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U.S. RealTel, the nation's largest landlord of preleased telecommunications access sites, is looking to turn a number of Buffalo-area rooftops into revenue generators.

Representatives of the Chicago-based company have met with several commercial building owners in recent weeks offering them an opportunity to join U.S. RealTel's nationwide property portfolio.

U.S. RealTel, in the classic middleman role, markets the sites to a variety of communications firms, everything from cellular phone companies to long-distance phone companies, to locate their high-tech antennas and transmission lines.

Here's an example of how it works: U.S. RealTel inks a contract with a property owner, and then negotiates with one or several communications firms to locate antennas on top of buildings or run interior fiber optic networks.

In some cases, state-of-the-art antennas are mounted on unobtrusive poles in a building's parking lot or lawn. Martin D. Kupper, vice president of site development, said U.S. RealTel's lease arrangements are a "win-win" opportunity for building owners.

"We make all the contacts with the telecommunications firms, we oversee all the installation and maintainance, and we collect the rents," Kupper said. "The landlords end up with a new revenue stream and in many cases greatly enhanced communications networks they need to attract and retain tenants."

Building owners can earn anywhere from $5,000 to $250,000 annually by joining the U.S. RealTel Telecom Grid, according to the company.

With the explosion of wireless communications products, services and technologies, telecommunications companies are aggressively pursuing alternatives to building huge antenna towers on vacant land, according to Kupper.

Also, the newer digital systems currently deployed require more antenna sites at lower elevations and closer proximity, opening the door to high-tech links on neighborhood apartment buildings, drug stores and banks.

While the company tends to link with owners of multiple buildings, in most cases, location drives the selection.

"Our portfolio includes skyscrapers, factories, shopping malls, supermarkets, small apartment buildings, and even churches," Kupper said. "What we're securing is locations that fill-in or expand our telecommunications grid."

U.S. RealTel's Telecom Grid currently includes 80 million square feet
of office space, 400 million square feet of retail shopping malls, 4.5 million square feet of industrial space, 20 million square feet of commercial strip center space and 330,000 apartment units.

Those holdings stretch across the country and include deals with several big-time real estate players with large portfolios of their own. Earlier this month, U.S. RealTel signed a master lease with The Rouse Co. to market telecom access to 245 of Rouse's office, retail and mixed-use properties.

Among the high-profile, Rouse-controlled sites that could have a high-tech antenna or miles of fiber optic cable in their future are: Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, South Street Seaport in New York City and the Westlake Center in Seattle.

Over the past year, U.S. RealTel has added several other big-time commercial real estate developers including Prime Retail Inc., which owns Prime Retail Outlets in Niagara Falls and Simon Property Group Inc., owner of Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence.

George C. Hamberger, a broker with Hunt Commercial Real Estate, is acting as U.S. RealTel's local leasing contact. The most difficult part of pitching the company's opportunities is explaining the arrangement.

"When I first call people, the real challenge is explaining the deal in 1,000 words or less," Hamberger said. "While a lot of the major landlords are aware of telecommunications lease deals, they are used to Sprint or someone knocking at their door, not a middleman."

Locally, U.S. RealTel has been in contact with a diverse list of property owners, including Gibraltar Steel, Benderson Development, Marine Midland Bank, Tops Markets and the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Hamberger expects the first local U.S. RealTel leases to be signed in the next month.

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