NFL star tackling real estate deals

By Luis F. Perez | January 07, 2011 01:59PM

Ray Lewis gets into the real estate game

While Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens star linebacker, chases down quarterbacks during the NFL playoffs starting this weekend, his new South Florida-based firm is going after real estate deals and plans to expand.

RL52 Realty, co-founded by Lewis, opened two new offices in South Florida last year, and it’s already seeking to expand on its model of bringing together real estate buyers and sellers through arts and education. To do that, the firm opened an art gallery with its Fort Lauderdale office.

“The gallery is an excellent venue for highly-motivated professionals, including those in the sports and entertainment business, to create opportunities for business transactions,” said Sol Kandel, business development advisor and principal with the firm.

In June, RL52 opened its first office in Boca Raton. In September, it opened the second office and art gallery in Fort Lauderdale. Kandel said the firm expects to open more offices in Florida, and possibly other East Coast cities, including in the New York metro market.

The boutique advisory firm offers sales, leasing and management of commercial properties. Kandel said it focuses on connecting pre-qualified buyers with sellers.

The firm’s art gallery in Fort Lauderdale showcases a collection of sport-themed art, photography and memorabilia. Plans call for the gallery to host business seminars, presentations on franchising and events where buyers and sellers can meet, Kandel said.

“We’re sophisticated matchmakers and advisors,” he said.

Tim Becker, director of the Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Florida, said that while it’s relatively common for advisors to connect well-heeled buyers to real estate investment opportunities, he does not know of any other firm that has an art gallery connected to it.

It remains to be seen whether using a gallery as a vehicle for real estate transactions works, even with a high-profile celebrity name attached to it, he said. However, focusing on the distressed market makes sense.

“That’s basically the market now,” Becker said. Still, “the distressed property market is tough to break into because it is always based on relationships.”

Kandel touts the firm’s extensive network of banking and institutional contacts, which allows it to bring buyers looking to purchase banked-owned or other distressed properties together with the sellers.

Lewis, considered to be one of the best linebackers of all time, was selected to his 12th Pro Bowl this year. In addition to the realty firm, Lewis has the Ray Lewis Foundation Inc. and the Poster Lewis & Co. But Lewis did face legal troubles in 2000, when he and two friends were charged with murder in Atlanta. That charge against Lewis was later dropped, according to reports, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for obstructing justice.

Lewis was unavailable to talk about the firm because the Ravens are preparing to play on Sunday.

Kandel said they decided to focus on South Florida even though it’s one of the hardest-hit markets in the real estate downturn because of the potential for long-term growth.

“The fundamentals of real estate don’t change,” Kandel said. “You want location, demographics, that corner with high traffic. Those fundamentals are in the place all over South Florida.”