Top real estate deals in 2002

The Lawyer team picks ten of the best deals of 2002

Millennium Dome sale

English Partnerships: Berwin Leighton Paisner (Simon Allan)
Meridian Delta consortium: Clifford Chance (Iain Morpeth)
Anschutz Entertainment: Denton Wilde Sapte (Simon Levine), Herbert Smith (Patrick Robinson), Holme Roberts & Owen (Kevin Conwick)
Lend Lease: Freehills (Mark Crean)
Quintain: Nabarro Nathanson (Graham Lust)
The Minister of State: Linklaters (Robert Finch)

Ironic that one of our top property transactions this year should have been the smallest in terms of monetary value. Well, free in fact. But when the ill-fated Millennium Dome was finally handed over to the Meridian Delta consortium in May, the team at Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) must have breathed a sigh of relief. Who would have thought it could take so long to sell a piece of property? (Although no doubt the firm was not complaining about the fees it generated.)

The building came close to sale so many times that just about every real estate partner in London must have got a taste. But BLP got the lion’s share. During the two-year course of negotiations with various parties, the team has advised not only English Partnerships, but also former Dome operator the New Millennium Experience Company, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the Cabinet Office.

At first it looked like Nomura would close the deal, but that fell through at the last moment, with the bank and its law firm Herbert Smith claiming they had been misled over the terms of the sale. A few months later Norton Rose client Legacy had its bid rejected.

Finally, the Government looked at a handful of prospective buyers from a list of around 100. Longstanding CMS Cameron McKenna client Wellcome Trust looked set to get the nod; but ultimately it was the Meridian Delta consortium that took the prize – if you can call it that.

The Mexican Wave

PruPIM: Lovells (Robert Kidby, Michael Stancombe)

Okay, so it has not been used on a deal yet, but the most dramatic news in the property market this year was Lovells’ Mexican Wave concept, developed for the Prudential’s property investment arm PruPIM. With the first deals under the scheme just completing now, it is something everyone has been talking about and represents a brave move by Lovells property head Robert Kidby.

For those lawyers that have spent the last 12 months asleep under their desks, the concept works as follows: Lovells receives all of PruPIM’s instructions but farms out the less complex work to small regional firms Cripps Harries Hall and Knight & Son, thereby being able to offer PruPIM the Lovells guarantee of quality without the Lovells price tag.

Not only does it slash fees for the client, it also allows Lovells to do the high-end work without having to reduce fees on less complicated matters. This way, it seems, City firms may still be able to compete with national firms on price. (Although it does raise obvious questions as to what
difference it makes to Lovells’ insurance bill.)

Of course, the big question for 2003 is: will it work? It is something we will be watching with interest next year.

Pre-letting of Spitalfields to Allen & Overy

Hammerson: Clifford Chance (Jonathan Solomon, Nabarro Nathanson (Michael Cant)
The City Corporation: Clifford Chance (Tony Briam)
Allen & Overy: Linklaters (Marshall Levine, Julian Innes-Taylor)
Spitalfields Development Group: Norton Rose (Brian Greenwood), Herbert Smith (Michael Davis)
Smut: Richard Buxton (Susan Ring), Richard Harwood of Eldon Chambers (now at 39 Essex Street)

The eventual pre-letting of 750,000sq ft to Allen & Overy (A&O) was one of the largest that the City has ever seen. But the story surrounding it is just as big.

Throughout 2001 A&O was pursued by numerous companies all wanting the magic circle firm to make their space its home. They included 201 Bishopgate, Lehman Brothers’ Northgate scheme and Canary Wharf. But A&O had its heart set on Spitalfields – a desire that would be severely tested over the coming months.

The difficulty for A&O and its adviser Linklaters was that the Spitalfields Development Group (SDG) could not guarantee the planning certainty for the new scheme, and by waiting for it A&O risked losing its other potential suitors. Sure enough, there were difficulties.

Residents group Spitalfields Market Under Threat (Smut), outraged at the impending flow of pinstripe suits, enlisted niche Cambridge firm Richard Buxton, which in turn instructed Richard Harwood of Eldon Chambers to stick a spanner in the works. They managed this by claiming that the planning application drafted had not included a proper environmental impact assessment and was therefore unlawful.

After protracted negotiations, SDG submitted a revised planning application. The eventual re-letting completed in September. But as part of the deal A&O agreed to sign a unique social compact with local council Tower Hamlets, which will see the firm carrying out pro bono work for its new local authority.