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Betting $750M on Florida, developer is willing to wait

Here's another 750-million reasons Florida's not the has-been of the real estate world.

Palm Beach developer Kitson & Partners, backed by $750-million in pension fund money from a Chicago private equity firm, is going on a shopping spree in the Tampa Bay area.

Chief executive Syd Kitson's preference is to buy developed and undeveloped land large enough for 500 to 1,000 homes and medium-sized shopping centers anchored by supermarkets. He's looking at several Tampa deals worth tens of millions of dollars.

"We're looking for great locations that would be a good long-term investment," Kitson told the Times this week. "We're patient. We're not out bargain hunting."

Kitson's name might sound familiar. The 6-foot-4 Wake Forest University graduate played offensive guard for the National Football League's Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys from 1980-85.

In the business world, Kitson is best known for the 92,000-acre Babcock Ranch project, approved for 19,000 homes and 6-million square feet of commercial development in Charlotte and Lee counties. He paid $700-million for the property three years ago and sold three-quarters back to the state as preservation land for $350-million.

"We're real bullish on Florida," Kitson said. "We're making a billion-dollar investment in Florida in addition to the billion dollars we already have here. Florida will always be paradise."

Kitson said his company's latest injection of $750-million, courtesy of Chicago's Evergreen Real Estate Partners, allows him to pay cash and bypass jittery commercial lenders.

Unlike investors who will duck into and dive out of a market, Kitson views himself as a long-term developer. He wants to buy residential lots now and develop the land in time for an expected real estate turnaround in 2011. It would be his first foray into the Tampa area. His closest project so far is an Orlando shopping center.

"We're hoping to become the developer of choice for the builders when they'll need those lots again," he said.

Betting $750M on Florida, developer is willing to wait 09/17/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 20, 2008 10:28pm]
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