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AUSTIN-A check “north of $100 million” has been written for eight shopping centers in Austin, the first transaction for a strategic alliance between Cencor Acquisition Co. and GE Capital. The deal is the best sign the state capital’s seen in a year, thanks to the Wall Street tech wreck’s undermining of the economy.

The Dallas-based duo of Cencor Realty Services and the Weitzman Group doubles its footprint in Austin with the near 1.4-million-sf acquisition. The seller is a private investor from the Northeast who’s owned the portfolio for about three years, Marshall Mills, Cencor’s president and COO, tells GlobeSt.com. That’s pretty much what Cencor is planning, but with it will come a rehab at some of the eight centers. It’s a “Three R” strategy: renovate, re-tenant and reposition. Then in a few years if the market’s right, sell the portfolio for a profit.

The centers, bearing a 93% occupancy, range in age from 15 to 25 years. Some deferred maintenance will begin immediately, but the real work won’t start until closer to the end of the year. “We want to create value,” Mills says. “We know we can do that. We’ve done it before.”

Buying a portfolio of that size means increasing the head count in Austin. Two property managers have been hired and plans are in the works to add a construction manager and administrative assistant. The deal takes the Cencor-Weitzman Austin portfolio to 5.9 million sf for management and project representation.

The portfolio was never on the market. Scott Freid, partner in charge of the Austin office for Cencor and Weitzman, “convinced him to sell and convinced him we were the right people to buy,” Mills says, adding the “convincing factor” was the alliance with Horsham, PA-based GE Capital, which was solidified in May. Freid and Randy Woodruff, Cencor’s CFO, represented the buyers.

The deal closed with Woodruff handling loan negotiations on behalf of Cencor Acquisition Co. Dallas-based Holiday Fenoglio Fowler LP was the mortgage broker and Bear Stearns provided the financing.

Austin’s tough entitlement processes and other barriers to entry make it easier to buy than build. The alliance, however, was set up to buy existing centers in Texas’ major markets. Mills stresses Austin’s pipeline isn’t closed, particularly since it’s one of the state’s healthiest in terms of balanced supply and demand. Mills says nothing is under contract, but there are letters of intent out in other cities.

The centers definitely are situated in communities where opportunity is limited for new development. About 64% of the retail space is leased to major retailers and three are grocery anchored.

Weitzman will lease the centers, situated in practically every submarket, and Cencor Realty will manage them under the direction of Rheta Williams, director of Austin property management.

The centers are Anderson Mill, 171,794 sf at US Highway 183 and Lake Creek Parkway; Century South, 207,358 sf at Interstate 35 and William Cannon Drive; Market Place, 295,174 sf in the suburb of Temple at its major retail intersection of Loop 363 and South 31st Street; Springdale Shopping Center, 163,677 sf at the intersection of US Highway183 and Springdale Road; Towne Square, 77,352 sf at William Cannon Drive and Manchacha Road; West Woods Shopping Center, 205,262 sf at Bee Caves Road and Walsh Tarlton Lane; North Park Shopping Center, 115,747 sf at Rutland Drive and North Lamar Boulevard; and Round Rock West, 131,797 sf at Interstate 35 and Sam Bass Road in Round Rock.

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