20 February 2009

* Builder John Laing files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

The company that does business as John Laing Homes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in Delaware on Thursday, claiming between $500 million and $1 billion in debts.
Irvine-based WL Homes LLC, which builds under the John Laing brand primarily in California, Colorado, Arizona and Texas, has an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 creditors, according to its bankruptcy filings.
The company said in a recent statement that it was “reviewing all potential options to meet capital requirements.”
According to Bradley Sharp, the company’s chief restructuring officer who filed a declaration in the case, unaudited financial statements for WL Homes fiscal year ending Nov. 30 show that the company had assets with a book value of approximately $1.3 billion and debts totaling $977 million at the time. Sharp said revenue fell from $948 million in 2007 to $248 million last year.
A list of secured creditors had not been filed as of Thursday. According to Sharp’s affidavit, the company has revolving credit facilities with Bank of America, Wachovia Bank, RFC Construction Funding LLC and Guaranty Bank, and other secured debt totaling $350 million. Among its largest unsecured creditors are employees who are owed wages.
John Laing issued a statement saying the company “anticipates that the Chapter 11 process will allow it to significantly reduce debt from its balance sheet while facilitating a strategic reorganization of the company, which will place it in the strongest possible position to sustain its momentum despite extremely challenging market conditions.”
The company said it plans to use a debtor-in-possession line of credit to maintain operations. The company filed several motions to allow it to pay employees, hire bankruptcy lawyers and retain restructuring specialists.
John Laing started out as a builder in the United Kingdom and came to the U.S. market in 1984. The company was sold to Dubai-based Emaar Properties in 2006 for $1.05 billion, just as the housing market began to turn. Emaar Properties is Dubai’s largest publicly listed developer and had intended to expand the company into a national builder, Sharp said.
Emaar invested an additional $613 million in the company, but eventually shut off funding, Sharp’s affidavit said. The company had a work force of 1,100 in 2006, but trimmed employees to about 90 by the first week of this month, he said.
Sharp’s affidavit said the builder has 105 real estate developments across the country. It also builds luxury and custom homes.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.