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You may not be familiar with the name Artisan Real Estate Ventures, but chances are you’ve encountered Marty Burger. Burger, who founded the New York City-based Artisan last year, came off of a nearly two-decade stint with some of the biggest and most recognizable players in investment (Try Blackstone and Whitehall) and development (Can you say Related?). In that time, he added to his resume such achievements as Manhattan’s Time Warner Center and the 300,000-sf CityPlace Tower in West Palm Beach. And now the new venture is picking up steam, and Burger says deals are brewing or closing in Las Vegas and in the Caribbean. In the former, Artisan recently bought Summerhill Apartments for roughly $52 million. In the latter, Burger and team are developing the Cove at Cupecoy on St. Maarten, a luxury asset with 80 condominiums. But this entrepreneur isn’t necessarily interested in replicating the size of his former employers. In a recent, exclusive interview, Burger explained what the firm has accomplished to date, and what his mission will be going forward:

GlobeSt.com: Other than the geographic spread, how does your mission at Artisan vary from Related?

Burger: It’s different from the perspective that I’m mixing both development and acquisition. I wanted to keep my hand in development because I love it. When I was at Blackstone and Whitehall, I missed that the most. So I’m keeping my hands in that with our Caribbean project, and we’re looking now for another opportunity. But as a deal guy, and especially given construction costs, I decided to draw on my experience at Blackstone and Whitehall and stay in acquisitions. I also wanted to stay in Las Vegas, so I hooked up with a great local partner, and in the past four months we’ve closed more than 1,300 units and we have another 1,000 under contract.

GlobeSt.com: When do you expect them to close?

Burger: They’re in four different properties. If they all close they’ll all close by Mid-October.

GlobeSt.com: Construction costs are limiting development. But what about debt for acquisitions?

Burger: We’re definitely feeling the credit crunch, and the market is definitely pricing more risk into financing. As one lender told me, 75% is the new 85%. We were financing our first couple of projects at 90%. The last two projects we did after the initial wave of bad news, and we were at 85%. I think I can still be at 85%, but my price has gone up at least 100 basis points since August One. The regional banks have their own set of underwriting criterion, and they’re easier to do deals with because they’re less dependent on selling the paper to someone else.

GlobeSt.com: But business as a whole?

Burger: It’s the same. What’s happening at the property level isn’t affected by the subprime other than companies who are right on margin, who are screwed now. Everyone is going to pay a little more in interest, and that might affect some office or retail. But by and large, the subprime doesn’t impact the way companies do business or how they operate. If anything, it may help because more people will rent than buy.

GlobeSt.com: So will your focus be mostly multifamily?

Burger: No. We’re actually trying to take the platform into retail as well, and we’re looking into some gaming properties.GlobeSt.com: So wrap up your growth to date and your expectations going into 2008.

Burger: I started the end of ’06, and by the end of Q1, I had seven employees and a number of assets under contract. We’re hoping to have our development in St. Maarten under way shortly and by the end of the year our portfolio should be up to roughly 3,000 units. Plus, by this time next year, we will have purchased two or three retail assets and maybe some gaming properties.

GlobeSt.com: And geographically?

Burger: We’re really trying to push the Las Vegas front because I really believe in this market. We also have offers out on a couple of development opportunities–one in Panama. Our opportunity is actually in one of the Pearl Islands off the coast of Panama City. I can’t talk about it because it’s not our project yet.

GlobeSt.com: And are any of these multifamily?

Burger: No resort residential. Some could be hotel. The one in Panama happens to be mixed-use–golf course, residential, hotel.

GlobeSt.com: Where will the resort part of your mission be in a year?

Burger: It really depends on the opportunity. In Las Vegas I don’t see developing much because I don’t want to compete with the existing casinos. We’re looking for opportunities in New York City and in other high-growth cities, and I just don’t know if that will include hotels or not. I’ve had my hands in hotels for a long time. I worked on the W Union Square Project, and I cut the deal with the Mandarin Oriental at Time Warner Center. So if the opportunities arise and the numbers make sense we’ll take advantage of it.

GlobeSt.com: Would you step away from the target types you mentioned to do something as mundane as industrial?

Burger: Sure. There are large industrial portfolios here that are trading all the time, because there’s such a need. There are 1.8 million permanent residents and 40 million visitors in Las Vegas. Everything is expanding so quickly, but industrial is an often-forgotten part of it. The problem is that there are no outskirts anymore because everything is expanding in all directions and so quickly.

GlobeSt.com: Is it possible to overbuild in Vegas?

Burger: All the major analysts keep writing reports on that and they’re usually proven wrong because the gaming market is so strong. They were saying that when the last round of big hotels got built–Wynn and the Bellagio and the Mirage. They said there aren’t enough people to gamble there and they were wrong. The gaming revenues just keep going up. Now there’s a new round of casinos about to be built. This town remakes itself every two or three years.

GlobeSt.com: Will there be a time when Artisan will approach the size of a Related? How high are your hopes?

Burger: I’m opportunistic, but I’m not going after the mega-deals. I can roll up my sleeves and solve problems. Essentially, I have two criteria. I want to have fun and I want to make money.

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