BTR Realty makes moves to halt decline A struggling BTR defers dividends, sells land, leases properties.

October 10, 1991|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

Linthicum-based BTR Realty Inc., battered by the recession but determined to persevere, has announced a spate of recent transactions that appear to improve the company's position.

It was only last May that BTR officials announced at the company's annual meeting that they would defer dividend payments to shareholders, a move designed to protect the company's sagging profits.

In August, BTR announced that its earnings for the first six months of 1991 had slipped to $1,808,720, compared with earnings of $3,202,022.

But now, officials of the firm, which owns and operates shopping centers, offices and industrial buildings nationwide, say BTR's financial picture has improved because of recent events.

This week, company officials announced the sale of 1.5 acres BTR owned near Laurel to Chevron U.S.A. Inc., which intends to build a gas station on the parcel. The property was sold for $1.3 million, BTR officials said.

Properties owned and operated by BTR at two Virginia shopping centers were recently leased to major retailers. Both properties had been vacant due to the bankruptcy of previous tenants.

Together, the two properties encompassed more than 100,000 square feet of retail space.

BTR President F. Patrick Hughes said the two lease transactions and the sale of land to Chevron are consistent with the company's goals of lowering its vacancy rate in properties it owns and getting rid of undeveloped land.

One of the company's goals, announced in May, was to bring leasing levels up to 94 percent. Hughes said yesterday that of the firm's 2.8 million square feet of leaseable space, 92 percent is currently occupied.

"We're getting there and I'm gratified by how fast we're getting there," Hughes said.

Hughes conceded that the company is still struggling with disposal of its undeveloped properties. He said BTR currently is carrying a debt of about $7.5 million on those properties and must continue to sell them off.

He added that later this week he expects to close on an additional parcel being sold for $700,000.

Still, the company hasn't abandoned all development projects.

BTR plans to build a 125,000-square-foot shopping center at Owings Mills New Town. The center is planned for a 12.5-acre parcel at Lakeside Boulevard and Groffs Mill

Drive.

Hughes said BTR will break ground on the project once developers sell 2,500 of the 5,000 homes planned for the development.

Despite the new project, Hughes said, BTR is still looking at the possibility of converting the company to a real estate investment trust, or REIT, which would mean de-emphasizing new development projects in favor of managing existing commercial properties.

By acquiring properties that are already built and leased, BTR can take advantage of the higher value the stock market gives REITs, Hughes said.

BTR employs approximately 55 people, 20 of whom work out of the company's Linthicum headquarters. The rest are spread out among the company's operations nationwide.

Hughes said that approximately six positions have been eliminated at BTR this year for cost saving reasons. Most of those positions were eliminated through attrition, he said.

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