Empire State Building owner files for IPO

The landmark skyscraper and 11 other properties will be part of a REIT.

By Kim Peterson Feb 13, 2012 2:42PM
Credit: © Sebastian-Julian/Vetta/Getty Images
Caption: Coin-Operated Binoculars looking towards the Empire State BuildingKing Kong chose the Empire State Building for its potential to climb. Now investors can, too.

The company that owns the 102-story Manhattan skyscraper plans to go public, according to regulatory documents filed Monday. Empire State Realty Trust wants to sell up to $1 billion worth of Class A shares as the office market continues to recover.

The company owns 12 office properties, including seven in midtown Manhattan, and will go public as a real-estate investment trust, or REIT. The company is owned largely by New York's billionaire Malkin family, which fought for years with Donald Trump and real-estate heiress Leona Helmsley for control of the Empire State Building.

The stock might be just the ticket for investors looking to diversify into real estate, and the prospect of jumping into the bustling Manhattan office market -- the largest in the U.S. -- is exciting. The stock is expected to list on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "ESB."

But don't buy this stock for the Empire State Building. The company's flagship property isn't as profitable as some might believe. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, it generated $157 million in revenue, largely from leases and tourist visits to the observation areas. Only 67% of available office space was leased at the end of September. (A much smaller retail space was 90% leased.)

The building has a low base rent per square foot compared with other company properties, at about $34.80. Compare that with the $44.77 per square foot at One Grand Central Place, which is 80% occupied.

The big money in New York business real estate comes from major banks, Reuters reports. But the REIT's list of top tenants includes only one large bank: Citigroup (C). It has other big-name tenants, including cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden (RDEN) and asset manager Legg Mason.

The company has been trying to modernize the Empire State Building, which was completed in 1931. Empire State Realty Trust has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade its buildings, and it said the renovation at the Empire State Building specifically could extend until 2016.

We don't yet have a date for the IPO, and the $1 billion worth of sold shares may not actually happen. That figure was picked mostly to determine registration fees. The company will likely end up raising a vastly different amount.

There are other ways into the commercial real-estate business, which has been relatively stable with yields investors can appreciate. The Glimcher Realty Trust (GRT), for example, has a dividend yield of 4%. LTC Properties (LTC), a health care REIT, has a dividend yield of about 5.4%.
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