With the Plaza Hotel’s majority stake up for grabs, one of the world’s richest men and a former prime minister of Qatar has quietly stepped into the mix.
Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber al-Thani — also known among the global elite as HBJ — has acquired the mortgage on the iconic hotel, Bloomberg reported.
How that came to pass is the latest chapter in the complex struggle to own one of the city’s most iconic properties.
Since the 1990s, billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has owned a stake in the Plaza for decades, since buying out now-President Donald Trump. Under house arrest following a crackdown in Saudi Arabia, bin Talal recently sold half of his 25 percent stake in the Plaza to Ben Ashkenazy’s Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation. Terms of the deal give Ashkenazy the right of first refusal to buy the majority interest.
According to Bloomberg, HBJ stepped into the picture this summer when, through a Luxembourg company called Pinnacle Investments, he provided loans to Ashkenazy, who bought London’s Grosvenor House hotel for $750 million. Like the Plaza, the Grosvenor was owned by the embattled Subrata Roy. At the same time, an affiliate of Pinnacle became the senior lender to the Plaza — meaning HBJ can apply the mortgage to a potential bid for the hotel.
“Ashkenazy was able to buy the Grosvenor House and HBJ was willing to buy the mortgage” on the Plaza and Dream, said Sandeep Wadhwa, head of corporate finance for Roy’s Sahara India Pariwar. “There were higher bids,” he said, but Al Thani provided “a solution that no other transaction in isolation was giving us.”
Roy, who was imprisoned in India after being accused of duping investors, put his remaining stake in the Plaza on the market this summer, after Ashkenazy and Bin Talal teamed up to buy half his interest in the property. Any sale of the Plaza comes with a catch: $1 billion in loans held by billionaire brothers Simon and David Reuben on the Grosvenor, Plaza and Dream hotels. The loans are cross-collateralized, with a provision that anyone who buys one hotel has to take over, pay off or refinance the loans for all three.
With the Plaza mortgage, HBJ — who once controlled the Qatar Investment Authority — seems to be upping his global real estate portfolio. He also the primary backer of Macklowe Properties’ $585 million acquisition of 1 Wall Street, as well as an investor in 432 Park Avenue’s retail condo. His other holdings include a stake in One Hyde Park in London, the Harrods department store, the Shard, the Canary Wharf district and Claridge’s, according to the Financial Times. He’s also held talks with the Kushner family on investing in 666 Fifth Avenue.
According to Wadhwa, there have been fewer than 10 offers for a 75 percent stake in the Plaza. Neither Al Thani, Ashkenazy nor Alwaleed have submitted bids, he said.
“We have a great relationship with the lender Al Thani,” Wadhwa said. Still, “we are very neutral as to whether they buy it or someone else buys it. As long as we get the best price.” [Bloomberg] — E.B. Solomont