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CORAL GABLES, FL-American Ventures Realty Corp. is embarking on an aggressive expansion strategy at a time when many of its competitors are responding to softer market conditions in a more conservative manner.

In a move aimed at bolstering this expansion, the Coral Gables-based commercial real estate development, investment and asset-management company is promoting Jude M. Williams, a 14-year employee, to the newly created position of president. Property management, leasing and tenant services divisions now report directly to Williams, the former senior vice president of asset management.

“Jude’s promotion is consistent with the expansion of our investment portfolio services,” Philip F. Blumberg, American Ventures’ chairman, tells GlobeSt.com. “It is indicative of the continued growth of the company in terms of the services we offer and the real estate we own.”

To date, Blumberg estimates, the company now owns or manages about $170 million in assets that comprise exclusively class A office properties in South Florida, the Tampa Bay Region and Texas.

“We’re continuing to look at acquisitions ranging from $30 million to $100 million in value–properties very well-located with well over 250,000 sf,” Blumberg says.

This increased focus on acquisitions comes as the company is making preliminary plans to establish two new discretionary institutional investment funds later this year–each in excess of $100 million–and eventual plans to expand another fund established last year.

“The fund we introduced last June is an open-end fund (valued at) about $175 million,” Blumberg says. “We’ll roll into another offering sometime next year.” There is no doubt, in Blumberg’s opinion, those funds will mirror the success of the company’s first investment fund, which opened in 1992 and closed last year. “It had a return in excess of 23%,” he says.

Meanwhile, the company is making a concerted effort to ensure the integrity of its portfolio by reinforcing its leasing, property management and tenant services operations. Besides putting Williams in charge of those divisions, the company recently hired William “Lin” Humphrey, a former executive in charge of customer loyalty and retail services at Carnival Cruise Line, to direct the newly formed tenant services division.

Those personnel changes are expected to complement the prior appointments of Thomas W. Jeffrey, former chief financial officer at Atlantic Gulf Communities Inc., as American Ventures’ CFO, and William Hemmingway, formerly with Crestar Bank, as director of the company’s research arm, RealData Information Systems Inc.

These appointments come as the company has put considerable emphasis on Houston and Dallas as markets for acquisitions. Last year, for instance, the company acquired the 395,637-sf Three Riverway in Houston for about $50 million, or $126 per sf. American Ventures values the property in excess of $200 per sf, however.

“A lot of people don’t realize Dallas ranks second only to San Jose in terms of technology growth,” Williams says. “It has been hit hard by the technology dip. While tenants are still paying rents, many are subleasing big pieces of office space. Prices are being driven down. There are buildings in Downtown Dallas going at half of reproduction. We’re looking hard for class A properties in Dallas.”

Once the acquisition is made, however, American Ventures then executes a service plan aimed at bolstering tenant renewals. Standard operating protocol, for example, calls for a minimum investment of $500,000 to install technologically advanced security systems, shared conference facilities and even health-and-fitness facilities. Each tenant also gains access to an Internet-based program that offers discounts on services such as office supplies.

“Our lease renewals are very high because of this attention,” Williams says.

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