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March 2010

March 2010 » Market Analysis » NY New Developments

March 2010 New York New Developments

Major Developments

Affordable housing programs throughout the city are facing trouble unloading units. The city has been praised across the country for its efforts to provide affordable housing to lower- and middle-income households but, while the low-income rentals continue to thrive, the ownership program is struggling, which could be seen as good since it ultimately means less foreclosures.

Larry Silverstein believes his commitment to the World Trade Center redevelopment project can be measured not only by his enthusiasm, but also by his own cash. The developer recently proposed several different financing options to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey for his planned Ground Zero towers, including putting more of his own money on the line, now has the endorsement of one of the city's most valuable supporters. Mayor Bloomberg applauded the developer's efforts saying that if the Port Authority doesn't come back with a rationale plan to move things forward then it should just get out of the way.

The rate of residential mortgage delinquencies dropped to a seasonally-adjusted rate of 9.46 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 over the previous quarter. This decline represents a 17 point decline between the third and fourth quarters last year. The delinquency tidal wave seen during the housing crisis may be nearing its end.

Due to an increasingly divisive probe into the state's selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group for the new Queens racino, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may have second thoughts about giving the deal his blessing. Silver, who initially favored SL Green in the bidding process, may refuse to sign a legal agreement required to finalize the contract. Silver ultimately caved to Governor Paterson and state Senate Democratic leader John Sampson in agreeing to back AEG for the slots deal, but insisted that the group pay additional state licensing fees upfront and that its top leaders and investors undergo criminal background checks. AEG partner then recused himself from the project because of a past criminal conviction. AEG's original bid for the project would have generated the least revenue for the state out of all the bidders. After the bidders were asked to revise their proposals, AEG's bid ranked first in terms of state revenue.

Toll Brothers is looking to build as high as it can on its new 205 Water Street site in the Dumbo Historic District. The luxury home builder bought the vacant site for $8.6 million. Toll has a 120-foot, 70-unit tower in mind, but needs approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission before moving ahead. The neighborhood was rezoned, putting a 12-story limit on residential construction.

World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein is stepping up his efforts to end the ongoing financing debate with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey over his planned towers at the site. A new proposal would nix plans for Tower 2, the 79-story structure that would have been taller than the Empire State Building. Instead, Silverstein would build what has been called Tower 3 in a move that would save $262 million. He is now offering between $150 million and $250 million of his own money to fund the tower, plus money from insurance and proceeds from his Liberty bonds, up from the $50 million he had originally agreed to put forward.

A Durst Organization affiliate, Durst Fetner Residential, is to sell a $32.5 million note on a stalled 1 million-square-foot residential development site on the East River in Long Island City to the property's owner. The sale is a sign that the long-delayed project on the site of the East River Tennis Center is finally going forward. However, it would be a blow to Durst Fetner's hopes to develop the site. Durst Fetner bought the note on the six-acre, vacant site at 44-02 Vernon Boulevard in 2009 from a Texas bank.

In the market downturn, commercial real estate’s new business is catching on: lease auditing. The service would allow auditors to look for discrepancies between the expenses charged by a landlord and the actual expenses allowed in a lease, which can cut down a tenant's operating costs by 10 or 20 percent. Most worrisome to tenants is that landlords often make errors in their overcharging, which means a landlord could be overcharging without even knowing it.

The New York City Housing Authority is hoping that lawmakers can overcome their partisan gridlock in time to approve a $75 million federal bailout before it is too late. The agency, which wants to make 13,000 apartments eligible for federal funding for the first time, must submit an application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by March 17, after which, the bailout plan would collapse.

Temporary and virtual offices are taking on a bigger role among small businesses in the New York City area. The short-term leases offered by these alternative offices are more appealing to business owners in the financial downtown. People want to put on a professional appearance although they are working from home. Temporary office space has become so popular that many of these spaces in New York City have a 90 percent occupancy rate.

Charles Cohen, CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty, is looking to oust discount clothing retailer Daffy's from its 50,000 square feet of space at 135 East 57th Street, after allegedly receiving backdated lease renewal forms from the tenant. In a lawsuit Cohen filed against the clothier, the landlord claims that Daffy's missed its deadline to renew its lease at the Midtown side space, in which it had been a tenant since 1994, before Cohen owned the building, but then sent the renewal papers several days later with incorrect dates.

Despite Macklowe Properties' bid for an extension on a $185 million loan at 510 Madison Avenue, SL Green Realty has plans to begin collection proceedings on the loan March 1. SL Green bought the loans associated with 510 Madison Avenue from Union Labor Insurance. SL Green took a similar strategy at 100 Church Street, the one-time property of the Sapir Organization, which it took over through its role as debt holder.

U.S. drugstore giant Walgreens is taking over New York City's Duane Reade chain in a cash deal valued at more than $1 billion. Duane Reade has 257 drugstores in the New York metropolitan area, 60 percent of which are in Manhattan. The chain, which will keep its name, has the highest sales per square foot among the country's drug stores. Walgreens plans to add more Duane Reade branches in the coming years. Walgreens is the largest drugstore chain in the U.S. with more than 7,100 stores, but currently operates only 70 in New York City. Oak Hill purchased Duane Reade in 2004 for $680 million plus $284 million in debt.

Creditors have sued to force the struggling Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village complex into a foreclosure sale. Bank of America and U.S. Bank National Association, leading senior creditors with $3 billion in debt holdings on the 80-acre property, filed a complaint, asking for approval to foreclose on the property and have it sold. Tishman Speyer and BlackRock may hand in the keys to the complex, which they purchased in 2006 for $5.4 billion, after missing a $16.1 million debt payment. That turnover has been delayed because of a debate over who would be responsible for the $90 million in property transfer taxes. Trustees requested in the complaint that they be able to use the proceeds from the sale to cover expenses including the mortgage, late charges, and exit and legal fees.

The stalled Moynihan Station project received $83.3 million in federal stimulus cash, enough to fund the first phase of construction. The project, which will transform the post office adjacent to Penn Station into a rail hub, has already accrued $140 million in funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and federal agencies. The first phase will include rail construction and renovations to Penn Station. The second phase, for which funding has not yet been acquired, will involve the renovation of the post office as a travel hub.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Central Amusement International unveiled the new Coney Island expansion plan for summer 2010, which includes the addition of 23 new rides. CAI has signed a 10-year deal and plans to invest around $30 million on the park. The first portion of the incremental expansion will include 19 of the 23 new rides, while the second portion of the expansion project is to open in summer 2011. The total Coney Island expansion is to create 300 full- and part-time jobs by 2011.

Summer 2009 marked the first time in almost two years that the seasonally-adjusted Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose, suggesting that the nationwide housing market correctional period may be close to an end. The specter of shadow inventory is looming over the market, which projects a looming shadow inventory could have a negative impact on home prices in the coming months, as more homes face imminent delinquencies and subsequent foreclosure. In total, the shadow inventory seen could take as long as 33 months to clear and the amount of potential distressed inventory stands to grow.

Shopping mall giant Simon Property Group offered to buy out bankrupt General Growth Properties for more than $10 billion, or $9 per share. Its offer includes around $9 billion in cash that would provide for a full cash recovery plus interest and dividends to unsecured creditors, amounting to $7 billion. Shareholders would emerge with more than $9 per share, $6 of which would be in cash. General Growth, the second-largest shopping mall owner in the country next to Simon Property, filed for the biggest real estate bankruptcy in U.S. history last year with $27 billion in debt, $11.8 million of which had already matured or was coming due by the end of 2012. The South Street Seaport operator filed a $9.7 billion reorganization plan in December and some speculated that it could exit bankruptcy this year.

State Senator Bill Perkins is the latest local official to focus on the task of eminent domain reform. Perkins has issue with the word "blight," in particular under eminent domain regulations, the government has the right to determine whether a community is blighted and allow the use of eminent domain. However, Perkins contends that the term is too subjective. He is sponsoring a piece of state legislation that would require an even stricter criteria for labeling a neighborhood blighted.

The planned Ground Zero performing arts center has gotten the go-ahead from the city, and has settled on the one originally proposed. Construction on the theater's foundation, a $50 million project in the area between Fulton, Greenwich, Vesey and Washington streets, will begin next quarter. Plans call for a 1,000-seat performance space, which will be designed by Frank Gehry and run by the Joyce Theater. Construction on the building itself will have to wait until after the permanent transportation hub that will house a PATH station is finished, a project that will take at least another four years.

As part of his proposed initiative to slow the rate of foreclosures in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that the city would allow delayed payment for water and sewer bills from two- and three-family homeowners who are struggling to pay down debts. He added that because there is a correlation between homeowners who fall behind on mortgage payments and those who fall behind on water and sewer payments, that this could potentially reduce the number of homes that go into default. Roughly 2,000 homeowners will be eligible for the program, which will allow those who have owed $1,000 or more for at least one year to freeze penalties and unpaid interest on their water debt.

Tishman Speyer Realty and BlackRock Realty agreed with tenants to permit the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village lawsuit to proceed as a class action case, and also extended an interim agreement to lower rents until June. Under the agreement, tenants will continue to pay, until the end of June, the lower of either their existing rent or estimated rent-stabilized rents. Tenants will also be granted certain rights that exist under the city's rent stabilization law, including rights to renew leases and family succession.

Related Company’s Stephen Ross has accumulated more than $1 billion in capital to start buying up banks. Ross has put the cash into investment vehicle known as the "SJB Escrow Corp. The Related executive may target those banks heavily laden with construction loans and other bad debt. His investment plan has already gotten the thumb's up from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Under the program, Ross will be able to buy deposits, distressed properties, and defaulted mortgages.

Embattled developer Kent Swig may be close to selling off 140 William Street, a seven-story office building in the Financial District. Although it's not immediately clear what the offering price was for the 48,000-square-foot building, the asking price had been $14.2 million, which comes out to around $300 per square foot. Buyers are debating whether to keep the building as an office tower or transform it into a residential space.

Thirty-year mortgage interest rates fell below 5 percent for the third week this year. For the week that ended Feb. 11, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage had an average 4.97 percent rate, down from 5.01 percent for the week earlier.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's settlement agreement not only forced landlord Vantage Properties to pay $1 million, but it put all residential landlords on notice that the state's top law enforcement officer wants property owners to be more tenant-friendly than the law demands. All landlords should follow the tighter rules as a standard in the industry.

Foreclosure activity in the U.S. declined 10 percent in January from a month earlier. Despite the positive news, one in every 409 homes received a foreclosure notice last month, a rate that put January 2010 15 percent higher than the same month a year earlier. The decline in January from December is in line with foreclosure patterns seen during the same time period in previous years. New York showed lower levels of foreclosure in the first month of 2010, ranking 41st in the total number of properties with foreclosure filings in January 2010.

The Congressional Oversight Panel is concerned that a pending wave of commercial real estate loan failures could threaten the nation's fiscal stability. Loans made during the peak of the commercial market bear the highest risk of default, while almost half of the commercial real estate loans expected to reach maturity between 2010 and 2014 are currently underwater. About $1.4 trillion worth of commercial real estate mortgages will hit the end of their terms during that four-year period. 2010 may remain somewhat calm, 2011 and the subsequent years could be brutal for commercial lenders, with expected losses for banks ranging from $200 billion to $300 billion.

SJP Properties' 11 Times Square property is close to a deal that would bring a seven-story aquarium to the lower floors. The property is to be completed in the next few months, while office rents have dropped off 20 percent in the last year. The 11 Times Square aquarium would be unique, with fewer fish than most and only 600,000 gallons of water, compared to the eight million gallons contained in other Aquariums. Half the space would be comprised of water exhibits, while a pirate museum and educational displays would adorn the rest.

Ty Warner, the Beanie Babies billionaire, who owns the Four Seasons Hotel New York, may be in danger of defaulting on the 368-room luxury property and is in negotiations with investors to sell it. Warner missed a payment on $185.6 million in mortgage debt on the hotel. The Four Seasons, where room rates start at $1,000 per night, is being used as collateral on a larger debt package that includes three other hotels. The downturn in business and international travel has brought occupancy rates down significantly, below the 80 percent average of the city.

City Council member Brad Lander has launched an interactive map tracking stalled construction sites in his district, which comprises portions of southwestern Brooklyn, including Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Gowanus and Windsor Terrace,. The map includes demarcations for vacant development sites, existing building conversions with stop-work orders, stalled construction sites and vacant buildings. A total of 39 sites had applied for demolition or construction permits, before halting progress for an extended period of time.

Major residential brokerages may snub their noses at the listings, but a growing number of firms, particularly in the outer boroughs, are fighting for a share of the foreclosed homes market. Lenders took back thousands of homes in New York State last year and thousands more face foreclosure this year. The marketplace for "Real Estate Owned" by the bank because they did not successfully sell at a foreclosure auction is thriving in places hit hard by the housing downturn.

One in every five U.S. homes was underwater in the fourth quarter, a statistic that could significantly imperil the housing market. Because homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth are more likely to default and less likely to qualify for a refinancing, that sector of the population faces a higher propensity to hit foreclosure. The news is particularly staggering, because it suggests that the economy is not close to leveling off yet.

While the rate of major retailer closings in the U.S. has been noticeably slower than it was this time a year ago, some say they do not expect the calm to last. Last year, many retailers stayed in business because they received rent concessions from their landlords. But without a turnaround in retail, those retailers could continue to suffer, and landlords might not be able to budge any further. In New York City, mom-and-pop stores have been struggling the most, while chain stores have been hurting more nationwide.

In anticipation of the looming first-time homebuyer tax credit expiration, home builders are hedging their bets on speculative construction in the hopes that the extended April 1 deadline will incite a frenzy of last-minute purchases. On the one hand, this strategy would appear to make sense: the last time the tax credit was supposed to expire, on Nov. 30, 2009, there were not enough new homes to meet the demand from new buyers, and builders lost out on a lot of potential sales. But on the other hand, some say builders are taking a huge risk because at this point, most first-time homebuyers want to take advantage of the federal program have already done so. If the new, construction homes do not sell to a wave of first-timers, they might end up back on the market at steep discounts, which could ultimately slow the housing recovery. For builders who do decide to up their inventory, they will have to do it soon. It takes between four and six months to build a house, and at the end of 2009, the number of homes for sale was at 234,000, the lowest level since April 1971.

The city's real estate industry is lobbying for federal stimulus money for the cash-strapped No. 7 subway extension, calling it a shovel-ready project that will improve the quality of life for future residents of Hudson Yards. The planned extension is slated to create just one new subway station at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue by 2013, allowing the train to zip by another proposed stop at West 41st Street and 10th Avenue. It would cost an estimated $500 million to create the 41st Street stop and another $300 million to make sure the station is up to terms of safety. Since funding is not available, the feds "could bid it right out" as a stimulus project. President of the Hudson Yards Development Corp. said that if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority delays construction of a 41st Street station until after Related builds its tower, it will ultimately cost significantly more.

A nearly year-long legal battle between Trinity Real Estate and Tribeca Associates has ended, with Trinity taking back the lease on 330 Hudson Street, a redevelopment site that Tribeca Associates had once hoped to transform into a mixed-use property. While Trinity had granted Tribeca a 99-year lease on the space three years ago, a construction stall led to threats of foreclosure from Trinity, which said that the developer was not living up to stipulations in the lease agreement. The property owner is looking for another group to develop the space through a similar but more amicable agreement.

Six different high-profile property owners are angling for a stake in 1 World Trade Center, formerly called Freedom Tower. A stake in the 1,776-foot tower being constructed by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey would require a $100 million commitment from the interested parties.

Despite a $120 billion in commercial real estate losses between 2008 and 2011, lenders are ready to get back to business. Lenders said they would make between $2 billion and $4 billion worth of commercial real estate loans in 2010. They are willing to lend $50 million or more toward a single property purchase, up from the $25 million most were willing to lend for a single asset last year. Some lenders were even open to the idea of $150 to $500 million loans. While banks are still facing substantial losses, most have set aside reserves or marked down their portfolios to reflect them, and experts say the opportunity to pick up commercial real estate assets at discounts of 44 to 55 percent off of 2007's peak prices, is luring lenders back into the game.

Seven years after relocating 1,200 low-income tenants at Brooklyn's Prospect Plaza at 1776 Prospect Place near Crown Heights in order to renovate the decaying housing complex, the city has plans to demolish the four buildings in the fall, pending approval by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Illegal hotel operators are about to get a rude awakening with four state bills that, if enacted, would make it illegal to rent residential apartments on a nightly basis, and would beef up city enforcement of the issue. The Westside Neighborhood Alliance has a database of 297 hotels it suspects are illegal. The Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement has cracked down on some of these hostels because of safety and over-crowding concerns since they present a fire hazard.

Fairway Market may add a Manhattan location on the Upper East Side, for 60,000 square feet at 240 East 86th Street between Second and Third avenues. The East 86th Street corridor has seen retail rents drop by up to 24 percent since 2008, with space there going for roughly $360 per square foot.

Mayor Cory Booker and Tucker Development plan to develop a mixed-use hotel and retail project under the Courtyard by Marriott brand, next to the Prudential Center arena in Newark, the city's first downtown hotel project in 38 years. The project is being done in partnership with the New Jersey Devils hockey team and Robert Finvarb. Newark officials have been in talks for a downtown hotel for several years, and see the Courtyard property as a sign of renewed investor interest in the city.

The one-time buyers of a 49.5 percent stake in 485 Lexington Avenue, located between 46th and 47th streets, are suing SL Green for breach of contract, alleging that the real estate investment trust had made a deal with them out of desperation, only to negate the transaction once it became more fiscally stable. While some say that the $504 million deal broke down because the servicer CW Capital refused approval, the plaintiffs in the suit which had intended to purchase the building stake under a joint venture claim differently. They say that SL Green kept them in the dark regarding its negotiations and that the servicer's requests were outlandish and unreasonable.

State lawmakers have proposed a legislative package to limit the power of eminent domain. The proposed laws aim to limit eminent domain's scope by creating a commission to review the state's eminent domain practices and by ensuring a greater level of compensation for property owners' whose land is seized. Some contend that New York State's eminent domain laws are woefully outdated. New York has made little to no change in its property seizure procedure.

The city is not wasting any time in its bid to acquire the northern third of the High Line, the last section of the railroad slated to become part of the elevated park. Less than a year after the first section of the park opened to the public, the Department of City Planning began its uniform land use review procedure, a seven-month process during which the city will negotiate with CSX, the railroad company that still owns the half-mile stretch of land above West 30th Street that the completed High Line is supposed to include. The lot is comprised of the land around the rail yards from 30th Street to 12th Avenue and north to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, and the Related Companies, the High Line's developer, has said it will preserve the structure there. The first third of the High Line park, on city-owned land between Gansevoort and West 20th streets, opened to the public last year. The middle third is under construction.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has launched an investigation into the Rushmore condominium, amid allegations that the lawyers for the developer held undisclosed meetings with the state Attorney General’s office to prevent existing buyers from backing out of their apartment contracts. The move would allegedly be a way for the developer to shield itself from ILSA-related claims.

After receiving $20 million in bailout funds in September 2009, the formerly-stalled City Point project has received preliminary approval from the New York City Public Design Commission. The Downtown Brooklyn development expects to receive final approval next month. If all goes as planned, the developers of the project will include retail space and affordable housing. They could begin work in the first quarter of 2010.

The Upper East Side is to get a new elementary school, Public School 267. The new school is to open this fall with 60 to 75 kindergarten students and will start out in the current Public School 158 location, at 1458 York Avenue near the corner of East 77th Street, before moving to its permanent location at 213 East 63rd Street between Second and Third avenues.

David Paterson's proposed budget is a new co-op mortgage recording tax that could mean an additional $50 million per year in revenue for the city. Therefore, co-op buyers don't get mortgages. They get loans backed by building shares. Roughly 43 percent of the city's non-rental housing is co-op. Most of the revenues from a new tax on those loans would benefit the city, which would also see state aid cut by $1.3 billion under Paterson's budget. If approved by the State Legislature, the city would seek to implement the tax.

While many hoped that the glut of distressed commercial properties could translate into prime opportunities for real estate investment trusts, experts say that the number of deals being made is actually on the decline, even among those REITs laden with cash. This is due, in part, to property owners' reluctance to sell off their better assets, especially in a market in which commercial property prices are 35 percent down from their peak. While REITs sold off around $24 billion in new stock in 2009, they only purchased around $6.4 billion in property, marking a 67 percent decline from the previous year's figure.

A couple of New Jersey savings banks and local credit unions are helping real estate investors in the New York metro area secure much needed financing for commercial real estate. Credit unions are venturing into the business loan market, primarily secured by real property. In 2009, Progressive participated in financing the first dormitory for a private developer less than two blocks from the Brooklyn College; the construction of a condominium on Park Avenue in Manhattan and a number of Brooklyn gasoline stations. New York state credit unions are active and willing to provide financing, yet they are limited to the amount of financing they can provide due to government regulations. Credit unions can only lend 12.5 percent of their assets to businesses. They are lobbying Congress to lift the cap to 25 percent of assets.

Hundreds of dormant construction sites still remain in the city, but a handful of these beleaguered projects are finally seeing new life, even if it is not what was once dreamed of for the location. Those that have seen some type of resolution were able to do so by selling off their debt at steep discounts, or slimming their construction costs, or setting their sights way lower. This month, 20 stalled projects have seen some type of resolution within the past several months.

25,000 NYC homeowners are at risk of losing stake in property, and that they are at risk of having a lien sold on their property to a private collector, if they do not pay off outstanding property-related payments, such as real estate taxes and water or sewer charges. Brooklyn led the five boroughs with the most properties, approximately 11,000. Queens trailed in second place, with 7,000 properties at risk. The Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan, meanwhile, saw approximately 4,130 properties, 1,700 properties, and 1,460 properties respectively.

A 79-member group from the House of Representatives is urging the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to ramp up their efforts to stave off a commercial real estate crisis that could bring down the economic recovery. The bipartisan group urged the agencies to publicly encourage lenders to make credit available for property owners who want to refinance mortgages on performing assets whose values have declined.

Madison Square Garden is in need of $850 million in renovations and it may not be able to afford them. Previous estimates had pegged the upgrades at $500 million and the Knicks had secured a $375 million loan to help cover the work. The rest was to be covered by inter-company loans and the basketball team's existing cash flows. One option for the Knicks is to raise ticket prices. Another is to allow player contracts to expire at the end of this season without picking up the tab for any new sky-high salaries, or to borrow some cash from parent company Cablevision Systems. Still, there is the possibility that the Garden's renovation project could be even more costly than the $850 million now projected.

The commercial real estate market continues to be a source of economic pessimism, with news predicting further bank losses stemming from the beleaguered sector. The multi-family properties and mortgage lending have thus far been shielded by low interest rates and adequate cash flows for debt servicing but when those conditions fade, interest rates will rise and rent rolls will decline further amid high vacancies and low rents. Those sectors would begin to feel the pain already plaguing homebuilding and commercial construction. Downgrades are possible even for banks with ratings already below investment grade.

Manhattan's residential real estate market may be coming back to life. The number of sales in the fourth quarter grew 8 percent from the same period in 2008 and almost 11 percent from the previous quarter. This is due to the lingering grip of the credit crunch and the vast majority of those sales were resales in established buildings, not new developments. Only 19 percent of closed sales in the fourth quarter were in new condos, down from 38 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. In contrast, some 58 percent of closed sales in 2006 were in new developments.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has granted Stephen Ross and company another extension on a deadline to sign a contract for developing the 12-million-square-foot West Side rail yards site, which was set to expire at the end of January. Goldman Sachs is abandoning the project, leaving the developer without a minority partner. The two-month extension was expected as the company needed more time to complete the documents on a revised financial agreement on the $1 billion, 99-year lease for the site. Related will have until March 31 to sign the contract and hand over $21.75 million. An additional $21.75 million must then be paid over the course of one year.
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