Diversified Israeli conglomerate Elbit Imaging Group could be making a fresh investment of $300 million to acquire raw land assets and invest in new projects in India in the next two to three years as it revives its global real estate investment strategy. It would be eyeing land deals mostly in the four cities of Pune, Bangalore, Chennai  and Hyderabad, said sources directly familiar with the Tel Aviv-based group's plans.

Elbit, with its group firms listed on global bourses, is sitting on largely untapped development potential of about 40 million sq ft across six locations in Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

Now, as the real estate industry reports a sharp recovery, Elbit is rejigging its property development plans along with local partners. The group, spearheaded by its billionaire founder Mr Mordechai Zisser, started investing in Indian real estate five years ago, and quietly scaled up the land bank story till the global economy went into a tailspin. It has spent an estimated over $400 million in acquiring land banks and related investments during the boom period of 2006-08, sources added.

Till date, Elbit has worked on developing its two shopping centers and commercial complexes in Pune, including a 1.2 million sq ft mall project  and commercial space equally held with Atul Chordia's Panchshil Group and its shopping center and office tower in Koregaon Park, which would be opened by early Q2 2011.

But, the Israeli giant is now stepping up gas on the bigger projects with the recovery in sentiments in real estate. First off the block will be a mixed-use township on 170-acre land in the suburbs of Bangalore. Elbit and Mantri Developers Pvt Ltd are readying a master plan to start work on the first phase of this project, which will have around 18 million sq ft of developed real estate when completed. The first phase will involve developing high-end residential villas totaling anywhere between 1.25 million and 2 million sq ft over 25 acres. Elbit and Mantri will develop this project, located at Whitefield  in a joint venture. The average cost of developments is estimated at Rs 2,000-2,250 per sq ft.

"We should start work on this project within 8-10 months. Large development projects require financing. Our larger projects slowed down as financing dried up during the crisis. And we, along with our partners, waited for the sentiments to improve," Ran Shtarkman, Co-CEO of Elbit Imaging, told VCCircle last week.

Nasdaq-listed Elbit Imaging and its subsidiary Plaza Centers NV (traded on the Main Board of the London stock exchange and on the Polish stock exchange) are the principal investors in the group's real estate projects in India.

Shtarkman said, Elbit would go in for opportunistic acquisitions to bolster its land bank in the country. "I will not be able to put an absolute number to this, but we are prepared to spend more on land and developments here. Obviously, we are not going to pay valuations of 2006-08 period for this," he added.

Last month, VCCircle had reported that Mumbai-based K Raheja Corp was talking to Elbit for joint development of the latter's land banks. "We have been approached by several developers in the ordinary course of our business. But this cannot be construed as Elbit trying to scale down or exit real estate operations in India. On the contrary, it is a reflection of the quality and potential of the company's assets. In principle, we are big believers in the India economy with its massive volumes of populated cities, educated and hard working workforce and tremendous levels of annual growth," Shtarkman said.

In Chennai, Elbit along with a local developer hold 90-acre land near Siruseri. Elbit has majority stake in this project, which has potential to develop over 9 million sq ft. It has an equal JV with Salarpuria Group for another 8 million sq ft development in Kochi for a township. It is also partnering with Atul Chordia for a 1.2 million sq ft project near Aakulam Lake in Thiruvananthapuram. Elbit's new moves in Indian real estate comes after it announced setting up a $400-million fund - which can be leveraged to make up to $1 billion investments - in the retail and commercial holdings in February this year, for properties located in the United States.

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