Developer Counting on Finance Business Trying to Recover from Real-Estate Crash

Article excerpt

St. Louis developer Andrew S. Love Jr. is returning to the roots of his family's business.

With his real-estate empire only a vestige of what it was just a few years ago, Love now is counting on his finance business to pay the bills.

"The mortgage banking business is probably the most active and encouraging area right now," Love said.

Love is a prominent St. Louis lawyer who in the 1980s built the mortgage business his great grandfather founded more than a century earlier into a real-estate colossus.

Known as Love Cos., the conglomerate and its affiliates owned more than $500 million worth of office buildings, shopping centers, apartments, retirement centers and hotels in 20 U.S. cities.

Love also bought his own savings and loan in St. Louis with help from partners John F. McDonnell and James S. McDonnell III of McDonnell Douglas Corp.

The McDonnells weren't the only influential investors doing deals with Love. His real-estate partnerships attracted millions from rich Kuwaiti bankers and businessmen and many of his fellow partners at St. Louis' largest law firm, Bryan Cave.

Then the real-estate market crashed. And so did Love Cos.

Love has yet to recover.

"I think things are better than they were, but that's probably not saying a lot," Love said.

Love left Bryan Cave in late 1991 in an effort to turn around his real-estate firm. At the time, Love companies owed the law firm more than $1 million for legal work, according to the National Law Journal.

In recent years, Love has been selling his holdings or handing them back to lenders whom he owes money.

Among the properties Love has sold or handed over in the St. Louis area are Warson Village Shopping Center in Warson Woods, the Builders Square portion of the Plaza At DePaul shopping center in Bridgeton, the Holiday Inn Airport-West in Bridgeton, the Days Inn Airport in Woodson Terrace, the Executive Office Building downtown and the Plaza Square Apartments downtown.

Love is also in the process of selling his S&L, now called Heartland Savings Bank. First Banks Inc., headed by James F. Dierberg, has said it intends to buy Heartland.

But Love said he plans to keep Heartland's mortgage operations, which specialize in single-family residential lending. And he wants to expand Love Funding Corp., a mortgage-banking unit in Washington for commercial real estate and Federal Housing Administration projects.

"We feel the mortgage business has been a good business for us," Love said. "The prospects for real-estate development in this area and in most places in the country are extremely slim."

About the only major Love real-estate holdings left in the St. Louis area are the Holiday Inn Riverfront downtown and the Venture and Best Buy portions of the Plaza At DePaul center on St. Charles Rock Road.

"I'm encouraged that we will survive and continue," Love said.

The past year has been a "stabilizing" time for Love Cos., said President Laurence A. Schiffer.

"I think we've done pretty well working it all out," Schiffer said. "We've sold off our assets and are looking to the future."

Love and Schiffer have also been buying time. And they have proven quite adept in doing so.

For example, just in the last two weeks, Love and Schiffer gained another last-minute reprieve from foreclosure and potential bankruptcy for PGI Inc., a Florida development company.

A Love partnership bought a majority stake in PGI in 1987. PGI, a publicly held company founded in 1958, has built thousands of acres in southwest Florida into large residential developments. …