Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing’s company and two private equity firms have made preliminary bids for Anbang Insurance Group’s office complex in Vancouver, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Li’s CK Asset Holdings Ltd., U.S. private equity firm Blackstone Group and Canadian real estate firm KingSett Capital have expressed interest in four office towers called Bentall Centre, said the sources, who were granted anonymity by The Globe and Mail because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The Chinese insurer Anbang was forced to put Bentall Centre up for sale after Beijing took control of it amid problems with debt and allegations of corruption. The Chinese government is hoping not to lose money on the office complex after Anbang spent more than $1.06-billion in 2016 − the most expensive commercial real estate deal in Vancouver’s history.
It is not yet known what each party has offered in this first round of bidding and whether the process will result in a deal. Bentall Centre is the highest-profile commercial property for sale in Canada and is seen as a test for what buyers are willing to pay for a large office complex in the current real estate market in Vancouver. CK Asset did not respond to a request for comment. Blackstone and KingSett declined to comment.
CK Asset and Blackstone have been looking for large properties in Canada. Last year, Mr. Li’s company made a bid for a large block of land near Toronto’s international airport, though it lost out to the Public Sector Pension Investment Board. Mr. Li and his family have had extensive business interests in Canada, including a controlling stake in Husky Energy Inc. of Calgary.
Blackstone spent more than $3-billion on a Canadian trust that has industrial properties and partnered with a Toronto real estate fund to invest in Canadian apartments.
Anbang’s broker, commercial realtor CBRE Group Inc., is running the sale for Anbang. A CBRE spokesman declined comment.
In January, CBRE had contacted more than 10 domestic and foreign investors about the sale. That list included most of the big Canadian pension funds, as well as one of Bentall Centre’s previous owners, GWL Realty Advisors Inc.
However, industry sources have said large Canadian pension funds were unlikely to bid, given that they are focused on developing their own office towers in the biggest Canadian cities and expanding into other countries.
Bentall Centre’s current property manager, Canderel Ltd., had previously asked Anbang if it could continue to manage the property, though the insurance conglomerate opted for a complete sale of the office complex, including the management rights.
“We have offered our services to all people who have expressed or might express any interest in looking at the acquisition of the property if they are successful,” Canderel chairman Jonathan Wener said in an e-mail on Wednesday.
It may be difficult for Anbang to break even on Bentall Centre, as there are only a handful of deep-pocketed players that want to spend $1-billion on a single Canadian commercial property, especially now that investor sentiment has started to shift.
After a nearly 10-year bull run in commercial real estate, some property owners say the market for large, premium property assets has become more unpredictable.
If a deal is more than $200-million, “your bidding pool is smaller,” Greg Sweeney, a managing director with Manulife Real Estate, said on a panel at a real estate conference this week. Mr. Sweeney was speaking in general and not specifically about Bentall Centre. It isn’t known which other firms might have entered the bidding process for the Vancouver property.
Anbang was nationalized in 2018 and is taking steps to divest real estate in Canada and the United States as it restructures the company.
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