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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

TAMPA, FL-Jeff Schwartz, the former CEO of Denver-based ProLogis who resigned last fall after nearly four years in that position, has launched a new $7-billion venture that includes the industrial REIT’s Asia portfolio. Schwartz and Ming Mei, president of ProLogis’ China operations, are partnering with the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. in the initial acquisition, which includes $5.5 billion worth of assets in Japan.

“It’s the only place in the world that has decent growth prospects in 2009 and 2010,” Schwartz told the Real Estate Investment Council’s Tampa Bay Chapter during a Tuesday dinner meeting at the University Club in Downtown Tampa. He added: “The best buying opportunities that we have ever seen are going to happen in the next 18 to 24 months.”

Additional plans for the new venture will be disclosed at a news conference next month in Singapore, Schwartz told the local audience. ProLogis sold its China portfolio and 20% interest in its Japanese properties to GIC for $1.3 billion in December 2008, using the proceeds to reduce its debt load.

Most recently, ProLogis put 33.2 million square feet of US industrial buildings on the market, including 1.7 million square feet in Florida. The total estimated value of the properties in 14 states and the District of Columbia is just over $1.4 billion.

In his first speaking engagement and interview since leaving ProLogis in November, Schwartz tells GlobeSt.com that he remains a substantial investor in the REIT. Schwartz, a Philadelphia native and Harvard MBA graduate, joined ProLogis in 1994 when it bought the Tampa-based company he co-founded with Elmer Krauss. Schwartz led the industrial developer’s global expansion on the way to being promoted to CEO in January 2005.

“I thought the world was in better condition than it turned out to be. I thought there was a greater degree of decoupling than there turned out to be,” Schwartz says. “I didn’t expect Korea to get hit as hard as it has, or India or Japan. I never even expected Russia to get pummeled.”

Schwartz is supportive of ProLogis’ pending sale of US properties in the current down cycle. “There are multiple ways to raise liquidity, but clearly they have some smart people there,” he says. “I had a great team there and they are going to make good decisions.”

In his new venture with GIC, Schwartz anticipates growing beyond its $7-billion initial investment: “We start out as one of the 25 largest private real estate companies in the world, and a business that is focused on the arenas of the world that will outperform over the next several years,” he says. “I’ve got great people and a great partner working with me.”

As treasurer of the Real Estate Roundtable, Schwartz says he believes the expansion of TALF to include AAA-rated CMBS under the Treasury Department’s newly unveiled Financial Stability Plan is “a good kick start. If you start getting confidence back into the market, it will help a lot.”

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