Shopping mall operator General Growth Properties Inc. will have four more months to sort out its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and weigh buyout offers.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper in New York on Wednesday extended the period of time the company has to exclusively file a reorganization plan through July 15, about six weeks less than the company had initially asked for.
Still, CEO Adam Metz said he is pleased with the decision and noted that the abreviated period won't alter the company's plans to work through its debt and field offers to buy the company.
"We're going to do our best to accomplish what we need to accomplish within the time frame," Metz said.
General Growth, the nation's second-largest shopping mall operator, racked up $27 billion in debt by the time it sought shelter from creditors last April, making it the largest real estate bankruptcy case in U.S. history.
Last month, it rejected a $10 billion takeover offer by rival shopping mall giant Simon Property Group Inc. that valued the company at about $9 a share.
General Growth is looking for a higher offer and has put forward a plan to exit bankruptcy with an investment from Canadian property manager Brookfield Asset Management Inc.
The plan, which values the company at $15 a share, would essentially set Brookfield up as a "stalking horse" bidder as General Growth prepares to solicit buyout offers.
Despite being initially rebuffed, Indianapolis-based Simon has signed the nondisclousure agreement and has begun looking at the company's books.
"They've begun their due diligence, so we'll see if they come forth with something different than what they originally proposed," Metz said.
He declined to say how many other potential buyers have signed nondisclosure agreements as a prelude to possible bids.
Simon issued a statement Wednesday praising the court's decision. The company had opposed the extension of the exclusive filing window.
"The court has made it abundantly clear that General Growth must now conduct a truly fair process with all parties on a level playing field," the company said.
Some of the company's unsecured creditors also had opposed the extension, arguing the company was favoring the interest of shareholders over those of creditors. The unsecured creditors committee backed the Simon deal.
A call to the committee's attorney was not immediately returned Wednesday.
General Growth owns or manages 200 shopping malls in 44 states.
To date, it has restructured about $12.1 billion in secured debt and expects to finalize agreements for another $1.5 billion soon. That would leave about $1.3 billion in secured debt to work out and $7 billion in unsecured debt.
General Growth shares added 28 cents to $13.49 Wednesday. Shares in Simon Property slipped 55 cents to $77.46.
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