Spotlight on South Loop

By H. Ellis Beck

Throughout its history, the northeastern portion of Bloomington, Minnesota has been home to plenty of notable developments.  This corner of a second-ring suburb, sandwiched between the Minnesota River and major highways, has hosted farms, a wildlife refuge, a professional football and baseball stadium, a professional hockey and basketball arena, huge surface parking lots, hotels, and a dedicated space for landing approach lights for Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Today, the area still has the wildlife refuge, the airport lights, and hotels, but the professional sports venues and their parking lots have been replaced by the Mall of America and IKEA.  Since the 2004 opening of the Blue Line, which connects the Mall of America to the airport and Downtown Minneapolis,  office buildings and multi-family developments have sprung up around the district’s stations.

Still, the area now known as the South Loop sees potential for more growth in its future and announced that potential to the world when the site finished as a finalist to host the 2023 World’s Fair, before eventually losing the bid to Argentina.  It announced it again by entering a bid to host the 2027 World’s Fair, the winner of which has not yet been announced.

Most of this excitement for potential growth centers around the South Loop District Plan, adopted by the Bloomington City Council in August of 2013.  The plan focuses on leveraging the area’s existing assets to foster responsible growth.  These unique assets include the country’s largest mall, which serves 40 million visitors annually, and the district’s close proximity to Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, a major hub for Delta Air Lines.  The area is home to four light rail stops, increasing opportunity for Transit-Oriented Development and improving walkability throughout the area.  A map by the City of Bloomington highlighting the existing assets is below.

So, what does the city think “built out” looks like for the South Loop?  Below are the published projections for the area.

The South Loop’s population, households, and housing units are projected to more than triple from 2010 through 2050.  The annual population growth rate of 3.1% would roughly quadruple growth rates anticipated in Hennepin County over the same period, and Bloomington expects that over two-thirds of its population growth will occur in the South Loop.  Households and housing units are anticipated to follow a similar trend.  While employment growth is anticipated to lag population, household, and housing unit growth, the South Loop already serves as an employment hub due to the Mall of America’s presence.

Residential units are projected to grow at roughly the same rate as population and households, with office and technical space lagging only slightly behind.  Growth in retail and hotel space is anticipated to trail the housing sector, but the South Loop clearly has an established retail base and is already a hotel hub due to its mall and proximity to the airport.

To encourage growth at the projected rates, the city updated its land use plan to emphasize density, walkability, transit, and public green space, as seen in the map below.

The South Loop exemplifies the growing trend of suburbs transitioning portions of their land from the open, auto-centric, and decidedly “sub-urban” style of planning to a far more dense, transit-oriented, walkable, and “urban” style.  We’ve seen this trend play out in mid-size metropolitan areas; Seattle and Denver area suburbs have recently attempted to build around new or planned transit corridors.  However, Bloomington’s situation is unique in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Locally, suburbs have begun to either prepare to reshape downtown areas to accommodate incoming transit (such as along the Southwest Rail Line) or totally rebuild areas from the ground up (e.g. the Ford Site in St. Paul).  The South Loop is uniquely positioned in that the “hard part” is already accomplished:  trains are already running through the area, people are already coming to the Mall and nearby airport, the groundwork is already laid.  The South Loop’s continuing development from Bloomington’s rural “front door” to its fully built-out form should prove interesting to observe.

Waterfalls and Hurdle Rates in Real Estate Private Equity

By Madeline M. Strachota

What is better—tiered returns or pari passu? It’s up to you.

Private equity organizational structures have various merits and demerits.  As appraisers, we see a variety of entity structures—partnerships, limited liability companies (LLC), corporations—all organized in different ways, which makes understanding the governing documents of an entity essential to understanding the value of an interest in that entity.  Some of the most common reasons for the variety of organizational structures include optimizing wealth transfer in estate planning, tax planning, liability mitigation, incentive alignment, and role allocation based on what each partner brings to a deal.

As an asset class, private investment in real estate has grown substantially in the 21st century.  In fact, it was not until the 1990s that real estate private equity in the form of pooled funds for investment in real estate became popular.  These funds grew out of private investors pooling to take advantage of falling real estate prices in the early 1990s and have continued to grow in popularity, especially in the build up to the Great Recession.  In all economic cycles, investors choose real estate to add diversification to their portfolios, and because the assets are income producing, hedge against inflation, and are tangible.  Within real estate private equity, there is a common entity structure that seeks to align entrepreneurs and investors: the equity waterfall.

Each equity waterfall can be different; however, the main idea is to decide which partner(s) control the everyday operations of the deal and how distributions are made to the different equity classes.  Oftentimes these funds are structured as partnerships with one general partner and many limited partners.  Unlike entities that distribute capital on a pro rata (also known as pari passu) basis according to what portion of the initial investment each investor contributed, waterfalls distribute capital by splitting distributions unevenly among partners after certain performance milestones, known as hurdles, are met.

But why would investors agree to receive a distribution that is not proportionate to their initial investment? The rationale is that entrepreneurs bring ideas and investors bring capital.  As such, each partner needs to be compensated for what they bring to the table and the relative risk they bear.  When capital markets are flowing and good deals are sparse, organizational structures skew to provide a higher reward to the entrepreneur.  Alternatively, if capital markets are tight and deals are plentiful, organizational structures skew to favor the “money” investors.  Furthermore, a waterfall structure incentivizes the general partner to achieve higher rates of return because at each higher rate of return, the general partner receives a disproportionately higher percent of the distributions compared to the limited partners.  Lastly, oftentimes the entrepreneur bears most of the up-front costs associated with real estate development or investment; as such, they must be compensated for this higher level of risk.

Following is a comparison of a typical waterfall structure to a pari passu structure:

Most waterfall models follow the same general principals; however, organizational documents can specify different arrangements that materially impact management decisions and distributions.  Although entity management and distribution allocations are the key differentiators, an infinite number of provisions in the organizational documents can impact value.  For example, there may be a general partner or managing member that controls the entity and receives separate returns; other times there are equally divided interests, each with management voting rights.  In another arrangement, some equity partners are entitled to a “guaranteed” preferred return over other equity partners.  Furthermore, members, partners, or shareholders could be individuals, LLCs, partnerships, or corporations, and these subsidiary entities could have an equally complex structure.

Following are a few additional differentiators among waterfall agreements and why they might matter:

The provision.  Distributions based on individual investments versus aggregate investments.

→ The impact.  If a fund has one investment that performs extremely well, crossing the highest hurdle, but the other investments are a “bust,” the general partner may receive an excessive return on the successful investment, and there may be no returns to any partners on the other investments.

The provision.  A clawback provision.

→ The impact.  If a fund does not perform consistently over time, historical distributions made to a general partner can be clawed back and redistributed to limited partners.

The provision.  General partner in both the voting and nonvoting equity pools.

→ The impact.  Whether the entrepreneur is in the deal as a common equity investor and/or a controlling investor entitled to the promote will determine how the equity splits flow.

The provision.  The waterfall difference between operating cash flow and reversion cash flow.

→ The impact.  If the waterfall specific to operating cash flow favors the general partner as compared to the waterfall specific to reversion cash flow, this incentivizes the manager to hold investments instead of selling.

It is important to understand the governance of an organization with an equity waterfall distribution to fully understand the potential upside and downside of investments.  Additionally, to better understand what cash flows to the entrepreneur, investors should consider the additional fees to entrepreneurs that hit the income statement and are not considered equity distributions.

Real estate private equity has championed the use of waterfall structures for operating and reversion distributions.  Although the intent of the waterfall organizational structure is good, the complexity of the structure begs the question—is it necessary? For those who do not run the numbers daily on these types of funds or do not have years of experience with this asset class, the structure of these pooled investment funds can seem overly complex.  Some critics argue that this structure falls into the category of the exact opaque financial practices that gave way to the Great Recession.  Of course, with any partnership structure, the fiduciary is trusted to make value creating decisions for all partners, and it is possible to exploit investors that do not have specialized knowledge of real estate finance.  However, the waterfall structure alone is not problematic—sure, it may create additional work for accountants and appraisers—yet many argue that this structure efficiently allocates risk and demonstrates an evolving sophistication in the industry.  Time will tell if investors demand simplified organizational structures for the sake of transparency.