First Industrial closes Milwaukee area office

First Industrial Realty Trust Inc., a Chicago-based real estate investment trust (REIT), recently closed its Milwaukee area office.

First Industrial opened its Milwaukee office in 2004 and was active in southeastern Wisconsin purchasing several buildings and developing several others. The REIT’s developments in southeastern Wisconsin include a 721,000-square-foot distribution center that is under construction in Kenosha for Affiliated Foods Midwest, a 600,000-square-foot facility for Rust-Oleum in Kenosha, and a 388,800-square-foot distribution center in Menomonee Falls for Quad/Graphics Inc.

But when the U.S. banking crisis hit in October, sending the stock market into a free fall, shares of First Industrial stock also plummeted. First Industrial’s stock was trading for about $30 to $35 a share for the first half of the year and between $25 and $30 a share in September. Then in October the bottom fell out and the REIT’s shares are now trading between $3 and $4 a share.

"With everything going on in the credit markets and all, all of the commercial REITS (stock) are just getting murdered," said Peter Ginn, who was the regional director for First Industrial’s Milwaukee area office. "(First Industrial) is in a slash and cut mode."

Ginn, who grew First Industrial’s southeastern Wisconsin portfolio from 7 building to 30 buildings, has been out of a job since Jan. 1.

First Industrial’s chief executive officer, Michael Brennan, resigned in October and its chief financial officer resigned in December. A new CEO, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide president Bruce Duncan, was hired in January.

In December First Industrial announced plans to reduce its regional office staffing. That included the elimination of the Milwaukee area office, originally located downtown in the Plaza East office complex but moved in August to 2925 S. 160th St. in New Berlin, and its office in Rosemont, Ill., Ginn said. All Chicago area and Milwaukee area operations are now being handled in the REIT’s downtown Chicago office.

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