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HOUSTON-Weingarten Realty Investors’ “go” strategy, which stands for growth opportunity and began 20 months ago, is picking up speed. During a conference call, management said at the end of third quarter it had a pipeline of $1.2 billion.

There are now 37 properties in various stages of development, up from 21 at the same time a year ago. To date, Weingarten has invested $386 million in the properties and anticipates a total investment of $820 million. In addition, 18 development sites are under contract with a projected final investment of $370 million.

Of the 37 underway, the company expects to “substantially complete” 13 by the end of 2008, said Robert Smith, SVP and director of new development. “These centers are 87% leased,” he said. “By the end of 2009, we are projecting that 23 of the 37 . . . will be substantially complete and these projects are currently 69% leased,” he added.

During the third and the outset of fourth quarter, Weingarten acquired 10 properties aggregating 2.2 million sf for $454 million, bringing total acquisitions this year to $851 million. Of that, $377 million were acquired through joint ventures, a strategy the locally based company plans to continue to pursue, said Drew Alexander, president and CEO.

It disposed of five non-core properties, aggregating 393,000 sf during third quarter for proceeds of $26 million. They were sold at an average cap rate of 6.9%. This brings total dispositions for the year to 1.5 million sf for a total of $202 million.

Occupancy in its existing portfolio reached 95.5% by Sept. 30 this year, up from 94% on the same date of 2006. Alexander reported that rent rates for new leases and renewals signed during third quarter were up 14.1%. Asked by an analyst during the call if retailers were “using the credit crunch” to negotiate lower rates, Alexander said, “rents are still at record highs and holding.”

Funds from operations for the most recent quarter were $0.79 per share of WRI common stock, up 10% from $0.72 in the prior-year quarter. “We are optimistic that we can achieve 2007 FFO at the top end of our guidance range of $2.98 to $3.04 per share,” Alexander said. “Additionally, I am confident in our ability to fully implement our strategic growth plan.”

The REIT’s portfolio consists of 342 neighborhood and community shopping centers and 78 industrial properties. These sites are in 23 states and encompass more than 70 million sf.

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