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Hong Kong Group Buys Beverly Wilshire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A high-powered Hong Kong consortium that once bailed out Donald Trump has bought a piece of Southern California history, the posh Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, for about $100 million.

Thursday’s purchase of the Beverly Hills icon, whose banquet halls and luxury suites have attracted visiting royalty and Hollywood celebrities for decades, marks yet another fire sale of a piece of “trophy” real estate by unlucky Japanese investors.

Sources said the buyers, B.W. Hotel L.L.C., paid less than half what the previous owners invested. The seller was Tokyo-based Hotel Investment Corp., a consortium of Japanese banks.

Real estate sources said the movement of the Hong Kong group into Southern California sends a signal to other Hong Kong investors who are looking for places to diversify their holdings with the approach of 1997, when the British colony returns to Chinese control.

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The Hong Kong buyers--a who’s who of the colony’s business elite--plan to invest $20 million to $30 million in renovating the 275-room hotel and adding 110 to 120 rooms, according to Ambrose Cheung, president of B.W. Hotel L.L.C.

“We are confident the real estate market of California is coming back quickly,” Cheung said. He would not disclose the purchase price, but other real estate and hotel sources put it at about $100 million.

The Beverly Wilshire is just the latest acquisition by the Hong Kong group through its Vancouver, Canada-based subsidiary, Polylinks International Ltd.

They include its 1994 investment in Trump’s controversial $2-billion Riverside South project in Manhattan.

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The Regent Beverly Wilshire is far more than a piece of expensive real estate.

Built in 1928, the hotel has long been a favored stop for countless celebrities. Its lavish presidential suite has housed such luminaries as the late Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Elvis Presley and eccentric Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton.

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto will stay there next week when he meets with President Clinton.

Requests for the $4,000-a-night suite jumped dramatically after it was used in the popular romantic fantasy film “Pretty Woman.”

For 11 years, actor Warren Beatty rented Room 1001, a rooftop suite where the noted ladies’ man entertained. When the actor complained that gawkers were disturbing his private activities in the adjoining rooftop garden, the hotel erected a canopy to give the actor some privacy.

Cheung said the purchase represented a business strategy driven by attractive opportunities in North America and a desire by the investors to spread their wealth and risk throughout the world.

The group is also scouring the world for other trophy acquisitions, primarily hotels in Hawaii, on the East Coast and in Europe, in addition to hotel chains in the United States.

The Toronto-based Four Seasons Regent Hotels and Resorts will continue to manage the hotel under the Regent Beverly Wilshire name.

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While the Beverly Wilshire is a popular destination for American business leaders, it is less well-known among the chief executives of Asia and Europe, Cheung said. He believes that a major face lift and an aggressive marketing campaign, focusing on the hotel’s history and location in the so-called Golden Triangle of Beverly Hills, will ensure the Regent’s position as a world-class luxury hotel.

The consortium’s eight members--Lai Sun Group, Glorious Sun Group, the Hong Kong Parkview Group Ltd., Yin Cheong Group, Far East Consortium Group, Shui On Group, Sunnet Investment Group and Kailey Enterprises Group--are major industrialists with holdings throughout the world.

Cheung would not disclose or elaborate on the negotiations.

The Beverly Wilshire’s owners invested $225 million to $235 million in the hotel over the past decade. But the hotel’s complex financial history and its relationship with Harunori Takahashi, a flamboyant Tokyo real estate speculator now facing criminal charges in Japan, make it difficult to determine exactly who suffered the loss.

Since the hotel was bought from famed hotelier Hernando Courtright for $125 million in 1985 by Regent International Hotels of Hong Kong, its ownership has changed several times. Along the way, it was acquired by the Japanese entrepreneur, who had launched a worldwide buying spree financed with $6 billion in low-cost loans from Japanese banks.


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