Power Finance 2022: How This Year Is Finding New Ways to Challenge CRE Financiers

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Whoever said, “may you live in interesting times,” perhaps never had to deal with a capital stack or arrange funding for billion-dollar deals.

Just when some of the uncertainty of COVID-19 had begun to fade, the economy was shaken by a ground war in Europe, inflation and rate woes, and a constantly evolving supply chain crisis. It’s no wonder Power 50 winners have found solace, and success, in positive thinking, pushing through the challenges of the pandemic to aggressively seek deals in an active but uncertain time.

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As Neha Santiago, head of real estate private credit at Cerberus Capital Management, said, even in the fog of conflict and concern, firms need to “see the opportunity set through a clear lens, and take advantage of what was in front of us.” The extreme circumstances, and often record volumes, of 2021 may just have been the boot camp for a more intense ride in 2022.

Reactions in response to this tumultuousness have been fierce, with a sharp, V-shaped recovery and significant portfolio shifts toward safer harbors such as warehouses, logistics, manufactured home and life sciences (and now, in many cases, back to retail), as well as a crowded multifamily market. New regulations and environmental laws, like New York City’s Local Law 97, changed some calculations. New circumstances required more deliberate customer management and outreach; or, as JLL’s Christopher Peck put it, “we ran a global roadshow via Zoom.”

And market shifts and new opportunities required that entirely new deal structures and classes be figured out and financed; Citi’s $10 billion single-asset single-buyer deal for the data centers at QTS Realty Trust required new metrics, new understanding and roughly 100 one-on-one meetings.

There were also bold plays to buoy signature assets that lost their shine, such as the the $350 million refinance of Vornado Realty Trust’s office tower at 909 Third Avenue, or CBRE’s $1.25 billion construction loan for Manhattan’s Terminal Warehouse, a deal that “New York City really needed,” said CBRE’s James Millon as it was an office redevelopment with no pre-leasing at a time when office was a dirty word. No surprise, then, that the Terminal Warehouse financing deal drew congrats even from CBRE’s competitors, who understood just how fraught, and frantic, the last year had been. While 2020 may have been a “baptism by fire,” according to Kara McShane, head of commercial real estate at Wells Fargo (and No. 1 on our list), 2021 was a rocketship for many.

It could be said that the last few years have been a search for assets and opportunities that offer resilience, but the financing deals behind those assets have required resilient teams willing to constantly reevaluate and reposition themselves in response to an ever-evolving landscape, especially as capital gets more expensive.

As Greystone CEO Stephen Rosenberg put it, “I would say we’re still catching our breath, but we’re not stopping.”