Benson Elliot, GCI complete €138m France refi

‘Milestone’ as two firms complete the only refinancing of securitised debt to be completed in France since the crisis began.

Benson Elliot Capital Management, the European private equity real estate firm, and Générale Continentale Investissements (GCI), have completed a €138 million refinancing of a 4-building portfolio in France.

The firms said today that the 36,000 square metre ‘Opéra Portfolio’ in Paris has been refinanced by a syndicate of three banks: Helaba (Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen), Aareal and Credit Foncier de France, with Helaba acting as facility and security agent. The transaction is said to be the only refinancing of securitised debt to be completed in France since the crisis began.

The flagship property in the portfolio is the well-known Opéra Italiens building in Paris’ Central Business District. Once the headquarters of French daily Le Monde, the property is currently completely occupied by the Ministère de la Justice. The portfolio also includes a property in the 13th district and two office buildings in the western suburb of Issy Les Moulineaux.

Since acquiring the portfolio in 2007 the two firms have increased occupancy from 65 percent to 99 percent. Major leases have been extended with the Ministère de la Justice and French publisher Editis, and new leases have been completed with companies such as Socotec, Oracle and France Telecom.

In addition, the partners profitably sold two assets in 2008: Matignon and Belles Feuilles.

Joseph De Leo, partner and head of portfolio management at Benson Elliot, said in a statement: “This refinancing is a major milestone for the French market and for Benson Elliot. It shows that banks remain enthusiastic about funding quality assets, in major markets, with strong sponsors.”

Paul Raingold, president of GCI, added the refinancing demonstrated the strength of the Opéra portfolio. He called the assets “well located, high standard properties, occupied by high quality, long-term tenants”.

He added: “Paris is one of the strongest property markets in Europe today, both occupationally and in terms of investor demand, and this transaction evidences how successfully the portfolio continues to weather this period of financial market uncertainty.”