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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 4, 2017 4 years ago

New Kid in Town

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Liz Madzula spent two decades with GE Capital, dreaming about ways to relocate to Southwest Florida. Dilweg Cos. obliged.
by: Kevin McQuaid Commercial Real Estate Editor

Growing up and then working in Connecticut and later New York, Liz Madzula dreamed of someday relocating to Southwest Florida, where memories of visiting her grandparents' home in Bradenton in the late 1970s left an indelible impression.

In May, she got her long-standing wish, courtesy of the Dilweg Cos., a North Carolina-based commercial real estate investment firm that splashed into the Gulf Coast market this spring with the purchase of eight office buildings from Tampa to Sarasota.

As a Dilweg managing director, market leader and asset “enhancer” — company founder Anthony Dilweg chafes at the title asset manager — Madzula will be responsible for overseeing millions of dollars in planned improvements, leasing vacant space and scouting out future acquisitions.

Dilweg, whose portfolio is now valued in excess of $1.3 billion following the Osprey purchases, hopes to grow into a $5 billion company within the next five years. Much of that growth, Madzula and other company officials say, will come from Florida.

“The company acquired some great product, all of it value-add, which is what we specialize in,” says Madzula. “My role, quite simply, is to get the company's invested money back, plus. To do that, I'm going to work to improve the day-to-day operations, generate new and retain existing tenants and complete a series of capital improvements we have planned to help the overall aesthetic.”

It's a role Madzula is well acquainted with, after having worked for more than two decades with GE Capital Corp., the finance and commercial real estate investment arm of General Electric Co.

Madzula started at GE Capital while in college, as an intern, and joined the financing conglomerate after graduating, first in accounting and later in finance.

She was drawn to the commercial real estate side of the business in part because her father had worked in the industry, as both an architect and general contractor, and because of the nature of land and bricks and mortar.

“It's a very tangible business, and that appealed to me,” Madzula says. “It affects everything. And I've really enjoyed, for the most part, the people I've met and had a chance to work with.”

Her first four years with GE Capital were spent in Connecticut, but when she shifted into asset management she moved to New York. There, she worked on debt and equity deals, orchestrated joint ventures and commercial real estate mortgages.

“She's extremely bright and conscientious, and very diligent,” says Joe Manasseri, Madzula's boss at GE Capital for much of her tenure there and today executive managing director for a tri-state area that includes New York for brokerage and services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

“Liz always puts the client first, she's terrific at property recon and asset management, she knows how to resolve issues and build customer loyalty,” he adds. “She's all around a terrific person, one of my favorite people I have ever hired.

“Other than being a Dallas Cowboys' fan, there's really nothing wrong with her.”

Through GE Capital, Madzula met Dilweg, a former Duke University and National Football League quarterback, nearly a decade after he'd formed his own real estate company.

“I admired him and the business he'd built,” Madzula says of Dilweg.

Madzula left GE Capital in 2015, when its parent sold the company as part of a massive corporate restructuring away from its traditional lines of business. At the time, GE Capital had roughly $90 billion in assets under management.

A stint at New York Life Insurance followed her GE Capital exit, but Madzula never abandoned her idea of moving to Southwest Florida. On long weekends and holidays, she often flew down and stayed at the Resort at the Longboat Key Club on the barrier island shared by Sarasota and Manatee counties. It was a step, she figured.

Dilweg offered her a chance to take another, even bigger leap, after buying the 13-story Sarasota City Center in downtown Sarasota in April for $36.5 million.

By the end of May, Dilweg's newest market leader — one of four in the company at present — was steeping herself in architectural drawings and construction budgets for another half-dozen buildings in Tampa and Lakewood Ranch.

In all, Dilweg spent $216.5 million to buy the buildings --┬átogether with a 23-story tower in Charlotte, N.C. — from affiliates of Osprey S.A. Ltd. and Osprey East LLC. It financed the deals, totaling nearly 1 million square feet, with capital from Torchlight Investors and Benefit Street Partners Realty Trust.

In a few cases, Dilweg scored a significant discount to the price paid a decade earlier. One building in Tampa sold for 44% less than what Osprey had paid, property records show.

Sarasota City Center alone is slated to receive nearly $4 million in upgrades to its lobby, bathrooms, hallways, courtyard and fitness center. Dilweg also is considering adding a conference center and a tenant social space in the building.

“It's a gorgeous building,” Madzula says. “Its bones are really good. So we're going to focus on updating the lobby, making it brighter, and modernizing things like bathrooms and corridors.”

Similar improvements are planned at Orion Center on Rocky Point, where Dilweg plans to renovate the lobby, elevators, an on-site fountain and gut a pair of floors once occupied by Laser Spine Institute. A new building name may be in the offing, too.

Madzula also will direct upgrades at Westlake I and II, in Tampa, where a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system is needed, and Lakeview at Hidden River, where plans for lobby upgrades are being formulated.

Dilweg hopes to complete all the repairs and improvements within six months.

“The sooner we begin, the sooner people will see an impact, and we understand that. People want to see results,” Madzula says.

Madzula won't be alone in leasing efforts, however. Dilweg has tapped Colliers International, JLL and CBRE to market and lease various buildings in the new portfolio.

But she will largely be on her own to scout out new properties for Dilweg.

“The company plans to expand throughout the Southeast, and Tampa and Sarasota are logical places for us because it's such a growth area,” Madzula says, adding Dilweg may also branch out to cities like Orlando and Jacksonville.

Back in her home base in Sarasota, Madzula says she's thankful that Dilweg helped her achieve the goal of moving to Florida full time. But she didn't wait for them to make it happen.

In 2015, Madzula took the plunge and bought a condominium on Longboat Key.

“I feel connected here,” she says. “I live here and I breathe it in every day, and it's refreshing.”

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