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BALTIMORE-Shopping outlet center REIT Prime Retail Inc.–which currently holds ownership and/or management rights to 37 retail properties across the US–has jumped on an opportunity to merge with Lakewood, NJ-based real estate firm The Lightstone Group. Through its affiliate, Prime Outlets Acquisition Co. LLC, Lightstone has committed to acquiring 15-year-old Prime Retail in a deal valued at a staggering $638 million. Assuming Prime Retail shareholders sign off on the proposal, Lightstone will assume $523 million in debt, and will fork over $115 million to shareholders for Series A preferred, Series B preferred and common stock.

Prime Retail sees the arrangement as a move that will not only benefit shareholders, but all others involved with the company, right down to the consumer. “For our tenants, the relationship with a well-capitalized real estate organization such as the Lightstone Group will provide us with the access to capital we need to finish the rehab of our centers and refine and expand our marketing efforts aimed at improving sales,” Prime Retail chairman and CEO Glenn Reschke explains. “For our employees, the buyer’s commitment to maintain the company’s headquarters in Baltimore will be good news to the over 90 employees based here.”

For its part, Lightstone hopes to serve as the added solid foundation on which Prime Retail can build a bigger and better outlet empire. “Our plan is to work with the talented team of professionals that the company has assembled in Baltimore and provide the financial platform and capital needed to grow and expand the company into other complementary forms of retail and entertainment,” Lightstone president and CEO David Lichtenstein says. Essentially, Prime Retail’s goals will not change. “We will keep our existing team and continue to execute our business plan, which is to increase occupancy at our centers and improve revenue,” Prime Retail’s Steven A. Sless tells GlobeSt.com.

Lightstone was not the only party interested in Prime Retail. “We’ve talked to some other people; Lightstone and their CEO seized this opportunity within the outlet industry,” Sless says. In October 2002, Prime Retail rejected an unsolicited buyout proposal from New York’s Fortress Investment Group LLC for $66.2 million, explaining that the bid was “inadequate.”

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