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BAYAMON, PUERTO RICO-Columbus, OH-based Casto has made a $400 million investment into properties on the island owned by Vadim Nikitine, president of Commercial Centers Management Inc., based here. The purchase includes nine retail properties and one office building, for a total of 1.7 million sf, to be owned by the new company Casto Caribbean.

The two companies had worked together on Casto’s first lifestyle project, Winter Park Village, in Winter Park, FL. Tony Martin, a partner with Casto, tells GlobeSt.com, that the experience led to his firm’s first foray into property ownership outside the US. He says he thinks the retail opportunities here are pretty strong, with a high barrier to entry and strong sales levels. Casto will own 50% of the company, and Commercial Centers will continue to manage and lease the properties.

“There’s very limited land on which to build on the island, there’s a rainforest and mountains, and they are environmentally sensitive. Where a process here might take a year to get zoned, it may take seven-eight years there,” Martin says.

Tourism is not really a factor, he says, with the industry being only about 10% to 15% of the island’s GNP. However, the mid-level tenants, such as Sears, Marshalls and Walgreens, seem to do well, and aren’t affected by the struggling US economy, Martin says. “About 40% of our tenants are locally-based, so we have a good mix of national and local,” he says. “Our occupancy rate is in the low 90% range. Also, our partner is part of the Chainlinks network, so they’re doing a lot of tenant representation, so we hope to benefit from those relationships.”

The retail properties include the 456,180-sf Santa Rosa Mall in Bayamon, the 243,220-sf Centro del Sur in Ponce, the 161,868-sf Plaza Caparra in Guaynabo, the 142,869-sf 65th Infanteria, the 138,274-sf Villa Blanca Mall in Caguas, the 126,462-sf Reparto Metropolitano in Rio Piedras, the 71,177-sf Eastern Plaza in Fajardo, the 42,078-sf Mountain View in Carolina and the 78,724-sf El Monte Mall in Ponce. The office building is the 222,470-sf Plaza Scotiabank in Hato Rey, mostly occupied by Scotiabank.

Martin says that there is some upside opportunity with the properties. “There’s some redevelopment possible, some properties have age on them, and when the leases expire we’ll enhance the value. We hope to also acquire additional properties there,” he says.

The company already owns properties in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Chicago, but Martin says there’s no immediate plans to go elsewhere outside the US. “If we hadn’t already had this partnership, we probably wouldn’t have done this on our own,” he says.

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