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CHICAGO-As envious as First Industrial Realty Trust officials may be over other REIT’s stock prices, they are resisting temptations to go private. Questions resurfaced this week during Citigroup’s 2006 REIT CEO conference, when First Industrial chief Michael W. Brennan expressed both disappointment with his company’s stock price as well as a preference for remaining a public company.

“We feel there are many benefits to being a public company,” Brennan said. However, if the company’s portfolio were valued at a 6% capitalization rate, First Industrial stock would be trading at $50 per share. “We’d like that recognition. We work hard for it.”

Brennan concedes $50 per share may be a bit rich. “It ain’t 40,” added the president and chief executive officer. However, First Industrial stock opened at $39.38 Tuesday, clearing the $39 hurdle with a 2.7% jump Monday.

In addition to owning and operating its own industrial 75.3-million-sf portfolio in 25 US markets, the REIT also has developed 25 million sf of space, handles sale-leasebacks and most recently, has entered into mammoth joint venture partnerships. While being a public company is one way to gain access to capital, First Industrial’s joint venture deals are expected to total more than $800 million this year. However, the joint venture business is off the REIT’s balance sheet.

CalEast Industrial Investors LLC, a joint venture including California Public Employees’ Retirement System and LaSalle Investment Management, is buying Oak Brook-based CenterPoint Properties Trust for $3.4 billion, which represented a 9% premium over the locally focused REIT’s December stock price. While CenterPoint Properties Trust is the largest industrial property owner in the Chicago market with 38 million sf that is half the size of First Industrial’s national portfolio. Meanwhile, CenterPoint’s market capitalization of $2.4 billion is $700 million larger than First Industrial’s.

One analyst suggested First Industrial’s stock price should be above $50 during a recent earnings conference call, and asked Brennan about the possibility of going private. “Are we pleased with our stock price? No we are not,” said Brennan, adding he got some encouragement from the CenterPoint acquisition. “What we are pleased to see is the market placed a high value on a value-creation infrastructure.”

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