BRUSSELS, BELGIUM-First Industrial Realty Trust Inc. expanded into two new European markets in July, opening offices in Paris and Dusseldorf. The moves follow exactly one year after the Chicago-based REIT entered the continent with the opening of a European headquarters in Brussels.

In January the company opened an office in Amsterdam and formed FirstCal Industrial Europe LLC, a joint venture with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. Initial plans called for investing approximately $475 million in industrial properties in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Belgium’s “Golden Triangle”of Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent. But the addition of the two new offices also expands the scope to include markets in France and Germany.

In the former, the joint venture will look to acquire existing properties and development opportunities in Lyon and the Ile-de-France, a 4,600-square-mile area that includes the majority of the Paris metropolitan region and is home to Europe’s largest concentration of commercial properties. In Germany, it will target the Rhine/Ruhr area, as well as Bremen and Hamburg, Europe’s two largest container ports. First Industrial hired Christophe Chauvard to head the Paris office and Oliver Drecker to oversee the office in Dusseldorf.

According to Jan Scheers, First Industrial’s managing director for Europe, the REIT has a “considerable pipeline” of potential acquisitions in the four countries but has not closed any deals. “We could have closed a number of transactions, but we decided not to do,” he tells “The main reason was the economic downturn and credit crunch that have affected the markets in the US. It seems in Europe we are behind that cycle by six to nine months. If we would have made a transaction six months ago, we would see it worth less today.”

On the flip side of the coin, the reduction in value means better pricing in the near future that will make investment in the continent much more attractive. “I think beginning about now and in coming months, there will be great opportunities here,” says Scheers, adding the company is currently looking at four build-to-suit projects.

But he says First Industrial also has several speculative development projects in its sites that are coming available because the credit crunch has made it difficult for the original developers to obtain viable financing. “Some deals have come on the market where you could take over the development,” he explains. “We are not dependent on outside financing for equity. We have the capital to get a project going.”

As to what distinguishes First Industrial from its competitors in the European market, Scheers says it’s the REIT’s broad sweep. “ProLogis has almost a complete focus on big boxes, while we go much broader,” he notes. “We look at big boxes, light industrial, cross docking – all things industrial. We also do sale-leasebacks.”

The Belgian exec describes First Industrial’s European venture as part of an effort to take advantage of global opportunities rather than an alternative to continued US investment. “We serve a number of international companies in the United States, and we get continuous requests asking if we can help them meet their building needs in other parts of the world,” he says.

Though he expects the company will gradually add other countries to its portfolio, for the time being it will concentrate on the above four markets, which he points out provide direct or contiguous access to about half of Europe’s population. “We see a lot of potential in Western Europe.,” he says. “That has to do with the huge presence of ports. All major ports of entry are in the west. With the growing global flow of goods, these are the ports of entry and these will be exporting and importing greater volumes year by year.” At the same time, he acknowledges the REIT is closely monitoring Central and Eastern European markets to keep abreast of its economic progress.

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