From his Rosemont Realty office across from the Railyard, Daniel Burrell can see the future of commercial real estate in cities around the country — and he is positioning Rosemont Realty to be a big part of that.
Burrell, the chief executive officer of Rosemont, has raised $575 million with the goal of putting most of that to work in 2013 with acquisitions of commercial office buildings from Pennsylvania to California.
Based in Santa Fe, Rosemont was formed when a small capital group purchased BGK Properties, founded by Eddie Gilbert, in May 2010. The firm has doubled in size since then; it has some 200 employees working not only in New Mexico but at regional offices in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Rosemont now has properties in 25 states, with 29 buildings in New Mexico. This past year alone, Rosemont closed on eight commercial property buildings representing more than 2.5-million square feet, valued at $250 million. The most recent was announced Thursday — the Lakeview Place in Nashville, Tenn., with 380,963 square feet of office space clustered near the airport.
“I expect 2013 to be the most active year we’ve had so far,” Burrell said.
But Burrell’s goal is do more than build a company. He wants to grow a business that can help nurture New Mexico, the state he now considers home. A former Democratic Party activist with ties to both Yale and Georgetown universities, the 34-year-old wants to lend a hand to a new generation of leaders in the state, and he is pledging $750,000 for a scholarship program called the Rosemont Leadership Institute to help make it happen.
The institute will offer innovative, first-of-its-kind mentorship training for students from 11th grade through college and, Burrell hopes, give them the network and incentives to stay in New Mexico to live and work.
Burrell has seen how the U.S. economy has shifted to a skills-based technical and professional workforce and that “New Mexico has a huge brain drain,” with many talented high-school graduates leaving for college and not coming back. So a big part of the scholarship is a $25,000 stipend for expenses so recipients can take nonpaying internships over their college summers instead of working.
Laura Weber, a project director for the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C., said the Rosemont initiative is different from other programs in that it combines high school and college mentoring with workforce and business development. “We were struck at the comprehensiveness of the model and how much thought went into creating the next generation of New Mexico leaders,” she said. “When we looked at this we said, ‘Wow. This is pretty cool. This is a huge investment in New Mexico students.’ ”
The business, the institute, the politics and the potential to make a difference are the reasons Burrell was drawn to Santa Fe. “Santa Fe has a lot of mystique to it, a lot of brand to it, but you have to embrace the new environment,” he said.
According to Burrell, people his age in New York usually don’t engage in philanthropy because the barriers to making a difference are so high. “So most people my age give up. If you value that — civic activities and philanthropy — you can have a measurable impact here.”
Born near Albany, N.Y., Burrell said he developed “a deep connection” to public service through his parents. His father was a public health worker, his mother a guidance counselor.
Being from New England, his parents were moved by John F. Kennedy’s passion for giving back to society, while their son was energized by the ideas of President Bill Clinton. He entered Georgetown University as an undergraduate and gained a White House internship, an experience that led to a junior- level job in domestic policy, working on the welfare-to-work initiatives in the Clinton-Gore administration.
Burrell eventually joined U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign as a senior staffer, traveling with the candidate. Many of these trips were to the Southwest, where he met other Democrats, including former Gov. Bill Richardson and former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who ran for governor after Richardson’s last term but lost to Republican Susana Martinez in 2010.
The Kerry campaign was an important learning experience, Burrell said, but he was frustrated at how ephemeral it was. On the night of the 2004 election, “5 p.m. exits [polls] show him ahead, and four hours later, you’re unemployed.”
Burrell also spent a short stint with Arden Realty, a major firm based in Southern California owned by Richard Ziman, which was his first exposure to the commercial real estate business.
He then went to Yale Law School. Upon graduating, he was uncomfortable with the big law firms and corporate recruiters, yet he had some $200,000-plus in student debt. He wanted to stay active in politics and saw opportunities where he could help the Democratic Party in relationships with the business community.
When some friends approached him about working at a small equity group called Rosemont Capital, it was appealing. Rosemont specialized in helping small and midsize companies with 100 or so employees find capital and grow. Burrell was able to tap into some of the families and funders he met on the campaign circuit.
“There is no networking experience on earth like being a senior member of a presidential campaign,” he said.
Then came the financial crisis in 2008, and the world changed: No one wanted to invest in small, speculative companies anymore. There was no appetite for risk. Instead, he saw demand for stable, yield-producing assets like real estate. But real estate values were dropping by the minute.
For Burrell and Rosemont, that meant opportunity.
In 2009, he came to New Mexico for a Diane Denish campaign event and met some of the managers at BGK Properties — and eventually Eddie Gilbert himself, the former New York financier whose life on Wall Street was documented in Boy Wonder of Wall Street, the 2003 book by Richard Wittingham. Gilbert came to Santa Fe when he was in his mid-60s to rebuild his life and business and was in his mid-80s when he met Burrell.
BGK had a stable of properties and solid equity managers who knew their tenants and local markets. But there was no more money for growth, everyone was scared of real estate and bank lending was frozen. Burrell, with his ties to Rosemont and well-to-do families, had access to investment money.
Burrell said Rosemont Capital was initially funded by 15 to 20 families, with the bulk of investment coming from the Sohn family of Pacific West Timber in Oregon. They were seeking diversification. Since then, Rosemont Realty has raised funds from a broader spectrum including sovereign wealth funds in Europe, the Middle East and South America. There are different tiers of investment, some looking for growth, others a dividend yield.
The goal was to refashion what BGK started and turn a good family-run business into a national firm with on-the-street management ties. And that’s where Burrell claims Rosemont is different. Most investment opportunities in real estate would have allowed Burrell to buy buildings, outsource the management and stay in New York. With BGK, he knew he would have a business — and the management of office buildings with its experienced staff would bring more value to shareholders.
He said Gilbert saw this and that is why BGK was a good business model: “Having local managers who knew tenants who were staying, moving, wanting to expand and being able to accommodate that.”
So after going back and forth from New York to Santa Fe, Burrell saw it was time to make the jump. Newly married but not yet with a family, “In 2010, I moved my entire life from midtown Manhattan to Guadalupe Street across from Tomasita’s,” he said.
Among those Burrell met while politicking was Javier Gonzales, the former Santa Fe County commissioner who now heads the state Democratic Party. Gonzales also serves as a New Mexico State University regent. Gonzales now works for Rosemont and heads up the effort to bring better energy conservation and a greener workplace to the 20 million square feet of Rosemont office space. “A greener portfolio holds its value during downturns in the economy,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales also helped develop the curriculum for the Rosemont Leadership Institute. He said the effort is particularly suited to New Mexico because so many high school graduates who attend in-state colleges — even with lottery scholarships that cover tuition — face financial challenges, and the pressure to work takes away from academics.
Another feature unique to New Mexico, said Renee Delgado Riley, an administrator at The University of New Mexico who is involved with the scholarships, is that the program is open to high school students with a 2.5 grade-point average. You don’t have to be an honor student to have leadership potential, she said. “Often times the middle-of-the-ground student gets smushed in this process. We need them to be leaders in the state, too.”
Burrell hopes that some of the college students he helps can succeed and continue the cycle of giving back. The program will start with 30 high school juniors next fall, but the goal is to eventually have one graduate from each school district in the state in the program.
Burrell’s wife, Katherine Jetter, an Australian-born gemologist, manages the Garfield Street Foundation. The foundation was started by Eddie and Peaches Gilbert and gives $500,000 a year to needy individuals via social service agencies and individual relief efforts.
“New Mexico is a poor state,” Burrell said. “Even if the tuition is paid for, [students] still have challenges with books, housing, cars, transportation. We’re solving that problem for them. We give them no reason to fail. You’re giving these kids unbelievable, powerful tools.”
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.