A Southern California real estate company is closing in on the purchase of a staggering portfolio of buildings assembled by the late Sacramento developer Joe Benvenuti, according to numerous local sources.
The deal would be one of the largest in Sacramento history and if it's concluded another sign of improving prospects for a real estate market that was clobbered in the downturn.
Local real estate sources say the buyer is Westcore Properties of San Diego. The portfolio: a vast collection of mostly industrial properties in California and a half-dozen other states that's expected to bring in close to $800 million.
"It includes everything except (Benvenuti's) interest in the (Sacramento) Kings and in Biba (restaurant)," said one developer who is familiar with the deal but asked not to be identified because the sale isn't finalized.
The transaction is being handled by the Sacramento office of commercial real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle. Brokers there did not return calls seeking comment on any pending deal.
Also unavailable for comment were officials with Westcore, an international real estate investment firm with a couple of Sacramento-area holdings.
There is widespread talk in the local real estate community that Westcore has nearly completed purchase of a portfolio that one source estimated at more than 13 million square feet of industrial, office and retail space.
Indeed, one real estate executive said the deal already has gone "nonrefundable," meaning the buyer has put up millions of dollars it won't get back if it opts to not complete the purchase. The same person, who declined to be named because he's not authorized to speak on the matter, said the deal is expected to close before Dec. 21.
The prospective buyer already has begun interviewing local real estate brokerages to manage some of the Sacramento holdings.
The sprawling portfolio of buildings became available after the May death of Benvenuti, a legendary developer and civic booster who helped build the original Arco Arena.
The arena is right in the heart of the Natomas area, where Benvenuti accumulated most of his holdings during a development career that began here around 1950.
Benvenuti helped lure the Kings to Sacramento in the mid-1980s, and his family still owns 15 percent of the team.
That ownership share is not included in the deal with Westcore, confirmed Kings spokesman Chris Clark.
Neither is the 50 percent share of Biba Restaurant that Benvenuti acquired when he helped Biba Caggiano open her award-winning midtown Sacramento dining spot in 1986.
Caggiano said Friday that Benvenuti's heirs have not indicated they have any urgency to unload their share of the restaurant.
"That's very comfortable for me," she said, adding that Benvenuti first became interested in helping Caggiano start the business after his wife took a cooking class from her.
The impending sale is being viewed by many as a good deal for Westcore and also as a validation that the local market is improving.
Other property portfolios on the market have also attracted strong interest recently, including 11 Roseville office buildings being offered by Hines, the Houston-based real estate investment firm.
One prospective local buyer of those buildings recently backed away from a deal. But others all out-of-town companies are said to be making their own offers.
Another sign of the area's improving fortunes, brokers say, is the recent acquisition of more than 500 foreclosed houses by the Blackstone Group, a New York-based investment firm.
Adding to the optimism are two recent leases at Mather Field business park and in Roseville for about 400,000 square feet of office space by Sutter Health.
Together, the activity suggests a much improved commercial real estate market, said John Frisch, regional managing director for the Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank brokerage.
"It's not party hats and horns," he said of the state of the market. "But most arrows (for different sectors) are pointing up and I haven't been able to say that for five years."