Faced with a greater debt burden than its apartment REIT peers, Colonial Properties Trust, a Birmingham, Ala.-based REIT with 36,481 apartment units, announced major executive management changes in January that will bring the return of a familiar face to the CEO seat. The move was echoed in the private sector a week later when Atlanta-based Lane Co. likewise said that chairman and company founder George Lane will return as CEO, replacing current chief Bill Donges, who will assume an executive advisory role for a period of three to four months.

Colonial, which ranked No. 21 on Multifamily Executive’s 2008 list of Top 50 Owners, has asked chairman and former CEO and founder Thomas H. Lowder to return to his role as CEO. Current CEO C. Reynolds Thompson III will be reassigned as president and CFO. Weston M. Andress, who had served as president and CFO, is stepping down after being offered a one-year, $400,000 consulting contract and a lump-sum severance payment of $1.25 million, according to The Birmingham News.

The move took no one by surprise. “Look at the series of problems [Colonial] has had, and I don’t think it’s surprising that the board would take a look at management and say, ‘We need some changes here,’” says Stephen Swett, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, an investment banking and security brokerage firm based in New York.

At Lane, tight capital markets and a shrinking development pipeline were key factors necessitating their executive restructuring, according to Donges. The firm saw its development activity fall from 37 deals and $1.7 billion under contract in 2007 and 2008 to only about five deals in the works today.

“As the total revenue base of your new developments and acquisitions shrink, and you’ve got less deals, there are fewer scenarios to confront,” Donges says. “The bottom line is that you don’t need the big executive team that you did in the growth phase.”