THE private property giant Gandel Group, owned by the billionaire John Gandel, is set to have an even bigger presence in the real estate sector in the coming year through acquisitions of companies as well as direct assets.
The new-look Centro Retail Trust has already caught the group's attention, and office towers and possibly hotels are also on the radar of the previously publicity-shy company.
Pushing it along a more aggressive path will be the new chief executive, Kylie Rampa, formerly the head of Macquarie Bank's CountryWide Trust.
She has been in the US for the past five years running the bank's property advisory business.
Ms Rampa will replace Peter Kahan, who has become Gandel's deputy chairman.
Mr Gandel is one of the country's richest men and has developed significant retail assets such as Chadstone and Northland in Melbourne.
Over the years, the group, like its competitor Westfield, has sold its stake in the assets, most recently offloading Northland to the Canadian Pension Fund.
Mr Gandel has always preferred a low profile and his company has never entertained the notion of listing on the stock exchange.
Instead, it has acquired stakes in real estate investment trusts, and now owns about 25 per cent of CFS Retail Property Trust and 16.5 per cent of Charter Hall Group.
It also owns a half share in Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne's south-east, the nation's biggest mall, where it plans to add 25,000 square metres that could include office space and a hotel.
In Sydney, it has a slice of the upmarket Chatswood Chase through CFS Retail, and many neighbourhood centres through Charter Hall.
Mr Kahan said Ms Rampa's appointment was an indication the group would become very active next year.
"We are looking at everything. Certainly Centro is interesting, either as a takeover or for direct assets," Mr Kahan said.
"The [property] market is throwing up a number of opportunities in the REIT space and in unlisted, direct property. But we are not confined to retail. Office blocks and hotels are also of interest."
Mr Kahan said the group would look at any asset on its merit, including the MLC Centre in Sydney.
He said private cash from superannuation and sovereign funds as well as wealthy private investors would dominate asset purchases in the REIT sector next year.
"We are skewed to retail through Chadstone, where spending has been given a boost through the lower interest rates, and our centres are able to also attract the big international retailers, which helps the sales turnover," he said.