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As Day of Reckoning Approaches for Owners of Atlanta's Tallest Building, Talk of Another Cousins Coup

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Little known trivia fact: the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere outside of New York City or Chicago is.....Atlanta's own Bank of America Plaza. And Atlanta's own trivia fact is evidently circling closer and closer to foreclosure.

Speculation has circled over the economics of the building for the past couple of years. The current owner LA-based BentleyForbes (interesting aside - the name BentleyForbes was chosen by the company for the respective names' association with luxury products rather than, for example, being owned by guys named Bentley or Forbes) bought the building for $436 million in 2006, and at the time, set the bar in Atlanta for highest purchase price per square foot of office space. After purchasing the building at a premium at the top of the market, the rest of the story is emblematic of the greater real estate bust. The building lost tenants, office supply in Atlanta shot up, and despite maintaining a respectable occupancy rate, the rent roll ceased to service the carrying cost of the building.

BentleyForbes hasn't stood still while the building has lost money. A luxury hotel was proposed for several floors of the building, redevelopment of the undeveloped land into street level retail was explored, and the owners courted the Atlanta Development Authority about providing municipal bonds to redevelop the property. Ultimately, little has changed for Atlanta's signature tower except less occupied office space.

Should the lenders foreclose, an interesting suitor of the building could be Atlanta's own Cousins Properties. If Cousins were to purchase the building it would cap a dramatic piece of Atlanta real estate lore. Cousins developed the BOA Plaza, and after selling it to BentleyForbes for a premium, turned and purchased the floundering 191 Peachtree Tower at a below-market price due to the exodus of high-dollar tenants from Downtown for Midtown and Buckhead. If BOA is Atlanta's Empire State Building, 191 is its Chrysler Building. And as are many of Atlanta's landmark developments, it was also developed by Cousins.

Cousins used its low-entry point in 191 and local influence and knowledge to lease up the building and return it to respectable occupancy and now calls the building home. Selling high, buying low. A savvy business move, if we don't say so.

Could the next chapter of this story be a sale of a performing 191, and flush with cash, a return for Cousins to ownership of the BOA Plaza? Or could they announce a strategy of controlling trophy Atlanta real estate by retaining 191 and swooping in to purchase the BOA Plaza thereby starting a collection of landmark, self-developed towers? It would be a nice sign to see one of the City's preeminent development groups making a bold move. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, it makes for some fine print (as good as it gets for high-end real estate speculation).