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Making headlines on the Via Solferino

The headquarters of Milan’s top newspaper has become an integral part of the city’s history, but the most interesting story might soon be written.

Two World Wars, the rise and fall of fascism, European integration, the 1960 Rome Olympics and four FIFA World Cups are just a few moments of Italian history chronicled in print inside Via Solferino 28.

During the past century, the long-time home of Milan’s top daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera, has accumulated a colorful saga of its own. The most recent chapter features the property’s owner, Blackstone, which has found itself engaged in a legal brawl with previous owner, RCS MediaGroup.

Built in Milan’s historic city center in 1904, the property has been a mainstay for generations. The white block letters spelling “Corriere” along the building’s façade have made the publication synonymous with the street they hang above. Some locals refer to it as the via Solferino newspaper, one Milanese investment consultant tells PERE.

Part of the building is said to date back to 1700, but the structure that has housed the Corriere newsroom for more than a century was designed by 19th-century architect Luca Beltrami. Over the decades, it has been upgraded, renovated and expanded. Additions in 1925 and 1963 took the property from 53,820 square feet to 279,760 square feet. It now spans nearly an entire block in the city’s chic Brera neighborhood.

The building was first owned by the Crespi family, which also owned the newspaper. Both were sold to RCS in the 1960s. RCS then sold the property to Pirelli and Morgan Stanley Real Estate, subject to a 24-year lease in 2000, only to buy it back three years later.

Hit hard by the global financial crisis, RCS was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy in 2013. At the advice of its lenders, it sought to liquidate assets, including the newspaper’s iconic headquarters. Despite objections from the Corriere editorial board and at least one minority stakeholder, the entrepreneur Urbano Cairo, then the owner of Cairo Communications, the company sold the complex to Blackstone for €120 million.

By then, Corriere della Sera’s sentinel-like presence at via Solferino had begun to wane. At the time of the sale, it occupied just 62 percent of the property. As part of the sale agreement, it reduced its footprint to 38 percent of the building by 2015. Its lease expires in 2024. Meanwhile, Blackstone pumped $20 million into the property to revitalize it, building a new entrance and an additional floor of office space. The New York-based private equity real estate giant went on to secure further leases from Ubi Banca, CDP – Italy’s development bank – and clothing company Loro Piana.

Then last June, Allianz Real Estate offered to buy the building in a deal valued at €250 million. Blackstone agreed to sell, but the deal was derailed by RCS’s claim of ownership. Now helmed by Cairo, who merged his company with RCS in 2016, the multimedia conglomerate has filed an arbitration suit against Blackstone accusing it of violating Italy’s usury laws. The suit argues Blackstone took advantage of RCS’s weakened financial state to secure a sale price well below market value. RCS wants the sale nullified.

While the case winds through the Italian court system, the sale appears to have died on the vine. Blackstone has filed a counter suit in the US claiming RCS filed its arbitration maliciously to sabotage the deal.

Legal observers do not believe RCS’s claims hold water, arguing the transaction was above board and may have even helped the company avoid bankruptcy. However, in an interview with the Financial Times, Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffè, a business professor at Milan’s Bocconi University, said the building’s historic significance gives RCS a leg to stand on: “It is like buying the Colosseum. If you are naïve enough to buy the Colosseum, you cannot complain if you are sent to arbitration.”