By Ilaina Jonas
NEW YORK (Reuters) - After a nearly two-year journey, the price for the public to own a piece of New York's Empire State Building is close at hand.
Empire State Realty Trust Inc, the real estate investment trust with the iconic skyscraper as its centerpiece, plans to launch an initial public offering of 71.5 million shares at $13 to $15 apiece, according to a regulatory filing on Thursday.
The shares are expected to price on October 1, a source familiar with the matter said. At the high end of the anticipated pricing range, the IPO could generate $1.07 billion, making it one of the top three biggest REIT debuts.
The range is higher than earlier estimates of $10 a share, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
"I'm very satisfied," said Barrett Browd, 73, an investor whose parents bought 1.5 ownership units in the building more than a half century ago. "I don't want to wait six months or a year to squeeze anything more out of this."
The bankers involved in bringing the REIT to market, led by Bank of America Corp <BAC.N> and Goldman Sachs & Co <GS.N>, are launching a road show which will attempt to garner interest from large funds to buy the shares. The final price will be determined by the interest from the road show.
The underwriters also would be granted an option to purchase 10.725 million shares more if demand rises, according to a filing with the SEC. The shares are expected to trade under the symbol "ESRT," the latest filing said.
The landmark building in Manhattan opened in 1931 during the Great Depression. At 102 stories, it stood as the world's tallest building until its lost its title in 1972 to the World Trade Center's North Tower.
The skyscraper withstood an airplane crash in 1945 and played a central role in the movie versions of "King Kong" as well as other films and television shows.
The road to an IPO for the REIT, which also will include more than 18 other properties, has been exceptionally long and sometimes as torturous as the fantasies that swirled around it.
Malkin Holdings LLC, which spearheaded the plan, kicked off the effort to roll up the properties into the REIT at the end of November 2011. It was quickly met with opposition from a small but vocal group of investors, and a few court cases. At least one is still pending an appeal.
Once the proposed REIT plan won the approval of the investors, several New York developers offered to buy the Empire State Building.
Malkin Holdings rejected the offers, saying that after debt and other costs, the proposals were shy of the value the REIT is expected to generate for investors, according to a regulatory filing.
The skyscraper and its more than 2,800 investors are managed by Malkin Holdings. The relationship dates back to the early 1960s, when Lawrence Wien, one of the pioneers of syndicated real estate ownership, sold 3,300 units at $10,000 and created Empire State Building Associates.
Simultaneously, he sublet the property for 114 years to Empire State Building Co, owned by Wien and real estate magnet Harry Helmsley.
Over the years, Empire State Building Associates also bought the land. Wien died in 1988, passing control of the Empire State Building and several other New York buildings in the REIT to his son-in-law, Peter Malkin, the chairman of Malkin Holdings, and his grandson, Anthony Malkin, Malkin Holdings' president.
Anthony Malkin is chairman, chief executive officer and president of the REIT.
"I voted for the REIT," Browd said. "I felt that it was a good time to cash in."
(Reporting by Ilaina Jonas)