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CALIFORNIA FIRM BUYS PART OF TRIAD CENTER

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The Triad Center on West South Temple entered a new phase of its star-crossed existence Thursday when a California investment firm closed a deal to buy the portion of the center owned by The Travelers Insurance Companies of Hartford, Conn.

Price was not disclosed, but local market watchers indicated it was bought for substantially less than the $38 million on which Travelers foreclosed in the mid-1980s.Total ownership of the 10-acre, five-building Triad Center is spread among five condominium associations with four owners among them, including The Travelers, Bonneville International Corp. (owner of KSL Radio and Television), state of Utah and a New York-based bank.

Maier & Siebel Inc., based in Larkspur, Calif., bought the portion of the office complex that Travelers had taken back in the 1980s when the original developer, Saudi-Arabian wheeler-dealer Adnan Khashoggi, defaulted on his loans.

Elliott Davis, senior vice president of Maier & Siebel, said the company has no "immediate plans" for additional development at Triad Center, but noted that, "We are a long-term strategic owner," a hint that some growth of the project may be contemplated down the road.

For the short term, Davis said he wants to do more events in the amphiteater, bring in another restaurant, and "keep the current tenants satisfied."

Asked if Maier & Siebel had plans for any further investments in Utah, he replied, "Perhaps. We are very bullish on what is happening in the Salt Lake Area."

Maier & Siebel's current portfolio contains more than a dozen projects in California and Arizona with a "concentration" in Class A office space.

Travelers was the primary lender for the ambitious project that Khashoggi and his Utah manager, Emanuel A. Floor, once envisioned as "Rockefeller Center West." Only the first phase was completed before the complex went into bankruptcy.

Chris Matthews & Associates, the leasing and management company that took on the center in 1991 when it was only half full, will remain as manager. That means tenants of the 10-acre complex will likely see few, if any, changes, other than where they send their rent checks.

Matthews said Friday that the buyout was a good indication of the strength of Salt Lake City's economy. "The sharpest financial minds now say Salt Lake is a buy," he said.

Triad's 560,000 square feet is now 95 percent leased, a figure that, for practical purposes, means it is full.

"There are a few pocket spaces left that we can do business with, but it's pretty hard to get much over 95 percent, especially in a project this size with more than 50 different tenants," Matthews said.

Triad Center - Triad meaning Khashoggi and his two brothers - was to be a vast complex of office towers, high-rise residential condominiums, restaurants, theaters and an "International Bazaar" retail shopping center of elite, upscale stores spread throughout the surrounding blocks.

The centerpiece was to be and remains today the restored Devereaux Mansion, home for the Chart House national restaurant franchise.

None of the original retail shops, restaurants and private clubs made it much past the first chaotic years of 1984-85 when it became clear that Khashoggi had given the project the blessing of his name and reputation - his Salt Lake International Center business park had been a success - but not his personal funding.

Triad Center went into bankruptcy in the mid-1980s with only the tenants who owned their facilities outright in the condominium arrangement surviving unscathed.

The largest loser was Travelers, which reluctantly took over the project following the bankruptcy. In January 1991, when Matthews was hired, Triad Center was only 54 percent leased. In the previous 18 months, only 3,000 square feet of space had been leased - not exactly a recipe for recouping Traveler's investment.

Matthews, a Utahn who was then working in Colorado, came in and began the hunt for tenants to fill the unleased space owned by Travelers. He would also manage the entire property for all of the four owners.

He said it was immediately clear to him that the original concept of Triad Center as the "Gathering Place" for Salt Lakers looking for entertainment, food and shopping wouldn't work.

"Triad Center is a great fundamental office park," he said. "It will never be the grandiose scheme originally conceived by Khashoggi and Floor, but it is a good solid office environment with some restaurants and athletic facilities that support everything that needs to happen here."

Some of the larger tenants at Triad Center include KSL Broadcast House, Cellular One, Equitable Life and Casualty, Dallin Smith White Advertising, several Utah state agencies and Williams and Rockwood Advertising.

AT&T has terminated its lease and Davis said a new tenant is currently being sought for that space.