Editor’s note: Hello Google, farewell HNA

Stuart Elliott
Stuart Elliott

The priciest New York City real estate deal in 2017 already looks to be going south, thanks to what one industry player called “one of the most reckless investors I’ve worked with.” And it was Chinese money that was at play — part of a new phase of global capital that’s entering and leaving the city.

The Real Deal reporter Konrad Putzier lays out the shocking fall of Chinese conglomerate HNA, which is now struggling under a $90 billion debt burden after going on a worldwide acquisition spree. Early last month, news broke that HNA would put its most prized Manhattan trophy, 245 Park Avenue, up for sale after purchasing it for a record $2.2 billion just nine months earlier. The tower is expected to sell at a loss as the firm seeks to unload about $4 billion in U.S. real estate assets, including other properties in New York.

And while HNA beats a hasty retreat, it isn’t alone. Anbang Insurance Group — whose prolific spending tear included snapping up the Waldorf Astoria — was taken over by the Chinese government last month in a move to reportedly prevent the company from collapsing. “I’ve never seen such a turn in the industry,” said Marcus & Millichap broker Eric Anton, referring to the exodus of some large Chinese players. “It was a surprise to almost everybody.”

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Foreign investment was seen as a savior in the years following the Great Recession, but the picture is more mixed now. There is Chinese money on the run and tainted cash from other corners of the world. Our cover story, by E.B. Solomont and Will Parker, examines how the Department of Justice is looking to dispose of forfeited properties totaling billions. At the top of the list, the Feds need to unload 650 Fifth Avenue and the Park Lane Hotel, which was seized from Malaysian financier Jho Law as part of a money laundering investigation. But do bureaucrats have what it takes to sell the property for top dollar in the shark-eat-shark world of NYC real estate?

Meanwhile, the priciest building purchase of this year — Google’s mammoth buy of Chelsea Market for $2.4 billion — appears to be a lot more stable than HNA’s Park Avenue play. The tech giant, which has $14.5 billion in real estate assets, seems to be in it for the long haul, snapping up more and more of West Chelsea. We look behind the recent deal, first reported by us, and what it means for the neighborhood. Find that story here. A little farther uptown, we examine retail guru Ken Himmel’s vision for Related’s Hudson Yardsshopping hub and the prognosis for success amid a weak retail market. Can Himmel replicate the results he brought to the Time Warner Center a decade and a half ago?

Finally, check out coverage of The Real Deal’s first-ever comedy event last month, which benefited a cancer charity. And there’s a lot more coming up. If you’re on the West Coast, come to our first quarterly neighborhood real estate forum in Los Angeles on March 7. Our annual Long Island special issue just hit the newsstands, and we’re launching a weekly email newsletter for that market. And stay tuned for our new property listings section at TheRealDeal.com, as well as our upcoming launch in Chicago.

Enjoy the issue!