US Bay Area still holds allure for Chinese buyers

Chinese investment in commercial real estate in the Bay Area remains robust despite an economic slowdown at home. Industry leaders, excited about two big-ticket acquisitions by Chinese investors, are optimistic that they're a sign of more to come.

In August, Greenland USA, a leading developer with parent company Greenland Group headquartered in China, announced that they had acquired South San Francisco's 42-acre Oyster Point property for $171 million and plan to pump another $1 billion into developing it.

The waterfront property will be built into a large-scale complex combining office and research and development centers for the life sciences industry. To be completed in phases, construction on the first 500,000-square-foot section will begin once needed infrastructure improvements are made by the city, including streets, utilities and grading.

Greenland's third strategic acquisition in the US, Oyster Point is expected to transform the cityscape of South San Francisco and bolster the local economy of one of the world's best-known biotech innovation hubs.

Over the years, Greenland USA has invested more than $1 billion in Los Angeles' Metropolis and $6 billion in New York's Pacific Park Brooklyn. Both projects focus on developing properties in gateway cities that transform surrounding communities.

In an earlier interview, Greenland Group chairman Zhang Yuliang said the San Francisco Bay Area was known globally for its leadership in innovation and "we're proud to bring Greenland's expertise and vision for transformative properties to the area. The US continues to play a critical role in our overseas expansion and we look forward to what will be a landmark property."

Mark Addiego, mayor of South San Francisco, applauded the deal. "The development of Oyster Point presents tremendous opportunities for the South San Francisco community and Greenland USA has approached it with the vision, expertise and energy needed to bring it to fruition," he said, adding that by investing in Oyster Point, "we will further cement our position as the world's leading center for innovation in biotechnology."

In a concurrent deal, an investment subsidiary of China-based Fortune 500-ranked Hainan Airlines Group (HNA) purchased a 29-story office tower at 123 Mission Street in downtown San Francisco for $255 million from Hong Kong-based Great Eagle Holdings.

The Class A 346,000-sq-ft office building went up in 1986 and is currently 95 percent occupied with 14 tenants. It will be HNA's first West Coast office property in San Francisco's financial district.

Earlier this year, HNA made headlines when it paid $6 billion for Ingram Micro, a US tech company that distributes Apple and Microsoft products.

"As the prices of office buildings in San Francisco have appreciated rapidly over the past year, especially in downtown San Francisco where the building is located, the general partner and asset manager believes that it is appropriate to dispose of the property," said Great Eagle Holdings in their filing.

Representing Greenland for the Oyster Point transaction, the San Francisco office of Kidder Mathews walked its Chinese client through the negotiations and deal-signing.

Skip Whitney, executive vice-president at Kidder Mathews, created the firm's China services desk several years ago to address the unique China-focused issues his clients face buying and managing business properties in America. The group offers services to Chinese companies searching for investment opportunities in the US and vice versa.

In what Whitney called the "super-heated market of commercial property" in San Francisco, "I'm confident that Chinese investors are going to be buying more business properties from the US," he said.