CHICAGO — Three years after holders of $98 million of revenue bonds took ownership of the St. Louis convention center hotel complex, more than 50 potential buyers have expressed an interest in taking the hotels off their hands, according to the trustee.

Holders of the $98 million of debt took ownership of the complex through foreclosure proceedings in 2009 after a 2008 default on debt service.

The trustee, UMB Bank NA, initially pursued a sale of the smaller of the two hotels that make up the complex in downtown St. Louis, but in 2010 pulled back because of poor real estate values.

With the market recovering, UMB asked its advisor on the sale, Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, to put the hotels back on the selling block late last year in hopes of closing on a deal this year.

“In excess of 50 potential buyers have signed confidentiality agreements in order to be provided with detailed information concerning the hotels,” reads a trustee notice published this week at conventionhotelbondholders.com/.

Jones Lang is currently in the process of exchanging information with the potential buyers, which is expected to lead to a competitive bidding process and a sale of the hotels to the highest or best bidder.

The trustee said it still hopes to close on a sale this year, with the net proceeds being distributed to bondholders.

“At this time, it is not possible to estimate how much or when such proceeds will be distributed,” according to the notice.

The trustee also reported that the city has completed a refinancing of a hotel-related loan with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The refinancing provided $1.5 million in savings for the hotel complex last year, and an additional $1.2 million is expected this year by reducing the amount of the hotels’ payment in lieu of taxes to St. Louis.

The hotels also reported net revenue of $38.3 million in 2011, up from $37.2 million in 2010 and a net operating loss of $635,000 compared to a loss of $420,000 in 2010.

The hotel had an occupancy rate of 49.1% last year compared to 52.1% in 2010.

It expects a 57.1% rate this year as well as an $884,000 operating loss.

Recent trades of the hotel bonds have ranged from 27 cents to 30 cents on the dollar.

Bondholders took ownership of the 918-room Renaissance Grand Hotel and the 165-room Lennox Suites that are operated by Marriott Corp. in 2009 after the obligated group defaulted in December 2008 on debt service payments on the 2000 issue.

The project originally cost $266 million to develop. It has struggled since its 2003 opening.

The recession’s negative impact on tourism, along with competition from other new or improved hotels, has further hampered the complex’s performance.

Moody’s Investors Service in 2009 downgraded the hotel bonds to Ca from Caa2, warning it is unlikely bondholders can recoup their full investment even in an eventual sale of the facilities.

The authority sold the senior-lien bonds as part of a complicated financing that included public funding to acquire and renovate the hotels.

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