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March 30 , 2007

Retail Connection Forges Houston Link

March 30th, 2007 - Dallas, Texas - By Jennifer Dawson.  After considering a bid to keep him in place, Weitzman veteran departs to launch local office for Dallas firm.
Prominent retail broker David Stukalin has left The Weitzman Group to head up a local office for Dallas-based real estate firm The Retail Connection LP. Stukalin joined The Retail Connection as a partner in charge of the Houston office, which he will help build from the ground up when he starts work in mid-April. The office is planned for the Galleria area, not far from The Weitzman Group's Houston office. The timing ofThe Retail Connection's entrance into Houston became uncertain this week when Retail Connection CEO Steve Lieberman confirmed that Stukalin was considering a bid by Weitzman to retain his  services. Stukalin ultimately chose to join The Retail Connection, which represents tenants, develops and leases projects, and offers advisory and other services focusing exclusively on retail real estate.

"They offer a wonderful platform that 
we're excited about," Stukalin says. A Houston office will be the third for the fast-growing company, which also has a San Antonio location. The Retail Connection  represents more than 125 retail clients such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Circuit City Stores Inc. and The Sports Authority Inc. The firm also has the leasing assignment on more than 17 million square feet of retail space.

Lieberman says The Retail Connection has done business in Houston since the young firm was established three years ago, but had not created a local presence until now.  "When David came to us, it was a no-
brainer decision to say  "this is the talented person we can build that operation around," Lieberman says. "We wanted to build a full-service platform in Houston." Lieberman says the Houston market is  similar to Dallas-Fort Worth. He points out that the company represents tenants with stores or restaurants in both markets, providing a natural opportunity to expand.

"They are very synergistic markets," Lieberman says. "There's a lot of linkage between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston." The Dallas-FortWorth area has about154 million square feet of retail gross leasable area, while Houston has about 135 million square feet. Last year, developers added 3.6 million square feet of retail space in Houston, compared with 7.3 million square feet in Dallas-Fort Worth. Retail growth is expected to remain strong in both markets this year.


Lieberman also has a history with Weitzman. He spent nearly 15 years at The Weitzman Group and was the firm's president when he left to launch The Retail Connection in January 2004 with Alan Shor, who serves as president ofthe company. Shor is former president and chief  operating officer of Irving-based Zale Corp. He was hired in 1994 to lead the national jewelry store chain after it emerged from bankruptcy. The Retail Connection has grown to 55 employees in Dallas, many of whom came from the Dallas office of The Weitzman Group. Shor predicts the Houston operation will mirror the successes in the firm's similar to Dallas-Fort Worth. "We are optimistic that Houston will be every bit as productive as Dallas has been over time;' Shor says. Lieberman says hiring Stukalin is the first step in building a larger operation in the Bayou City. "We'll have a full team in Houston in the future," he says. Houston's strong job growth, relatively low-priced housing and low cost ofliving create the right conditions for retailers to expand, Stukalin says, pointing out that builders plan about 45,000 new homes in the Houston area this year, and the population is projected to reach 6 million within five years.

"We know retail follows rooftops," Stukalin says. "We're extremely bullish on Houston. These are exciting times."

The Retail Connection is expected to capitalize on Stukalin's business contacts. The Weitzman Group's top producer statewide in 2005 and 2006, Stukalin represents such retailers as JP-Morgan Chase Bank, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., Ace Hardware and LA Fitness.  It's unknown which clients, if any, will follow him to The Retail Connection.

Wayne Bridgeford, director in Houston for Grubb & Ellis Co:s national restaurant group, says Stukalin's strong relationships with major retailers will probably help The Retail Connection take market share from other brokerage firms. "There are still the same number of tenants around; Bridgeford says. "It'll just be more competitive for the other retail players in town." Lieberman is the second Weitzman alum to launch a Houston retail office within the last few months.

Mike Geisler recently opened a Houston office of Dallas-based Venture Commercial Real Estate, which he cofounded after leaving The Weitzman Group. Venture Commercial opened a local office last August and hired Bryan Danna and Mabry Campbell away from Houston-based Orr Commercial as partners. 

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