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PLOVDIV, BULGARIA-A partnership of GE Real Estate and Quinlan Private has teamed up for another helping of retail real estate in this Central European country. After securing the Mall of Sofia last year for $112 million, the groups have agreed to buy the Mall of Plovdiv, a 240,000-sf complex under construction in the country’s second largest city.

“We regard retail in a rapidly growing economy such as Bulgaria a compelling investment opportunity,” says Peter Donnelly, a principal of Quinlan Private, in a release announcing the Plovdiv pact. The asset should be further enhanced, he says, from ascension into the European Union, increased investment among foreign players and needed infrastructure upgrades.

Dublin-based Quinlan Private will continue to identify and acquire “similarly attractive assets” in Bulgaria, says Donnelly, whose firm is acting on behalf of several investment funds. Quinlan Private and GE share a 50/50 ownership platform in the Plovdiv property, similar to the deal in Sofia. The partnership declined to provide any financial details on the latest investment, but one estimate puts the transaction at more than $60 million.

Both the Mall of Plovdiv and the Mall of Sofia in Bulgaria’s capital city were purchased from a development team of Ocif and CCI. The retail market of Plovdiv is undersupplied with modern retail facilities, according to GE Real Estate managing director Karim Habra, who oversees the Stamford, CT-based group’s Central and Eastern Europe division.

Not only do market fundamentals appear favorable in Plovdiv, Habra explains that retail has also been one of GE Real Estate’s “cornerstones of growth” regionally. “We firmly believe that this sector of the market offers us a strong opportunity in Bulgaria,” he says, and comes following successful buying campaigns in Poland and the Czech Republic focused on retail product.

GE and Quinlan have already made 50% of their investment to buy the Mall at Plovdiv, with the remainder to be issued upon its completion in late 2008. More than 50% of a three-story, 160,000-sf retail gallery that will anchor the mall has been pre-leased, and the new ownership reports brisk demand for the remainder. Other elements of the Mall at Plovdiv will be a 27,000-sf supermarket; a 160,000-sf electronics store run by Technomarket; and a 10-screen movie theater totaling 32,000 sf.

Located in the southern tier of Bulgaria, Plovdiv has about 350,000 residents, with only Sofia, the capital, more populated at 1.25 million. The Mall of Sofia, which opened a year ago, is larger than the Plovdiv entry. The 800,000-sf Sofia complex is anchored by 350,000 sf of retail, and also contains 10,000 meters of office space, a 12-screen cinema and parking for 700 vehicles. Donnelly says Quinlan is pursuing other retail deals in Central Europe, but declined to identify the prospects.

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