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NAPLES, FL-Kite Realty’s recent announcement that it had acquired three shopping centers in Naples, FL, is just one salvo in a full-fledged battle to expand its presence throughout the state.

Kite Realty acquired Pine Ridge Shopping Center, anchored by Publix, Target and Beall’s; Riverchase Shopping Center, anchored by Publix and Blockbuster; and Courthouse Shadows Shopping center, anchored by Albertson’s and OfficeMax, for $58 million from a private German partnership. Indianapolis-based Kite now owns six neighborhood centers in the Naples area and is building two more. And that’s just the beginning.

“We’ve been active in the Naples market for the last five years, both on the acquisition and development fronts,” says John M. Kite, president and CEO. “We saw that the southwest part of Florida was growing rapidly. In fact, Collier and Lee Counties are two of the fastest growing in the country.”

Naples’ population (now about 253,000 including surrounding areas) increased 65% during the 1990s, according to Downing-Frye Realty. The city was ranked in 2005 by CNN/Money Magazine as one of the best cities to live. While population growth has slowed in the city itself in recent years, Collier County has seen a steady increase of 10,000 new residents annually, according to the US Census Bureau.

In addition to the acquisitions, Kite is building the 206,600-sf Estero Town Commons, Naples, anchored by Lowe’s, in a joint venture with Continental Real Estate. Also under construction in the market is the 256,000-sf Tarpon Spring Plaza, anchored by SuperTarget, AC Moore, Cost Plus and Staples.

Kite’s Florida expansion plans, however, extend well beyond Naples. Kite Realty has been developing and acquiring in Florida for a decade, Kite says, and now has a total of 18 projects in the state. Other upcoming developments include projects in Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Delray Beach.

The company is so well-connected, in fact, that the former owner of its most recent acquisitions had not announced that the centers were on the market. “It shows you can find opportunities,” Kite says.

And its history is a definite advantage in working with often reluctant municipalities. “It’s a difficult market to operate in,” Kite admits. “Municipalities make it difficult to get things built.”

Erratic weather makes predicting grand openings for some projects difficult at best. Still, the company, which has $180 million of projects under construction, has $300 million more in the pipeline. Potential locations include the panhandle area, Kite says. “There will be blips,” Kite says. “But we’re big believers in the Florida market.”

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