DALLAS-With an eye on an IPO, the just-born AutoStar has catapulted into the marketplace with a $600-million plan to acquire vehicle dealerships in the US. The power play has begun with 21 sale/leasebacks in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

AutoStar debuts as a Dallas company, marking a first-time teaming by the locally based Staubach Retail, Presidio Financial Partners LLC of San Francisco and iStar Financial Inc. of New York City. Chris Maguire, president and CEO of Staubach Retail, adds AutoStar CEO to his nameplate. John Geller of Washington, DC, a former exec with Ernst & Young International, was hired in January as CFO to put together the plan that’s just now hit the streets after a seven-month drive to raise capital for a $600-million, leveraged buying pool. “The idea is we’re going to build this portfolio and if it makes sense, we will do an IPO,” Geller tells GlobeSt.com.

AutoStar seeded the portfolio with $167 million of assets in the 21-property shopping spree that bagged lines like Lexus, Honda and Mercedes-Benz. Geller says the long-term plan includes lending while the near term is solely focused on disciplined sale/leaseback buying of “good real estate with high-quality operations in quality locations.” Several other dealerships are under negotiation, says Geller, who’s partnering with iStar as the portfolio’s asset manager.

AutoStar will focus on existing dealerships, not empty buildings. Geller says some transactions might include capital improvements or adding a franchise to the site. In most cases, the acquired real estate is part of a dealership concentration, from the newer branding as auto malls to the older version of auto rows.

Geller says the trio of power names backing the play creates optimum deal sourcing and the first full-service lineup tailored to the automotive industry. The AutoStar plan took root last year when Maguire and Presidio’s managing director, Brodie L. Cobb, started discussing the need for a go-to capital source for automotive-related real estate transactions, according to Geller.

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