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Part of Worldwide Church of God's former
Ambassador College property in receivership

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Part of WCG's former
Ambassador College property in receivership

by Janet Williams
This article is reprinted by permission from The Pasadena Star-News of Feb. 23, 2008. It ran under the headline "Housing Slump Hits Ambassador West Hard." Ambassador West is part of property formerly owned by Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God.

PASADENA, Calif.--With a crucial part of the Ambassador West development in receivership after its owners defaulted on a $44 million loan, completion of one of the city's largest, most prestigious housing projects has been thrown into doubt.

The property owners, AACP Properties and Ambassador Acquisition Coalition Partners II, have been unable to find a builder to replace Pacific Standard Homes, which in November 2007 abruptly pulled out of a deal to build 70 luxury condominiums on four parcels on the Ambassador West site.

Property in receivership

The lender, Drawbridge Special Opportunities Fund Ltd., promptly filed suit, and the 19.72-acre property went into receivership Dec. 27.

Now, in the midst of a nationwide housing slump, some neighbors and city officials question the owners' ability to attract a new builder quickly enough to fend off deeper problems.

Howard Weinberg, a part owner of Ambassador West who said he is "the manager of the borrower entities," said he is confident the obstacles can be overcome.

"It's our intention to build, or to have someone build, the condos that have been approved," Mr. Weinberg said.

"The receivership is not time-bonded, and we hope to reach a resolution with the lender and to find a buyer for the condo parcels as quickly as possible. We are as interested as all the stakeholders in the city to see the project completed as originally planned."

Buyer hard to find

But Dorn Platz president Greg Galletly, whose company helped steer the entire project through city hall, predicted it will be hard to find a buyer for the condo parcels.

"Home builders just do not have the capital to step up and buy something like this today," said Mr. Galletly, whose company has a 2 percent stake in Ambassador West. "This site is still one of the best in Southern California, but in today's world home builders are all in serious trouble."

Ambassador West's receivership is "somewhat unusual," Mr. Weinberg said. Near-term proceeds--including the owners' recent sale of two parcels for the Sunrise Senior Living complex--will "apply to the benefit of the project, rather than the repayment of the loan," he said.

The setup was requested by Drawbridge "to encourage us to quickly create a transition to repay their loan," he said.

He declined to say how much was paid for the prime site in 2004, at the height of California's real-estate boom.

Mr. Galletly said all Ambassador West's entitlements, including the affordable-housing component, are attached to the property, and it would be "very, very difficult" for any future builder to change anything.

12 open acres

The city and neighborhood were won over by Ambassador West's plans to keep 12 acres of open space on the former Worldwide Church of God headquarters site, including lawns, European-style gardens and courtyards, while preserving all the historic buildings and 80 percent of the trees.

Historic mansions

Other parts of the development--including Sunrise's 200 luxury assisted-living condos, now named Sterling of Pasadena, several historic mansions and the vintage Villa Francesca rental apartments restored by Dorn Platz--are not part of the receivership.

Angela Ling, a director of Sterling of Pasadena, said Ambassador West's problems would not affect progress on the 440,000-square-foot senior-living complex, which could be completed by 2011.

"We expect to submit [revised] plans to the design commission in late February or early March, and we're very close to doing that," Ms. Ling said.

The massive senior complex--two six-story buildings joined by a bridge--is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit with Harvest Rock Church, owners of the neighboring Ambassador Auditorium, which claims the building encroaches on church property.

The two parties are "still talking" but no agreement has been reached over the suit filed in May, church attorney Steven Reed said.

City not concerned

Mayor Bill Bogaard said the city cannot impose a time schedule on developing Ambassador West.

"There's been a significant transfer of ownership," Mr. Bogaard said, referring to Sunrise's and other purchases. "From a point of view of the city's economic strength, if it takes longer for further steps to be taken--as long as it's cared for and so on--it strikes me as not a source of concern to the city."

Councilman Steve Madison, whose district includes Ambassador West, said residents would have to be "a little bit patient" while a new builder is being sought at "a really bad time for real-estate development."

Neighbors have expressed concern to him, he said, but he has advised them to apply a "reality check" on the progress on the west campus.

"When I was elected nine years ago Ambassador Auditorium was on the chopping block," he said. "And [Legacy Partners] were asking for 2,000 units" on the combined 46-acre east and west campus.

Pieces of campus

The Worldwide Church of God, which put the 49-acre campus on the market in 1999, later sold it in three pieces. Maranatha School and Harvest Rock Church--owner of Ambassador Auditorium--moved onto the west campus in 2004. That same year Sares Regis bought the 12-acre east campus for a mixed retail and residential development, now underway.

Fred Zepeda, president of the West Pasadena Residents Association, which fiercely opposed both earlier plans for the property, said the neighborhood had been stunned by Ambassador West's recent problems.

"We're anxious to find out what's going on," Mr. Zepeda said. "I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen. Everyone's still staring at each other."

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