Tokyo Buyouts: 1st Hollywood, Now Rockefeller Center

AFTER Hollywood comes New York City's Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes and Rockefeller Center, skating rink and all. Cries of a ``Japanese invasion,'' accusing the Japanese of grabbing precious symbols of America, are sure to follow.

Yesterday's announcement in Tokyo and New York of the purchase of a majority share of the Rockefeller Group by Mitsubishi Estate Company is sure to spark yet another furor over Japanese investment in the United States.

The real estate deal is not the biggest to date, but it is likely the most high-profile purchases, involving one of the most famous properties in the US.

And it follows closely on the heels of the controversial $3.4 billion takeover in September of Columbia Pictures by Sony Corporation, a move denounced by some critics as ``buying a part of America's soul.''

Monday's deal also reveals the other side of the foreign investment issue - that for every buyer there is a seller. Rockefeller Group officials told reporters that they had initiated the sale, coming to Mitsubishi with the offer.

Officially the Japanese government supports the takeover as a product of the free flow of investment that can bring benefits to both countries. But privately Japanese officials are dismayed by Mitsubishi's actions, which they say will provoke a new round of anti-Japanese feeling in the US and in Congress.

``The investment came at an awkward moment,'' a Foreign Ministry official says. Former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita had warned Japanese companies to avoid such high-profile purchases.

Japanese companies were told, the official says, that ``they must cater to the sensitivies of the place they are investing in. We had hoped they would understand.''

The Japanese government was informed of the deal only after the decision was made, Kiyoaki Hara, Mitsubishi Estate's managing director, told reporters.

``Foreign investment is free in this country,'' he said. ``There is no need to consult the government.''

The Japanese firm paid $846 million to acquire 51 percent of the shares of the Rockefeller Group Inc. from the Rockefeller family trusts. The Rockefeller Group is a private company controlled by members of the Rockefeller family, the descendants of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller.

The Rockefeller Group owns and manages 14 office buildings that make up the landmark Rockefeller Center complex in midtown Manhattan. Built during the Great Depression, the complex is a major tourist sight and houses the offices of the NBC television network and the Associated Press news agency, as well as the Rainbow Room nightclub.

In a statement released in Tokyo and New York, group chairman David Rockefeller defended the decision, saying the agreement would preserve his family's ``abiding commitment to Rockefeller Center and New York City, which my father made more than 50 years ago, and which present generations of the family continue to feel.''

Raymond Pettit, senior vice president of the Rockefeller Group, told reporters at a press conference here that the deal was ``different'' from the acquisitions that have provoked negative reactions in the past. Rather than a takeover such as that of Sony, he said, this is a ``very fine example of an international partnership.''

``We think there will be positive reaction as well as negative,'' Mr. Pettit predicted. ``We are operating in a global economy,'' he explained. ``I don't think that the borders are that important.''

The Rockefeller Center purchase was the top story in all the Japanese news media, focusing on the US reaction and expected criticism of Japanese actions. Japanese real estate investment is a particular sore point as cash-rich Japanese insurance companies, real estate developers, and others have gone abroad in search of properties.

According to the Construction Ministry, Japanese companies invested $16.5 billion in US real estate in 1988, compared to $1.86 billion in 1985.

The Rockefeller Group initiated the deal, approaching Mitsubishi Estates early this year, Pettit said.

Pettit denied reports that the Rockefeller family needed the cash. The Rockefeller family trust was seeking to shift its assets out the concentration in the Rockefeller Group and to invest in other areas, he said. For this reason, the trust insisted that the buyer take at least a majority share of the company, although Mitsubishi had at first sought a 50-50 equal partnership.

The management of the Rockefeller Group will remain unchanged, Jotaro Takagi, the Mitsubishi Estate president, told reporters. Both companies share ``a long-term approach to management and development,'' he said.

Mitsubishi Estate is the real estate arm of the vast Mitsubishi business group, the largest of Japan's conglomerates. The firm owns 40 major buildings in Tokyo, most of them in the Marunouchi business district where the Mitsubishi group companies are concentrated. The company has expanded overseas, developing properties in locations such as Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and Florida.

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