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Real Estate Legend Ousted

In a surprise shakeup at Los Angeles-based Maguire Properties (NYSE: MPG), the company's board of directors abruptly ousted founder and Southern California real estate legend Robert F. Maguire III, 73, from his post as CEO on May 19.

In his stead comes another familiar name from 1990s real estate circles, Nelson Rising, the former CEO of Catellus Development Corp. (NYSE: CDX), who assumes the roles of president and CEO.

Rising, 66, could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu, since he worked for Maguire in the 1980s and 1990s on several key projects, including the Playa Vista project near the Los Angeles International Airport. He also oversaw construction of Maguire's two largest assets, the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower and the Gas Company Tower, both blocks apart in downtown L.A.

“Welcome back to the fishbowl, Nelson,” says Christopher Haley, senior analyst with Wachovia Securities. “Our experience with Rising reflects positively not only on his leadership traits, but also the depth of the team he created — many of whom are now in executive leadership positions.”

The management shuffle comes after five months of uncertainty and on-again, off-again deal-making. In December 2007, the board created a special committee to explore “strategic alternatives,” including a potential sale of the company. In March, the board announced it was calling an end to the exploration. Maguire then launched his own bid for the firm in April, which included selling off the company's Los Angeles assets.

The board rejected not only Maguire's bid, but the man himself, and installed director Walter Weisman as chairman. Weisman chaired the independent committee exploring strategic options. The board also suspended its quarterly dividend.

Maguire Properties is the largest office landlord in downtown Los Angeles, owning 9.1 million sq. ft., but Rising has his work cut out in turning the company's fortunes around. Maguire lost $48.6 million in the first quarter versus a $12.5 million gain in the first quarter of 2007.

Much of the problem stems from the loss of many of Maguire's office tenants in the Orange County submarket, where the company owns some 8 million sq. ft. of space. Thanks to cutbacks by subprime residential lenders, including failing Ameriquest and New Century Financial Corp., Maguire has been left with nearly a third of its Orange County space vacant just as the local economy is cooling down.

According to New York-based real estate research firm Reis, the Orange County office market vacancy rate jumped to 11.3% in the first quarter of 2008, up from 10.7% in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Rising is bringing two executives to Maguire from his latest private venture, Rising Realty. Douglas Gardner, 57, will join as an executive vice president and Rising's son, Christopher, 39, will be a senior vice president.

Both Rising and Gardner have five-year employment agreements and stand to earn healthy incentives, if Maguire reaches certain financial targets. Rising's annual base salary is $950,000.

For his part, Maguire has signaled that he is now moving on to his interests in a Dallas-based natural gas business and real estate near Van Nuys Airport. He retains the title of chairman emeritus and will receive $750,000 a year as long as he holds that title. He also will receive a one-time, lump-sum cash payment of $2.8 million. Still, that's little consolation for the man who founded the company back in 1965.

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