Atlanta's Dewberry buys former BellSouth headquarters

An Atlantan called “The Dew” has bought a building named for a bell with “Georgia’s Own” money.

Dewberry Capital, the development firm of former Georgia Tech quarterback John Dewberry known as "The Dew," has bought BellSouth’s former headquarters in Midtown.

A spokesman for Wells Fargo, the seller, confirmed Dewberry Capital closed Wednesday on the 20-story building, and paid $36 million. A senior executive at Dewberry Capital said the company would make a "major announcement" next week.

The sale of The Campanile (which means bell tower) is both the largest and most expensive in metro Atlanta since January 2009, according to Alan Wexler of the real estate research firm DataBank Atlanta.

It’s also unique: the lender is a credit union and the building's largest tenant.

Georgia’s Own Credit Union has been based in The Campanile since 1993. The building, at 1155 Peachtree, has been largely empty since BellSouth/AT&T moved out in 2007.

Credit unions -- historically lenders on cars and home equity lines -- typically aren’t associated with deals to buy skyscrapers.

“I’ve never seen [a credit union as a lender for] a major office building," said Walt Moeling, a banking attorney with Bryan Cave who has practiced in Georgia since the late 1960s.

Credit unions may not lend more than 12.25 percent of total assets to businesses. Kelly Garmon, senior vice president of marketing and sales, said the loan by the $1.57 billion-in-assets institution is well below its legal lending limits.

Georgia’s Own has a conservative lending history, she said, but also a vested interest in seeing the building return to prominence.

“We plan to stay in Midtown and we want to see this building thrive,” she said. “It’s in our best interest. We felt it was a very sound loan.”

The Campanile fell on hard times as it was given back to the lender in March by its  previous owner, Chicago-based Transwestern Investment, which had a loan for $98.35 million on a  building that was only 15 percent leased.

There were multiple bidders for the 23-year-old building, which will need major investment to ready for new tenants.

Wexler said the sale signals that banks are going through their distressed properties and getting rid of the ones that need to be discounted tremendously to be sold.

“As soon as they get rid of those, then the market will start to improve,” said Wexler.

Info box:

Sales of large buildings in Atlanta since January 2009 by price

Date, building, buyer, size, price

Sept. 2010: The Campanile, Dewberry Capital, 444,322 square feet, $36 million

May 2010: 9000 Central Park West, Cox Enterprises, 206,000 square feet, $32 million

June 2009: Equitable Building, Capmark Bank, 580,289 square feet, $29.5 million (foreclosure)

Feb. 2010: Park at Windward Concourse, Allegience Realty, 201,544 square feet, $17.6 million

June 2010: Park at Perimeter Center East, Atlanta Property Group, 284,000 square feet, $14.97 million

June 2009: 222 Mitchell St., Orinda Corp. and Octagon Capital Partners, 350,000, $5 million

Sources: DataBank Atlanta, Jones Lang LaSalle, staff research.

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