River Crossing not involved in bankruptcy

The Shoppes at River Crossing is not involved in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing Thursday by one the shopping center’s co-owners, said Bill Baker, the Shoppes’ senior general manager.

General Growth Properties Inc., the nation’s second-largest mall operator, filed for bankruptcy protection after it failed to persuade a majority of its debt holders to give it more time to refinance billions of dollars in debt racked up during the housing boom.

“The good news, on the local level, is that our center is a joint venture,” Baker said. “The Shoppes at River Crossing and our vendors, and anyone who provides any service there, are not involved in the Chapter 11 filing.”

The north Macon retail center is also owned and managed by Jim Wilson and Associates, a privately owned real estate company based in Montgomery, Ala.

The Shoppes, a 750,000-square-foot regional shopping and entertainment center, opened in March 2008. It features upscale specialty stores, restaurants, two department stores and five mid-size anchor stores. Its stores and restaurants include Dillard’s, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Coach, Coldwater Creek, J. Jill, Bonefish Grill, Talbot’s and Jos. A. Banks.

“Business for us has been very good,” Baker said. “For most of our centers, business has been good.”

The bankruptcy filing by General Growth Properties is not a reflection of performance, Baker said, but rather “a reflection of the credit market and the inability to get debt refinanced.”

The news of the filing sent the real estate investment trust’s stock down 60 cents, or 57 percent, to 45 cents in electronic pre-market trading. Its stock traded last spring as high as $44.23.

The move by the Chicago-based company had been widely anticipated since fall, when the company warned it might have to seek bankruptcy protection if it didn’t get lenders to rework its debt terms. Efforts to negotiate with its unsecured and secured creditors ultimately fell short late last month.

“While we have worked tirelessly in the past several months to address our maturing debts, the collapse of the credit markets has made it impossible for us to refinance maturing debt outside of Chapter 11,” Chief Executive Adam Metz said.

Chapter 11 protection typically allows a company to hold off creditors and operate as normal while it develops a financial reorganization plan.

The company had about $29.6 billion in assets and more than $27 billion in liabilities as of Dec. 31, according to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

The company noted that some subsidiaries, including its third party management business and joint ventures, such as The Shoppes at River Crossing, were not part of the bankruptcy petition.

General Growth said it intends to reorganize with the aim of cutting its corporate debt and extending the terms of its mortgage maturities. It also said it will continue operating all of its shopping centers during the bankruptcy process.

The company said shoppers at its malls will not be affected by its decision to file for bankruptcy protection.

“Our restructuring will be invisible to the customers who visit our properties every day,” President and Chief Operating Officer Thomas H. Nolan Jr. said during a morning conference call.

The company said it received a financing commitment from Pershing Square Capital Management LP of about $375 million that General Growth expects to use to operate during the bankruptcy process.

General Growth, which has a stake in more than 200 malls across 44 states, has seen its fortunes sour as the U.S. economy worsened and the credit markets froze. The crisis left it hard-pressed to refinance the billions in debt the company took on during an aggressive expansion effort that included the $7 billion purchase of a competitor in 2004.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.