 2007 offering statement said the firm was then leasing 117,000 square feet — 8 percent of the building — and was paying more rent than any other tenant.

It also had a lease that ran until 2018.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

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