ATLANTA -- John C. Portman Jr., whose skyscrapers heralded Atlanta's evolution into an international metropolis and pioneered a design that antagonized some architecture critics, has seen his star fade recently amid a torrent of debt.
Portman-built hotels, office towers and trade marts for three decades have made a singular imprint on Atlanta, and led to major developments in New York, San Francisco and Singapore. But his current financial problems, stemming from projects here and around the world, have the architect-developer looking like just another casualty of excessive 1980s debt financing.
Portman borrowed heavily in the past three years to support ambitious projects, notably One Peachtree Center, a 60-story office complex under construction in downtown Atlanta.
Meanwhile, he refinanced several properties and proceeded with the development of others, all while the real estate market was softening and the era of growth through debt was coming to a close.
The debt on Portman's Atlanta projects alone reportedly stands at more than $1.6 billion. He has been sued by DG Bank Deutsche Genossenschaftsbank for allegedly failing to make a $3 million loan repayment. And on Sept. 1 he stopped making payments to one of his main creditors, Equitable Life Assurances Society of the United States, on a $332.6 million mortgage for his flagship Peachtree Center office complex here.
Portman officials say the problems are only with unsecured creditors, who hold a relatively small portion of the company's loans. The company will not say how much money it owes, citing its status as a private firm.
For more than a month, Portman has been huddling with about 20 creditors in an effort to restructure the financing of his empire. Last month, he said he plans to pledge part of his real estate empire as collateral for his unsecured debt -- lines of credit that are not backed by assets.
Though brash in some of his business and architectural decisions, the 65-year-old Portman is publicly reticent, avoiding the spotlight except to announce a new development.
Now Portman finds himself and his debt problems appearing regularly on front pages, where he is compared with other highly leveraged developers, such as Donald Trump, who have gotten into financial difficulty lately.
Portman has received wide criticism in the past, though rarely for his business acumen. His architectural style, marked by streamlined exteriors and expansive atriums, have tended to be popular with the public but maligned by critics, who call Portman buildings urban fortresses.
Portman has defended his modernist architecture as "for people and not things."
Portman declined to be interviewed for this article, but his executive vice president, Sam Williams, said the company is healthy and a collateral agreement with creditors could be reached before the end of the month. "We've been in business 30 years and will be in business 30 more. The financing on our major projects is firmly in place. There is no threat to the concrete and steel buildings of the Portman Cos.".