A Southern California firm closed a $600 million deal Thursday to buy a vast collection of Sacramento's industrial real estate that local developer Joe Benvenuti assembled over his lifetime.
San Diego's Westcore Properties bought 110 buildings with 11 million square feet of space about 8 million square feet in Sacramento and another 3 million square feet in the Midwest.
All told, the holdings are about four times the square footage of the Empire State Building.
The deal is the second-biggest in Sacramento history, topped only by the $760 million purchase in 2007 of the Wells Fargo Center and other office properties, brokers said.
It's also the biggest industrial real estate transaction in California this year and the second-largest in the United States in 2012, said Mark Demetre of Jones Lang Lasalle, who helped broker it.
"It's a huge statement," Demetre said.
Demetre and others said the massive purchase of warehouses and light industrial buildings is a sign of investors' faith in the long-term prospects of Sacramento's commercial real estate market.
It also symbolizes the passing of ownership from a small group of wealthy local developers, such as Benvenuti, to outside interests with an infusion of Wall Street cash, he said.
Westcore President and CEO Don Ankeny said his company was eager to pick up where Benvenuti, who died in May, left off. In addition to amassing a real estate empire, Benvenuti helped bring the Sacramento Kings to town, built the team's Arco Arena and erected the city's first modern high-rise office building.
"Joe was a legendary guy in your marketplace," Ankeny said. "The opportunity to step into the shoes of his lifetime's work doesn't come along very often. When we got wind of that opportunity, we jumped on it."
Joseph Benvenuti was the son of Italian immigrants and grew up in New Jersey. He served in the Army during World War II and came to California in 1949.
He began by building duplexes and single-family homes in the city's north area, then met developer Buzz Oates. The two began a long partnership of developing industrial buildings. They eventually separated their business interests but remained lifelong friends.
Oates, now in his late 80s and one of the nation's richest men, retains his half-billion-dollar empire of warehouses and office buildings.
Benvenuti's heirs decided to sell most of his holdings after his death.
"It was basically a family decision. My dad passed away a few months ago and my mom a couple of years ago," said Richard Benvenuti, the late developer's son. Distribution of the proceeds is still being worked out, he said.
Just signing the papers to transfer the real estate took most of a week, he said.
The family's 15 percent stake in the Kings and its 50 percent share of Biba Restaurant aren't included, nor are a scattering of other properties. The capital's first high-rise the Renaissance Tower, a dark-glass edifice that became known as "the Darth Vader building" was sold off years ago. Benvenuti was instrumental in building it in 1989.
The vast majority of Benvenuti's 13 million square feet of holdings were part of the sale.
Westcore bought 11.1 million square feet. About half the purchased properties are concentrated in North Natomas along North Market Boulevard and Del Paso Road, near the former Arco Arena. Others are in West Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and Placer County.
The buildings are mostly unremarkable blocks of distribution centers, light industrial and office buildings. Tenants include the state of California, FedEx and Sara Lee, Demetre said.
"It's the backbone of supplying the people of Sacramento," he said.
The Midwestern acquisitions include similar properties in St. Louis and Indianapolis.
Randy Getz, executive vice president with commercial brokerage CBRE in Sacramento, called the deal a major move for Westcore, which is nearly doubling its holdings, as well as for Sacramento.
The purchase was financed in part by DRA Advisors, a New York-based investment firm that bought $1.8 billion worth of real estate in 2012, according to a Westcore news release.
"Something like this suggests folks outside of our particular geography are sufficiently confident and comfortable to spend enormous amounts on high-quality real estate in our town, and to me that's very positive," Getz said.
Recently, others have wagered large sums on area real estate. Blackstone, another multibillion-dollar New York investment group, has purchased at least 750 homes in Sacramento County, betting somewhere between $75 million and $100 million that residential properties will rise in value.
Westcore CEO Ankeny said the $600 million was regarded as a smart longterm investment in a high-quality set of properties. Some need fresh investment and sprucing up, he said, but there were few "dogs" in the lot.
Sacramento's commercial real estate market, which has suffered through the recession with lower rents and higher vacancies, will likely improve in the coming years, he said.
"Our thesis is that Sacramento is the fourth biggest (real estate market) in California," Ankeny said. "There certainly have been some long years in Sacramento, but we feel like daylight is coming."