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General Growth exits bankruptcy

Chicago Exiting what was labeled the biggest real estate bankruptcy in U.S. history, General Growth Properties has emerged from Chapter 11 protection as two separate companies.

The country’s second-largest U.S. mall owner said Wednesday that it has spun off Howard Hughes Corp., an owner of master-planned communities and other properties.

The shares of the newly separate General Growth, as well as the shares of Howard Hughes, will begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

General Growth filed for Chapter 11 protection in April 2009 after accumulating $27 billion in debt that it was unable to refinance because of the financial crisis and collapse of the commercial mortgage-backed securities market. The company’s restructuring plan provided a full recovery for creditors and a recovery for shareholders.

In October, General Growth hired Sandeep Mathrani, former executive VP retail real estate for New York City-based Vornado Realty, Trust as its new CEO, a position he will assume at the beginning of 2011.

Mathrani will replace current CEO Adam Metz, who in October 2008 replaced John Bucksbaum, a member of the company’s founding family.

After filing for bankruptcy, General Growth turned its attention to restructuring about $15 billion in mortgage debt tied to about 140 properties, an effort it completed earlier this year. It then turned to its corporate-level debt and became the subject of a takeover battle between the country’s largest mall owner Simon Property Group and an investor group comprised of Brookfield Asset Management, Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP and Bruce Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital Management LLC. The private equity group prevailed, committing more than $8 billion to bring General Growth out of Chapter 11.

General Growth owns and operates more than 183 retail centers in 43 states.

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