It's an understatement to say that Atlanta-based Carter wears many hats as a full-service real estate firm. Since its founding in 1958, the company has built a strong reputation in several key disciplines. Not only has Carter amassed a property and asset management portfolio totaling some 25 million sq. ft., but it's also an active developer, broker and fund manager.

According to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Carter plans to enter the non-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) arena. Carter Validus Mission Critical REIT, which seeks to raise $1.5 billion in a public offering, will buy data centers as well as medical and educational facilities.

Carter's biggest development project in the pipeline is The Banks, a public-private partnership with the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio. Carter and The Dawson Co., also of Atlanta, are the co-developers. Phase I of the $800 million mixed-use project will include 300 apartments and 80,000 sq. ft. of retail. It will open in spring 2011. NREI spoke with Bob Peterson, chairman and CEO of Carter, about the project and the firm's overall strategy.

NREI: Why do you believe that The Banks is a unique project?

Peterson: It's a project that the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County have been trying to develop for over 10 years. It's a beautiful site that sits on the Ohio River between the sports stadiums for the Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals. The city also is building a $40 million riverfront park on 45 acres in front of our development. We've already got 400 requests for information for the 300 apartment units we're building. We have four letters of intent for the retail space.

NREI: What will the next phase of The Banks entail?

Peterson: Phase 1B will include a hotel, 200,000 sq. ft. of office space, and another 80 residential units. We are looking at a build-out of 10 years for all phases. We've been working on getting all the pieces in place for the first phase, including financing, for more than three years.

NREI: On the acquisitions front, is Carter a buyer of distressed real estate?

Peterson: We are active distress property buyers. Last year we bought 270 single-family homes from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., all in Atlanta. We'll buy most any product type, but it's difficult. Properties that we thought would come to market haven't done so. Many banks either can't afford to take the write-downs to move properties, or they don't want to do so.

NREI: What is the size of Carter's asset management division?

Peterson: We have nearly $3 billion under asset management nationwide. There are several properties where we manage the asset and also serve as property manager. In fact, there is probably a 75% overlap.

NREI: What is your biggest challenge as a developer today?

Peterson: The lack of construction limits opportunities. To compensate, we've specialized in developing data centers as well as educational and medical facilities where there is continued demand for new product. Earlier this year, Enid (Okla.) Public Schools hired us to manage its $107 million construction project. We also have capitalized on the incredible level of human capital available during this lull and have been hiring key new team members.