Starwood appoints Whitbread man

Hiring Desmond Taljaard has stoked talks of Starwood launching a takeover of the publicly traded UK leisure group.

Starwood Capital looks set for further activity in Europe. The Greenwich, Connecticut-based private equity real estate firm has appointed Desmond Taljaard as head of asset management in the region and a senior vice president of the firm.

Starwood, which was founded by legendary hotel magnate Barry Sternlicht, has closed two massive deals recently, bumping up its exposure to the European hospitality sector. Last year, the firm acquired the second largest hotel network in Europe when it paid $3.2 billion (€2.5 billion) for Société du Louvre, which owns 14 luxury properties in France, Switzerland and Germany, including the famous Le Crillon in Paris and the Martinez in Cannes. Prior to that transaction, Starwood had purchased the Le Meridien hotel portfolio for $973 million.

In his new role, Taljaard is reporting directly to Jeffrey Dishner, Starwood senior managing director and chief operating officer. Dishner said Starwood needed a senior-level executive who could manage the existing portfolio and “help lay the groundwork for future expansion.” Taljaard has joined from the British brewer-cum-leisure company Whitbread, where he was in charge of group development, overseeing corporate development and mergers and acquisitions.

During his tenure, Whitbread was constantly reported as a potential takeover target. The company has been selling off non-core businesses, including the £1 billion disposal of the Marriott hotel business in the UK, a deal that Taljaard was instrumental in. Even though chief executive Alan Parker's disposal program has helped push up the share price up, rumors of takeover talks have recently resurfaced.

Around the same time that Taljaard's appointment was announced, it emerged in The Sunday Times that Starwood has built up a 3 percent stake in Whitbread. The news has fueled speculation that the private equity firm might be eyeing an acquisition of the company. Whitbread owns Costa Coffee as well as health clubs and restaurants, but of more interest to Starwood may be Premier Inn Travel, which commands 6 percent of the budget sector in the UK. In a recent interview with French newspaper Les Echoes, Sternlicht failed to play down takeover talk. Asked about his intentions towards Whitbread, he said: “We look at a lot of things all the time everywhere in the world. For Whitbread, I do not comment on a market rumor.”

Lehman picks Ritblat for advisory role
Lehman Brothers has appointed Sir John Ritblat, the outgoing chairman of UK property development and investment company British Land, as chairman of its newly created European Real Estate Private Equity Advisory Council. Ritblat is one of the industry's most well-known figures, having steered British Land through three decades of growth. He will provide strategic advice to the investment bank in the region. In Europe, the private equity real estate division is run by Gerald Parkes. In a statement, Parkes said: “The advisory council will play an important role in advising the business in Europe and Sir John's appointment will be of tremendous benefit to our business.”

MSREF makes hospitality hire
Morgan Stanley Real Estate has named a former executive of French hotel group Accor as chairman of its global lodging practice. Andre Martinez will be responsible for expanding Morgan Stanley Real Estate's hotel and resort property investing business and enhancing the investment banking and lending services it provides to lodging clients. At Accor, he held a variety of roles including chief executive of hotels in the EMEA region, chief executive of economy hotels and chief development officer. In related news, Morgan Stanley announced the European expansion of its wholly-owned hotel asset management and consulting company, Panorama Hospitality, to manage its growing European hotel portfolio, which currently includes a portfolio of seven Intercontinental hotels and the Mandarin Oriental Prague.

New Star adds three
London-based fund manager New Star Asset Management has made three new appointments to its global property team. Robin Carr and Simon Tyrell, both formerly of property advisors Richard Ellis, have been named European property acquisitions manager and Asian property acquisitions manager, respectively. Andrew Banks, formerly the property finance director of insurer Legal & General, is joining the fund manager as chief operating officer. New Star's global property fund was launched in April.

Perella Weinberg hires real estate head
Perella Weinberg Partners, the recently formed New York corporate advisory firm, has hired Leon Bressler, a former chairman and chief executive of French property investment firm Unibail, to spearhead its push into private equity real estate. Bressler, who will be a partner in the London office, will be responsible for the investment strategy of a new global property fund which Perella is setting up with its joint venture partner Fisher Brothers, an American real estate company. The news comes five months after legendary Morgan Stanley banker Joseph Perella set up the firm, aiming to manage a series of vehicles focused on alternative investments. It has raised $1 billion (€780 million) from a group of 11 global investors reportedly including Fisher Brothers, Mitsubishi and Gulf Investment Corporation.

Carlyle buys £150m UK office portfolio
The Carlyle Group has agreed to buy a major office building complex in Birmingham for £150 million ($286 million; €223 million), adding to the private equity firm's UK property portfolio. Colmore Plaza is a development by Abstract Land which will be completed by early 2008. The 14-story property will comprise 307,000 square feet in England's secondlargest city. The firm is buying Colmore Plaza out of its second European real estate fund, Carlyle Europe Real Estate Partners II, which closed in September 2005 on $930 million. The vehicle is now 50 percent invested.

Tishman Speyer spends €670m in Germany
Coming on the heels of the firm's massive acquisition of Stuyvesant Town in New York City, the real estate developer has purchased a large portfolio of German office buildings from Difa Deutsche Immobilien Fonds. The New York-based developer and real estate investor paid €670-million ($851 million) for the portfolio of ten office buildings located throughout the country. News of the deal cam shortly after research by Richard Ellis said German openended funds became net sellers of property in the first half of the year, helping to fuel the market.

Permira plans hotel sale
Permira plans to sell off the real estate assets of Principal Hotel Group, a month after backing its £315 million ($600 million; €468 million) management buyout. The London-based private equity firm has appointed Richard Ellis Hotels to market the six UK properties, which could fetch up to £265 million. The portfolio comprises the 373-bedroom Russell in London's Russell Square, the 195-bedroom George in Edinburgh and the 200-bedroom Selsdon Park in Croydon, Surrey.

Behringer strikes Amsterdam office deal
US firm Behringer Harvard, along with co-investment partner HCI Capital, has snapped up a portfolio of seven office buildings in Amsterdam for an undisclosed sum. Two properties in the portfolio, Tilburg and Hengelo, are 100 percent leased. The other five properties are more than 86 percent leased and are located in various suburban submarkets around Amsterdam. Behringer and Hamburg, Germany-based HCI Capital recently announced a JV to invest up to $1.3 billion (€1 billion) in European real estate.

Macquarie sells business park developer
Private equity real estate firm Macquarie Global Property Advisors (MGPA) has sold UK and European business park developer Akeler to Macquarie Goodman for £640 million ($1.2 billion; €946 million). The sale comes four years after MGPA bought the company for £280.5 million. Macquarie Bank, MGPA's parent, sold its stake in Macquarie Goodman earlier this year. Chief executive officer of James Quille said that the deal was symptomatic of the way allocations to real estate have increased across the board. “The option of securing a company with a huge pipeline to build out is a great way of securing product,” he said.