BlackRock appoints agents to sell AXA Tower

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BLACKROCK, the world's largest asset manager, is believed to have appointed agents to find a buyer for AXA Tower at 8 Shenton Way. Market observers say this points to the New York Stock Exchange-listed group's serious intention to sell the landmark circular building opposite International Plaza and Tanjong Pagar MRT Station.

The pricing expectation is believed to be at least $2,000 per square foot (psf) based on the existing net lettable area (NLA) of 674,000 square feet - which would amount to $1.35 billion.

Word on the street is that CBRE and Jones Lang LaSalle, whom BlackRock has appointed as exclusive agents to market AXA Tower, are talking to interested parties.

Featuring quadruple road frontage along Shenton Way, Maxwell, Anson and Prince Edward roads, the 50-storey building is on a site with a balance lease term of 68 years.

Despite its circular shape which gives it low efficiency (ratio of net lettable to gross floor area) of only 66 per cent - compared with 80-plus per cent for a modern office development - AXA Tower offers significant asset enhancement potential. BT understands the buyer has potential to tap unutilised plot ratio for the property which can be used to construct a retail podium on an undeveloped part of the site facing Maxwell Road.

AXA Tower's existing gross floor area (GFA) is about 1.02 million sq ft, reflecting around 8.64 plot ratio (ratio of GFA to land area). The GFA can be raised to 1.24 million sq ft, translating to a total plot ratio of 10.5 as allowed for the site under Master Plan 2008 - inclusive of bonus plot ratios for the property's substantial site area and proximity to Tanjong Pagar MRT Station. Some analysts reckon a development charge of about $140 million would be payable to the state to tap the unutilised plot ratio.

The additional space of over 200,000 sq ft can be built in the form of a low-rise block with a big floor-plate. "The best use for this would be probably retail," suggested an industry observer.

AXA Tower currently includes about 29,000 sq ft NLA of retail space in the basement and level 1, with 645,000 sq ft offices filling up the rest of the building. There are some 600 carpark lots in the basement levels.

The property has had a few name changes over the years. When it was completed by the government in the 1980s, it was known as Treasury Building before being renamed Temasek Tower when the Finance Ministry moved out in 1997.

After a CapitaLand subsidiary sold the property in 2007, the building saw another name change to 8 Shenton Way before taking its current name in 2011 when AXA became anchor tenant.

Earlier this month, BlackRock completed its acquisition of MGPA, which was formerly known as Macquarie Global Property Advisors. The latter bought the Shenton Way property, then known as Temasek Tower, for $1.039 billion or $1,550 psf of NLA in March 2007. The acquisition was made through MGPA Fund II, which is said to expire in 2015.

BlackRock's recent acquisition of MGPA has created a combined US$23.5 billion global real estate investment platform and is serving a diverse client base of some 700 investors.

In addition to providing exposure to a recovery in office rentals, AXA Tower's buyer stands to reap substantial value creation from constructing a retail podium.

In June this year, Tuan Sing Holdings paid $2,580 psf of existing NLA for Robinson Point, a freehold property. Last December, the freehold 79 Anson Road changed hands at $2,029 psf while Mapletree Anson, with a balance land tenure of 94 years at the time, was transacted at $2,049 psf.

Source: Business Times, 19 Oct 2013