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Investor kicks career into high gear with own firm.

Torn between two passions--soccer and real estate--investor Emmet Austin returned to the New York scene nearly a decade ago to focus on the latter. And since launching his own real estate investment and acquisition firm, Austin, chief investment officer of Stonemar Properties, has netted prime retail properties in a diverse mix of markets throughout the country.

Austin, a native New Yorker who attended the renowned Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, credits his parents--who ran a real estate development company--for opening his eyes to the real estate industry at a young age.

"I've been surrounded by it ever since I can remember," Austin said. "I remember at 14, my father would have me put sheetrock up in some of his brownstones."


From high school he went on to Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He was named a Calesa Foundation Scholar and Kohn Fellow, studying economics, philosophy and literature. As a senior he wrote economics papers on the New York real estate market, marking the first time he began seriously considering the field as a career. But he also played soccer at Columbia, and soon realized his dreams of playing the sport professionally.

In 1993 Austin landed a roster spot on the London-based West Ham United FC team, playing professional soccer in England until 1995, when he returned to New York to work on Wall Street. He then spent the next few years working at Goldman Sachs, where he restructured financing for energy firms. Finding the work "esoteric," he returned to London for a second go at professional soccer until a career-altering injury ended that pursuit.

In 2000 Austin returned to the city once again, this time focusing his energy on real estate. He was named a Dean's Graduate Fellow and Graduate Scholar at New York University's Real Estate Institute, where he now teaches part-time. He spent time working as a portfolio manager at Vitol Capital Partners, overseeing a portfolio of cross-currency financial and physical energy assets, and as a partner at Curragh Realty, concentrating on real estate development of multifamily and retail properties, before launching Stonemar with his partner, Jonathan Gould.

But his first bout with entrepreneurship came while living in London--an experience he said encouraged him to think outside the box. There he launched an Internet company modeled after Moviefone. It provided users with a centralized database and images of retailers. The business was short-lived but, with approximately 50 employees, it provided him with worthwhile managerial experience.

"We evolved that into a Timeout meets City Pages meets Yellow Book," he said. "In theory it was a great idea, but it was probably about 10 years too early."

But Austin found a successful footing with Stonemar, where he focuses on new business, acquisitions and financial structuring of retail properties throughout the U.S. He credits the success with being choosey about investments: Austin looks at fundamentals first and local economies, invests in sites long-term and targets properties with cash flow and seasoned leases; meanwhile avoiding mom and pop properties and strip centers

"Like anything starting out, it was challenging. But we were able to be smart and lucky at the same time," Austin said.

Today, Stonemar's portfolio includes sites in New York; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Orlando, Fla.; Williamsburg, Va.; Jackson, Miss.; and several others in Florida, Tennessee, Maryland and beyond. As a result of the credit crunch, he's observed declines in the California and Florida markets, stability in the northwest and surprising resiliency in places like Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. But he noted that the New York market altogether is a different animal.

"New York City is such a premium that you'll always have retailers looking to expand and enter the market," Austin said. "I see a tremendous amount of growth and I think we're particularly well positioned to get through a downturn."

Stonemar's investment decisions have paid off and the firm, which currently employs just under a dozen people, is poised for growth--despite market uncertainty. And Austin may one day consider expanding into the European and/or Mexican markets.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom out there that people are talking about, but everything swings like a pendulum," Austin said. "We're expanding when a lot of people are contracting."

Austin married earlier this summer, spending much of July in Sweden and Italy. In his free time, the West Village resident enjoys soccer and photography.
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Title Annotation:PROFILE OF THE WEEK: Emmet Austin, chief investment officer, Stonemar Properties
Comment:Investor kicks career into high gear with own firm.(PROFILE OF THE WEEK: Emmet Austin, chief investment officer, Stonemar Properties)
Author:Turcotte, Jason
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 16, 2008
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