Old US Embassy waits for a buyer

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The “Stars ‘n’ Stripes” no longer fly over the old US Embassy building in Oslo, and its police guard house across the street seems as abandoned as the darkened structure itself. Sale of the now-strangely quiet property has been delayed, but its real estate agent still expects a buyer to emerge by the end of the year.

No flag flies over the old US Embassy building in Oslo anymore, as the iconic property waits for a new owner. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“This is an iconic building, full of history,” John Olof Solberg, chief executive of the Norwegian division of real estate firm CBRE Group Inc, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) just before the summer holidays began. CBRE bills itself as the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, with more than 75,000 employees in 70 countries. It secured the listing for the US Embassy building last fall.

Initial plans called for a sale in the first half of this year. Solberg now attributes the delay to “internal processes” at its client (the US State Department) that “have drawn out a bit.” The prospectus for the building is finished and CBRE has had to wait for the “all clear” to distribute it.

There’s still no information to be found about the pending transaction, however, on either CBRE’s English or Norwegian website. Clicking on “Norway” on CBRE’s main corporate site only brings up a blank page, and there’s no mention there either that CBRE has the listing for the US Embassy sale in Oslo. Delays also plagued the US Embassy’s move to its new compound in Oslo, though, and its formal opening ceremony wasn’t held until mid-June. It’s reportedly taking longer than expected to clear out the old embassy and make it ready for showing.

Special market
Solberg told DN that he expects the building, long referred to locally as “Fortress America,” to be sold “in the second half of the year.” He views prospective buyers as anyone from extremely wealthy Norwegians or hotel owners to global investors who collect iconic properties.

“The buyer of this building won’t be an investment manager who has a strict mandate to relate to,” Solberg said. “This kind of property,” he thinks, will be bought by someone who “just has to have it,” because of its history and symbolism. He described a prospective buyer as someone who “has an extensive art collection, an extensive wine cellar and a collection of property that is quite formidable.”

The triangular-shaped building was designed by the renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and opened in June 1959. Its 6,000 square meters of space extend over four floors plus a cellar.

CBRE has so far refused to attach a price to the property, comparing it prices at an art auction. Solberg revealed that employees at CBRE have held a competition to try to guess the price the building will command, “and the variation was enormous. That illustrates that some people think in a technical manner, others see it as a work of art.” He would even reveal the extent of the price range, other than to say that it was “at least a half-a-billion kroner” (USD 61 million). Other local property experts have valued the building at anywere from NOK 230 million to NOK 1 billion.

‘Not suited as a hotel’
The US Embassy in London, which also was designed by Saarinen and been vacated, was sold to Qatar’s state property developer and is being converted into a 137-room hotel. High-profile Norwegian hotel owner Petter Stordalen told DN he’s not interested in doing the same in Oslo.

“We have of course looked at the building and done some calculations, but put in a drawer for things we don’t have faith in,” Stordalen told DN. “It’s not suited as a hotel.” He is, meanwhile, in the process of converting another venerable property nearby (the old Oslo Lysverker building at Solli Plass) into a hotel.

The US Embassy property is also being put under historic preservation orders, which will limit any new owner’s flexibility. Janne Wilberg, conservator of historic buildings in Oslo, has claimed the building’s interior is as worthy of preservation as its exterior.

“I think whoever buys the building either has an idea or just wants to own it,” said Roar Sandnes of real estate firm Akershus Eiendom. “It has a fantastic location, but using the building will be very difficult.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund