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Commercial Real Estate Profile: Nathan Lehoux | Developer, St. Petersburg

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  • | 11:00 a.m. December 11, 2015
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To obtain his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of South Florida a few years back, Nathan Lehoux had to complete an unpaid internship.

And though he had no commercial real estate experience, Lehoux sought out Dean Kucera, the founder of a successful insurance company who had branched out into property investments.

“I knew he was someone I wanted to know, one of the leading businessmen in the city,” Lehoux, 30, says. “And I figured, nothing ventured...”

Lehoux wrangled a meeting with Kucera, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, marathon runner and Credit Guard of Florida founder, which led to him working 10 hours a week for eight months — gratis — while earning his degree. With his M.B.A. in hand, Lehoux accepted Kucera's offer to stay on as a project manager. In 2014, he was named Kucera Properties' vice president of business development.

“We were very impressed with him.” Kucera says of Lehoux. “He's a very sharp guy. We didn't plan to have things happen the way they did, but sometimes things just work out.”
Lehoux's profile is likely to wax in the year ahead if Kucera's plan to develop hundreds of rental apartments, ground-floor retail and parking on land adjacent to its 27-story Priatek Plaza gels.

Those who know him say Lehoux has the capacity to pull the project off — despite considerable competition.

“He's young, energetic, and possesses tremendous customer service skills,” says Alan DeLisle, St. Petersburg's development administrator. “At the same time, he has a way of going right to the bottom line to make things happen in a timely fashion.”

Kucera, which has owned St. Petersburg's tallest building — at 386 feet — since 2002, originally considered building office space on a roughly one-acre lot connected to its 200 Central Ave. property, in response to the city's lowest vacancy rate in two decades.

Priatek Plaza, which is named after a digital advertising tenant, is 90% leased, to tenants ranging from Raymond James to law firm Trenam and Bank of Tampa to QOR. The 300,000-square-foot tower was completed in 1990 by FPL.

But with interest surging in living downtown, Kucera shifted its focus to multifamily and possibly hospitality development. Plans being considered now call for roughly 300 apartments, an 80-room boutique hotel, and as many as 800 new parking spaces in a new building.

“My goal is to have us breaking ground this time next year,” Lehoux says. Kucera is currently evaluating potential equity fund or other partners.

If that occurs, the new residential tower would be completed in 2018.

And while a handful of other new apartment projects are planned or under construction in St. Petersburg, Lehoux believes Kucera's project would have an edge because of intense demand and the property's downtown location.

“Everyone we talk to about the potential development says St. Petersburg has such solid absorption that our apartments would lease up in a heartbeat,” Lehoux says. “And we'd be one of the only players truly downtown doing a multifamily project.”

Beyond the new tower, Lehoux says Kucera has its sights on buying properties or into development opportunities. He says the firm is considering a variety of options ranging from office space to senior housing.

“We'd like to become either an acquirer or a joint venture partner,” Lehoux says. “We definitely have plans for expansion.”


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