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ORLANDO-Gary M. Ralston, who headed one of the largest retail REITs in the country until he resigned in May from locally based Commercial Net Lease Realty Inc., has formed a new company to both compete against CNLR and also partner with the Orlando firm.

Ralston and Tampa real estate investor Vic Drew, whom Ralston has personally known for 40 years, have formed Florida Retail Development LLC. The new Orlando-based firm expects to do average annual development and redevelopment volume of $100 million, Ralston tells GlobeSt.com. Drew will handle the company’s business side.

“We define retail real estate as properties that have cash registers,” Ralston says. “By (initially) focusing exclusively on Florida, we are a ‘local sharpshooter’ and will use the local expert advantages to outmaneuver out-of-town players.”

The company also has one passive capital partner, an on-site selection deal-maker, a research analysts and several support employees in the administration section. The firm plans to add two more site selection specialists shortly.

Ralston says he resigned from CNLR in May, “with the blessing of my executive team and the board to fulfill a personal dream and start a private real estate development company.” Ralston headed CNLR for 12 years and was with the parent company, CNL Financial Group, for 15 years.

“I felt that founding a real estate development company would be the capstone of my real estate career,” Ralston tells GlobeSt.com. He feels he is making the right move at this time because “my association with CNL provided me the opportunity to access capital and to become well acquainted with the leading retail tenants.”

Although Florida Retail Develop eventually will be national in scope, Ralston says the company initially will focus on Central Florida. “The Orlando MSA of Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties, plus neighboring counties of Polk Brevard and Volusia contain over 3.3 million people, and is one of the fastest growing markets in the country,” Ralston says.

The new company will be involved in the recapitalization and redevelopment of retail properties and will also target the acquisition of “locally significant retail sites,” he says. The four categories the company will be looking at are drug stores, grocery stores, discount department stores and home improvement stores.

“We are on the front end of a number of project,” Ralston tells GlobeSt.com. “Our pipeline for the next 12 to 18 months is 20 to 25 free-standing dollar stores and six drug stores, as well as a couple of discount department stores and home improvement stores.” Most of the leases Florida Retail will be signing will be for at least 10 years.

Besides being the new player on the block, Florida Retail Development will also work with Commercial Net Lease Realty’s development partners, a strategy that would leverage Florida Retail and its capital.

“Commercial Net Lease Realty’s development partnering program has worked very successfully for a number of small to medium developers around the country, and we expect to be their star partner in Florida,” Ralston tells GlobeSt.com.

Where does he think Florida Retail Development will be 10 years from now? “By the time my son, Michael, who is 10 years old, joins me in the business, Florida Retail Development will have completed over a billion dollars of real estate projects and built a reputation as a leading retail real estate company in Florida,” Ralston says.

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