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Blackstone Rolls Up AmericasMart in Atlanta to Expand in Showroom Mart Sector

Private Equity Giant, Which Acquired International Market Centers Last Year, is Buying One of its Main Mart Competitors
May 15, 2018
Blackstone-owned International Market Centers (IMC) will acquire its largest competitor in a move that will transfer ownership of more than 7 million square feet of showroom mart space from a company started by the late John Portman.

Las Vegas-based IMC, which Blackstone acquired in 2017, said Tuesday it has agreed to combine with Atlanta’s AmericasMart, home to the largest-single collection of home decor, gift, rug and apparel merchandise. The massive AmericasMart complex comprises 7.1 million square feet of showcase space in several buildings that cover a 14-block area in the heart of downtown Atlanta.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Combined with IMC’s 12.2 million square feet of exhibition space in Las Vegas and High Point, N.C., International Market Centers will own and operate nearly 20 million square feet of the specialized showroom space that hosts markets and exhibitions where retailers meet with manufacturers and distributors to select products to sell in their stores and online.

John Portman, the legendary architect and developer who created AmericasMart and several other landmark developments such as Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta, died Dec. 29, 2017, at 93. Portman’s development of the Merchandise Mart, which opened in 1961, marked his first project in downtown Atlanta and forever changed the city's core.

As the first merchandise shows gained traction, Portman realized he had created a problem. Downtown Atlanta did not offer enough hotel rooms to accommodate all the merchandisers and purchasing agents coming to town for the massive sales marts.

"That’s what got me into the hotel business; we had no place to put them," Portman told this reporter in an interview in April 2000. "The Regency [hotel] was a direct outgrowth of [the Merchandise Mart," Portman said. "I was determined to build as many hotels around the Market Center as it grew as I could."

Eventually he developed the Westin Peachtree Plaza and Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

One of Portman’s sons, Jeffrey L. Portman, started working the docks at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart when he was eight years old. Today, Jeff Portman is president and COO of AmericasMart. He said the sale to IMC will strengthen both parties.

"AmericasMart has long served as a crossroads of commerce," Portman said. "The joining of the incredibly powerful talents and resources present in both organizations will sustain and advance that role for the ultimate benefit of the customers we jointly serve."

When the transaction closes, which is expected in July, Portman will serve as an advisor to IMC’s board of directors. Robert Maricich, the current CEO of IMC, will continue as chief executive of the combined entity.

Prior to the purchase agreement, IMC and AmericasMart had been fierce competitors in the mart business that hosts markets and exhibitions where retailers come to select products to sell in their stores and online. AmericasMart alone hosts 17 annual markets and shows, including the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market and the Atlanta International Area Rug Market. Each year, more than 4,500 exhibitors and nearly 200,000 attendees ply their trades in the downtown Atlanta complex.

Blackstone Real Estate Partners and Blackstone Tactical Opportunities (Blackstone: NYSE: BX), in a partnership with Fireside Investments, acquired IMC in 2017. The acquisition of AmericasMart reflects the private equity firm's continued confidence in Atlanta’s commercial real estate market, the company said.

"Having grown up in Atlanta, I am well aware of the tremendous contributions the Portman family has made to the city and in building AmericasMart into the leader it is today," said Tyler Henritze, head of U.S. Real Estate Acquisitions at Blackstone, in a statement announcing the acquisition.

Henritze said Blackstone, which has invested $5 billion in other Atlanta real estate properties since 2012, will build on Portman’s legacy "to further invest in and strengthen AmericasMart."

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