18 Apr 2018

To soften image, Kim Jong Un turns spotlight to sister, wife

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to be trying out a new tactic to boost the image of his authoritarian regime — he’s putting the spotlight on the women in his life.

Over the past few months, Kim has increasingly shared the stage with his younger sister, who became an instant celebrity as his envoy to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and his wife, a former singer in her late 20s.

For sure, there is only one star of the show in North Korea, and that is Kim himself.

But the greater public role for Kim Yo Jong, his sister, and Ri Sol Ju, his wife, comes as Kim is embarking on a "charm offensive" — a series of summits and diplomatic moves that have significantly raised his international profile.

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07 Apr 2018

Colony NorthStar, Inc. (CLNS) Announces Acquisition of Enterprise Industrial Park in San Antonio, Texas for $52.1M

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Colony Industrial announced today that it has acquired Enterprise Industrial Park in San Antonio, TX for $52.1 million. Colony Industrial is the industrial platform of Colony NorthStar (NYSE: CLNS), a diversified global real estate investment firm with $43 billion of assets under management.

Enterprise Industrial Park, located at 17745 Lookout Road, is a two building, Class A light industrial complex totaling 639,797 square feet. The buildings are currently 88% leased to nine high-quality tenants with a weighted average lease term remaining of 5.3 years. The property is conveniently located within one mile of a full-diamond interchange of Interstate 35, the city’s major North-South interstate highway.

Lew Friedland, Managing Director at Colony NorthStar and head of Colony Industrial, said, "We are excited to enter the growing San Antonio market with Enterprise Industrial Park, Colony Industrial’s first acquisition in this market. Ecommerce and the increasing need for fast delivery are driving strong demand for well-located, infill warehouse space that occupies the critical "last-mile" link in the logistics chain. We look forward to expanding our presence in San Antonio."

Randy Baird, Jonathan Bryan, and Ryan Thornton from CBRE National Partners acted as real estate brokers on the deal.

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27 Mar 2018

Trump Administration Seeks Freer Hand for U.S. Companies in China

SHANGHAI—China’s rules requiring foreign companies to form joint ventures with domestic partners are among the chief targets of the Trump administration’s looming tariffs against Chinese imports.

The administration contends these joint ventures—a longstanding complaint of many U.S. firms—force companies to divulge their trade secrets in several sectors, such as autos, where Beijing has a goal to dominate the building of electric vehicles.

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“Technology transfer pressures have intensified as China has sought to develop expertise in the manufacture of new energy vehicles (NEVs), which includes plug-in hybrids, electric batteries and fuel cell vehicles,” U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said in his report last week.

China signaled that it has no short-term plans to ease rules limiting foreign auto makers to a maximum 50% stake in passenger car manufacturing operations here, despite calls by the U.S. to open its market.

China’s industry minister Miao Wei told business executives at the China Development Forum that the lifting of the ownership cap would come gradually—first with commercial vehicles, then passenger vehicles, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Miao didn’t mention specific timelines, the person said.

The China Development Forum, which ended Monday, is an annual gathering of top foreign business leaders and senior Chinese officials. This year’s event came as the U.S. and China exchanged verbal barbs over Washington’s threat to slap tariffs to address trade imbalances—and as senior officials of both countries negotiated behind the scenes to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets.

Most auto makers have grudgingly accepted joint ventures as the cost of doing business in the world’s largest auto market. Tesla Inc. is an exception, so far declining to build a factory that would require it to share its electric technology with a Chinese partner. That means Tesla buyers in China are only able to buy imports and must pay a 25% tariff over the sticker price.

Beijing sees electric vehicles as more than a way to ease pollution; it sees them as a strategic initiative to make its automotive industry a globally relevant force, and has mandated all manufacturers in China start building electric vehicles by 2019.

Matt Tsien, General Motors Co.’s chief of China operations, said at a recent round table interview that GM keeps its best technology in the U.S., though it does contribute some technology to its Chinese joint ventures.

But GM and other auto makers have been vocal in complaining about the mandates to build electric vehicles, on grounds there is tepid consumer demand.

Speaking in Shanghai in September, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra argued that manufacturers should be free to respond to market demand and roll out EVs in their own time.

Though broadly opposed to the restrictions which China places on foreign players, most auto makers have come to depend on China for sales.

U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, front, spoke at a March 22 event at the White House to announce tariffs on China while accompanied by President Donald Trump, left, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

GM sold 4 million cars in China last year, out of 10 million globally, and recently pulled out of other international markets, including Europe and India.

Ford Motor Co. sold 1.2 million vehicles in China last year, out of 6.6 million globally.

Both companies were restrained in their responses to the Trump trade measures. Ford said it encouraged “both governments to work together to resolve issues.” GM said it believed “both countries value a vibrant auto industry and understand the interdependence between the world’s two largest automotive markets.”

A senior U.S. official said foreign companies have little choice but to comply with China’s authoritarian government to retain access to a valuable market. “Very few companies are willing to call the Chinese out on this,” the person said, which makes it the job of the U.S. government to do so.

Both GM and Ford could see sales dented by the trade measures, analysts say. South Korean auto maker Hyundai Motor Corp. saw sales fall 34% in China last year amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Seoul.

“This will likely impact the American companies who sell millions of cars today in China,” said Bill Russo, chief executive of Shanghai consultancy Automobility and a former Chrysler executive.

Chinese officials have decried the Trump administration’s depiction of Chinese trade practices, saying the accusations are baseless.

Joint ventures are also required in an array of other areas, including cloud computing, a service which provides data storage, computing and networking resources over the internet.

Cloud operators such as Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. must join with Chinese companies, with their investments capped at 50%.

The partnerships effectively force U.S. companies to train the employees of their Chinese partner how to operate their complex technology, forcing them to “provide their proprietary cloud computing technology, brands and know-how to their Chinese partner, in exchange for a fee,” the U.S. trade representative’s report found.

Joint ventures aren’t the only means of technology transfer. Acquisitions of U.S. companies by players with Chinese interests is another way China can get its hands on American technology, Mr. Lighthizer’s report said.

‘[U.S. firms must] provide their proprietary cloud computing technology, brands and know-how to their Chinese partner, in exchange for a fee.’

—U.S. trade representative report

Unlike the automotive sector, semiconductor companies aren’t required to form partnerships with Chinese companies to do business in the country. But China has become active in pursuing foreign semiconductor companies, a trend also viewed with concern by the U.S. trade representative.

In 2016, a Chinese consortium backed by state capital bought OmniVision Technologies, which manufactures CMOS image sensors, for $1.9 billion, the report said. In 2015, another Chinese consortium backed by government capital purchased Integrated Silicon Solution Inc. for around $765 million, the report said.

Such moves have triggered concerns in Washington and the government has blocked attempts by Chinese interests to buy makers of chip technology used in mobile phones, military equipment and other systems.

—Yoko Kubota and Charles Hutzler in Beijing and Liza Lin in Shanghai contributed to this article.

Write to Trefor Moss at Trefor.Moss@wsj.com

Appeared in the March 27, 2018, print edition as ‘Car Makers Chafe at Chinese Rule.’

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16 Mar 2018

Judge in Cosby Case to Allow Five More Accusers to Testify

A judge ruled Thursday that five additional women can testify at Bill Cosby’s upcoming trial in Pennsylvania on charges of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, marking the first time in the #MeToo era that a celebrity will face multiple accusers in a courtroom.

The three counts of aggravated indecent assault against the comedian and star of the 1980s television hit “The Cosby Show” remain the same from last June when his first trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial. But attitudes about sexual assault have shifted since October when accusations of sexual misconduct by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein gave rise to a movement. Mr. Weinstein has admitted mistakes but denied allegations of nonconsensual sex.

Legal experts said the inclusion of additional accusers would make Mr. Cosby’s defense more difficult the second time around.

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“The climate is so much more accepting of victims’ stories than it was even a year ago,” said Wes Oliver, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

Prosecutors sought to have 19 women who have alleged Mr. Cosby assaulted them testify to establish a pattern of “bad acts” at his retrial scheduled to begin April 2 in Montgomery County Court near Philadelphia.

On Thursday, Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled that prosecutors could select five women from the 19 to testify. Last June, the judge had permitted one additional accuser to testify of 13 that prosecutors had tried to include.

Prosecutors and Mr. Cosby’s defense team declined to comment for this article. Each count against Mr. Cosby carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Mr. Cosby’s attorneys argued this week in court filings that the additional accusations weren’t legally admissible under rules of evidence and would unfairly prejudice the jury. They noted that some alleged assaults date to the 1960s and would now be hard to defend against.

“This trial is about one issue—what occurred between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand during one night,” Mr. Cosby’s lawyers wrote in a court filing Tuesday. The case is “not about broader social issues impacting other people in other circumstances.”

Prosecutors say the 80-year-old Mr. Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in his home outside Philadelphia in 2004. Ms. Constand, 44 years old, met Mr. Cosby while he was a member of the Temple board of trustees.

Mr. Cosby has said he had a consensual sexual relationship with Ms. Constand and that he is innocent of the charges. On the night of the alleged assault, he said he gave her three Benadryl pills. Ms. Constand said the pills incapacitated her.

After Mr. Cosby’s first trial, several jurors said that among other things, they were divided about how to apply words like “unconscious” and “reasonable doubt” while deliberating.

Mr. Cosby’s lawyers have said in court filings that they want to call witnesses to dispute Ms. Constand’s prior statements that she didn’t have a romantic relationship with Mr. Cosby, who has been married tohis wife, Camille, for more than 50 years. Moreover, his attorneys have indicated they will contend that Ms. Constand made up her account to get money from Mr. Cosby.

Ms. Constand settled a civil lawsuit with Mr. Cosby in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.

Mr. Cosby’s new legal team, which was hired since the first trial, includes Los Angeles-based attorney Tom Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael Jackson from child molestation charges in 2005. Mr. Mesereau declined to comment.

Write to Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com

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05 Mar 2018
22 Feb 2018

Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Slated to Hit Theaters November 2019

Image via Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Sega of America

More than 28 years after Sonic the Hedgehog gave Sega a temporary rivalry against Nintendo (which did not end well for them) the ’90s mainstay is slated to hit the big screen. The new release date is much closer than it was in 2014, which is when the cinematic adaption was originally announced.

According to Deadline, Paramount has scheduled a film for the titular blue blur to drop on November 15, 2019. The flick will be produced by Neal H. Moritz, whose enormous resume is highlighted by: I Am Legend, both 21 and 22 Jump Street, and also all the Fast & Furious movies. In addition to that, Sonic will be executive produced by Deadpool director Tim Miller, and directed by relative newbie Jeff Fowler. Deadline also adds that the video game inspired title will be a combination of CGI characters and live action.

This will not be nearly the first time that someone has tried to translate Sonic into some sort of scripted entertainment property, as he’s previously been the star of five different TV series’, including a ’90s one where he was voiced by Jaleel White. He’s also been in his own long-running comic book series and has been turned into anime. Since he’s known by most everyone as a video game character, it’s worth noting that he’s been the lead in 90+ games on a number of platforms. As of 2016 he had helped Sega sell 80+ million physical copies. That number actually sounds kind of low to me, but he’s also helped move 350+ million units when you add those sales to mobile downloads.

Of course, Sonic does his best work when he’s going left to right on your TV in 2D. Now how exactly they plan to translate that to a big screen narrative? Well, I don’t really know. But that’s what they get paid for.

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11 Feb 2018

Kim Jong Un’s sister ends her trip to the Olympics

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, returns to Pyongyang Sunday at the close of her visit to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

While in South Korea, Kim was subject to intense scrutiny, her pleasant personal manner presenting a marked contrast to her family’s brutally dictatorial regime. Kim is the director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of her brother’s government, and some Western media outlets came under fire for what critics deemed too-favorable coverage of the "political princess":

Guys, be more like BuzzFeed here. pic.twitter.com/rmS5er9hR4

— Rory Cooper (@rorycooper) February 11, 2018

Kim Yo Jong is the first member of the Kim family to visit South Korea since her grandfather took power in North Korea. She was accompanied by North Korean officials and invited the South Korean president to visit Pyongyang for direct talks. Bonnie Kristian

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31 Jan 2018

Residents worried they’ll be forced out after San Pedro Creek renovation

San Pedro Creek construction (Alma E. Hernandez, Folo Media).
In October, the Soapworks apartments were purchased by the Barvin Group of Houston (Lynda M. Gonzalez, Folo Media).
The Soapworks and Towne Center apartments are located in west downtown (Lynda M. Gonzalez, Folo Media).

SAN ANTONIO – Donnie Dawson, 70, is grateful he’s able to afford a three-bedroom downtown apartment on a caregiver’s salary. He can afford such spacious digs because he lives at the Soapworks apartments on North Santa Rosa Street, one of a handful of affordable communities left in San Antonio’s urban core.

But it may not be affordable for long.

The $175 million transformation of San Pedro Creek, the channel that winds through the western half of downtown, is beginning to threaten the affordability of the two Soapworks properties and the neighboring Towne Center complex — all of which abut the creek. Led by Bexar County, the massive public project will revive what has been a decades-long dried-up ditch into something like the next River Walk.

About a year into construction, which began late 2016, Dawson wasn’t too worried. But in October, when a Houston-based investment group bought Soapworks and Towne Center, and immediately began renovating them, he became frightened.

The apartments “needed a fixup, but what they are trying to do is not that,” Dawson said over the incessant cacophony of downtown traffic and nearby construction vehicles. “We all think that they are trying to push us out.”

Dawson feels the renovations, the likes of which he hasn’t seen in the 38 years he’s lived there, are less for him and his current neighbors, and more for attracting higher-paying tenants, improvements for others to enjoy. Dawson’s rent has not yet increased, but empty units that are renovated are being offered at much higher rates than current residents pay.

Dawson, for example, pays 76 cents per square foot, but some of the renovated units are being advertised as high as $1.63 per square foot on the properties’ website.

Many of the residents of Soapworks and Towne Center — which combine for 381 units — are low-income, elderly or disabled, and some walk to their service industry jobs downtown. They believe the owners, the Barvin Group, are trying to capitalize on the San Pedro Creek project, which is expected to draw major investment from housing developers and other private sector players, just as the Museum Reach, another urban ditch turned linear park funded by public dollars, helped catalyze the Pearl.

Even if the Barvin Group doesn’t push out current residents for more immediate profits, residents worry that increasing property values in the area will leave them no choice. (The Barvin Group did not respond to requests for comment.) Some residents have already left on their own.

Some don’t expect to be around for San Pedro Creek’s grand opening, currently scheduled for May 5.

While San Antonio is already strapped for affordable housing — 153,000 units are needed, by last estimate — and while Mayor Ron Nirenberg has recently expressed his desire for affordable housing to be included in downtown development henceforth, what happens when some of the last existing affordable stock in a community is endangered by continued efforts to revitalize that very community?

A familiar cycle

Soapworks and Towne Center occupy three corners of the West Martin and South Santa Rosa intersection and offer some of the last affordable housing units left in a fast-gentrifying downtown.

The way some residents see it: because city and county policies are the driving force behind all of downtown’s recent and potential growth, shouldn’t it be the city and county’s responsibility to offset potential damage to long-term and vulnerable residents?

As San Antonio’s center continues to grow with the help of public money, this dilemma plays on repeat. Specifically, major transformations of segments of the San Antonio River — the Museum Reach to the north, the Mission Reach to the south — have had an impact on communities built along the waterway.

During the late 2000s, when the Museum Reach was completed, a handful of residents and organizations along that portion of the San Antonio River were displaced as development moved in and property values rose. In 2014, 300 residents were uprooted from the Mission Trails mobile home park along the Mission Reach to the south to make room for a luxury complex.

Recently, to help curb this trend while simultaneously addressing downtown’s lack of affordability, Mayor Ron Nirenberg placed a moratorium on a downtown incentives program known as the Center City Housing Incentives Policy. Also, Nirenberg’s housing task force is currently meeting to solve dilemmas like Soapworks and Towne Center.

“We created the Mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force to address issues just like this one,” Nirenberg said in a statement to Folo Media. “Understanding that the challenges of growth and development are complex, we expect the Task Force to deliver a set of compassionate policy recommendations that would help us ensure that affordable housing stock exists throughout our city and that our residents can age in place.”

A 2013 economic impact report predicted that in its first 10 years, the San Pedro Creek project would bring in new 7,300 residents to the area, increase property values by 150 percent and draw in $227 million in ad valorem tax revenue.

Though Dawson and other residents like where they are living, most just want to move — if they can afford to.

A handful of tenants have approached District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño to request financial help with a move.

Treviño met with the San Antonio Housing Authority and the Department of Human Services on Friday, Jan. 13, to discuss the situation. Treviño said he will find a way to get moving assistance for any resident that is priced out.

“My goal is to help them however they want me to,” Treviño said. “I want to help them if they want to stay or if they want to leave … that is their choice.”

Treviño said he is still analyzing how he can help residents stay if their rent increases dramatically, but so far no one who has approached him has wanted to stay.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said county officials have not discussed the situation at Soapworks and Towne Center, nor has he heard complaints from its residents. However, he said the county will not allow a scenario like Mission Trails to happen again.

“It is one thing when residents are being displaced, but that is not what is happening here,” Wolff said.

Most residents describe their relationship with the new owners as shaky. At best, they feel management isn’t worrying about them because they’re so focused on the upgrades. At worst, they feel management is intentionally being difficult and uncommunicative in an attempt to drive them out.

Several residents, Dawson included, say management has not explained to them how the price increase will occur. They see their floor plans listed online for significantly more than they are currently paying, and thus they worry. Dawson currently pays $746 a month for his three-bedroom, 972-square-foot apartment, but on the Soapworks website, it’s listed at $1,350.

Michelle McMillan, a representative of Capstone Real Estate Services, Inc., said they intend to create “middle-income housing” at Soapworks and Towne Center. Residents will not be forced out by management or intentionally priced out, she said.

Instead, rent will only be raised on units once they are rehabbed, she said. They will not begin the renovations while someone is living in a unit, nor will they ask residents to leave so they can renovate, she said. McMillan said Capstone will work with an apartment locator service to identify affordable properties in the area for residents who want to leave.

In two or three years, McMillan expects all of the apartments at Soapworks and Towne Center will have been renovated, meaning they will all be rented at the higher rates quoted on the website.

The residents Folo Media interviewed — seven, in all — had not heard these terms.

The current lease terms offered at the properties range from four to nine months, exacerbating fears among the residents that they will be kicked out around the time renovations along the San Pedro Creek are finished in May.

Maureen Galindo, 30, a single mother of three children — ages 1, 5 and 7 — has been offered a four month lease. She worries Capstone will push her and her kids out after the four months are up, or raise her rent in retaliation for her vocal opposition. Others fear retaliation for speaking out as well.

“Not having housing security is literally debilitating on the brain and on the mind,” Galindo said.

“I’m going through that once again, as well as all of our neighbors. It’s bad from a moral viewpoint and also from an economic (viewpoint). You can’t just kick people out on the streets.”

McMillan said Capstone does not consider these leases to be short-term because they offer the same terms at other properties they manage. She also said residents will be able to extend their contract for the same price when the current lease expires.

All of the residents Folo Media interviewed complained about how management has treated them, from expired fire extinguishers, to missing rent statements, to faulty water heaters. Residents say Capstone won’t accept $1 bills for washing machines tokens, only $5. And when the machines eat the tokens, the management won’t refund the lost coins, the residents say.

“I feel like they are hitting us with a wooden knife,” said a Soapworks resident who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s enough to hurt, but not make us bleed.”

McMillan denies that management is trying to force out residents under the table. She claims most of the residents have not voiced their concerns to the staff, and insists the staff would assist them if they did so.

She also added that management has not looked at the incomes of any of the current residents, but that many of them will possibly be able to afford updated units. According to the website, the new prices for Soapworks and Towne Center range from $1.35 to $1.63 per square foot, which is nowhere near the $2 per square foot offered at complexes in and near the Pearl or even higher luxury apartment rates cropping up elsewhere, such as the $3.14 per square foot at the Cellars in the Pearl.

Even if some of the rumors floating among the residents are false, their fear represents a very real concern about the availability of affordable housing along the San Pedro Creek as the renovations go forward.

The residents are planning to meet soon to discuss what is happening and what needs to be done. For now, they say, all they can do is wait.

“Everybody sort of just feels clueless in that realm,” Galindo said. “I just bring it up to people, outside, walking around, ‘How do you feel about everything?’ They say, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on.’”

This story was originally published by Folo Media. Folo Media is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization focused on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio, Texas.

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20 Jan 2018

USAA Real Estate Sells Buckhead Doubletree for $41.3 Million

A Rhode Island investor is the new owner of the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Atlanta’s landmark Tower Place development.

MHF Buckhead, an affiliate of Magna Hospitality Group of Warwick, RI, paid $41.3 million for the hotel with 230 keys and 7,323 square feet of meeting space. The seller was USAA Real Estate of San Antonio, TX.

The transaction, which closed last month, was announced Tuesday by Hodges Ward Elliott, a hotel brokerage and investment banking firm. The HWE team of Mark Elliott, Michael DiPrima and Jeff Berkman represented USAA in the transaction.

The Doubletree Buckhead at 3342 Peachtree Rd. sits in the middle of the Tower Place mixed-use development that is within easy walking distance to several trophy office towers, restaurants and MARTA. Tower Place, the first true mixed-use development in Buckhead, recently got some new cache when WeWork opened a large co-working operation there.

The Doubletree’s new owner, Magna, has more than $1 billion in hotel real estate under management and development. A majority of its holdings are located along the Atlantic Seaboard, from Washington to Boston.

Robert A. Indeglia Jr. founded Magna in 1998. It now owns and/or operates 20 hotels with 4,500 rooms.

For more information on this transaction, please see CoStar COMP #4108774.

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04 Jan 2018

San Antonio leads U.S. cities for minority homeownership

San Antonio ranks No. 1 for minority homeowners. iStock

It’s very difficult to argue with the statistics: inequality in the U.S. is on the rise. The ‘American Dream’ — the one with the nice suburban house with the white picket fence, a couple of kids, and an easily payable mortgage — appears to be sliding further away from minorities, according to a new report by rental search firm Abodo Apartments.

Looking at the country as a whole, 71.3 percent of white Americans own homes, while only 41 percent of black Americans own a home, according to the latest U.S. Census numbers analyzed by Abodo. The study also looked at other minority groups including Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans and found similar, albeit smaller, disparities.

But what about Texas? Good news — San Antonio ranks No.1 among the largest U.S. cities for minority homeownership. In San Antonio, 55.2 percent of minorities own homes while 44.8 percent of minorities are renters.

When it comes to saving for a down payment, it would take minorities in San Antonio – based on a formula compiled by ABODO – eight years to save for a down payment. And surprisingly, when compared to other large cities in the U.S., this is not a long time. For example, in San Jose, California it would take a minority 56.7 years (yes, years) to save for a down payment. Home prices in that city are among the highest in the nation right now, but either way, that’s a long time to wait to own a home.

Interestingly, many minorities are seeking alternative home financing methods. One example is a contract for deed method, widely popular in the Midwest. Other methods for creative home financing include two-step mortgages, family loans, securities-back loans, and more.

Outside of San Antonio, Houston ranks fifth among large cities for minority homeowners with 50.2 percent, Austin ranks 11th among the largest cities for minority homeownership rates, with 48 percent owning homes, and Dallas ranks 15th with 47.4 percent minority homeowners.

That’s all good news, seeing as many major cities like New York City, Boston, Cleveland, San Diego, and Los Angeles ranked far lower, according to the report. In Texas, equal opportunity is on the rise in the housing department, a trend we hope continues throughout 2018.

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