ATLANTA -- Foreclosure proceedings have been started against John C. Portman Jr.'s holdings in downtown Atlanta's Peachtree Center, including six office towers, a retail shopping mall, two parking decks and an athletic center.

Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc., which holds a $332.6 million mortgage, began the foreclosure process last week.

Both Equitable and Portman, however, said they expect to conclude a refinancing agreement soon that would halt the process.

"We expect to conclude our earlier announced agreement with the partnership owning Peachtree Center, but by beginning this procedure we are simply protecting our clients and leaving our options open," Grant Grimes, an Equitable senior vice president, said in a statement.

"Nothing dramatic should be read into this," he said. "In fact, we have every hope that the transaction between Portman and Equitable Real Estate will be concluded shortly."

Portman, who has been attempting to restructure his $2 billion in debt, had tentatively agreed in October to turn over 75 percent ownership in Peachtree Center to Equitable.

"Negotiations have been completed regarding the restructuring of our Peachtree Center partnership with Equitable Real Estate and its clients," Portman said. "The legal documents are ready to be signed, pending approval from certain third party beneficiaries, including some limited partners.

"That approval is expected to come in the near future and is a requirement under existing agreements. Once we sign the documents, we expect this legal process to be stopped," he said.

The foreclosure action does not affect any of Portman's other properties worldwide, including the Atlanta Apparel Mart, Atlanta Gift Mart, Inforum in Atlanta, trade shows in several cities, Embarcadero Center and the Fashion Center in San Francisco, the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York, and Shanghai Centre in China.