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TAMPA, FL-Eddie DeBartolo, the former San Francisco 49ers owner with a reputation for recognizing winners, has to be glad now that he lost his first bid for the Georgetown Apartments property in South Tampa. Now he and three partners lay claim to the 160-acre waterfront site at a mere fraction of what it cost its most recent owner.

The chairman of Tampa-based DeBartolo Development was previously outbid on the aging 600-unit complex by Fort Lauderdale-based Motta Group, which paid a top-of-the-market price of $125 million in 2005. Bank of America took back the property late last year at a public auction for only $2 million, with Motta reportedly owing at least $90 million on it.

Earlier this week, DeBartolo closed on what he has termed “the best piece of real estate on the west coast of Florida” for $30.5 million, partnering with three other firms on the deal—Christian Tyler Properties and Validus Group, also based in Tampa, and Winter Park-based Avanti Properties Group. Plans for redeveloping the prime property, where red-brick apartments have stood empty for years, have yet to be disclosed, but its shoreline is likely to be sold to Hillsborough County through its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, which was renewed by local voters last November.

The Georgetown acquisition, at roughly 24 cents on the dollar compared to its previous record-setting sale price, allows smaller players such as Validus Group to get in on good deals. The firm normally goes it alone on small properties around Florida, but the opportunity to partner with DeBartolo on a stellar site was too good to pass up.

“We said let’s let the experts do what they do, and DeBartolo is very good at that,” David Brightwell, Validus Group vice president of business development, tells GlobeSt.com. “We’re going to be in on the meetings and we want to learn from them.”

Brightwell adds that DeBartolo approached Validus Group earlier this year about Georgetown and may partner with him on future acquisitions. The firm has acquired properties through a combination of its own cash and leverage from community banks and life insurance companies, he says.

“We’re hoping to be able buy good properties at prices we’re not likely to see again for a long time,” Brightwell says. “Now is the time for fortunes to be made.”

DeBartolo, which has enjoyed retail development success in the tradition of his father, mall magnate Edward DeBartolo, has initial plans to redevelop Georgetown as a mixed-use project. Motta previously received zoning approval for up to 2,500 multifamily units, along with a marina and shopping center.

“We’re going to sit back and really take some time to figure out what’s the best ultimate use for the property,” DeBartolo president Ed Kobel told the St. Petersburg Times. “We’re not in a hurry.”

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