Business News - Local News

Developers call Georgetown ‘once in a lifetime’ parcel

Tampa Bay Business Journal - by Janet Leiser Staff Writer

TAMPA — The economy and real estate market might bounce back in three years or it could take another five years, but either way developers Kirk Eicholtz and Ed Kobel believe they made the right choice in buying the Georgetown Apartments land.

“It’s a piece of property that comes along once in a lifetime,” said Eicholtz, managing member of Christian Tyler Properties LLC in Tampa.

Kobel, president and COO of DeBartolo Development, realized the value of the 153 acres on Tampa Bay about seven years ago, back when his brother, Edward DeBartolo, pointed it out as the best parcel on Florida’s West Coast.

The developers — joined by Tampa’s Validus Group, owned by Mario Garcia, and the Avanti Acquisitions Co. LLC, a Canadian real estate investment firm with a Winter Park office — paid $30.5 million on Oct. 2 for the land.

Bank of America, lead lender on behalf of four other banks, had foreclosed on the property in December 2008 after Fort Lauderdale’s Motta Group and Chicago’s Walton Street Fund defaulted.

“We think it’s a great time to invest in America, to be a real estate investor,” Kobel said. “Real estate is on sale.”

Motta’s prior ownership group possibly spent as much as $160 million on Georgetown, including the $125 million price and entitlement costs, Eicholtz said.

As much as half of Georgetown’s waterfront acreage is expected to become a passive park giving the public access to the Bay, Eicholtz said. At the behest of Mayor Pam Iorio, the Trust for Public Land is expected to buy the property to later transfer to Hillsborough County.

The 600-plus apartments built in the 1960s by developer Ralph Kaul will be razed since the weather has caused deterioration not readily fixed.

“We ran into a lot of roadblocks with the costs in bringing them up to code,” said Eicholtz, who partners on many real estate deals with attorney Guy Burns of Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns LLP.

Time to buy right

Eicholtz, nor Kobel, are ready to call the bottom for the residential real estate market, although there have been positive signs such as increased home sales in recent months.

“Is it the very bottom? Who knows?” Eicholtz said. “It’s a great time, if positioned properly and done with discipline, to buy the right assets.”

For every deal Eicholtz chases, he said there are at least another 20 he passes on.

Garcia, who also is the owner and CEO of EMSI and chairman of GulfShore Bank, said patience is key in the Georgetown redevelopment.

“We didn’t get into this thinking it’s going to happen tomorrow,” Garcia said. “We’ve been sitting on the sidelines for some time.”

The residential real estate market must gain traction before the new owners can determine what type of residences it will build, as well as how many, Kobel said. It also depends on how much land is made into a park.

Brokers involved in the deal include Bruce Erhardt and Derek Pettigrew of Cushman & Wakefield of Florida Inc., as well as Bill Eshenbaugh, who worked on behalf of the new owners. | 813.342.2468

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