Staving off a foreclosure sale on his project, developer Robert Maguire of Maguire Partners said Wednesday that he had reached an agreement in principle with two major investment banks for the development of Playa Vista, the proposed future home of the DreamWorks Studio.

But the announcement was greeted with caution by parties involved in the deal, given that the latest move merely puts Robert Maguire into exclusive negotiations with those who hold the debt on the project.

Affiliates of the Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund and Goldman, Sachs & Co.’s Whitehall Street Real Estate Fund were scheduled to sell the project out from under Maguire on Monday. Sources say that the latest development essentially buys Maguire more time, perhaps two to three more weeks.

“It has always been our intent to reach an agreement on funding and I am pleased to now be in exclusive negotiations,” Maguire said in a statement. “This commitment represents a determined effort on all sides to see Playa Vista come to fruition. After eight years, the obstacles to this project should finally be behind us and we are eager to move forward.”

The Wall Street firms bought the majority of the defaulted $150 million mortgage from Chase Manhattan Bank in May. An investment group led by financier Gary Winnick’s Pacific Capital Group, a group that includes the Union Labor Life Insurance Co., has an option to invest in the development should an agreement be struck, according to sources.

The 1,087-acre project has been stalled for more than a year, with DreamWorks and Maguire engaged in a bitter feud as Maguire attempted to line up additional money for the development.

It appeared that Maguire had reached an agreement with the Winnick group in February, with plans for the new investors to pour up to $200 million in the project to get it moving. But those exclusive negotiations stalled.

A notice of sale was posted on the project last month. If the exclusive negotiations do not lead to a definitive agreement, Maguire could file for bankruptcy protection, a move that could delay the development indefinitely.

DreamWorks officials had no comment, although they have said recently that Playa Vista continues to be their first choice. It is expected that DreamWorks would develop its studio site on its own.

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