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Apartment Juggernaut Rolls In

KENNETH R. GOSSELIN | Courant Staff Writer

April 01, 2008

Larry Gottesdiener built most of his Hartford commercial real estate empire when prices were depressed in the '90s and earlier this decade. So it's no surprise that his biggest deal in 17 years at Northland Investment Corp. the creation of a $2 billion apartment portfolio comes in the midst of a housing recession.

Northland, already the largest landowner in downtown Hartford, is now poised to become the largest apartment owner and manager in Connecticut in a joint venture with New York-based Tarragon Corp., the ailing apartment and condominium developer.

The joint venture will combine the apartment holdings of Northland with Tarragon's 7,433 apartment units to create a juggernaut of 21,000 apartments at 83 properties in a dozen states, mostly in the East. Newton, Mass.-based Northland will control the partnership and Tarragon will hold a 22.5 percent stake in the new partnership.

Northland expects to expand its employment in Hartford by up to 100 jobs, some of them moved from Tarragon locations in Wallingford and elsewhere in the state.

Northland also expects to invest in upgrades at Tarragon properties.

In Connecticut, Tarragon will add 3,537 apartment units at places with names like Woodcliff Estates in East Hartford, Lofts at the Mills in Manchester and Forest Park in Rocky Hill. Together, the Northland-led partnership will have 5,202 units in Connecticut.

Gottesdiener, Northland's chairman, said the real estate company waited out the hot market of recent years.

"We positioned ourselves during the heady days," Gottesdiener said. "We were not a big buyer in '04, '05 and '06. We kept our powder dry."

Now, he said, the company has grown from a $1.5 billion to a $2.5 billion portfolio in 12 months.

"In a recession like this, it's an opportunity to upgrade the quality of your real estate," Gottensdiener said.

The partnership which does not include Hartford 21, the luxury apartment tower in downtown Hartford owned by Northland makes Northland one of the 50 biggest apartment owners in the country, and, Gottesdiener said, Connecticut's largest commercial property owner.

Northland's agreement with Tarragon is expected to close before the end of June, according to Steven P. Rosenthal, Northland's chief executive. It does not require approval of Tarragon shareholders, whose stock has fallen in value by 79 percent in the last 12 months.

Since last summer, Tarragon has been hit hard by the downturn in the housing market in the segment of its company that develops condominiums. It has been selling properties off and has said it has gotten a "liquidity crisis" at the company under control.

Tarragon, in a written statement, said the partnership for apartments, along with a separate management deal with Northland, will bring better access to capital to invest in other ventures.

Monday's announcement does not cover properties Tarragon has acquired for development. It provides for Tarragon with a $50 million loan commitment.

Gottesdiener, whose firm owns CityPlace II, 242 Trumbull Street and other office buildings in Hartford, has been a vocal proponent of a new hockey arena with the goal of attracting an NHL team. He said Monday he isn't done buying and developing property in the area.

"One of these days somebody's going to call us up to take over Front Street," he said, referring to the stalled retail-residential project in downtown Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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